The Oct. 13, 1928, Christian Standard featured a printed version of the keynote address of George Taubman, serving that year as president of the second North American Christian Convention, then taking place in Kansas City, Mo. Taubman served as minister with First Christian Church, Long Beach, Calif., where his men’s Bible class exceeded 2,000 in attendance each Sunday.
We will focus on an editorial from that week’s issue, but not anything related to Taubman or the NACC. “Big Preaching” most likely was written by then-editor Willard Lee Mohorter.
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When Abraham Lincoln was candidate for the Presidency the first time, some one asked him what he thought of the prospect. With characteristic humor he answered: “I do not fear Breckenridge, for he is of the South, and the North will not support him; I do not much fear Douglass, for the South is against him. But there is a man named Lincoln, I see in the papers, of whom I am very much afraid. If I am defeated, it will be by that man.”
The thoughtful have similar feeling to-day when they consider the Christian conquest of the human race. It has pleased God “through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.” And yet there are moments when a frowning fear peeps into the counsels of the faithful to suggest that the very purposes of Jesus may be defeated by preaching, by big preaching.
There was complaint of Paul at Corinth, apparently, if we judge by the defense he puts up in the beginning of his first Epistle to the church there, that he was not mysterious enough, not profound enough. He had insisted on discussing petty, every-day matters like the eating of meat offered to idols, the relations of a man to the women folk of his own household, . . . They did not like this. They thought they merited better things at his hands. They were able to appreciate a higher type of preaching. . . .
But Paul stuck to his own method in Corinth, as elsewhere, dealing “not in persuasive words of wisdom,” but speaking “as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ.”
He had the choice to make. Right there at Corinth a group of hard-boiled Hebrew Christians stood forth demanding signs and wonders at his hands. Over against these were the suave and gracious Greek converts who yearned for wisdom from the lips they so well knew could gratify them.
And Paul had the grace and good sense to stick to his job and preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Greeks foolishness, but to believers the power of God and wisdom of God. To that eminently sage decision of his we owe all the riches of Christ conveyed to us through his preaching and writing. Paul had no time for big preaching. He went as far as he could with that sort of thing in making approach to the cultured crowd at Athens, but got nowhere. There is no mention of a church, and no letter to any “church at Athens.”
The two crowds and the two demands lie in waiting wherever a preacher of ability stands forth. Happy the man who faces his work with courage and decision, determined to do effective gospel preaching instead of the big preaching that this world demands.
It takes courage to hold steadily to the Word, and to apply unflinchingly its precepts and implications to things a preacher can do that are better calculated to gain for him a following of the rich, the learned and the influential. But there is no better way to help mankind, to build up a church, to honor God. The gospel theme, the simple, direct style of address, the practical application, the earnest appeal for decision—these go with gospel preaching. They make it effective. But they classify the preacher as ordinary, rather than extraordinary, in the eyes of the world. His admirers would have him deal in profound things. . . . But they would thus rob him of the crown of glory due every faithful minister of Christ. The wise preacher will eschew and abhor all attempts at big preaching.
So Paul went to Corinth, as he declares, in this spirit: “Thus, when I came to you, my brothers, I did not come to proclaim to you God’s secret purpose with any elaborate words of wisdom. I determined among you to be ignorant of everything except Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ the crucified.” And when he spoke his farewell at the end of the second Epistle, it was in these words: “Now brothers, good-by; mend your ways, listen to what I have told you, live in harmony, keep the peace; then the God of love and peace will be with you.”
And from Paul, even down to the very latest effective preacher of our own day, the most successful pulpit men have been of this type, simple, direct, unassuming, earnest, practical, Biblical. Name them—a few of them—Spurgeon, Parker, Moody, Beecher; and our own distinguished ones: Barton Stone, Walter Scott, John Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Knowles Shaw, Isaac Errett, John W. McGarvey, J.V. Updyke, Carey E. Morgan. And of those yet living who have steadily risen to distinction on the strength of their pulpit work, not one can be named who made much of what the world calls “big preaching.”
Big preaching had failed before the Restoration movement was thought of. Our gains have been made by following the Pauline plan. In every instance the valuable converts have been made, the strong church built up and the ministry exalted by a plain, earnest presentation of the word of God. May it continue so. May God save us from the folly of big preaching.
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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard