The Primacy of Preaching

November/December, 1992
Volume 27, Number 6

The preacher’s task is to speak as a personal witness to God’s revelation of himself in the Bible. The preacher is to interpret that message, to explain it, and to apply it to the needs of the people. True preaching does not focus on delivering human ideas about God, but on proclaiming what God has done for humanity. Preaching must be derived primarily from the Scriptures rather than from human speculation. False prophets spoke about their own ideas, but these in fact were worthless (Jeremiah 14:14).

God appointed Moses to confront Pharaoh with the demand that he release the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. God said to Moses, “Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exodus 4:12). The prophets of Israel were not only messengers of doom but also heralds of glad tidings (Isaiah 40:9). John the Baptist was the connecting link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He was the last and greatest of the prophets and the first preacher of the new era. Jesus commissioned His disciples to proclaim the Word of God (Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 10:1-2). The Apostle Paul declared that faith comes by hearing and what is heard comes as a result of preaching Christ (Romans 10:17).

In the early Christian era, men such as Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian, and Augustine were active in the ministry of the Word. During the Middle Ages, loyal biblical preaching faded into the background, and more and more emphasis was placed on allegorical, fanciful, and superstitious interpretations of the Bible. Faithful preaching of the Gospel of God’s. saving grace was displaced by stress on holy days, worship of saints, apocryphal miracles, and other whimsical concepts. But the revival of learning, the discovery of new lands, and the advance of science helped to bring on the Reformation, and preaching again surfaced as a significant activity. Philip Spener (leader of the Pietist Movement) called upon ministers to preach edifying sermons, understandable by the people, rather than technical discourses which very few people were interested in. It was the Pietists who influenced Alexander Mack and the early Brethren. Thus preaching (among the Brethren) has historically been given a place of prominence in church services. Early Brethren leaders such as Alexander Mack, Sr. and Christian Liebe were noted for their preaching abilities. Brethren through the years have believed that the sermon should be the heartbeat of our worship services.

Today some are shrinking from the role of preaching. It seems to them unseemly and authoritarian for one fallible individual to stand before a congregation and presume to “tell them what to do.” There is a tendency to lack confidence in the authority of the Scriptures and to distort the nature of the divine calling of the preacher. We need a recovery of a sense of God’s authority and a renewed vision of the awesome responsibility of being chosen to orally communicate divine truth through one person to the rest of humanity–with the purpose of persuasion.

The preacher must speak with biblical authority. The fact that the message which we proclaim is God’s Word and not our own, renders authority to what we say. The message is not “Thus and thus think,” but “Thus and thus God says.”

Expository preaching is likely the most effective type of preaching because as a rule the expository sermon follows the order of the ideas contained in the passage (centered around one main theme). A section of the Bible text is studied carefully, explained simply, and the Scriptures are “opened up” (Luke 24:27) in such a way that the audience wonders why they didn’t see it all before!

The preacher must be thoroughly convinced that the Bible is accurate and reliable. He must be gripped by its contents, astonished by its richness, and driven (like Jeremiah) to communicate the Word. (See Jeremiah 5:14;20:9.)The preacher must not only preach the good news of God’s mercy and love, but also the bad news of His wrath and judgment upon sin. God’s truth must be proclaimed with conviction and certainty.

Many preachers never really explain the meaning of the Bible to their audiences. They simply lift up a few rambling thoughts from their own experiences and from the latest newspaper headlines. By way of contrast, true preaching is the proclamation of a message which is saturated with biblical truth and is delivered with a positive thus saith the Lord.” Preaching was never intended to be the proud venting of human opinions; it is to be the humble exposition of God’s Word.

In the current issue of the BRF WITNESS, Craig Myers takes a more careful look at the importance of preaching in the life of the church. Read on.

–Harold S. Martin

The Primacy of Preaching

by Craig Alan Myers

Much is written and spoken about the need for variety and novelty in attracting people to the church and to Christ. Many churches put on big musical productions and religious plays, and experiment with a variety of worship styles in an effort to make going-to-church “fresh.” “Dialogues,” interpretive dance, clowning, and banquets are offered as incentives to bring people into the church. Unfortunately, these very churches and leaders often turn away from the one thing that could bring renewal: the simple preaching of the Word of God.

Preaching’s decline in many churches is revealed by the arrangement of the auditorium. In fact, most people call the main room of the church the “sanctuary” (implying sacred room) rather than “auditorium” (which is for the hearing of God’s Word through preaching). In the old meetinghouse, the congregation centered its attention on the elders’ table, from which the Bible would be proclaimed.

As churches moved to the practice of employing a single preacher, the pulpit was raised and in the center. This still implied the centrality of preaching in the life of the church. Now, many church buildings have a divided chancel, with a pulpit on one side, a lectern on the other, and a communion table occupying the center of the platform. This indicates the moving of preaching to a secondary or even minor role.

There are those who tell us that the best way to communicate the Gospel is to simply “be there,” and share the suffering and pain of those in need. This “theology of presence” says that people do not want preaching, but someone who understands and cares. The true preacher of the Gospel will understand and care, and this will drive him to preach about the only One who truly understands and cares–and that is Jesus Christ.


Is every address by a minister of the Gospel to a gathered congregation preaching? What is preaching?

Definitions of preaching are plentiful, and vary as much as attitudes toward preaching do. Webster says that the word for “preach” comes from the Latin words for “to proclaim publicly.” So when someone preaches, he is proclaiming some message. When he preaches the Gospel, he is proclaiming the Good News of redemption through Jesus Christ.

Bernard Manning wrote, “Preaching is the manifestation of the Incarnate Word (Jesus Christ) from the written Word (the Bible) by the spoken word (of the preacher).” This definition is supported by the account in Acts 8:35, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” Philip showed or manifested Jesus through his proclamation and explanation of the Book of Isaiah to the Ethiopian eunuch.


God has revealed preaching as His way of making Himself known. Titus 1:3 says that God “manifested His word through preaching.” Paul relates to the Corinthian church that “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

Throughout the Bible, preaching is given a central place. 2 Peter 2:5 tells us that Noah was a preacher. The prophets were preachers who reminded Israel of its covenant with the Lord God, warned against disobedience, encouraged obedience, and promised hope through the coming Messiah. Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets all proclaimed God’s message publicly. When they spoke, they did not begin, “I think” or “I believe.” They said, “This is what God says!” In fact, much of that preaching is preserved for us today in the written words of the Old Testament.

The apostles focused on preaching. When they saw that the administrative details of the fledgling church in Jerusalem were beginning to consume more and more of their time, they had the congregation elect deacons to care for those details. The apostles then devoted themselves to “prayer, and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4).

It is through preaching that God has revealed Himself in the past and it is how He reveals Himself now.


John R.W. Stott, a noted evangelical Anglican, writes, “It is God’s speech that makes our speech necessary. We must speak what He has spoken. Hence the paramount obligation to preach.” He goes on to state that this obligation is unique to Christianity. “Only Christian preachers claim to be heralds of good news from God, and dare to think of themselves as His ambassadors or representatives who actually utter oracles of God” (Between Two Worlds, pp. 15-16).

True preaching is unique in that it has God’s authority behind it. While anyone can give a religious address or speech, only the one who has experienced God’s grace can truly communicate that grace to others. And while anyone can give his opinions on religious or spiritual topics of the day, only the one who expounds and explains God’s message has any real authority.

In order to be preaching, speaking must ground itself firmly in God’s Word. We hear much speculation on many issues, from both conservative and liberal pulpits, but we yearn for a “word from the Lord.” Real preaching will say, “God says…” While there is room for some speculation or guesses in terms of our understanding or application of what God says, preaching’s primary effort ought to focus on telling what God clearly says in His Word.

Real preaching is also unique in that it communicates God’s Word in personal terms. Yes, we can read and understand the Bible for ourselves, but there is something special in hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed in a public setting. We can allow the Bible to become impersonal and far away as we read, or we can insulate ourselves from the glare of its powerful truth. But when the Word is preached plainly and clearly, without compromise, it is much harder to avoid the Holy Spirit as He speaks through the preacher. When we hear another human being speaking God’s words, they become as real as the person speaking them to us.

John Calvin said, “God deigns to consecrate to Himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that He may resound in them.”


Preaching not only reveals God, but it also reveals how we can be saved. Romans 10:1417 says that people need to hear the Gospel. Taken in reverse order, God sends His messengers, they preach His Word, people hear that Word, they believe that Word, and call upon the Lord to receive salvation. Paul stresses the necessity of people being sent and a message being proclaimed.

Does this mean that people are saved only after hearing the message from a preacher? Not at all. Sometimes messages are printed, in the form of tracts or booklets, and people read the proclaimed message; sometimes messages are set to music, especially hymns and Gospel songs, and people hear these or sing them and are brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Even when a person witnesses in a personal way, he is proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ. It is not always the individual behind the pulpit who serves as the “preacher,” but often it is the neighbor across the back fence, or the teacher in a class setting, or the volunteer who serves in a food bank or rescue mission, who has the opportunity to “preach,” or tell God’s message to the one who needs to hear.

Yet it is still the public proclamation which is central to helping sinners hear the Gospel and to become convicted by it. We see again and again in Acts how the public preaching was the focus of the early church, and how God used preaching to add to the church ‘such as should be saved.” The Word of God was preached to crowds (at Pentecost and in Samaria) and to individuals and small groups (the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa).


The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

The business of the Church and of the preacher is to confront the world with God’s Word. Only by doing this will people hear the message and accept Christ. And while other avenues of religious expression, such as cantatas, drama, singing, Christian education, etc., may have their place in the work of the Church, preaching must remain central in the Church’s activity.

Whenever preaching becomes secondary or even a minor part of the Church’s task, fads soon fill the void. Something new comes along, and for awhile, folks are excited about it. But then it loses its luster and novelty, and the demand for “change” comes again and again. Every new program “creates great excitement and enthusiasm, and is advertised as the thing that is going to fill the churches, the thing that is going to solve the problem” (D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, p. 35). And with the constant change in fads, the church loses its focus and its original purpose for which God established it.

Our problem is not a lack of program, but a lack of preaching God’s Word. If preachers and pastors would concentrate on this central job, and if Christians would listen to and obey God’s Word, many of the problems we experience would be solved, or at least ameliorated.

Preaching focuses the church on three things: the Word of God, the worship of God, and the witness of God. When we preach, we preach God’s Word, and thus draw attention to the fact that God is speaking. When we preach, we say, “God is speaking; let us listen and respond in worship.” We also say, “God is speaking; let us tell others what He is saying.”

“Thus preaching is able to maintain the church’s sense of identity and calling as the people are charged to attend to God’s Word, to obey it as His children, and to spread it as His witnesses. But there seems to be no way in which without preaching the eroding of this awareness can be avoided” (J.I. Packer, The Preacher and Preaching, p. 21).

The three-fold mission of the Church, which is to worship God, evangelize the lost, and edify believers, is thus all included in this central task of preaching. It is similar to when a person takes a magnifying glass, and, focusing the rays of the sun on a piece of paper, causes it to burn. Preaching focuses God’s Word–the Bible–on to us, causing us to burn for the cause of Christ.


Some would tell us that preaching alone is not able to meet the problems of the day. Life is too complicated (they say), and we need all the help that we can get from psychology, sociology, business management, politics, etc. Some would also tell us that no one is going to come hear just a sermon, so we need to “jazz up” the worship service so as to attract the pagans and keep the attention of the Christians.

Again, while singing should be hearty, testimonies uplifting, and the tenor of the preaching service positive, nothing can take the place of the reading and exposition of God’s own Word. Somehow, we think that we ‘modern” Christians have so much more sophistication and knowledge than our forebears did, and that things have changed drastically since the first century, the sixteenth century, or even the early twentieth century.

Someone has said, “The important things have not changed.” While outward forms and fashions have changed, God is still holy, mankind is still depraved, and Jesus Christ is still the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Bible still stands as God’s inspired Word, and the New Testament remains as relevant now as it did when it was committed to paper.

The Bible is still profitable for doctrine (what is right); for reproof (what is wrong); for correction (how to get right); and instruction in righteousness (how to stay right). Preaching is still the primary way of telling others of these truths.

The use of moving stories, mere advice, pop psychology, and comedy may draw a crowd–for a time–but only the certain preaching of the Word will bring true spiritual growth and obedience to God. Musical productions, clowning, and drama may entertain and possibly challenge, but they will never have the same life changing effect which occurs through preaching. A minister may build his reputation on such things, but he will add little to God’s church.


While there seem to be many keys to revival, surely one of the most important (after prayer)–is preaching. If one examines all of church history, one finds that all of the great revivals and reformations occurred in an atmosphere of renewed preaching of the Bible.

The Reformation was sparked by the forthright preaching of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simons, and John Knox. The Puritan revival in England was buttressed by the straightforward preaching of men like John Bunyan, John Owen, and Richard Baxter. The Great Awakening in America was promoted by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and George Whitefield. The Church of the Brethren was founded in a time of renewed preaching, and the first revival among the Brethren was begun as some went preaching in the wilderness. Every revival period has been a time of great preaching and great preachers.

The times of greatest growth in the Church of the Brethren (from 1880-1930) were times of stirring preaching of God’s Word. Preachers like Henry Holsinger, Stephen Bashor, I.W. Taylor, I.N.H. Beahm, I.J. Rosenburger, and Otho Winger preached the Bible and called for conversion.

Those who want revival, should not just should pray for revival, but should pray for God to raise up preachers who will forcefully and firmly communicate the truths God has revealed.


Preaching is one of the highest works of the church. It has been commanded by God. It communicates God’s truth through human means. It is a uniquely Christian institution. Preaching tells what the Bible says about salvation. It sustains and strengthens Christians. Preaching focuses the church on its mission. God has made preaching sufficient for proclaiming His truth. Revival comes when preaching again becomes central in the activity of the church.

There is no substitute for preaching. Other methods of expression may have their place in God’s work, but God’s primary method is preaching. John Calvin wrote that one of the marks of a true church is the faithful preaching of God’s Word. Is strong, clear, faithful preaching one of the marks of your church?

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Captivity… Dreams… Rulers… Fire… Lions… Prayers… Kingdoms. From a dedicated youth to a faithful sage, Daniel’s life stands as an example to follow.  Yet beyond his personal life, God gifted Daniel with a message of future events.  Though difficult to grasp, these events would shape the world for the coming Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ as King.


Luke presents a warmly personal and historically accurate account of Jesus as “the Son of Man.” This course will survey the Third Gospel, with emphasis on the unique events, miracles, and parables of Jesus found in it.


This class will provide a broad overview of general church history. We will then focus on the Anabaptist and Pietist movements, especially as they relate to the formation and development of the Brethren groups. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


This course is intended to lay down a measure in a world where truth is slippery and often subject to interpretation. Where “Christian Values” become a political slogan, and “good people” are our allies despite their faulty core beliefs. Where Facebook “friends” post memes about the power of God, despite a lifestyle that is anything but Godly. In the process we often fight among ourselves, doing Satan’s work for him. The purpose of this course is to lay the measure of Jesus Christ against the cults, religions, and worship in our contemporary world.


While Protestant translations of the Bible contain 66 books, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize additional canonical books as well.  Where did these books, collectively known as the Apocrypha, come from and why aren’t they part of our Bible?  How reliable are they, and what value is there in studying them?


The goal of this class is to acquire a firm grasp of the teachings and themes of these two general epistles. Peter covers topics from salvation and suffering to spiritual deception and the return of Christ. These letters are packed with warnings and encouragements for Christian living.


A detailed study of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the “I Am” metaphors in John’s gospel. Why did Jesus describe himself in these terms? How do they relate to each other? We will look at spiritual and practical applications to further our Christian growth.


Have you ever been visited by someone who said they wanted to study the Bible with you so that you might discover the truth together?  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have much in common with evangelical Christians, and they seem to be well versed in the scriptures.  But what do they really believe and how can we effectively witness to those who have been ensnared by this false religion?


While we may consider Hosea as one of the minor prophets, his message vividly illustrates the major doctrine in all Scriptures.  The theme of God’s unconditional love is magnified and extended beyond those deserving it.  God expresses tender words towards His erring people inviting them to turn from sin to reconciliation with Him.


This course will look at basic principles and polity of leading the local church. We will examine the balance between upholding a spiritually focused organism of ministry and cultivating proper order for effective organization. Practical applications will be emphasized. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


The Brethren Bible Institute believes in the discipline of the whole person (spirit, soul, and body). We will aim to train students not only about how to study the Bible in a systematic way (2 Timothy 2:15), but also how to live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). God calls Christians to the highest of character when He commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15), and holiness requires discipline.

Indulgence in the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, drugs, profanity, and gambling are forbidden at BBI. Objectionable literature will be prohibited. Students are asked not to use the college pool during the Institute. Each student must be thoughtful, and respect the rights of others at all times, especially during study and rest periods.

A friendly social group intermingling of students between class periods, and at general school activities is encouraged. Each student should enjoy the friendship of the entire group. At all times, highest standards of social conduct between men and women must be maintained. This means that all forms of unbecoming behavior and unseemly familiarities will be forbidden.

Personal appearance and grooming tell much about one's character. Students are expected to be dressed in good taste. In an attempt to maintain Scriptural expressions of simplicity, modesty, and nonconformity, the following regulations shall be observed while attending BBI.

MEN should be neatly attired and groomed at all times. Fashion extremes and the wearing of jewelry should be avoided on campus. The hair should not fall over the shirt-collar when standing, nor should it cover the ears.

WOMEN should wear skirts cut full enough and of sufficient length to at least come to the knees when standing and sitting. Form-fitting, transparent, low-neckline, or sleeveless clothing will not be acceptable. Slacks and culottes are permitted only for recreation and then only when worn under a skirt of sufficient length. Wearing jewelry should be avoided on campus. Long hair for women is encouraged and all Church of the Brethren girls (and others with like convictions) shall be veiled on campus.

The Institute reserves the right to dismiss any student whose attitude and behavior is not in harmony with the ideals of the School, or whose presence undermines the general welfare of the School, even if there is no specific breach of conduct.

The Brethren Bible Institute is intended to provide sound Bible teaching and wholesome Christian fellowship for all who desire it. The Bible School Committee worked hard and long at the task of arriving at standards, which will be pleasing to the Lord. It is not always easy to know just where the line should be drawn and we do not claim perfection. No doubt certain standards seem too strict for some and too loose for others. If you are one who does not share all these convictions, we hope you will agree to adjust to them for the School period, for the sake of those who do. We are confident that the blessings received will far outweigh any sacrifice you may have to make. If you have a special problem or question, please write to us about it. To be accepted as a student at BBI, you will need to sign a statement indicating that you will cooperate with the standards of the School.