Throughout last year, there was a rather one-sided debate in the internet concerning the alleged difference between preachers in pan-Biblical times and those of today. These were mostly carried out by para-church groups who had words such as ‘spiritual’ in their titles and were obviously against a settled ministry in a local church, some even arguing that the office of a preacher was only used of a peripatetic, itinerant servant of God. On most of these sites one found that the writers denigrated all modern preaching, presenting themselves, of course, as ‘spiritual’ preachers who were the exception to the sad rule. The result of this campaign was that a number of brethren copied quotes from these sites and sent them to various brethren, often without comment, believing that they were fulfilling the calling to ‘preach the word’. It appears that the most popular quote was entitled ‘Preachers Today’ and reads:

     ‘Preachers today are licensed and ordained by the church; men of old were ordained and sent by God. Preachers today go forth armed with degrees and credentials; men of old went forth anointed by the Holy Spirit. Preachers today are questioned by committees and hired to preach what the church believes; men of old came preaching, “Thus saith the Lord.” Preachers today give themselves to programs, visitation, church business; men of old gave themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Preachers today preach and men are persuaded to move their membership; men of old preached and, “they were pricked in their hearts and cried, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Preachers today pray and the organ plays softly; Elijah prayed and the fire of God fell. Preachers today are afraid that they will offend someone; Paul was afraid that he would not. If there is no offence, the gospel has not been preached.’

     Apart from reading this article in the internet, where its author is mentioned, I have been sent copies from different friends from quite different backgrounds and from different countries. None troubled to give the author or source of the quote but presented the copied words as if they had authored them so that the true author and his aims and the context and background of the quote, could not be established. The senders were obviously servants of Christ who were striving to understand why Christians today are making so little impact on the world. Three things became immediately clear: Firstly, my correspondents believed that their making the quote available to as many brethren as possible was their contribution to positive Christian witness. Secondly, they were not prepared to discuss what they had sent as, with their supply, they had exhausted their responsibility. Thirdly, my correspondents excluded themselves from what they mark out as a modern weakness in the Church.

     This quote caused me some concern as two of the senders themselves proved that the negative part of the antitheses was wrong in their cases and quite wrong in the case of many other brethren I know in almost all denominations and churches. One pastor who sent me the quote but refused to discuss it with me, vouched for its truth even though he speaks much of his theological training and seeks to show from his display of Greek and Hebrew, how he came to quite questionable theories. Indeed, all the antitheses are false and come from sources which apparently have no grasp of what a balanced ministry is but act as judges of those whom they have neither the calling or training to understand. The antitheses proclaimed are a mere careless attempt to generalize reality based on a hypothesis unverified by facts. So, as a positive, objective and evangelical contribution to present day Christian witness, these doleful complaints are counter-productive as they are non sequiturs, presenting a Scriptural and, indeed, logical, fallacy. Let us take these false antitheses one by one.

‘1. Preachers today are licensed and ordained by the church; men of old were ordained and sent by God.’

     It does not follow that licensed preachers in modern times ordained by their church, are not thus ordained and sent by God. Nor does it follow that ancient preachers ordained and sent by God were not licensed and ordained by their churches. We know from the Old Testament that the schools of the prophets licensed and ordained men they believed were chosen by God for the ministry and the New Testament, especially in Acts, teaches that God instructs the churches to choose out from amongst themselves candidates for the work of evangelism. In other words, it is thoroughly Biblical that licensing and ordination are to go hand in hand with being sent by God.

‘2. Preachers today go forth armed with degrees and credentials; men of old went forth anointed by the Holy Spirit.’

     Again, the false antithesis does not depict true opposites and is thus highly misleading. Scholarly gifts and academic honours are not greater barriers to the work of the spirit than the rejection of them. Rather, they can enhance the scope of the preached Word. Men of old such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Ezra and Daniel were intellectuals and the Apostle Paul wore the laurels of his university. All the well-trained men who gave us the Bible were also men of the Spirit.

‘3. Preachers today are questioned by committees and hired to preach what the church believes; men of old came preaching, “Thus saith the Lord.’

     Sadly, we often find preachers preaching their denominational dogmas rather than the Word of God, as do a number of distributers of the quote in question, but this does not mean that all godly ministers do likewise. So, too, many of the old prophets who preached ‘Thus saith the Lord’ showed themselves to be false prophets as both Testaments teach. However, there were many who truly preached God’s covenant truths then, as many still do, thank God, today. Preachers appointed by godly, Church-based committees are certainly still worthy of their hire.

‘4. Preachers today give themselves to programs, visitation, church business; men of old gave themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’

     Again this is a false comparison on both alleged sides. The old saints kept to God’s covenant programme for both sinners and saints and were certainly not slow in visiting those in need as both the Old and New Testaments testify. The Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 gives us a good example of how a Church business meeting was called and organized. None of these features rule out the value of prayer and the ministry of the Word, indeed, all these features were combined and not separated as the distributers of this quote have done. The Church has never allowed herself to be ruled by abuse but right usage.

‘5. Preachers today preach and men are persuaded to move their membership; men of old preached and, “they were pricked in their hearts and cried, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”’

     This false antithesis shocked me perhaps the most as at least one who sent me the misleading quote is quite notorious for condemning the churches of others and striving to make them give up either their church or their pastor or suggest they will find a better home at such and such address. Poachers in our churches are hirelings indeed! However, these denominational fanatics are still fairly few and far between and most pastors worth there salt, and there are still a good number, pray that their hearers will be ‘pricked in their hearts’ and turn to Christ.

‘6. Preachers today pray and the organ plays softly; Elijah prayed and the fire of God fell.’

     I quite agree that soft-playing organs are a handicap to true worship. Though I complain more over the loud-bellowing, grinding organs that ruin public singing, not to mention the fiddlers, trumpeters and guitarists who lead one astray from heavenly thoughts as they jig you on to dance with the Devil. However, prayer must be synergized with preaching and is therefore a must and I have heard many a fervent prayer which has overcome all musical distractions. However, I once had a pupil who could do nothing. He appeared to be educationally subnormal in everything – but he could whistle. As an experiment, I gave him a wooden flute. He mastered it in minutes and somehow this became his opening to further learning. If there are other people who can only make a joyful noise to the Lord by banging a drum, and I honestly believe after teaching alleged educationally subnormals, that there are such people, then a wise pastor should fit that into worship somehow, though not necessarily when he prays! So, too, quite against my grain, I have experienced the Fire of God falling on prayer even though the organ was being played in an attempt to rival it. God does not let trifles disturb Him.

‘7. Preachers today are afraid that they will offend someone; Paul was afraid that he would not. If there is no offence, the gospel has not been preached.’

      Preachers who declaim dramatically to offend can hardly be considered better than those who are scared to tell the truth. At least the scared ones in this comparison appear to know the Gospel but are afraid of men; the uncouth ones do not know the gospel and think being offensive to men is good preaching. Fancy putting Paul in that category! The author of the quote cannot differentiate between offensive speakers (one cannot call them preachers) and the offense of the Gospel. In the former, it is the vain railer who is guilty of offence; in the latter it is the sinner who rejects the Gospel and takes offence at the Rock Christ (Rom. 9:33). So, too, the author and those who distribute the quote have radically misunderstood Paul’s teaching on living peacefully with all men. He tells us that all things are lawful but all things are not edifying and warns us against giving offence to anybody (I Cor. 10:23; 32.). The Apostle John wrote so that no offence be either taken or given (16:1). Paul adds in Romans 16:17 that we should mark and avoid those who cause offence. Sadly, there are pastors who believe that being offensive is the same as the offence of the Gospel so they ride on this ‘excuse’ to make themselves a nuisance and an offence to the truths they ought to be preaching. The ‘preacher’ who boasts after his diatribe that he has shocked his public is an actor and an hireling, not a winner of souls. When proud preachers exclaim after their sermon, ‘Wow! Didn’t I give them it?!’ The only answer is ‘No, you took the gospel away from them!’

     The trouble with the theoretical concepts aired in the quote is that they are totally defeatist and those who purvey this artificial bad news have totally dissected what belongs Scripturally together. What is at the back of it, too, is certain erroneous thinking which believes that all learning, training, administration, organization and good manners have no place in the pulpit. All they think we need in the pulpit is an unbridled enthusiast who is merely an empty sounding board for some spirit or other but not the Holy Spirit. This is not preaching but fanaticism let loose. James tells us that we need good training in the wisdom from above to become good preachers and ‘If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body’ (James 3:2).  Such men, the congregations should choose out and ordain so as to build up the Church.