Some Protestant preachers continue to "dishonor God's word" 500 years after the Reformation, evangelical theologian John Piper has said, listing six common ways in which this danger manifests.
In response to a question from an anonymous church leader about preachers straying from Scripture in their sermons, Piper wrote on his desiringGod.com website on Wednesday that it's a "far too common" problem.
"First, preaching that does not show the people what the text means and what those implications are for our lives is failing to honor the nature of the text as God's glorious revelation of what we need to know and how it relates to our life," Piper began.
"It's failing to honor the text, and he is failing to honor the people in the congregation who should be shown by preaching how they themselves can see glorious truth from the text that is relevant for their lives."
Piper then accused some preachers of failing to "exult over the exposition of what they've seen in the biblical texts," and said that such ministers reveal "their own laziness," "dullness," and "emotional incapacities."
"These are weaknesses that need to be corrected and overcome. We should pray for our pastors earnestly that the laziness or the dullness or the emotional incapacities would be overcome. In other words, this is not only unhealthy for the church; it is a deeply unhealthy sign for the pastor," he said.
Next, the Reformed pastor suggested that preaching points that "hover above" biblical text and are not rooted in it "diminishes the authority of the passage and the authority of the message. Manifestly rooted or obviously rooted is the key phrase here."
"The only authority that a pastor has derives from his faithful delivery of God's Word. It doesn't come from himself," he wrote.
"This is important. Take note here. The more difficulty the people have in seeing the pastor's points in the text, the less warrant they have for believing what he says. Because it's the text that has final, decisive authority. If they can't see what he's saying in the text, there's no warrant for why they should believe him," he added.
Piper warned that some pastors might even shift authority from the text to themselves.
The author continued: "Fourth, a pastor who preaches by making points that are not manifestly in the text is preparing his people for biblical and doctrinal defections in the days to come.
"If the people become accustomed to making their biblical and doctrinal judgments about what is true and right and beautiful based on the declarations of a man rather than based on what they see in Scripture, these folks will — as Ephesians 4:14 says — be blown off course by the various winds of doctrines that blow in our culture."
Piper said in his fifth point that there are also pastors who do not focus on the wording of the text, which in turn trains people "to be careless and inattentive to the specificities of the moral and spiritual claims of Scripture on their lives."
He warned that such a failing produces people who are "loose and careless in their moral judgments" as they have become "accustomed to generalities and vagueness."
For his final point, Piper warned that failing to focus on the specific wording "robs the people of a kind of joy that Jesus intends for them to have when he says, in John 15:11, 'These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.'
"That text does not mean that the incomparable, divine joy in the heart of Jesus Christ will become our joy because of the pastor's interesting comments about important things in the world that are not manifest expressions of the intention of Jesus when he spoke," he wrote.
"Jesus' words with his meaning will impart his joy."
Christians around the world celebrated 500 years of the Reformation on Tuesday, with organizations like The Gospel Coalition listing some of the greatest challenges facing the faith worldwide.
"Secularization in the former countries of Christendom, opposition to biblical orthodoxy in the West, and increasing violence against the church in parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia," Kevin DeYoung, chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, and senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, wrote when talking about the major issues.
"Theological heterodoxy holds sway in too many places, as do grinding poverty (on the one hand) and affluent indifference (on the other). And this is to say nothing of rising racial tensions, widespread nominalism, and the plight of those — numbering in the billions — who have no access to the Gospel," he added.