Preaching or Playing?
Author: Rev David M Blunt
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2) This exhortation from Paul to Timothy reminds us of the calling which the Lord has given to those who are called by Him into the work of the ministry. We must preach the good news of Jesus Christ earnestly and prayerfully to our fellow men and we must do this “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear” (Ezek. 3:11). As we do so we may be confident that the Spirit of truth will bless the word of truth to the ingathering, edifying and preserving of God’s elect, for the Bible promises just that (Isa. 55:10,11).
Satan is aware of this and so he opposes faithful gospel proclamation. The English reformer Hugh Latimer famously remarked, “When the devil gets influence in a church, up go candles and down goes preaching.” Satan may adulterate the gospel so that ministers are found preaching “another gospel” which is “not another” (Gal. 1:6,7) but he may also divert men from their calling, persuading them to take up other means of building the church in addition to preaching and teaching the Word of God. The problem is that although these means may seem attractive and even productive they have no sanction from the Lord. The use of them grieves the Holy Spirit and the spiritual health of the church is impaired. Ultimately both of Satan’s strategies will have a blighting effect if they are not resisted.
While the world has long had a presence in liberal churches in recent years things have come into the life of evangelical and reformed churches which we never expected to see. It is common nowadays for social activities which have nothing to do with the gospel and which are hardly conducive to that blessed fellowship which is “with the Father, and with his Son” (1 John 1:3) to be organised for members and adherents. The recreations are often (although not always) harmless in themselves – but is it really the church’s function to put on these programmes? Let Christians socialise appropriately as private individuals but let not the church of Christ arrange these things as though they were part of her mission.
It is becoming fashionable too for musical concerts to be put on by Bible-believing churches. Recently a ‘Picnic and Praise’ event was organised by three denominations in Glenurquhart, taking place at Urquhart Castle near Drumnadrochit on the Sabbath. It was no surprise that the Church of Scotland and Episcopal Church were involved but sadly the Free Church joined in also. According to a report carried on the website of the Free Church congregation the occasion featured the playing of the evangelist Gus Eyre, who “took up his guitar and told how, having achieved his ambitions, he had been left with an aching emptiness in his life, something many others experience. Like St Augustine, centuries earlier, Gus discovered that the emptiness was Jesus-shaped. In finding Jesus, he found fulfilment, purpose and joy. This he wanted to share with anyone who would listen to him.” The entertainment did not end there: “The evening closed as a lone piper appeared on the ramparts of Urquhart Castle, playing ‘Amazing Grace.’ The choir sung us homewards up the hill with a blessing.”
Another sign of the times is the hosting of theatrical performances by churches which profess to believe in the authority of Scripture. We were disappointed to learn of a presentation by ‘New Scottish Arts’ entitled ‘The Day Between’ held in Buccleuch Free Church, Edinburgh over two days earlier this month. This production purported to be “A theatrical exploration of an event that changed history.” The publicity blurb continued: “On the Saturday between the crucifixion and the resurrection, Mary – the mother of Jesus – relives the events and prophecies surrounding Jesus’ birth to try to understand His death.” Tickets cost £5 and “after the play” people were invited to “join us in our relaxed cafe.”
What is the point of a performance like this? On one level the content is pure conjecture as we have no way of knowing exactly what occupied Mary’s thoughts that Sabbath. On another level it is redundant: why attempt to enter into Mary’s mind regarding the death of Christ when the Lord has already revealed His own mind on that vital subject in many places of Scripture? Surely it is God’s infallible word that we need to give consideration to, not Mary’s supposed meditations?
The faithful preaching of the gospel comes with an authority and a clarity which is absent from these other means – which doubtless explains why sinners do not want to hear it unless and until God works in their lives. But it also carries a blessing which these other means do not – which is why sinners must hear it. The alarming thing is that ministers and churches seem to be forgetting these facts: they are trying to bring people to Christ by giving them something less ‘threatening’ and more appealing to their natural senses. The problem is if people are brought into the church by such devices as we have mentioned then they are likely to continue to want them once they have made their profession: they will assume a larger and larger place in the church and preaching will suffer.
We are all sad at the low state of Zion. We all want to see Christ’s cause prospering again in our land. However there is a right way and a wrong way to go about building the church. The question to be asked about any method we may have in mind is not, Does it ‘work’? but, Is it biblical? Numbers are not everything. In this light we say, Did Christ ever put on a concert? Were socials a feature of the apostolic church? Did the reformers make use of drama? (The ‘Passion Play’ is surely associated with popery not protestantism.) The Word of God is plain: it does not countenance any of these things for the increase of the church.
The sorts of things which are now coming in are not the “gold, silver, precious stones” which must be built upon the foundation of Christ and which will alone abide the day of judgment: they are the “wood, hay, stubble” which will be burned up on that day (1 Cor. 3:12-15) They are among the “little foxes” which gnaw away at healthy churches, sapping their vitality and ruining their fruit (Song of Sol. 2:15): they are spiritually dangerous and should be chased out of the Lord’s vineyard. May God give His people the strength and zeal that is required before it is too late.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon in the pulpit at New Park Street Chapel
By W.Y. Fullerton (Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons