We are all familiar with that famous passage of Scripture in Hosea which states, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). Most people usually generalize this verse and try to apply it to any situation where people suffer hardship due to their ignorance. But, this verse is not addressing financial ruin for lack of financial knowledge. Or political destruction due to a lack of political knowledge. This verse is speaking specifically about a lack of the knowledge of God, as we clearly see from verse 1 of the same chapter. The chapter also shows where the people were supposed to find this knowledge of God; in the Law, The Old Testament revelation given to Moses. In the Hosea passage, God is speaking directly to the priests (Hosea 4:4). The reason God’s people were perishing from a lack of knowledge, was that the priest were failing to fulfill their responsibility of teaching the Law (4:6; Mal. 2:7).
The book of Hosea highlights an important principle for us, the people of God come to know Him through understanding His prophetic revelation. And, in order to understand that revelation, God has appointed special officers to teach that revelation to His people. Under the old covenant, that prophetic revelation was the Law of Moses and the prophetic writings. The officers whom God ordained to teach this revelation were the priests. Under the new covenant, that prophetic revelation is the gospel, which was revealed through the New Testament Apostles (Eph. 3:3-6). And now, the God ordained teachers are Pastors (Eph. 4:11-13). These facts have very strong implications for Christian ministry. Most importantly, they imply that the regular preaching and teaching of God’s Word, by properly called and ordained Pastors, is essential for the health and growth of God’s people. There once was a time when it seemed that most people would agree with this statement, today, there are many in the church who have embraced ideas and practices which greatly contradict it. These contradicting ideas and practices are also greatly undermining the health and stability of God’s church. What are some of these unhealthy ideas and practices?
1. An overemphasis on practical life teaching
The so-called popular wisdom in most churches today is that doctrinal preaching and teaching is not relevant to modern people. They say, if you want to grow your church, you must preach about marriage and the family, you must teach on finances, dating, parenting, how to be successful and a whole host of other practical life issues. However, this modern American wisdom cannot be supported from Scripture. The Old Testament priests were not commanded to teach life issues, they were commanded to teach God’s revelation, the Law. It is the same now, Paul commanded Timothy to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). A study of Paul’s writings clearly reveals that by “the Word” he means the gospel of Christ and not practical life issues (1 Cor. 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:5). The gospel is the very heart and center of God’s revelation to man. It is the sum of all biblical teaching. The Bible is ultimately, not a manual on how to live, it is the written revelation of what God has done for His own glory through the person and work of Jesus Christ, His eternal Son. In Hosea chapter 4, The Lord rebukes the priests and the people for their ignorance of the knowledge of God. They were missing the whole point of what it meant to be His people; knowledge of Him and of His will. Nowhere else do we learn more about God and His will than in the gospel. In the gospel, all the attributes of God shine forth. In reconciling helpless sinners to Himself, through the atoning work of Christ, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, there is displayed the greatest view of God’s love, holiness, justice, wrath, power and wisdom, all in that amazing work of salvation. If Pastors would be faithful in preaching the gospel, in all of its fulness, we wouldn’t need so much practical life teaching. The greatness and sweetness of the knowledge of God in Christ would transform us in ways that no “how to” sermon ever could.
2. A preoccupation with “new” revelations and prophecies
There are many within the church today who believe that the supernatural gifts that operated through the prophets and the apostles are still operating in the church in our time. Particularly, they believe that God still gives new revelation through prophecy and words of knowledge revealed directly to the believer by the Holy Spirit. The major problem with such a position is that it undermines our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture and our commitment to biblical preaching. We preach and teach the bible because God commands it. And we do so believing that everything necessary for our salvation and for Christion living has already been revealed and recorded in Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If Scripture is the complete and sufficient revelation of God’s will for us, then, why would we need new revelation. What more could God say than He has already said? I’ve noticed that many of those who believe in “fresh” revelations from God are very critical of expositional preaching. Expositional preaching is preaching that confines itself to merely explaining and applying a passage from the bible. Those who preach in this way usually preach chapter by chapter through whole books of the bible, rather than preaching random topical sermons. Such expositors are accused of lacking the Spirit in their preaching. It has been said that the preacher who preaches this way cannot really give the people what they need on any given Sunday. They argue, the Spirit may want to say something “fresh” and reveal something “new” at a moment, but the preacher that is so tethered to the biblical text will miss what the Spirit is saying. Do you see the problem here? Such an argument denies the sufficiency of Scripture. This argument implies that faithfully explaining and applying the bible is not enough. In order for the sermon to be relevant, and capable of meeting people’s needs, there must be a “fresh” word from heaven, not that old outdated bible.
To be fair, those who believe that God is still giving new revelation would not call the bible outdated. They still use the bible, but they assert that God wants to give a fresh, new revelation of what the bible means. I find this to be very dangerous. Practically, what ends up happening, is that such teachers set aside literal interpretations of the bible in order to preach new interpretations which they claim were revealed to them from God. Such people are putting themselves on the same level with the Old and New Testament prophets and apostles. The biblical writers warned us to beware of such things as this (1Jn. 4:1). Unfortunately, in many circles where there is a strong emphasis on new prophetic revelations, the biblical message of the gospel gets lost, while various kinds of new and unbiblical doctrines are taught. When the bible is practically set aside for new, personal revelations that are claimed to be from the Spirit, there is no real way to even judge what the so-called prophets are saying.
3. Adherence to modern church growth philosophy
Another trend which is weakening the church’s commitment to preaching is the modern church growth movement. In past generations, the Sunday worship service was viewed from a more God-centered perspective. It was believed that the purpose for coming to church was to worship God. And, at least in Protestant churches, preaching the Word was considered as central to the worship service. Therefore, listening to a sermon was viewed as an act of worship. It was not the church goers place to sit in judgement over the sermon and critique whether it was relevant or engaging enough. The church goer was to sit under the Word of God and receive it with humility. Today, that perspective is in serious decline. Today, church goers are treated as consumers, and the worship service is now a time of therapeutic consumption. The sermon, like every other part of the service is treated as an attractional tool. The goal is to give the people what they want so that they’ll keep coming back. It’s not so important that the sermon be biblical, what’s most important is that it be relevant, engaging and entertaining. With such ideas and practices becoming increasingly more popular today, it’s no wonder that many Christians, like the Jews in Hosea’s day, are being destroyed from a lack of knowledge.
Unless we recover a biblical view of preaching, and recommit ourselves to practicing biblical preaching, God will say of us as He did of Israel in Hosea’s day, there “is no knowledge of God in the land.” Biblical preaching and teaching is the means which God has ordained for converting and building up His people. It is the means through which He is pleased to make Himself known to His people. If we truly love God and desire to know more of Him, then, we should treasure the preached Word. If we want assurance that what we are learning about God is true, then, we would confine ourselves to the exposition of Scripture. So-called new-revelations and fresh words from heaven have led many astray. But, those who trust in Scripture alone have all that pertains to life and godliness and lack nothing. Practical teaching on daily life issues does have its place, but, its by increasing in the knowledge of who God is and of what He has done that causes real Christian growth. Therefore, we shouldn’t despise doctrinal preaching. We must get back to preaching the Word, not fresh, new revelations or insights for living. The Word is the old message revealed through the Old and New Testament prophets and apostles. It is the old Word about the person and full work of Jesus Christ. Consumer-minded church goers may not flock to our churches to hear this kind of preaching, but, it is the kind that Christ will surely honor and use, for it is the kind which He commands.