Are Most Preachers Illegitimate?

Over the last couple of weeks about three or four people emailed me messages that had much in common with each other. I can summarize the messages as follows:

Most preachers illegitimately distort Christian theology by adding their own interpretation to the Bible. Just preach the Word!!

I am in the business of calling preachers to better preaching, but there are a few problematic aspects to this statement.

You Don’t Know Why….

First there is the assumption that most preachers are in some kind of sinister attack on the truth. Note the commenter attacks the preachers not on the basis of their being right or wrong, instead the commenter attacks their character by accusing “most preachers” of illegitimately and presumably knowingly changing the message that they should preach.

I do believe that a lot of preacher are preaching poor theology. But I hope to never make it appear as though I am attacking anyone’s motives. All I can say is that they are right or wrong according to my own understanding. To accuse them of some kind of sinister attack on the Word is in my opinion overstepping our bounds.

If Sherman Cox teaches error, all you can say at best is that he is teaching error, but you cannot go into the reasons. You cannot determine if I am attempting to do something that I know is against God’s will. We as preachers must be careful to not make this assumption about our members. And yes members must be careful not to make this assumption about the preachers.

Even if you are correct and I am wrong, does that mean I am knowingly attacking truth? Maybe I need to be corrected. And then again, maybe the attacker is wrong.

You Cannot Help But Interpret

The other misunderstanding the statement makes is that it assumes that one can preach the Bible or Christian theology without “interpretation.”

If I say that “God will open some doors and shut others.” (Revelation 3:8) Certainly that is based in the text in Revelation, but it ain’t using the exact same words. I had to interpret. Then how can I use it in the context of my sermon? Again I had to interpret the text.

“For God So Loved The World That He Gave His Only Begotten Son.” (John 3:16) Again a text, this time exact wording. Why not just preach it. Well some folks have a theological understanding from the Bible that comes from a Calvinist tradition and see that limits that word “World” to not be everyone.

You may say…well the Calvinist is wrong. I ask how do you know unless you interpreted the text. Some would say, you simply use what the word means, even, for the sake of argument, if I assume that point is true, how in the world are you gonna apply the Word to present circumstances (preaching) without interpreting?

So sometimes we are not “adding to the text,” we are attempting to understand the text in light of other texts that seem to contradict. You may disagree. We may be wrong, but recognize that you had to interpret the text to come to that conclusion which means that it is not that we don’t “interpret” the text, it is that we must interpret it rightly.

Critique is Valid and Needed

Please don’t hear me wrong, I know that preachers are not above critique. I do it all the time. And thanks to many of you, I should be the subject of critique, and that is good and healthy, but it moves beyond healthy when we take it upon ourselves to identify those who are not just wrong, but are knowingly attempting to sabotage “the faith that was once delivered to the saints.” That is when we cease being helpful and start being a tool of the enemy.

Comments

comments

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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18 comments on “Are Most Preachers Illegitimate?
  1. Lorraine Jones says:

    Grace and peace to you Rev. Cox:

    I agree that the summary points of your emails related to preachers “knowingly preaching” an illegitimate Word were off base and additionally critical without redemptive opportunity. What I am troubled by sometimes is the fact that a great deal of demand for understanding the Word of God is placed in the context of the sermon. And while the preaching of the gosepl provides for some the best opportunity to “reach the mass” amount of their membership, we are handicapped and may be prone to delivering what may amount to sound bite theology. Bible Study, Sunday School, Colloquia, and even Educational Enrichment Institute curriculum can provide the meaningful backdrop or mise en scene to especially problemativ texts that are covered in a Sunday sermon. I learned to read and give recitations before I was 5 years old in the context of Sunday School. I learned about the divisions of the Bible in Sunday School. I learned what it meant to be assured of salvation in Sunday School. I long for the days when we as a church put ourselves, our leaders, and laity under the study of the Word. That way the onus for “rightly dividing” and thus understanding the Word is not left up to an often over-taxed, under-supported, overwhelmed, and uninspired leader who is putting a check mark in a box. Will the real Berean Christians please get in the Word.

  2. Bennett Yancey says:

    Your article shows the overall problem with generalizations. It’s sad that people like to put others in a category or box based on one experience. To answer your questions, I think many preachers preach based on how they were taught, their level of knowledge and socialization. Also, how can the people receive anything if you’re just talking about a story in the bible but not allowing them to see how it applies to them. People don’t care about the hebrew boys in the fire if there is something that they cannot apply for themselves. Plus there are preachers who have good character but bad theology. Let’s help preachers who need help instead of criticizing them.

  3. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Rev. Jones,

    I wish to thank you very much for bringing this point out. It is true that in the past Bible study outside of the preaching event was more emphasized. I can remember, as you, memorizing scriptures and reciting them for the whole church while in the early Christian bible study program.

    I do believe that Sunday School or Sabbath School is not getting the emphasis that it once did…I also believe that many of these Bible training programs instead of promoting a systematic study of the book often promote study of various Christian works to address the real needs of humanity. I understand these decisions, but it often does not address the profound Biblical illiteracy we face right now. I have even kicked around the idea of a “SoulPreaching.Com” equivalent site that was for Bible Teachers….

    Again thank you for bringing out this point…

  4. Tigner says:

    Rev Cox,

    I agree with you regarding your blog. Though I have not read the letters we all have heard Preachers who seem to preach from the “Bible according to them” oppose to God’s word. This could be the contributing factor of confused members: I have heard sermons that state once a saved Christian you are now trouble free (we both know that is not true.) Others preach about prosperity and being rich because Jesus was not poor he was rich, had body guards, he lived like a KING. (Really?) Then there are sermons which state, pray for your desires and demand God to give you what you ask for on your time and not His. (I shake my head). Finally, parishioners often place their Sheppard’s on pedestals making them God like and taking every word uttered as the ‘true Gospel’.

    In a healthy and civil conversation with the writers one would have to question did they at any time study the scripture from which the particular sermon was based or did they just accept it as truth? Yes a preacher will use imagery, analogies, and interpret the word but it will always parallel the true word.

  5. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Yours is an important reminder that preachers are not above critique….and we..lay and clergy…must do that

    I do believe we must be able to say one is wrong…but we cannot attach motives to others…

  6. WysWoods says:

    I remember scripture based on my worldview so I believe that I need to listen to preachers with an open bible more than an open mind. I am trying to understand the “grey box summary” concern. Is it the word most, preachers or interpretation. I also hope you will take time to help me with “illegimately distort.” Thank you for another bite of food for thought.

  7. Rev. Roberts says:

    I appreciate your dialogue, it is helpful. You wrote a blog, Jude wrote an epistle on this same subject. In the words of MLK, “tomorrow is today” and we are living with false teachers and false preachers. I try to retain my innocence by thinking they may be wrong, without judging their motives (great point by the way!), because historically, our ancestors who did not have the best of educations, yet understood the children of Israel’s story was similar to theirs and understood God was on the side of the oppressed. One thing to remember is not by studies, scholars, or students but by the Spirit of the Lord we gain understanding. God Bless… Jude 24-25

  8. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Hello WysWoods,

    I would be happy to continue the conversation, but I am a little confused by your question…Please give me a bit more so that you can possible teach me…and I can possibly teach you as we learn together…

  9. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Pastor Yancey,

    I like your call to “help preachers who need help instead of criticizing them.” I do wish to state, and I think all would agree, that there is a time for critique…hopefully it is charitable critique…

  10. Ron says:

    May I suggest that one major problem is WHAT we are preaching. The Lord Jesus preached one thing: the gospel of the kingdom. Search the four gospels. Now, if He is Lord, and that is the message He preached, why are we trying to concoct messages that He never preached? We need a paradigm shift in our understanding of what preaching is, and what should be preached.

  11. Pastor Frederick D. Harris says:

    Well it was bound to happen, not all agree on the: Who, What, When, Where and the How of the gospel message and its presentation. In principle Rev. Cox I have agreed with your “Soul Preaching” Style / concept and let me say now, I still do. This platform that the Lord has giving you is a wonderful needed ministry that is reaching many; I would encourage you to teach on… God Bless “All”

  12. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Hello Pastor Ron,

    I need a little clarification on what you mean by “gospel of the kingdom” and how this is a paradigm shift.

    Let me say that Jesus came preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. When we look at Christ’s own sermon the Sermon on the Mount, we see that he at least preached about the blessing that is upon those in the kingdom (blessed are…), he preached about the nature of the kingdom, what it was and what it was not like. he preached the ethical framework of the kingdom how its inhabitants were to live.

    If we also are allowed to look at the sermon that the Deacon Stephen preached in Acts we see that his sermon was interpreting the history of the Hebrews in light of the kingdom. Some scholars see Hebrews itself as a collection of sermons. This makes sense it that it seems to interpret much of the Hebrew Bible in light of Christ.

    thus the sermon on the mount gives us warrant to preach the ethical demands of living in the Kingdom…describe the differences between the in-breaking kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world….and the nature of the blessings that are on pronounced on the inhabitants of that Kingdom….And I might add, how one can become a member of this inbreaking kingdom….I would argue that that is what preachers today attempt to preach…..Maybe they don’t use the same language. Some would preach “How to become a Christian” or “How to live as a Christian,” but these are essentially the same questions as above from those preachers assumption that che kingdom is connected to Christianity in some way. You may diesagree with that interpretatin, but I would argue that they are attempting to do what you said they should do…There is no doubt we preachers fail at times…The prosperity gospel is a failure to understand the nature of the “blessing” that is on the inhabitants of the Kingdom…for example…But even they are still trying to discuss the nature of the “blessing” that is on those in the kingdom…

    I guess I really need more information from you on what you mean by “gospel of the Kingdom” and also how this is a fundamental different than what many preachers today are attempting to do…I am confused as to the “paradigm shift” you spoke of…

  13. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Pastor Harris,

    Disagreement is healthy and really necessary for growth. I do not say I love disagreement, but it is one of the major ways that my mind expands. Even attempting to answer questions helps me in my understanding.

    My only problem is with uncharitable disagreement. I can have a good conversation with just about anyone if we can be charitable with each other. If we cannot be charitable, then even someone I am largely in agreement with becomes a chore….

    I do thank you for your support and keep on reading, and always feel free to “push back” if you feel the need….

  14. Brady Williams says:

    I dont see anything wrong with a preacher using or changing the word for what he or she thinks ia the leading of the Spirit. For that reason and purpose The Law/The Bible/ The Holy Scriptures were originally written. Not that we should worship it but that it should be a stepping stone for a closer relationship with God.
    That is why the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 4:1-7; of we dont own the Law/Bible/Scriptures/School Master; If we dont get from under it, we are not worthy to be call Heirs.
    Our Lord Jesus taught the same principle when He told the Pharisees that the priest profane the Sabbath and are faultless. If we do not become a people in whom God will not impute sin we are not worthy to be called Heirs, Preachers or anything saintly.
    When we understand this truth these next two scriptures make a lot of sense. 1.The Law/word/bible was not written for a rightous man (1 Timothy 1:9). 2. The Law/bible/school master is not of faith (Galatians 4:1-7).

  15. Sylvester Warsaw, Jr. says:

    My friend and fellow laborer in God’s vineyard, Elder Cox,

    I strongly agree with this article. Because of our limitations we preach out of our particular world views and what we perceive our subjectiveness meaning our perceptions. Thank God for the Holy Spirit that lives within and isn’t bound by or limited to our perceptions, but, transcends human boundaries. Jesus’ disciples didn’t even see things eye to eye or clearly.

    Also, we need to get rid of this Adam syndrome blaming someone else for our short comings. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit and God’s Holy inspired written Word available to us, therefore, there’s no excuse for not studying and praying asking God for wisdom, knowledge and understand, so that when we gather as a body to worship we’re there to encounter the living God who transcends human boundaries instead of going to see the preacher and to get entertained.

  16. Susanne says:

    For me, I advise a preacher to take training and college courses to learn more about God’s word which will help him/her preach better and correctly. They must use commentaries to help interpret verses correctly, have to look other verses to support, and have to know their culture, history, time and background. The Holy Spirit will help them understand God’s word better, depending on the truth of the Holy Spirit as our teacher. We are responsible to study God’s word also, not depending on the pastors and attend the right kind of Bible preaching church. A pastor is required to study, read, and spend time a lot of prayer. Moreover, best is for them to read christian books and do research online, and know updated news happening over the world which help better education and knowledge. It helps pastor good qualified like Paul who did study a lot in Tarsus (spellign?) for two years and already took some training under his excellent teacher, Gabxxx? (spelling?). Blessings, Rev Susanne

  17. Susanne says:

    We have a responsible to attend the right kind of bible preaching church where they preach God’s word truth The bible clearly says that the Lord calls the pastors like His vice president where the pastors are working for Him as our president in heaven. The Holy Spirit is above the pastors as to watch, anoint, and guide them for His church. The Bible clearly says that Jesus send pastors to people, and He send people to the pastors. The Bible clearly says that God gives pastors His jobs to feed God’s word, watch over their souls, and train them like a sheperd. They must submit or obey His pastor, if not, it shows that they don’t respect His pastor against Jesus what He send for or over his authority as over the Holy Spirit and Jesus’s Head. If a person don’t show a unity at church and or doesn’t obey His pastor, then he/she has to find another church to worship as the Scripture calls us to have unity and remove those who will not submit to leadership. The scripture is clear that at some points we must allow God to deal with people through church discipline.

  18. Minister Phillip Smith says:

    HI THIS QUESTION IS FOR ANYONE WHO WISHES TO ANSWER, NOW I’M A YOUNG MINISTER AND AS YOU SPOKE INTERPRETATION IS GOOD AND IMPORTANT FOR UNDERSTANDING FOR YOURSELF AS WELL AS TEXT. BUT I READ IN PROVERBS TO GUARD YOUR HEART WITH DILIGENCE, FOR IN IT LIES THE ISSUES OF LIFE. NOW MY HEART IS MY HOUSEHOLD AND MY BUSINESS, MY PERSONAL LIFE, THATS HOW I INTERPRET IT FOR ME. NOW A PROPHETESS IN THE CHURCH I MINISTER AT SMELLED A SPIRIT THAT ME AND MY WIFE WERE HAVING PROBLEMS, AND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BIBLE CLASS I WAS TEACHING STOOD UP AND THEN SHE TOLD ME THAT I CANT MINISTER IF IM HAVING PROBLEMS AT HOME, THEN SHE COULDNT VERIFY WHERE SHE READ THIS AT AND SHE DIDNT. WOULD I BE WRONG IF I TOLD HER TO STAY OUT MY BUSINESS? BECAUSE I ALWAYS BELIEVED THAT IM NOT UNDER THE LAW OF WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF ME. JESUS HIMSELF EXPLAINED THAT IF HE BORE WITNESS OF HIMSELF IT WOULD BE A LIE BUT BECAUSE GOD BARES WITNESS OF HIM, HE HAD TO FOLLOW WHAT HE SAID TO DO. SO WOULD I BE WRONG TO DO SO?

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