Friday 13 November 2015

The Church Needs Experimental/Experiential Preaching

There is such a need for sound preaching in the church. Preaching is God's primary instrument for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the church. 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and 2 are just a selection of the Bible's view on this matter. Paul writes: "But we preach Christ crucified" and "it pleased God through the folly of what we preach", 1 Cor 1:21, 23.

However, this blog post is taking it as a given, regarding the importance of preaching, but I want to contend for the need for experiential or experimental preaching. It has long been contended that we need experiential doctrine for the church. In other words, we do not simply mentally assent to the truths of the Bible, but they must become ours by experience, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Now, as ever on all biblical truths, there are twin dangers. Here again we face two opposites, something which affects the church. The first is where people are driven to the priority of personal experience, beyond what is written in Scripture ("I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another" 1 Cor 4:6). The Quakers in the 17th Century were such an example. Today, we have all kinds of groups who teach that all that really matters is our personal experience. However, a valid question is "are you religious experiences legitimate?". "Test the spirits" wrote John the apostle in 1 John 4:1.

The second error is a dry arid rejection of a personal Christian experience. This attitude tends to think that preaching is simply dispensing biblical truths, and it cares little whether the teaching is understood and received. It emphasises historic truths and is sometimes even afraid of mentioning personal experience. In some cases there can be an ardent fear of any personal experience whatsoever. However, Jesus said to Nicodemus "You must be born again" (John 3:7), therefore we expect the gospel to impact and change lives.

I am having to paint with broad brush strokes in this blog post, but this is so that people can begin to think again regarding the matter of preaching. We need to think through a theology of preaching. Preaching is God addressing his people through ordained men who have been set apart for this task. Paul states that: "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" 2 Cor 5:20. Are you conscious that through the preaching of sound doctrine, out of the Scriptures, that God is making his appeal to you? This is a very high view of preaching and one that needs to recovered. However, our theme is the need for experiential preaching and I want to give a list of some pertinent features of this biblical model of such preaching.

1. Preaching has to be out of the Scriptures.
2. Preaching must be in accord with sound doctrine.
3. Preaching seeks to be serious minded and warm-hearted.
4. Preaching must be reverent, but also joyful (without seeking carnal humour or levity).
5. Preaching must inform the mind, but also touch the hearts of the whole congregation: Men, women, boys and girls.
6. Preaching should be aim for changed lives, without being moralistic.
7. Preaching should balance doctrine and application; application that is from the text, should be searching, but also heart-warming.
8. Preaching should connect with the congregation. We must not preach over people heads.

Three examples of experiential preaching in my opinion are Ted Donnelly, Iain D Campbell (Got sermon audio to listen to them) and in previous generations John Calvin. Suffice to say, there is much I could write on this topic. There is yet more to say on this subject and I value comments from readers, in order to explore and open up this discussion.

Two books for recommendation:

Archibald Alexander, "Thoughts on Religious Experience".
Stuart Olyott, "Something must be Known and Felt".

"What then has become of the blessing that you felt" Galatians 4:15.

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