Sunday, I was scheduled to continue my series preaching through Ephesians. Saturday evening, I decided to preach something else. I had reasons for it. I believe it was what the Lord wanted me to do. I told the congregation I had changed my preaching plan for the day, and that I thought it was what the Lord wanted me to do.
And I also told them that I WASN’T going to say, “God told me to preach this,” and that I always get nervous and suspicious when I hear a preacher say that.
- When a preacher says, “God told me to preach this,” he claims divine authority for his topic decision, but he can’t prove it. He expects you to take his word for it.
- When a preacher says, “God told me to preach this,” he implies that not only the topic but the actual content of his words has divine sanction. Again, he cannot prove this.
- The Biblical response to teaching / preaching is to examine the Scriptures “whether those things are so” (Acts 17:10), not take the preacher’s word for things. His claim “that God told me” sets himself up as an authority which can’t be challenged (because “God told him”). This is contrary to Scripture.
- When a preacher says, “God told me to preach this,” he diminishes the absolute authority of the written Word of God. The boy who cried “wolf” ended up not being believed when he cried “wolf” and meant it. By casually saying, “God said…” we can end up not being believed when we say “God said…” and mean it about the Scriptures.
- Preachers do, indeed, choose wrongly on topics / content — even when we’ve prayed. We may even make choices which are obviously selfish / self-serving, unkind, foolish, proud, etc. (I’ve heard sermons like that and I’m not alone.) If we say, “God told me,” we blame God for our own wrong decision. When people know we were wrong, we lose even more credibility if we say, “God told me,” and we tempt them to scoff.
- When we say, “God told me to preach this,” we violate the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture never tells us to claim that God told us to preach something.
- It is also asking people to abandon the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture never tells people in our congregation to believe “God told me” from someone else.
- Preachers wouldn’t automatically believe someone in their church who says God told them to say something. They would wonder why they should believe that. When a preacher says it, he is acting to be treated differently from the rest of the congregation, fostering an unbiblical preacher-congregation divide.
- A preacher who says this is actually (indirectly) taking the Lord’s name in vain (see “OMG” — and Other Ways Christians Take God’s Name in Vain).
- “God told me to preach this” often ends up being a manipulative statement meaning, “You need to really listen and do what I’m saying here.” It’s great for putting pressure on people — if you think that is a preacher’s job.
Admittedly, many preachers who say “God told me to preach this” haven’t thought it through. They don’t really mean to claim divine authority for their sermon choice. What they really mean is, “You know, I’ve prayed about this and thought about it, and I believe this is what God wants me to preach on today. I believe you should listen and consider carefully what the Scriptures say.”
If that is all a preacher means, then what he means is fine, but what he’s saying isn’t. There is a big difference between “I believe this is what God wants” and “God told me / said it.” The first is a mere statement of fact as to the preacher’s subjective conviction, the second asserts, as objective fact, that which cannot be objectively verified. And, as I’ve noted above, it carries with it a LOT of baggage.
I didn’t have to tell my hearers why I decided to preach on Psalm 118. I did tell them part of why I believed the Lord wanted me to change my plans, but it wasn’t necessary. They expect me to pray and study, and then preach according to what I believe best fulfills my responsibilities as a teacher and a pastor, as led by the Lord through His Word. Our congregation doesn’t expect me to give a reason for those decisions.
But if I show up someday and say, “God told me to preach this,” I expect ears to perk up and everyone to listen carefully — not because they believe that this will be particularly a message from God, but because they will know that something has gone wrong with their pastor.
Note: God didn’t “tell me” to write this particular blog post, either. 🙂 But I believe it is at least generally consistent with what His Word says, and that pleases Him. If you think I am mistaken in that, well, you must live by the Word, not by what I write or what a preacher says God told him.
II Corinthians 1:24
Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.