On a recent visit to the American Bible Society headquarters in New York City, I saw a significant item from church history on display there. It was a copy of the famous “Chained Bible.”
In 1539, the Great Bible was published as the first Authorized English Bible (that is, authorized to be used in public worship). It was called great because it was a large pulpit Bible, and one was placed in each parish church to be read by anyone wishing to do so. So overwhelming was the response that it was necessary to secure each copy with a chain to avoid its removal.
Soon after its publication, several copies were chained to tables in St. Paul’s Church in London. Crowds would gather around to listen to someone read the Scriptures aloud. This became so common that the Bishop of London was forced to issue an admonition against public reading from the Bible while the sermon was underway, for it became impossible for other parishioners to hear the preacher.
Just as in the sixteenth century men eagerly sought to hear the Word–even if it meant ignoring the preacher–so in the twentieth century. There is hunger for the words of life and hope found only in Scripture, and if preaching does not help unfold and illumine those truths, people will look elsewhere.
As Paul says in Ephesians 6:17, the Word of God is a “sword” which cuts to the heart and mind of each of us as the Spirit brings it to bear. As those called of God to preach, it is the instrument God has placed in our hands to proclaim.
Yet how often we as preachers leave the sword on the shelf and step into the pulpit bearing only the dart gun of human opinion, wit and conjecture, destined to be more annoying than incisive. A soldier who entered the battle so unarmed would be chased from the field.
Why is it that, in an age of mass media and entertainment far superior to anything available in the average church, people still come to hear the stuttering words of the minister? It is because they expect to hear the Word of God proclaimed.
John Killinger expressed it well when he said, “The greatest preachers have always been lovers of the Bible. Those who have based their preaching on other texts–on the poets, the news media, their own opinions–have passed quickly from the mind, as though they established their ministries on quicksand. The ones who built their sermons on great biblical ideas and passages have lingered in our memories. It is not that they were more original than the others–perhaps to the contrary-but that there is something solid and enduring about the Scriptures, something capable of rescuing even mediocre homiletical minds from transcience and obscurity.” (Fundamentals of Preaching, Fortress Press, 1985, p. 10)
Certainly we will draw on other sources to help bring understanding and application, but the preacher who does not establish his preaching in the Word and draw his message from it fails the congregation that has come to hear a word from the Lord.
Let us unchain the Word of God in our own pulpits, and find in it the power that changes lives. Perhaps even our own.

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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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