I'm a huge fan of podcasts. I download several every week of different preachers that I enjoy listening to, and as I drive around or work in the office, I plug in my ipod and enjoy a good sermon (hey, us preachers need to be fed too!)
Recently, however, I noticed something. Several (not all) of the messages I listened to had little, if any, scripture references in them. Were they based upon biblical principles? In my opinion, yes. Did they say anything that would have constituted a "false doctrine". Not that I could tell. But still, this realization disturbed me. Some used a scripture here and there, almost like they were garnishing a dish. It was there, but not as the main meat of the message. One sermon in particular (I listened to it twice to make sure) never referenced or quoted a single passage of scripture. It was polished, well-delivered, motivational and had an impact. The illustrations were fresh and thought provoking. The points were both comforting and compelling. But there was no reference to or quotation from the Word of God.
"Now wait a minute..." someone may say, "...if it's got a Biblical theme, and is well delivered, do you really need to quote the Bible? After all, that might alienate someone who is not familiar with the church." To that I would answer with the apostle's words in Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Now the question is, do we believe this? Do we believe the Word of God is a sword; a weapon against the temptations of Satan? Do we believe that it can change lives and hearts by cutting away that which distracts us from God? If so, then the Word of God must be present in every sermon for it to produce the effects of piercing the soul, judging the thoughts and intentions of the listener and producing a lasting change in the hearts of people. If scripture is not present, in my mind it is not a true sermon, but rather a motivational speech, nice and uplifting to listen to, but incapable of any eternal impact.
My other concern with Bible-less preaching is a question of authority. If I stand before a congregation, and give a "motivational speech" that contains no scriptural references, and people respond, even if they give their lives to Christ, I must ask myself, "Are they coming to Christ, or coming to me?" Without the Word of God there, I usurp God's authoritative call with my own sad imitation. Yet, if my message is bathed in God's Word, it rings with the sound of truth and authority, an authority that is not my own, but God's. If someone disagrees with my message, or finds it "too difficult" to apply, I merely have to point out the authority of Scripture to justify my message. No such option exists for the one who abandons his Bible in order to preach a more "acceptable" message.
Finally, a sermon without the Bible is like an empty bottle. It has shape and form, but it's contents can never satisfy. It might look like a sermon at first glance, but it will leave you thirsty and dry in the long run. Let those of us who preach put our faith in God when He told the prophet Isaiah, "My word...which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." (Is. 55:11, emphasis mine). I want my sermons to accomplish something. I want my messages to succeed. I want God's word to return overflowing with results. For those who do not preach, challenge us who do, to keep God's Word at the center of every sermon, because His Word will be the final word.
Until next time,