Needed: A Return to Old-Time Preaching (Part 2)

 |  May 23, 2018

NOTE: This is part of an article by Vance Havner which appeared in the journal Logos on March 1, 1978. Click here for part one. Part three is to follow.

The preacher we need is authoritative:

My Lord taught as one “having authority and not as the scribes,” and a lot I hear today sounds like the scribes.  “There was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eye.”  When authority goes out, anarchy comes in.  My Lord met the devil not in his own power, not in his own name, but met him with the Word of God-“it is written…it is written…it is written.”  If he could defeat the devil with these verses out of Deuteronomy, we ought to be able to defeat Satan with the whole Bible.

Don’t be ashamed of the old-time faith.  There isn’t anything newer.  We have a New Testament about a new earth and the New Jerusalem.  And almost the last word in the New Testament is “Behold, I make all things new.”  No wonder the Gospel is good news – old-time, new-time, anytime, all the time.  God’s not running an antique show.  “These things speak and exhort and rebuke with all authority.  Let no man despise thee.”

For several years we had a run on that expression.  “Tell it like it is.”  If you don’t believe that my Lord was virgin-born and died for our sins and rose bodily from the grave and that the Scriptures are God-breathed, then you can’t preach it like it is—because that’s the way it was, and the way it still is.  You can’t preach Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today if you don’t believe that he was yesterday, he is now.

It’s almost the unpardonable sin to be dogmatic today.  When I go to a doctor, I want a dogmatic doctor.  I don’t want him to say, “Well, it could be this and it could be that.  We’ll give you these pills and if they don’t kill you, we’ll try there.”  I want a dogmatic doctor.  When I get on a plan I want a dogmatic pilot.  I don’t want him to say, “I believe we’re going to try something new today.”  When I go to church, I don’t want to hear an expert in the art of almost saying something.  I don’t want to come away feeling like I’d been out to dinner where they didn’t serve anything but Cool Whip.

The preacher of today should not be apologetic.  He should be without an inferiority complex.  If anybody’s embarrassed, it ought to be the other crowd, not us.

William Jennings Bryan, in the speech that made him a candidate for the presidency, said, “The humblest citizen of the land when clad in the armor of a righteous cause is stronger than all the hosts of error.” The simplest man can know the answer.  You don’t have to belong to Who’s Who to know what’s what.  We don’t have to call in TV celebrities and athletic personalities to put the Gospel over.  You don’t have to hobnob with Sodom and get chummy with Gomorrah, or read Playboy to know what the world is thinking.  What difference does it make?  “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” God says.

Some of the avant garde boys ought to wake up.  The devil told me years ago that if I didn’t get with it, and if I preached like this I wouldn’t have anywhere to preach, that I’d starve to death.  Now, from the way I look, you may think the devil was right, but he wasn’t.  I’m busier in the seventies than I ever was in the fifties.  Some dear fellows are knocking themselves out trying to keep up with the procession.  They ought to get up-to-date.  We don’t need something new so much as we need something so old that it would be new if anybody tries it.

They tell us we need a new lingo today; we must change our phraseology.  It used to be a “problem;” now it is a “hang-up.” It used to be a “blessing;” now it’s a “meaningful experience.” We must be relevant and communicate with dialogue in the “now;” study the spectrum; seek fulfillment in involvement; get down to the nitty gritty.  What does it matter what you call it?  They used to call it “itch” but now it’s “allergy;” but you scratch just the same.

Instead of setting the pattern, the professing church today tags along imitating every fad as it comes by.  They tell us that the idiom of Isaac Watts is out-of-date today, and so we must drag the message of the Gospel down to the vernacular of the streets.  But they’re still reading Shakespeare in the old vernacular; they’re still reading medical books and legal books in the old terminology.  It’s an insult to the intelligence of young people to give them the impression that we have to cheapen the Gospel to make it intelligible.  The church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be an accompanist to anything; she’s a soloist with her own song to sing.  The argument that the end justifies the means forgets that the means determines the end.

I get amused at some of the things that churches are doing today.  The Ichabod Memorial Church, for instance, packs them in with folk music.  And over at Ephesus they say, “We’re going to have a TV personality.”  At Pergamos they’re bringing in a fellow who can play a fiddle and tap drums and blow a harmonica all at the same times.  Sardis is planning a “Down on the Farm” night, where everyone dresses like people dressed a hundred years ago and we’ll all see Nelly homes.  Then Laodicea, not to be undone, has a talking horse.  (I saw one of them some time ago.  They asked him how many commandments, and he tapped his foot ten times.  How many apostles? “Twelve.”  Some smart aleck said, “How many hypocrites in this church?” and he went into a dance on all-fours.)  And can’t you picture John the Baptist standing on the bank of the Jordan offering free camel rides to those who bring the most people to be baptized?

A version of this article originally appeared on and is used here with permission.

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