Popery in the Pulpit

March 25, 2014

The preacher has neither authority nor right to use the pulpit as a place to express his own opinions on anything: the pulpit is not a soapbox. Too many preachers have exaggerated, arrogant, and unscriptural notions of their office whereby they assume the prerogative of dictating the consciences of their people in every sphere of life. That is popery, and there is no place for it in the Church of Christ. (Michael BarrettThe Beauty of Holiness: A Guide to Biblical Worship92)

This quotation from Barrett raises some good questions that need to be discussed:

  • What is a rightful use of one’s authority in the pulpit?
  • How should a preacher view himself in relationship to the Word he preaches and the people to whom he preaches?
  • Do personal opinions have any place in preaching? If not, why not? If so, why? And if so, how should they be presented in a sermon?
  • What is the relationship of Christian preaching to the conscience of a believer? When has a preacher crossed the line of his God-given authority?
  • Is it legitimate for a preacher to apply the Scripture to “every sphere of life”?

Kerry McGonigal

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In Adam by birth but in Christ by grace. That's my story. Husband to one and father of three. Pastor, homiletics teacher, and passionate proponent of expository preaching. If you like what you've read and want to be notified of future posts, take a second and subscribe via RSS or email (on the right sidebar). Opinions expressed here are my own.

6 responses to Popery in the Pulpit

  1. Did not the Apostle Paul express his own opinion in I Corinthians 7:12? I know what you are going to say, but just thought I’d bring the issue up for your comment.

    • Paul usually didn’t express his opinion, but when he did, he made it clear that’s what it was.

      He also didn’t give his opinion just to let people know what he thought. He gave it because of there was a situation or question at the time that needed addressing, and he hadn’t a direct word from the Lord on it yet. Yet, after expressing his opinions, he said, “I think that I also have the Spirit of God” (vs. 40), implying these were not really his opinions, even though they seemed so. Otherwise, we might as well remove that section from the epistle as uninspired.

  2. When I was a student at BJU, we were taught this in Pulpit Speech. One would be blind to say that this was held to by many; I heard more of man’s thought on topics than on God’s Word. Thankfully, there is a shift of focus from man to a Word centered ministry.

  3. Kerry: Thank you for posting this! It is an important point, that, sadly, needs to be said, and repeated and heeded. I will pass it along to my pastor friends.

  4. I have been thinking about this for a few days now since it was posted. I have read Barrett’s book and have been immensely blessed by it’s emphasis on biblical worship of our holy God. I do not think, though, that this one quote implies what some may think it does. Your question about application must be addressed, and Barrett does that. From page 95, “A sermon without application is just a book report; a sermon without the explanation of the biblical text is just opinion.” Proper applications must be made to the sphere’s of life. Applications of biblical truth essentially have much opinion inherently in them.

    In answer to your question about our relationship as preachers to the Word and to our people, it would appear that we are in fact to be interpreters of both. We must seek to rightly divide the word of truth in order to rightly apply the word of truth to our hearers. This requires that we engage our opinions as to the spiritual needs of our congregation, and apply the biblical text accurately and faithfully to our situation.

    As Barrett points out, though, our messages must start with what the text itself means, and then seek to explain to our people what the text is actually saying. Then it is applying that meaning to 21st century living. In this sense, even our opinions in our applications are biblically shaped.

    Another aspect of this to consider is that as preachers, we must be honest and admit that there are certain texts of scripture that are difficult to interpret, in which we must seek to offer our people our opinion as to which may be the best interpretation, according to our study of the scriptures. When this is done, it should be done with humility.

    I would dare say that every sermon has some amount of opinion in it. But I think Barrett is specifically saying in the context of this section on The Magnitude of Preaching that when a man preaches the word, it is not to be done in a “letter to the editor” fashion but is to be done reverently, with the notion of communicating God’s timeless truths to the specific times in which we live.

  5. Taigen, thanks for your thoughtful feedback. And Gene for your question–it is a legitimate one that needs to be answered. And I hope to do so in a separate post on the “The Place of Personal Opinion in Preaching.” I will link to it here in the comments section when it’s published.