The Expository Files

A Sturdy Independence (Without "The Preacher")

There is a danger we may not think about much, but there is widespread evidence this is a real problem. Paying too much attention to preachers!

The problem is not paying too much attention to preaching! In the context of faithful, biblical preaching, people in the audience should listen, have their Bibles open, study at home and thereby use good preaching as an instrument of obtaining and maintaining knowledge.

The problem is paying too much attention to preachers! Treating them as men with extraordinary capacity to know the truth, and depending upon them as a substitute for your own study.

Some, in fact, are addicted to preachers. Their "faith" was constructed without independent Bible study, formed by listening to a man. If "their preacher" leaves or they get tired of him, they move to another. Their religion revolves around preachers; is centered in men, not Christ (see 1 Cor. 1-4).

In dealing with tough questions or sensitive issues, there is some temptation to ask "the" preacher and accept his answer, without any individual study. Some listen to preachers and ascribe too much weight or authority to what they say.

The truth is, all a preacher may be able to do is bring up something in the Bible for you to study that pertains to your question or the subject at hand. Preachers enjoy no authority to "make pronouncements," and a group of preachers have no power to settle some issue by their collective verdict. This might be a good place to quote Paul in Acts 14:15, when he and Barnabas said to the people "We also are men with the same nature as you."

I believe John R.W. Stott expressed the danger well in these words: (I've edited some of Stott's language for our use)

"There is a constant danger of preachers tying people to their own apron strings, instead of encouraging them to develop a certain sturdy and healthy independence, as they rely more and more upon God himself. It is surely to this that Jesus referred when he warned us to call no man our 'father', 'teacher', or 'lord' on earth (Mt. 23:8-12). We are to adopt towards no-one in the church, nor require anyone to adopt towards us, the dependent attitude implied in the child-parent, pupil-teacher, servant-lord relationships. We are all brethren. We are to depend on God as our Father, Christ as our Lord, and the Holy Spirit as our Teacher. The ambition of every minister for his congregation should be so to warn every man and teach every man in all wisdom as to 'present every man' not dependent on his minister but 'full-grown, mature in Christ' (Col. 1:28). Although occasional consultations can indeed do good, I cannot see that frequent visits to the preacher, whether for 'confession' or for 'conference', are productive of true spiritual maturity."

--From "Confess Your Sins" (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964), p. 82.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.9; September 2001