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Merritt underscores evangelism grounded in biblical preaching

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)??”Preach the Word and reach the world” was the charge delivered by prominent Southern Baptist pastor James Merritt to a Sept. 9 chapel service at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Preaching from 2 Timothy 4, Merritt, pastor of the 9,000?member First Baptist Church of Snellville, Ga., gave students the advice “I wish somebody had said to me 20 years ago when I was sitting where you are sitting as a young student here at Southern Seminary.” Merritt is a two?time alumnus of Southern Baptists’ oldest seminary.
Declaring he had built his ministry around “two pillars, the pillar of biblical exposition and the pillar of personal evangelism,” Merritt warned many contemporary ministers are abandoning those priorities in a quest for “fads, flakes or fashion.”
Quoting the Apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy to remain faithful to the Scriptures, Merritt noted, “He said, ‘Timothy, I charge you, preach the Word.’ He did not charge Timothy to raise the dead. He did not charge Timothy to speak in tongues. He did not charge Timothy to trade in miracles.”
The Word to be preached, Merritt explained, is not book reviews, economics or philosophy, but instead “the Scripture, the whole counsel of God.”
Merritt warned the seminarians the text teaches they must one day give account before God concerning their ministry.
“So young preacher, get this in your heart today,” Merritt admonished. “It doesn’t matter what the editor of your state paper thinks about your ministry. It doesn’t matter what your director of missions thinks about your ministry. It doesn’t matter what the state executive director thinks about your ministry. It doesn’t even matter what the latest church growth guru thinks about your ministry. The only thing that matters is what does God think about your ministry.”
Merritt took to task church growth experts who advocate preaching to the so?called “felt needs” of the populace.
“Paul’s advice to Timothy,” Merritt countered, “was don’t start with the needs of man. Start with the Word of God.” The unconverted hearers’ sinful condition and need of Christ is an “unfelt need” that can only be awakened by the convicting of the Holy Spirit through the confrontational preaching of the Bible, Merritt said.
“You do not have to relegate verse?by?verse biblical exposition to the back burner of a Wednesday night service out of fear that you might offend somebody that’s lost,” he asserted. “I want to tell you that this book, preached verse by verse, is still a fire that can melt the coldest heart, a sword that can cut the hardest soul and a light that can enlighten the darkest mind.”
Merritt warned students some voices within the church growth movement will suggest “you can’t build a church by getting up and preaching on judgment. You’ve got to get up and tell people how they can feel better about themselves.” Quoting such counsel from a television evangelist in California whom he declined to name because, “I don’t throw rocks at people who preach in glass houses,” Merritt declared, “There’s an old?fashioned word for that: heresy, damnable heresy.”
Biblical preaching will often prove controversial, Merritt acknowledged. “There are a lot of people in Baptist churches, and their tribe is increasing, who don’t want to hear sound doctrine,” he said. “They want their preaching perfumed. They want it chloroformed. They want it covered with velvet.”
Pointing to Paul’s statement that people will heap up for themselves teachers to satisfy their “itching ears,” Merritt told students, “Every church you will ever pastor, you’re going to have people with itchy ear syndrome. These are the people who will be more concerned with the length of your sermon than they are with the depth of your sermon.” Despite such opposition, preachers must realize, he said, “if you don’t preach the right things, they are going to believe the wrong things.”
A pursuit for academic excellence must never eclipse the passion for personal evangelism, Merritt said. “Out there pastoring that little old country church, there are still farmers and housewives and little boys and little girls that need the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing will keep your heart hot like winning people to the Lord Jesus Christ,” Merritt declared.

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  • Russell D. Moore