From Guest Writer: Rev. John Lovelace Cantelow, III
Senior Pastor of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL
Paul says in Romans 10:14-15(NIV), “How, then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'” In this passage of scripture Paul emphasizes the need for people who proclaim the gospel message and he celebrates them with a verse drawn from the prophet Isaiah. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” (Isaiah 52:7) I have always considered it to be a tremendous honor to be given the opportunity to teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though Sunday mornings come with the rapidity of a car going 70 miles per hour passing telephone poles on the side of a highway, there is something incredibly inspiring and humbling and peculiarly amazing and taxing about being a herald of God’s word. It is an exercise that demands we give our all. Our mind, body, spirit, emotions, and lives are inextricably bound and exercised in the proclamation of God’s word. Although we are men and women whose feet are made of clay, Paul says our feet are beautiful by virtue of the message that we carry.
One of the primary elements that I have noticed about the preaching of the apostles and members of the early church is that much of it was done under the threat and in the midst of persecution. Peter and John and the apostles were persecuted for preaching the gospel in Acts 4 and 5. Stephen preached to a hostile audience in Acts 7 and was killed for it. Paul and Barnabas and Silas and Timothy and others were all persecuted while they preached and established churches in the name of our Lord. In a sense, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 emphasizes that the gospel was preached under a tremendous amount of pressure. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
By contrast, the preaching I do on Sunday mornings, or throughout the week, is not done under the threat of violence, thank the Lord. Presently, I do not have to worry about being jailed or beaten for the sake of our Lord in this country because I am one of His heralds of the good news. Common sense tells us that to be a preacher during the days of the early church required a great deal of commitment and soul-searching reflection upon what it meant to serve Christ. I cannot pretend that the challenge to preach the gospel today is more daunting or more demanding than it was during the early days of the church. I can imagine what it was like and yet, I do not know experientially what it means to preach the gospel in a difficult pagan environment that is hostile to hearing the good news of our Lord. But even during this present time, even for those of us who are not outright persecuted for the sake of the gospel, I believe no less of a commitment to serve Christ and speak on His behalf is demanded of us. In our present day culture of spiritual apathy, we must be committed. During this present time in which all ‘gods’ and ‘faith’ are the same, we must be committed. During this time of moral confusion, we must be committed to the gospel. In 1 Timothy 4:12b, I believe the word of God still speaks to us today. It says, “…but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
For the most part, I preach to people who have grown up in the church and are familiar with the message and teachings of the gospel. The context in which I preach is different from that of the early church. However, this is the challenge. For every new generation, even within the same congregation, the same gospel must be taught and re-presented in ways that, by the grace of God, help them to understand and appropriate His power into their lives. By the Spirit of God, we are called to preach, teach, and show believers how to accept and live in the grace and love of God. We are called upon to show the members of our churches what it means to know Christ living on the inside. And, we are called to do this, generations upon generations and thousands of years removed from the practical examples that the apostles set before the church. How do we do this? How do we preach the gospel message? What are the methods and styles at our disposal during this time of church history? However, and whatever we do, I am sure that no preaching can be done without the help and the power of the Holy Spirit because no one is sufficient for these things.
I am of the opinion that relevant, challenging preaching comes out of the overflow of our relationship with Christ and each other. I hope that makes sense. I do not know how much time the apostles and ministers of the word spent in preparation for “Sunday mornings”, but I believe, feel, hope, or see some evidence that their preaching – the content of it – came out of the overflow of their life together in community. It came out of their time spent with God in prayer, in the reading of the scripture, and in service to one another. Their time spent together strengthened the members of the church and their ministry instead of diminishing them. I do not mean to suggest that ministers of the word did not spend private time with God. But I imagine that as relationships were built and formality was pushed aside, they were able to share Christ and teach the word of God in a way that allowed “deep to call unto deep”; to allow Spirit to touch spirit. Romans 15:4-5 says, our teaching (preaching) is meant to give endurance and encouragement and produce unity among those who follow Christ. That in and of itself is quite a task that demands every ounce of our being. I believe what the Apostle said to Timothy is applicable to us today: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2) What a challenge! May God strengthen and encourage each of you during this present hour to fulfill the duties of your ministry. By the grace and power of our Lord, preach the Word!!