What are the marks of biblical and Spirit-filled preaching?
Frederic L. Godet summarizes the Pentecostal preacher’s purpose: “The preacher’s task in this work lies, not in wishing to act in the place and stead of the Spirit with the resources of his own eloquence and genius, but in opening up the way for Him by simple testimony rendered to Christ.”1 While preachers should strive to do their best for Christ, they should at the same time allow the Word and Spirit to do their unique work in the hearts of people. But how do preachers open up the way for this work? I will address this issue by answering two other questions: What are the biblical premises for Pentecostal preaching? And what are the biblical principles for Pentecostal preaching? One paradigm for Pentecostal preaching answering these key questions comes from the Bible as a whole and from 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 which specifically focuses on Christ and reliance upon the Holy Spirit for lasting results.
First, I will briefly examine some general biblical premises for Pentecostal preaching. Then I will focus more at length on some specific biblical principles for Pentecostal preaching drawn from 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.
Some General Biblical Premises For Pentecostal Preaching
As Fred B. Craddock says, “The pulpit has a memory, participating in a tradition reaching back across the centuries.”2 Its earliest remembrances stretch back to the Old Testament and continue through the New Testament in the gospels, Acts, and epistles.
Paul was actually in sync with the whole revelation of Scripture when he declared his intention to preach only “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” in 1 Cor. 2:2.3 This focus proves true even of the Old Testament. Graeme Goldsworthy explains, “That the whole Bible testifies to Christ is what we mean when we say that Christ is in all the Scriptures. It is because of this that the preacher must ask the question of every sermon, ‘Did the sermon show how the text testifies to Christ?’”4 Christ constitutes the ultimate sacrifice of the Pentateuch. He provides mediation for the saints in the Psalms. And the Lord Jesus serves as the subject of prophecy in the Prophets (cf. Luke 24:44). Naturally, any Pentecostal preacher would want to bring out this Christo-centric focus in light of the declaration of Paul’s theme for preaching. Much more will be said about this emphasis on Christ in the second half of this paper.
Of course, the priests and prophets were expositors of God’s Word. The case of Ezra the priest and scribe expounding the Word in Nehemiah 8:1-12 serves as a classic example of biblical exposition. Likewise, all the writings of the prophets are in essence sermons preached to Israel and some of the surrounding nations.
Pentecostal preachers have long been noted for their ability and tendency to tell stories while they preach. They see this as following the precedent of that Master of preaching, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In parable after parable, Christ likens the kingdom of God to something familiar to His listeners in order to aid their understanding (cf. Mark 4:10-12.). Concerning this premise, two extremes must be avoided. First, Pentecostal preachers must not rely solely upon illustrative material. Jesus also preached the kerygma—the announcement of the gospel—and taught the didache—the application of the gospel (cf. Matt. 5-7; John 3-4). Second, Pentecostal preachers must not depend exclusively on biblical exposition. Balanced Pentecostal preaching makes ample use of both illustrations and exposition. Exposition has been compared to the foundation and walls of a building and illustrations to the windows that let the light in. One without the other is poor form and impractical. Jesus was the Master of both illustration and exposition, although many modern scholars emphasize primarily His unique contribution to preaching with the parables. Jesus was Master of the metaphor such as “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:11, etc.). In light of this paradigm for ministers, Pentecostal preachers should make use of whatever rhetorical devices available to them like illustrations to improve their communication of the gospel to those who find it difficult to hear.
Two principles concerning preaching stand out in the Book of Acts. First, preachers must preach the Word, not their own ideas or opinions (cf. 2 Tim. 4:12). Preaching Christ revealed must be centered in the text.
Second, preachers must preach as ambassadors of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20). Ministers are representatives of the Lord. They must stay true to His orders and represent the heavenly homeland accurately in word and work.
Wherever the apostles preached the gospel, they stayed true to the original message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (i.e., the kerygma), regardless of the consequences, fair or foul (Acts 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 7:2-53; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 17:22-31; 22:2-21; 26:1-23, etc.).5 This model furnishes another reason why sermons should always be based upon Scripture. Use of the Bible helps insure the proper testimony of Christ and the powerful anointing of the Spirit. In this way, ministers are less likely to misrepresent their Lord.