Move forward by going back to basics


By Rev. Glenn Martin
Advocate Columnist

Editor’s note: First in a series

Since we cannot go back and make corrections in our past, we don’t go back to the basics. The only way we can get to them is to move forward.

As I study the scripture without having to look for a Sunday sermon, it becomes obvious that many basics of the faith have received little emphasis, if any, in my lifetime and ministry.  The educational process for church leaders has been inadequate as reflected in the decline of our denomination. I have been back in the pew for the last 18 years and have heard a lot of almost preaching from bishops, professors and pastors of large churches. My pastor for nine years at Long’s Chapel, near Lake Junaluska, N.C., and some others that I have heard, are exceptions to that statement.

The deep convictions of this writing come from a study of the Bible to see what is said, and from reflections on my own inadequate ministry, as well as from hearing too much almost preaching, and observing the limited emphasis of the United Methodist Church on basic Biblical essentials.

First Basic — Biblical authority for preaching and living.

Reasons for reluctance to accept the scriptures as such may include:

• Some have abused the scriptures and used them to prove their own emphasis.
• Some have become so dogmatic with every verse as to lose the spirit in which it was given and give the impression of being the only one who can read.
• Some continue to use it as a legal document, much as the scribes and Pharisees did with the law of Moses.
• Some consider it outdated and not relevant to modern living. You may want to expand on this list.

The scripture is our authority for preaching and living because we have no other authority. Our ordination vows are with the laying on of hands and the instruction by those who represent God and his church “take thou authority to preach the Word...” Jesus is identified by John as the Word of God - the “Word made flesh...full of grace and truth.” 

Jesus used and verified the authority of scripture to confront the devil three times. He authorized his own preaching by reading from Isaiah as recorded in Luke 4. Jesus walked with Cleopas and a friend on the road to Emmaus.  They were discussing current events in Jerusalem, including the resurrection.  Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets and interpreted to them the scriptures concerning himself.  On several other occasions he used the prophets to confirm his own identity. He came not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. He said in Luke 24:44, “everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

The ability of our little minds to understand all scripture is no excuse to discard what Jesus honored as the word of God.  Our greatest difficulty has always been accepting the severity of God’s judgment in both testaments.

In 2nd Timothy 3:15-17 Paul reminds Timothy of the sacred writings and that “all scripture is inspired by God.” The law of Moses (Ten Commandments) was a guide to believers through the era of the judges and prophets and kings.  The New Testament was written in the blood of the martyrs by eye-witnesses who dared to give us the word of God.

Jesus is the focus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each one quoting his words as only eye and ear witnesses could. St. Paul, whose life had been perfectly reversed by Jesus, said, “I am determined to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.”

The scriptures tell us who and why we are.  They are the record and origin of the church and preaching.  We do not preach opinions; we preach scripture.  John Wesley called himself a man of one book.  e carried that book 240,000 miles and would never be caught preaching without it. His sermons were laced together with scripture and thus with authority and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The church can be revived and grow again only when we reclaim and proclaim the word of God as given to us in the Holy Bible. That word will speak to the soul of every hearer, and the Holy Spirit will confront us with God’s offer of salvation.  Anything less is sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. I have done some of that, too.

Let us move forward to the basics of biblical preaching and teaching as in our Methodist heritage.
Martin is a retired clergy member of the Mississippi Conference.