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Is There Any Word from the Lord?

By Robert Smith | Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.

Doctrine without worship is empty. Worship without doctrine leads to ignorance.

What then shall we say to this matter of doctrinal preaching? What if people remain disinclined about hearing it? What about the reports of killing a church if a consistent diet of doctrine is served from the pulpit? These are some of the questions that R.W. Dale of Birmingham, England, had to consider when he was interrogated by a minister many years ago. Dale had insisted on preaching doctrinal sermons to his congregation of the Carr’s Lane Church. His son, A.W.W. Dale, recorded this pertinent incident:

One day, soon after he was settled in the pastorate, he met in the streets of Birmingham a congregational minister—a Welshman and a preacher of remarkable power. “He had reached middle age, and I was still a young man, and he talked to me in a friendly way about my ministry. He called: ‘I hear that you are preaching doctrinal sermons to the congregation at Carr’s Lane; they will not stand it.’ I answered: ‘They will have to stand it.’”[v]

Ministers who are called by God must preach doctrine even when it is unpopular. Doctrine must be preached because ministers are under divine compulsion and have been given a divine mandate to preach the Word. Paul reminds us that we can be confident in the Word, for “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine” (2 Timothy 3:16). The church of Jesus Christ is often concerned about fanaticism; the greater concern should be about infanticide. Christians are experiencing spiritual immaturity and spiritual death. One of the reasons for this is that worshippers are being served sermonic snacks instead of the doctrinal meat of the Word of God. If doctrine is presented with joy and accuracy, the hearers will not only stand it, they will crave more of it.

In 2005 I discovered a statement made by Dorothy L. Sayers that confirmed the idea of “doctrine that dances.” In a low moment of her life, Sayers’ reading of G.K. Chesterton reinforced her faith. In the preface of Chesterton’s autobiography, The Surprise, Sayers composes the words of the preface and pictures Chesterton as a Christian liberator who “like a beneficent bomb . . . blew out of the Church a quantity of stained glass of a very poor period, and let in gusts of fresh air, in which the dead leaves of doctrine danced with all the energy and indecorum of Our Lady’s Tumbler” (emphasis added).[vi]

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