In his book The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Roland Bainton includes a priceless story from the early days of Zwingli’s ministry in Zurich. The year was 1519, and Zwingli’s ministry in the city had recently begun when he announced that, instead of restricting himself to the prescribed Biblical passages selected by the Church, he would instead preach through the gospel of Matthew using the Greek text.
Thomas Platter, a young humanist who was in Zwingli’s congregation, was so enamored of the ancient tongues that he supported himself by manual labor so that he could study them at night. He studied with sand in his mouth so the gritting against his teeth would keep him awake. Says Bainton:
“This lad, so passionately eager to master the wisdom of the ages, when he heard from the pulpit the complete, unadulterated Word of God, for so many centuries withheld from the people, declared that he felt as if he were being pulled up by the hair of his head. The news of the discovery of America had produced no such excitement.”1
1Roland Bainton, The Formation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952), p. 83.
In our day people are excited over many things: football games, adventure movies, a new car. We do not, however, often see members of our congregations express such enthusiasm over our preaching. Could it be one reason for apathy toward preaching in some quarters is that, for many preachers, the Word has become more tool than treasure? Familiarity has bred not contempt but indifference.
It is not that we don’t use the Bible in preaching. Most preachers dutifully announce a text at the beginning of each sermon, and some even use it to give shape to the message itself. We often use the Bible, but we rarely allow it to use us.
Like you, I have heard too many messages–alas, I have preached too many–in which I determined in advance what the theme and direction of my message would be. Perhaps the preacher had read an interesting article or come across a stimulating illustration that seemed ideal for a sermon. After working on an outline, with more gems of wisdom gathered from books and notes, the preacher had finally turned to the Bible for an appropriate text to cite.
How different from a Luther, Calvin or Zwingli, whose lives were transformed by the discovery of God’s Word, and who spent their lives proclaiming its truths. A study of their sermons–as well as those of most of the great pulpiteers in the history of the church–shows messages that were drawn from and shaped by the message of Scripture. They proclaimed the Word rather than merely adding it to a proclamation of their own invention.
When we rediscover the Word of God as the primary source of our preaching–using our God-given gifts to interpret and communicate that Word, rather than grafting the Word onto our own efforts–then we may experience something of the response of another famous preacher who “spoke as one having authority.” If there is a need for a new reformation in our age, perhaps it is actually the need for a rediscovery of what powered that other reformation four centuries ago.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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