In seeking relevance in ministry, let us look to Luke, the apostle whom Paul called “the beloved physician.” I am sure that Luke was equally as conscientious in the practice of his healing profession as he was in recording his Gospel account and the Book of Acts. Since Luke’s time, the practice of medicine has been revolutionized. Luke’s character has not been improved on, yet medicine has advanced fantastically.
In the same way that medicine seeks to heal bodily sickness, Peter and Paul in their day sought to bring healing to the souls of men. But unlike the progression of medicine over two millennia, much of preaching today has regressed.
The preaching of Peter and Paul was based on an accurate spiritual diagnosis and the offer of a sure cure. Sadly, much preaching today evades the basic sickness of the soul.
Those early apostles confronted their hearers with the fact of sin, its enormity, its wages and its cure. They preached sin, judgment, repentance and forgiveness through the atoning work and shed blood of Christ, and they saw results. They used the power available then, and now—the power of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures and prayer. How much preaching today is dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit to make it effective, the power of the Scriptures as the Sword of the Spirit, and the power of prayer?
An analysis of Peter’s sermons is profitable today, and several themes emerge:
• The enormity of the crucifixion was stressed. Evil men killed the Son of God even as they asked for a murderer’s release. The good and righteous One was rejected in favor of a common criminal.
• The vindication of Jesus Christ and His work, by the resurrection, meant salvation and hope.
• In early preaching, mercy and warning were combined. To hear the Gospel was and is a great privilege, but it always carries with it a terrible responsibility.
• Repentance must follow the knowledge of the guilt of sin. And this repentance had consequences: The past sins were wiped out. And with the remission of sins the entire future was affected. Instead of despair, there was hope; instead of weakness and futility, God-given power to overcome; instead of endless striving, rest and peace.
How much preaching on sin and repentance do we hear today? How really smart is a “sophistication” that denies or evades the reality of sin, with its sure judgment, and substitutes a different “gospel”?
I am convinced that if the chaos that exists in modern theological education existed instead in medical education, the health of the world would be imperiled.
Modern physicians are trained in the basic sciences and taught how to use the latest advances in every field of medicine and surgery.
Modern preachers (with some wonderful exceptions) are being trained away from the simplicity of the Gospel, while the “basic science” of their calling—a heart and head knowledge of the Bible—is woefully neglected.
Tragically, many come to regard Scripture as a “bent sword” and turn from it to fields of secondary importance. Meanwhile, the souls of men continue their death march to a Christless eternity.
This is written in love because of the high esteem in which I hold the Christian ministry. But if a physician is held responsible for malpractice by his fellow physicians, why should a lesser standard prevail for ministers—to whom the eternal destiny of souls is committed. D
ADAPTED FROM WHILE MEN SLEPT: A CONCERNED LAYMAN’S VIEW OF THE CHURCH TODAY DOUBLEDAY 1970), BY L. NELSON BELL (1894-1973) WITH REPRINT PERMISSION FROM EAST GATES MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL.
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