If the Lord's church is to survive and prosper, it must never depart from the basics of the gospel.
When I began preaching for the church where our family now worships, a wise and experienced elder told me, "I've never known a church to grow that didn't emphasize the basics. If a church is struggling, they just need to get back to first principles and preach them like the people have never heard them before." That was good advice and the church here has done well ever since.
If Christians do not have a basic understanding of the elementary principles of the gospel, they have no solid foundation on which to build and grow. One of Christ's parables spoke of the need of making certain that we build on the right foundation (see Matt. 7: 24-27). That reminds us of the importance of teaching some of the same lessons over and over again.
There are several reasons for this:
First, there are always young people growing up who have heard these lessons from the time of their birth. But, at a very young age, most of these studies do not sink in. At some point (and really, only God knows when it will be), a lesson that young people have heard numerous times finally takes hold and they understand an important truth for the very first time. We should never assume that our young people know and understand Bible subjects just because we know they have heard them before.
Secondly, we can never be sure when a visitor will show up and, perhaps, hear a vital Bible lesson at a crucial time in his life. It may be the first and only time that person will ever have the opportunity to understand an important doctrinal point, that could make the difference in his eternal destiny. That's also why we should make certain to explain the plan of salvation during a lesson every time. You just don't know who may be listening carefully and seriously considering obedience. He might have listened many times in the past, have done nothing about what he was learning, and still be receptive this time.
Also, we must not assume that our older members (not in age, necessarily, but those who have been around a while) can always remember everything they've ever heard. It might have been a long time since they have studied a particular subject or they might be aware of the truth but not know where the verses are that teach that truth. It is always helpful to be reminded of things we know to be true so that our convictions are deep and not easily shaken. These things help to mature and stabilize us spiritually "till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:13,14).
Here is a sample list of types of sermons that we need to preach at least annually. Of course, we must work hard to present them in a fresh, interesting way, taking a different approach to the same lesson each time. Baptism. Instrumental music. Distinguishing the covenants. Bible authority. Organization of the local church. Worship of the church. Work of a local church. Significance of the Lord's Supper. Evangelizing the lost. Strengthening the family. Silence of the Scriptures. The power of prayer. God's grace. The one, true church. The cross of Christ.
There are probably other topics that should be added to this list. These are merely some of the Bible topics that disciples must be firmly grounded in. "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 2:6,7).
There will be certain subjects that we will never outgrow. We must never be afraid to preach lessons that members have heard many times. When someone has been a Christian for several years, there is almost no way to preach something new to him. As people have said, "If it's new, it isn't true and if it's true, it isn't new."
I'm not suggesting that a preacher should just get one lesson together on baptism and preach it with exactly the same approach to the same people every 3 months. In order to stay fresh and vibrant himself, a preacher needs to restudy, rethink, restructure his lessons. I have been told that, after he had preached for 48 years at the Haldeman Avenue church in Louisville, Kentucky, brother M.C. Kurfees was just as fresh in his sermons as when he started. Think about that. To preach 48 years for the same congregation, one would have to continually study and learn new insights from the Bible. If he had four years worth of sermons and preached them all 12 times, people would have left in large numbers. Instead, the church grew. Christians matured, and the lost were brought to Christ.
No matter how much "strong meat" of the word people can handle, those who are the most mature spiritually will never grow tired of hearing these basic principles of truth, because they know how important they are. They love all truth and do not have to be entertained with "some new thing" all the time.
It might also be helpful for a local church to purchase or write a set of "Bible Basics" material that is taught to all new members. A class like this could be repeated at least one quarter per year (more often if the church is really growing) and use it to help ground new converts in the first principles. Of course, not all sermons should be basic material. Those more mature saints deserve on some occasions to hear lessons on some of the more meaty subjects that aren't preached or taught every week. But in a year when most people hear approximately 100 sermons, there are plenty of opportunities for both milk and meat to be taught.
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Heb. 5:12). If people are not growing spiritually, if the church is struggling with carnality and division, if souls are not being saved, look first at the preaching. Maybe we need to just get back to the basics.
By Roger Hillis in Biblical Insights, Vol. 3, No. 9, Sept. 2003.
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