By Jess Hall Jr.
Doctrine is a word that has fallen on hard times. It has become a "loaded" word, pronounced with a sneer. It is associated with authoritarianism and legalism, labels designed to produce prejudiced conclusions without thinking and without evidence. Doctrine smacks of right or wrong and true or false, unacceptable concepts in this postmodern relativistic age. Thus, doctrinal preaching, always difficult, is now disdained and despised.
Doctrinal preaching is as important as any type of preaching. Doctrinal preaching was essential to the establishment of the church, the perpetuation of the church, the wellbeing of the church, and the growth of the church. Even if there were no biblical support for the importance of doctrinal preaching, there is commonsense support. It is incontestable that membership in mainline denominations declined concomitantly with their decline in doctrinal preaching.
The experience of the church of Christ is no different. While gimmicks and gags may stem or reverse the flow for a while, the world will reject and members will forsake the church when they learn, as they will, that feelings provide only temporary respite and entertainment has no food for the soul. Psychologists and sociologists speak with greater worldly wisdom than preachers untrained in those disciplines. Politicians speak with greater insight into worldly affairs, and stockbrokers give better financial advice than evangelists.
The church has something to say that no one else can say, and it must say it.
And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:15).
Some ears and minds will close at this point, declaring that it must be the hearer's fault if the gospel message is dull. The preacher, however, should first examine himself Some preachers, like some cooks, can take the best of recipes and produce the inedible. Some preachers have wrongly concluded that "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" really means "skin, salt, and shame."
Because doctrinal preaching is difficult to prepare and present, it is often rigid and dull rather than dynamic and edifying. Can doctrinal preaching be interesting? Arresting? Edifying? Can hearers barraged with dull doctrinal sermons be reclaimed? Absolutely! The preacher must remember that doctrinal preaching and practical preaching are not mutually exclusive approaches between which he must choose. Conflict between the doctrinal and the practical is appropriate only, if ever, in the esoteric ivory towers of biblical scholars and systematic theologians. Conflict between the doctrinal and the practical in the pulpit is disastrous.
All doctrinal teaching must have practical application. Romans chapters 1 to 11 is "heavy" doctrine; Romans chapters 12 to 16 is practical application of that doctrine. 1 Corinthians 15:1-57 proclaims the doctrine of the resurrection; 1 Corinthians 15:58 is the practical application of that doctrine.
Paul's example here and elsewhere establishes that doctrinal preaching is never complete until the practical application has been made. The purpose of doctrinal preaching should never be to dispense information or, worse yet, showcase the oratory or intelligence of the preacher. To apply doctrine, the preacher must be as good a student of the congregation and human nature as he is of the Word. Then he can bring the doctrine of the Lord to bear upon the soul of the hearer in a manner that moves the soul to God.