Preaching – a hazardous enterprise


In a recent interview with Janet Mefferd, the host of the nationally syndicated daily Christian talk show, Janet Mefferd Today, Paige Patterson responded to questions about his termination as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

After almost five months of virtual silence, principally due to several weeks of hospitalization and a prolonged period of recuperation, Patterson answered Mefferd’s questions about his termination and his plans for the future.

When questioned about a sermon he preached 54-years ago that created some consternation among his detractors, Patterson responded by saying, “You must almost conclude that preaching is a hazardous enterprise these days.”   (You can listen to the Mefferd – Patterson interview here. Go to the 10 – 24 -18 broadcast).  

Mark Harris formerly pastor of Curtis Baptist Church in Augusta and First Baptist Church in Charlotte has experienced the same kind of scrutiny of his sermons according to The Charlotte Observer. Harris is running for North Carolina’s 9th congressional district and his sermons have become fodder for political attacks and he has had to defend a sermon he has preached about the family, because his opponent has used some of his remarks to “smear (him) and “destroy any image of respect that (he) has had.”

Specifically, Harris was ridiculed for questioning whether careers were the “healthiest pursuit” for women and calling on women to “submit” to their husbands.

On Mother’s Day in 2013 Harris stated in a sermon, “We are fortunate to live in a day when women can be anything that they want to be. But I also think it’s important to understand that when God grants you as a woman a child and you become a mother, it’s amazing how those motherly instincts and that core calling as a mother kicks in. The child becomes your priority and the decisions you make are always to be in the best interest of that child.”

The 9th District House race has become North Carolina’s most expensive congressional race, drawing more than $5 million in outside spending. Harris’ opponent in the congressional race has stated that he is “sexist” and “out of step with North Carolina” – all because he believes and preaches the Bible.

I suppose preaching has always been hazardous to those who faithfully proclaim God’s truth. But in this technological age, and particularly in this digital age, sermons are carved into cyberspace for an indeterminable amount of time. I suppose that suggests that that those of us who preach should be very careful what we say and how we say it.

Yet at the same time we must not preach to tickle the ears of those who cannot endure sound doctrine. We must not cave into the whims and fancies of those who are looking for consumer friendly homilies. Preachers are God’s watchmen commissioned to preach and prophesy with boldness and conviction.

Isaiah 56:10 says, “His (Israel’s) watchmen are blind; they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.” According to this text, and I Timothy 4:1-4, even in a postmodern world, there is a need for God’s heralds to faithfully warn the people and preach the Gospel without fear or favor.

The men of Anathoth did not like Jeremiah’s preaching and said, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand” (Jeremiah 11:21). Their message to him was “desist or die.”

When Stephen preached his message recorded in Acts 7, he did not hesitate to call his hearers “stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart (who) always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). The Bible says they “cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears,” took him out of the city, and stoned him.

Polycarp was a Christian writer and preacher, who has been identified as a disciple of John the Apostle. He dared to defend the Word of God in the early church. His bold proclamations kept him in trouble with those who had set themselves against him.

On the day of his death, he testified, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” Polycarp was burned at the stake for his preaching and writing.

Through the years those who have preached the Gospel have been threatened, attacked and even killed for their bold proclamations. Last year Sultan Masih was shot in his leg, face, and chest by two people after he refused to give into armed groups warning him to stop spreading Christianity in Ludhiana in the Punjab province of India.

A 21-year-old Salvation Army worker, Jared Plesec, in Cleveland, Ohio, was shot to death in December 2017 with his Bible in hand, while preaching the Gospel.

The truth is that preaching can be a hazardous enterprise, but the Apostle Paul says, “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”

I think that means we are to preach when it is convenient and when it is inconvenient, when it is welcomed and when it is unwelcomed, when it is received with commendations and when it is received with contempt, when the circumstances seem opportune and when the circumstances seem inopportune.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to marry a young couple whose son has just joined the U.S. Marine Corps. His grandparents and his parents are supportive of his choice, but naturally concerned about his decision to become a part of America’s military force. They know that becoming a marine in this day of terrorism and war is a hazardous occupation. But so is preaching the infallible and incomparable Word of God.

And yet, there is nothing greater than telling the Good News of Jesus’ redeeming love in a world of bad news.

Mark Harris, Paige Patterson, preaching