Preaching Issues (2): On Preaching the Old Testament

Posted on April 18, 2008. Filed under: Preaching, Worship Wars |

“Preacher, we are a New Testament Church and don’t need to hear from the Old Testament; you need to stick to preaching from the gospels. We have had 13 Old Testament sermons in a row and we are tired of it.” So began my awakening to a little known fact that Baptists have a canon within the Canon. In my first year as pastor I found out that the members of my little church were not only unfamiliar with the Old Testament, but, practically speaking, did not consider it to be the Word of God. Time and again through the years I would be chastised for any Old Testament preaching and told that, “The Old Testament was for Israel, the New Testament is for the Church”.

I vaguely remember some OT preaching from my youth and college days, but it was when Dawn and I were at FBC Lakewood in Tacoma that we both fell in love with the OT as preached by our pastor, Ruffin Snow. He took us through Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness, conquest of the Promised Land, the time of the Judges and the life of David. We were enthralled by God’s Word faithfully proclaimed. The OT shows us our awesome God at work in a powerful way. All through those sermons back in the early 1980’s we saw God’s grace, our need for Jesus and picture after picture of Christ in the OT. The thought of complaining about the OT never entered our minds; God matured us and blessed us through those sermons.

In Seminary I took preaching class my very first semester and the professor did warn us that OT preaching had fallen on hard times and that we would receive pressure to preach only from the NT. He recommended that we ought to preach 50% OT and 50% NT, stating that the OT comprises about 2/3 of the Bible. Our pastor in Seminary at Birchman, Miles Seaborn preached an outstanding sermon series from Deuteronomy. The longest paper I wrote in Seminary was for Hebrew- an exegesis of Gen.12:1-3 that came to about 100 pages. I had a blast writing that paper. I love the Old Testament!

My first clue that I was in trouble preaching from the OT was in my first 6 months as pastor. I attempted a sermon series that paralleled the Sunday School lessons from Rev.1-3. The lesson material did not deal much at all with the OT roots of the Revelation verses, so I crafted a sermon series based upon the OT texts that lay behind the scenes of the 7 churches. Several in the congregation went to the deacons to complain about the OT sermons. Later that year I did a series from 1-2 Chronicles and the decline of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It was very appropriate to a congregation that had been in decline for 25 years, but it was not well received.

Now do not get the idea that I preached only from the OT. I preached for a whole year from the Sermon on the Mount in my first two years as pastor. After being at the church for about 4 years and hearing complaint after complaint about the amount of OT preaching I was doing I actually counted up all my sermons to see how many were OT and how many NT. I was averaging 30% OT sermons over the 4 years. I preached 3X a week, Sunday AM and PM, and again on Wednesday nights, and about 1/3 of the sermons were OT.

In all fairness I must say that most of those sermons were preached on Sunday mornings, and that may have been a mistake. In my own estimation and in the eyes of many in the congregation, the OT sermons were among my finest. There was 1/3 of the congregation, however, that constantly complained about those sermons (but that group complained about everything).

The issue that underlay these complaints was that of the authority of the Word of God in the life of the Church and the individual Believer. Throughout these blogs that issue surfaces time and again. Personal preference always seemed to take the place of God’s Word in this church. A high tolerance for sin and a low esteem for the Bible were the key elements in this church from the beginning. There was a truncated view of the gospel and of gospel preaching that was deeply held. This view basically said the only parts of the Bible that presented the gospel were the 4 Gospels and some of the Epistles.

The 1/3 of the church that controlled the church wanted to hear evangelistic, revivalistic sermons with heart stirring emotional stories and funny jokes every Sunday morning. They openly told me that on numerous occasions. Several times I was publicly accused of not preaching the Gospel by the leaders of the 1/3. The other 2/3 of the church, however, were very supportive and encouraging and told me to not listen to that other element. The difficulty was that the 1/3 controlled the church with its positions, natural leadership ability and money.

In my earlier OT preaching I have to admit that I did not do as good of a job as I should have in proclaiming Christ from the OT. My sermons did usually have an excellent presentation of Doctrine and practical considerations for the Christian life. With experience I grew to proclaim Christ from every text. From 2000 to 2005 I preached through Genesis. I would take breaks of up to 3-4 months between various parts of the sermon series, so I did not preach straight through. Most of those sermons I did preach at night as I had learned by then to focus on the NT sermons on Sunday mornings. The Genesis series was very well received by the church, mainly because the complaining group did not attend much in the evening services. But a few did and I would get grief from them for preaching through Genesis. After I finished Genesis I moved straight into Exodus. I preached Exodus from 2005 to Feb. 2007 when I was asked to leave, and I was just at Ex.20 ready to start on the 10 Commandments. Genesis and Exodus are very full of Jesus, grace, and our need for a Saviour.

As you can tell from the rest of my blog I am back to teaching Genesis at our new church. My class averages about 20, mostly young couples in their 20’s-30’s. The response has been very positive despite my rather detailed approach. Perhaps there may be a generational difference at work here. It may be that the older generation I had been trying to minister to, was somehow taught at a young age to look askance at the OT.

Clearly the Church in general seems to have an issue with the canonicity of the OT and its usefulness for NT Christians. I really do not think that there are many pastors today who are preaching expository, doctrinal and evangelistic sermons from the OT. The American Church reflects the culture at large which has an anti-historical point of view. Are we becoming the Church of What’s Happening Now? I have heard missionaries speak of the great usefulness of the OT for reaching third world people groups. But can the OT be used to reach 21st century Americans who have it all?

Having somewhat of a Don Quixote complex my entire life, I will continue to preach and teach the OT along with the NT. I will constantly seek new methods of getting the whole Gospel across the culture gap to post-modern Americans.

Friday, April 18, 2008- These are the stories of my years as a bi-vocational pastor of a traditional, small, neighborhood church that was quite elderly, in Fort Worth, 1992-2007. The stories are an effort at finding peace and some degree of healing as well as trying to figure out the things that went wrong and what could have been done better. To an extent these stories are an attempt at educating/warning young ministers as they prepare for the pastorate. I do not give the name of the church or of the folk involved unless I mention someone in a positive light. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much that is positive in these stories. This was 15 years of almost non-stop fighting and bickering. I am thankful the Lord has brought my family through these times to a church that is fundamentally different. Where we attend today there is peace, the ability to worship biblically, and the small petty stuff is non-existent as far as I can tell.

http://www.sfpulpit.com/2008/08/19/young-restless-reformed/

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    This blog exists to study the bi-vocational ministry, explore the Bible & Theology, and look at current events, history and other world religions through scripture, and have fun doing it!

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