A PRO-PULPIT MANIFESTO
By Will Graham
The pulpit used to be the bulwark and buttress of the church of Christ. Symbolizing the lofty authority of the Word of the Lord, the pulpit spoke in the name of Jesus to bring conviction to the ungodly and to edify the saints of God to persevere in the faith.
Ever since the days of 1519 when the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli started expounding the Gospel of Matthew verse by verse in Zurich, Protestantism has prided itself upon the ongoing exposition of Holy Scripture. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the beloved Puritans caught Zwingli’s scriptural flame and ushered in a new era of biblical depth and beauty that lasted all throughout the seventeenth century. The truth of Scripture rang harmoniously throughout England and every other land where the principles of the Reformation took hold.
One of the earliest Puritan giants, a Cambridge lecturer who in spite of his early death influenced a whole generation of godly preachers, went by the name of William Perkins (1558-1602). In his most valuable book The Art of Prophesying (1592), Perkins summed up the content of preaching in the following statement: “The Word of God alone is to be preached, in its perfection and inner consistency. Scripture alone is the exclusive subject of preaching, the only field in which the preacher is to labour.” Perkins was in no doubt: the pulpit exists for the preaching of the Word. Nothing more! And nothing less!
It may not seem like an especially surprising statement. After all, surely everyone knows nowadays that the pulpit is to major upon the exposition of the written Word of God. But the more I observe the current preaching trends on display in our contemporary church, the more I am becoming convinced that Perkins’ command needs to resound once again throughout the nations. It seems like modern sermon techniques have replaced the authority of the Word of God.
A new mode of preaching
I write to you as an itinerant preacher. I’ve been preaching for the last decade and I currently reside in Spain. As part of my calling, I attend quite a lot of conferences and retreats where I commonly share the pulpit with other preachers and ministers. And to my great dismay I am finding that so many messages pumping forth from these precious Evangelical pulpits have been transformed into a feel-good, ego-soothing plate of pottage that only serve to glorify Mr. Cool in the pulpit so that everyone leaves the meeting talking about his marvellous jokes and pretty wit. There is not a speck of substance in such senseless sermons. It’s almost as if we believe we can laugh people into the holy Kingdom of God.
It’s not that I’m against humour. Don’t get me wrong. I think a sanctified joke or a humorous illustration now and again can be a most blessed means to keep the congregation’s attention and to give them a needed pause to digest some of the weightier comments that have sparked forth from the pulpit; but what I do denounce with all my heart is the belittling of expository scriptural preaching.
Instead of opening and unfolding a biblical passage, what is prevalent in our day is a superficial mode of biblical preaching. The pattern goes like this: a preacher takes a verse or a passage from the Bible and reads it out loud then he proceeds to give his motivational chat without once making mention of what the biblical text strives to teach. It seems to be that the speaker has already made up his mind previously about what he’s going to ramble on about and he chooses a nice little verse that kind of says something related to his desired topic. That, I’m afraid, is not being faithful to the revelation of God. We mustn’t seek to subject the Bible’s teaching to our spirit; but rather our mind must be put in submission to the divine Word.
Listen to this piece of heavenly wisdom from Brother Zwingli:
First, put away that view of your own which you want to read into Scripture, for it is quite valueless, as I shall clearly show. I know that you will reply that you have worked through the Scriptures and discovered texts which support your opinion. Alas! Here we come upon the canker at the heart of all human systems. And it is this: we want to find support in Scripture for our own view, and so we take that view to Scripture, and if we find a text which, however artificially, we can relate to it, we do so, and in that way we wrest Scripture in order to make it say what we want it to say.
It is almost as if Zwingli had spent a decade listening to twenty-first century preaching in the West when he made that astonishing diagnosis. It verges on the prophetic. He spoke against this cancerous spirit which has watered down the straight preaching of God’s Word in our generation.
Why have we forsaken the old way?
So why is it, then, that ‘messengers’ no longer want to preach the Scriptures from the pulpit?
Well, first of all, I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that the masses listening to them aren’t all that interested in biblical exposition either. They couldn’t care less about sound doctrine. Nowadays if you start your message by saying, “Ok, brethren, let’s turn to the Epistle of Romans”, everyone inevitably falls asleep. But if you begin by mentioning some supernatural vision or dream or ‘word from the Lord’ you received earlier in the week you’ve immediately got everyone’s attention. There is a palpable loss of appetite for the riches of sound doctrine. John Owen (1616-1683) identified this spiritual disease as a major step towards apostasy. The first danger sign of encroaching total apostasy, he wrote, was, “The loss of all appreciation of the goodness, excellence and glories of the truth of the Gospel.” This is what we’re witnessing on an almost global scale today.
Secondly, we don’t preach Scripture from the pulpit because we have forgotten what it is to tremble before the Lord. The ‘god’ worshipped in today’s pulpits is a Barbie god, a teddy bear god and a butterfly god who just floats about in the sky dressed in pink hoping to shower us with kisses, hugs and tickles. This is not the Sovereign One of Scripture. This is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the Most High who sent His Holy Spirit to draw men (women) to Himself. The God of the Reformation and the God of the Puritan Age was the God of the Bible. That’s why the Reformers and the Puritans knew what it was to quake in the presence of the Lord. They knew they were going to speak to the people in God’s name. It injected a fierce dose of the fear of God into them. One of them, dear Richard Baxter (1615-1691), confessed, “It is no small matter to stand up before a congregation and deliver a message of salvation or judgment as from the living God, in the name of the Redeemer.” A great need for every preacher is a baptism of weightiness, severity and sobriety. Oh, that God would open our eyes to see how important the task is which He has commissioned to us! Oh, that we would shake again before the all consuming presence of the Lord! That way we would flee back to Scripture and make that our only staring point and ending point whilst in the pulpit.
Once the revolutionary messages of the Gospel and the Scriptures have been toned down then there is no further need for the pulpit. It is no surprise that some recent ‘church’ movements have spoken out against the need of pulpit preaching in this new millennium. Only a revival of passionate Bible study and Bible exposition can get us back to where the Reformers and Puritans so nobly led us. Anything else will lead us straight back to the curse of Romanism.
To all of you fellow preachers out there, I urge you to stick jealously to the Scriptures. Keep preaching Scripture! Keep expounding Scripture! Keep applying Scripture to your hearers! No matter how others denigrate the preaching ministry of the Word, be sure to keep your pulpit in good shape so that it may keep standing as a mighty bulwark and buttress when Lord Jesus comes back. He will have you to preach continually of Him (just as He commanded). Be a pro-pulpit and a pro-Word preacher!
 PERKINS, William, The Art of Prophesying (Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, 2002), p. 9.
 ZWINGLI, Huldrych, ‘The Certainty or Power of the Word of God’, quoted in OTIS FULLER, David, A Treasury of Evangelical Writings (Kregel: Grand Rapids, 1980), p. 151.
 OWEN, John, Apostasy from the Gospel (Banner of Truth: Carlisle, 1992), p. 148.
 BAXTER, Richard, The Reformed Pastor (Multnomah Press, Portland), p. 78.