Guest Column – Conrad Mbewe
The Challenge of Regular Evangelistic Preaching.
In August’s guest column, I made an impassioned plea for regular evangelistic preaching in churches, that targets non-Christians with the gospel with a view to seeing them saved from sin.
I sought to show from 2 Timothy 4:5 that this is part of the preacher’s ministerial duties. I also brought arguments in favour of evangelistic preaching during normal worship services.
But then the challenge that a pastor with a regular congregation faces is a seeming lack of relevant gospel material and the subsequent danger of monotony. So the question becomes, ‘How can you preach the gospel regularly without running out of gospel material or without becoming monotonous to your regular hearers?’
These are real difficulties that it is important to address.
Strictly speaking, as long as we have the whole canon of Scripture, we should never run out of gospel material.
Jesus said that all of Scripture testified about him, so that everyone may go to him for life: ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me’ (John 5:39). So, where is the problem?
If what Jesus meant by ‘the Scriptures’ were the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, many of us would readily accept that these bear witness about him. Perhaps too we would include the rest of the New Testament, as there we find explicit gospel statements (e.g. Romans 1:16; 3:23-24; 6:23).
But our greatest difficulty is with the Old Testament — the very section of the Bible that Jesus was referring to in John 5:39!
We make the mistake of looking there only for so-called ‘gospel texts’ like Noah’s ark, Lot’s rescue from Sodom, Moses lifting up the brazen serpent, Rahab’s crimson ribbon and the cleansing of Naaman.
And then it’s not long before the material runs out and we are stuck! It seems to me that this embarrassing situation is due to a superficial view of the Bible that fails to see its movement from beginning to end.
Generally speaking, the Old Testament shows us our need of Christ, the Gospels show us the person and work of Christ, and the epistles show us the benefits we derive from Christ (Galatians 3:21 – 4:7).
The Old Testament shows us our state of guilt and enslavement to sin, in the light of God’s holiness and justice. The Gospels show us what God has done in Christ, in the light of our utter inability to save ourselves.
The Epistles show us the fruit of salvation (justification, sanctification, adoption, heaven, etc.), in the light of God’s grace in Christ. The moment you see the Bible in this way, the whole Bible comes alive evangelistically.
If you want a classic, recent example of evangelistic preaching from the Old Testament built upon this understanding, read Old Testament evangelistic sermons by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published by the Banner of Truth. See how ‘the Doctor’ shows human impotence under the wrath of God and brings sinners to the foot of the cross.
The other answer to the challenge of monotony is to remember the many different classes of people that need Christ; once grasped, this makes evangelistic preaching full of variety.
In John 5, Jesus was talking to the Jews (v.16) and challenged their misplaced faith in Moses’ writings (v.45). But you don’t need to take this line with a Gentile unbeliever, because he has not been relying on Moses in the first place.
Yet, it is precisely this reality that provides variety to evangelistic ministry. Be aware of what class of sinner is being spoken to in the text of Scripture being preached on, and what warnings or encouragements are there for that kind of person in the text.
Apart from the Jewish/Gentile divide, there are so many other ‘kinds’ of sinners. There are the ignorant, presumptuous, religious, self-righteous, proud, rebellious, despairing, immoral, suffering, sick, dying, and many others.
Although they all must be pointed to Christ as the all-sufficient Saviour, as a physician of souls the preacher must apply the medicine of the cross in a way best suited to his hearers’ minds and hearts.
In the light of the full canon of Scripture and the range of human conditions, there should be no danger of gospel preachers running out of material or sounding like a monotonous bell. In fact, they will wish they had a thousand lives to mine out the rich veins of Scripture truth.
Remember, the Scriptures are meant to cause sinners to come to Christ so that they may have life. Preachers should read the evangelistic sermons of those who mightily brandished this sword of the Spirit to bring sinners to salvation (e.g. Charles Haddon Spurgeon).
Once we modernise the English and the illustrations they used, we ought to emulate their examples. They displayed Christ’s unsearchable riches across an entire lifetime. We should do the same and so help bring in God’s great harvest of souls.
The author is pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, and an international conference speaker