The Regulative Principle of Preaching

by Ben Campbell

When we think about preaching, often we resort to the act itself without considering the method by which one communicates the divine revelation of God Himself. However, preaching is more than just communication; preaching is a divine act.[1] In other words, preaching is the communication and articulation of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity. It is an act by which cannot take place unless God and His Word are involved. Therefore, those who preach must have a view of preaching that is higher than mere oratory or rhetoric.

One’s theology proper, or how he understands God has direct implications on how he understands preaching.

Characteristics of a Respectful Preaching Perspective

First, a high view of preaching demonstrates a high view of the Bible. This means the preacher believes the Bible to be divine communication of Himself through spoken word. Also, the preacher believes the Bible is without error, without mistake, and is God’s own spoken word. So, when a preacher approaches the sacred desk, he understands that he is communicating God’s own Word.

Second, a high view of preaching expresses God’s Word faithfully AND correctly. If the preacher has a high view of the Bible – inerrancy, infallibility, etc. – then he will aim to preach God’s Word faithfully and correctly (2 Tim. 2:15). H.B. Charles writes, “The minister who pleases God must have an unwavering commitment to the faithful exposition of God’s Word.”[2] True, biblical, faithful preachers aim to exegete or draw of the text God’s intended message.

What is Preaching?

As stated earlier, preaching is more than just communicating God’s Word, there must be a divine element to the act of preaching. As one author has noted, “We speak because God has spoken.”[3] You see, [preaching is a divine act that communicates God’s will to His Church]. This act of preaching is unlike any other task. In fact, it is a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1), and a task that allows the pastor to oversee what God has entrusted to him – his congregation (Titus 1:7). The most compelling way a pastor can lead his congregation is to expound upon the Scriptures faithfully and consistently.

In order to do this, the pastor/preacher needs to take the task seriously. Paul Bauermeister posits, “You are not being asked to try hard or to do your best. You are being asked to pledge yourself to faithfulness and holiness.”[4] Jared C. Wilson is correct in his assertion that when pastors come into the pulpit, they must proclaim “It is finished!” not “Get to work.”[5] Hence, the gospel message is not a message of behavioral modification, but that God, in his kindness and love, looked down on humanity in their fallen state and made a way for all to be reconciled back to a relationship with Him.

Regulative Preaching?

The regulative principle deals with what the Bible says about certain issues. The regulative principle prioritizes only what is revealed in Scripture as normative for faith and practice, whereas the normative principle permits some practices, such as having flashing LED lights and a fog machine in the worship service because they are not explicitly condemned in the Bible. (or are they?) So, how do we reconcile the regulative principle with faithful biblical preaching? What makes preaching biblical?

Ultimately, the issue concerns how the preacher communicates the grace of God in Jesus Christ who became our substitute in order that we might be reconciled to God through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a grace-giving, mercy-dealing salvation that justifies dead sinners and raises them to eternal life through the blood of Jesus. Preaching that is biblical is Christ-centered and gospel oriented with the hope of transforming image bearers. Sermons that are not centered in Jesus’ reconciling work have no place in the Christian church.

So, what makes a sermon “relevant” or “regulative”? I believe in order to regulate a sermon from a biblical standard, we must have a sermon that is text-driven.[6] David Allen posits “Text-driven sermons deal with the actual structure of the text itself.”[7] In Text-Driven Preaching, David Allen gives 12 steps for preparing a text-driven sermon, and they are summarized in this way:

  • Begin at the paragraph and move further in, analyze sentences, analyze key phrases
  • Do word studies
  • Translation work
  • Consult commentaries
  • Diagram the passage
  • Develop an exegetical and a homiletical outline
  • Write the sermon body (Introduction, Transitions, and Conclusion should be written in full)
  • Consider sermon delivery.[8]

Though Allen’s list is lengthy, it is a wonderful and helpful method for developing a text-driven sermon. However, if you want to preach a text-driven sermon, here are a few steps to take.

  1. Determine a Passage. Sometimes, determining a passage can be the most time-consuming element to sermon preparation. There have been many times in the past few years where there was difficulty determining a passage. To remedy such an issue, consider planning your preaching out for a month, quarter, six months, or year. Either way, allow the Spirit to guide your heart to what your local church needs. It is God’s church, and He knows best.
  2. Establish the Context. Establishing the context of a passage simply means that the student of the Bible aims to set the passage in its own time. As an interpreter, you want to place yourself in the time period of the passage and see the passage through the lens of the biblical author. Find out to whom he was writing and why he was writing to them. Figure out the main themes to communicate to your people from the specific text.
  3. Find Key Words/Phrases. Sometimes, the best way to communicate the context of the passage is to figure out the key words or phrases within the passage. But even if this is not the case, these key words/phrases are important because they allow you to grasp the thought process of the author. And ultimately, this is what you want as a preacher.  Focus on verbs first then other parts of sentences or clauses.
  4. Do Translation Work (if possible). I am a firm believer in doing everything you can to be the best preacher you can be. If this means going to seminary, then go to seminary. If the best you can do is a few commentaries, then use those commentaries till the binding breaks. The “best” preachers are not the most educated. The best preachers are the most faithful in preaching the text as God meant to communicate it through His inspired authors. So, if you have the Greek and Hebrew training, use it. If not, find a commentary set that enhances these words for your benefit and use them.[9]
  5. Consult Commentaries. Regardless of your educational training, commentaries are a great resource for preachers. In a way, it is quite arrogant of us to neglect them. It is foolish to believe we know better than 2,000+ years of Christian thinkers and scholars and theologians. It is also bad stewardship to ignore what others have said about certain passage, even if we disagree with them. Commentaries provide a better perspective to your passage. Use commentaries. Consult them later in the sermon development process, rather than at the beginning. (In the beginning stages of sermon development, one should spend time in the text, in various translations. Write out what stands out on a piece of paper. Those “first thoughts” often stay in your mind throughout the process. Read the commentaries but not until you have asked questions of the text yourself.)
  6. Develop an Outline. Finalizing your thoughts into an outline is a crucial element to the sermon writing process. While rhetoric and great oratory skills are not a prerequisite for sermon delivery, constructing your sermon through an outline will help you communicate clearly and effectively. Ideally every sermon has one point and each “point” should support the main thrust of the Biblical text. It is helpful to make sermon “points” complete and parallel sentences.
  7. Write Sermon. You might ask why this point is even listed. After all, this is a post on preaching! However, I place this point here to help preachers understand that every preacher has a different way of preparing notes and delivering their sermon. The method of preparing your sermon should be similar, not necessarily identical. However, the method of communication could be polar opposite of other preacher’s methods. Simply put, all of us have different ways we write and communicate, but the aim should be clarity and simplicity. Some of my preaching friends write out their sermons even though they do not take manuscripts into the pulpit. They do this to have a clear direction. If the preacher doesn’t know where he is going, the people won’t either.
  8. Apply the Sermon to Today. Finally, a sermon is not a sermon unless there is application to the modern-day. If you simply provide contextual evidence and some moralism, you have missed what it means to preach. Instead, you have provided your congregation a theological lecture or a moral speech. In order to biblically preach, you must apply your sermon to your hearers. Vines and Shaddix make this distinction in their excellent book Power in the Pulpit.

Conclusion

Sermon construction is hard work and to do it well one must fight against laziness. It is all too easy to take someone else’s material and make it your own. However, as we alluded to a bit earlier in the post, the best preachers are the most faithful. Faithful preachers are the ones who labor week in and week out in the passage of which they will preach in order to correctly interpret and proclaim it to God’s people each time they step into the pulpit. They aim to “rightly handle the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Faithful preachers implement the regulative principle throughout all elements of the sermon development and delivery process.


[1] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix. Power in the Pulpit (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 25.

[2] H.B. Charles. On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights. For the Preparation and Practice of Preaching (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 17-18.

[3] R. Albert Mohler, Jr. He Is Not Silent (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 42.

[4] Paul J. Bauermeister, “The Disciplines of Pastoral Formation: Habits Toward Holiness” Currents in Theology and Mission 15, no 1 (Feb. 1988), 64-65.

[5] Jared C. Wilson. The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ into Your Life and Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 121.

[6] As a personal conviction, I would rather refer to biblical sermons as “text-driven” rather than “expository” or “expositional” so there is not as much confusion from those who might not know such definitions.

[7] David Allen, “Introduction” in Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon, edited by Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and Ned L. Matthews (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 6.

[8] Ibid., 119-120.

[9] For a great resource on biblical languages, refer to www.dailydoseofhebrew.com and www.dailydoseofgreek.com.

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