What Is A Pentecostal Preacher?
By Craig Brian Larson
This article is the first in a series exploring what it means to preach with regard for the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be a Pentecostal preacher? This question may bring to mind a certain style of preaching, but since style is not my concern here, I will rephrase the question. How will we preach — in any culture, at any time — if we receive everything Scripture teaches about the Holy Spirit?
While the style of Pentecostal preaching varies, its historic strengths come from a biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit and His work, which do not change.
Taking Our Responsibility Seriously
First, we take seriously the responsibility of speaking God’s Word. We believe Scripture is fully God’s words, written by the Holy Spirit.
Speaking of the Old Testament, Peter writes, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
If we highly regard the Holy Spirit, we will highly regard His words in Scripture.
Writers are touchy about their words. I am an editor, and at times I have offended writers by changes I have made. Altering a writer’s intent and meaning makes a writer feel violated.
So it is for the Holy Spirit, the writer of Scripture. He frowns if we play loose with His words, using them for our own purpose, taking them out of context, changing their intent.
We sense how intensely the Holy Spirit feels about His words: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18,19; See similar warnings in Deuteronomy 4:2 and Proverbs 30:5,6.)
Treating the Word With Respect
Another nonnegotiable characteristic of Pentecostal preachers is they treat the words of the Holy Spirit in Scripture with utmost respect. They see the ministry of the Word as a sacred responsibility to be taken seriously.
Most important, we take care not to distort Scripture. The words, distort Scripture, send shivers down the spine of anyone who reveres the Holy Spirit. Can there be a greater indictment of anyone called to speak God’s words than to say that we have edited God for our own purposes? Is God using us, or are we using God?
Consider the apostle Paul’s words in this regard: “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Those are the watchwords of the truly Pentecostal preacher.
Of course, no sincere preacher begins writing a sermon and decides, Today I’m going to distort Scripture. No, the danger is that in our necessary role of interpreting and applying the Word to people who do not like everything it says, we will be swayed to shape the message to protect ourselves or please our hearers.
Certain desires make even sincere preachers liable to distorting Scripture: If in our heart of hearts, we want most to be popular, liked, accepted, we are vulnerable. If above all else we want our church to grow, we are vulnerable. If we fear hurting people’s feelings, we are vulnerable.
The only safeguard against the subtle temptations to water down Scripture, or to ignore its hard subjects, is to commit ourselves to proclaim with compassion, wisdom, and boldness the whole counsel of God, come what may. We cannot control Kingdom results; we can only control what we choose to proclaim. Those who revere the Holy Spirit seek to please only the Author of Scripture.
Paul wrote that only by this commitment did he fulfill his duty and escape guilt: “Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:26,27).
With this reference to blood, Paul was not just being dramatic. He was alluding to God’s words to Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself” (Ezekiel 3:17–19).
Clearly, the role of the preacher is serious business with eternal consequences. The Lord has entrusted us with His words and holds us responsible for proclaiming the whole message. A consistently one-sided message is a distorted message. In addition to good news, comfort, and hope, we must warn people about things their sinful nature does not want to hear.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit loves the truth and seeks only the truth. His words in Scripture are pure truth. “And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6). Those who love and follow the Spirit are unconditionally committed to truth in general, and in particular to truth in Scripture. They speak the truth in love.
Those who revere the Holy Spirit do not use Him as an excuse to say what the Scriptures do not say, or to teach whatever ideas come into their minds. Spirit-honoring preachers are bound by the truth of Scripture. They devote their lives to interpreting it properly. They run from the temptation to gather a crowd by teaching what is novel but false, what tickles the ears but misleads the soul.
The days are evil. The Word of God is becoming ever more odious to those who love this world. Spirit-filled preaching is for the brave and the bold.
Craig Brian Larson is editor of Christianity Today International’s preaching resources—PreachingToday.com and Preaching Today audio—as well as pastor of Lake Shore Church (Assemblies of God) in Chicago. He is coauthor of Preaching That Connects (Zondervan, 1994).