Thursday, November 18, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
“Textual harassment” — or textual preaching?
“Textual harassment” is the name some wag has given for some Bible-thumping preachers who beat up on others by quoting Bible verses disapprovingly in their direction! It always seems that we can think of a Bible verse that we use like a proverb or cliché, and it is easy, I admit, to send these in the directions of people whose actions we disapprove: “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10), we say.
But what about, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11)?
I am one of the few preachers (I think) who still follows the old custom of giving out a verse or two as a text. I like that, because printing out that text in the bulletin gives the listener a “hook” on which to hang their thoughts. If I do my job correctly, the sermon will color the listener’s memory of that text the next time they come across it in reading, and better yet, it will fix the passage in their memory.
Admittedly, the practice of textual preaching can be abused. Sometimes taking a single verse, and quoting it out of its wider setting creates a distorted emphasis — as would be the case if either of the texts I listed in the first paragraph above were considered apart from their context, or other passages that speak to the same issue. It is not enough to cite what “the Bible says,” we have to discern what the Bible means — and what the Lord is saying to us in our particular place and time.
There have been some hilarious and ingenious uses of Bible texts. You know some of them, and I will add a few.
In the mid-1800s in England, some began asserting the rights of the Church against Parliament’s control of the country’s established religion. Ministers began preaching on the text, “If any man neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17). Those who were content with parliamentary domination of religious affairs shortened the text to read, “If any man neglect to hear the church, let him!”
Dr. Daniel Baker, an early pastor of the Holly Springs Presbyterian Church (1840-1848), once encountered a gentleman during his earlier ministry in Washington, D.C. — a man he described as “of notorious character, very loose in morals, and no respecter of the house of God.”
In response to suggestions from some of his church friends that he should hear their minister, Dr. Baker, the gentleman said he would go if Baker would take for his text: “Let every man mind his own business.”
Baker’s humor showed when he accepted the challenge, preaching on I Thessalonians 4:2: “And that ye study — to do your own business.” The gentleman, a “Mr. S.” took a pew and, according to Baker, “was ever after a regular attendant upon the means of grace.”
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