Secondly, I want to discuss whether, when I say I only want to listen to sermons where the preacher reasons from the Scriptures, am I limiting the Holy Spirit?
a) The first thing I would say about this is that the Scriptures were written by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:19-21 says “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So I don’t see it as limiting the work of the Holy Spirit to say the preacher should reason from the Scriptures, far from it; I think it demonstrates the preacher’s dependence on the Spirit when he doesn’t use his own wisdom to decide what his sermon points should be, but instead relies totally on the Holy Spirit, through his word, to show him what he should teach his listeners. So actually, it seems to me that it’s preachers who don’t preach expositionally who are more likely to be working against the Spirit.
Hebrews 4:12 says “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” So I think when Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word”, you could say he’s telling him to wield the sword of the Spirit, the word that is sharper than any two-edged sword, and preaching the word will be the most effective way to pierce to the division of soul and spirit of your listeners. Someone could preach a Biblical-sounding sermon on their favourite topic and challenge people to live differently, and it might be successful at stirring them up, and perhaps modifying their outward behaviour for a while, but if the preacher wields the sword of the word of God, it will change people’s hearts. That’s another reason why I want preachers to show me what texts they’re getting their teaching from. Don’t just tell me vaguely “the Bible teaches this somewhere”; pierce me with the word itself!
b) Next I want to look at how the Spirit worked to multiply the early church in the book of Acts. In my private Bible Study I sometimes use a book called Search The Scriptures, and at the end of the book of Acts, it has a revision session, where it points to some key verses throughout the book to remind you of the key themes. What really struck me when I did that was that the Spirit (who inspired Luke to write the book of Acts), seems obsessed with the word of God. I’ll just point out a few verses as examples:
Acts 6v7: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem”
Acts 12v24: “the word of God increased and multiplied”
Acts 19v20: “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”
So as I see it, if we want our church to grow in line with how God grew the church in Acts, then our church should be defined by the word, rather than our pastor’s particular brand of teaching. (My church is currently looking for a new pastor.) We don’t want to choose a preacher based on “Oh yes, people are going to like him, he’s a really nice winsome bloke and he tells nice stories about how great it is being a Christian,” nor do we want someone who we think “yes, he’s good at making people feel really terrible about how bad they are, people will be so scared of going to hell that they’re bound to be converted.” And I don’t think we want to determine whether we like a preacher based on how obvious he makes it that he’s unmovable on his adherence to conservative reformed teaching, or based on whether he’s the kind of man who might modernise a few things, maybe introduce a few extra instruments to accompany our singing or something, as if that’s gonna make it cool to come to our church.
I think we want someone who preaches the word in such a way that there’s no doubt that it’s God’s Word that defines us as a church, rather than “we follow this particular preacher because we like his charisma”, or “we think the world needs to hear him tell them how bad they are”, or “we like how he challenges us”. It’s possible that all of those things could draw people in, but if our church grows based on the preacher’s particular brand of teaching, then it will be the preacher’s brand of teaching that’s multiplied. I’m not interested in seeing a particular preacher’s brand of teaching multiply; I want to see the word multiply. So I want preachers to expose us to the word, because I think that’s what the Spirit uses to grow the church.