Young men and women attending Bible schools and seminaries are usually required to take at least one course in the art and science of preaching. This kind of study is called homiletics and deals with the purpose and structure of the sermon. Students are taught different types of preaching such as expository, which is to simply read the scriptures in a narrative form and expound on its most basic meaning.
They are taught hortatory preaching which is the form of preaching aimed at exhortation and strengthening the believer. Several other methods are taught as well and it is from one of these methods that this article has its basis and its overall impetus. The kind of preaching I am referring to is “refutation preaching.” Refutation preaching as its name implies serves to refute some doctrine or teaching that has previously been established and generally accepted. Often these previously established teachings have been based on the scriptures themselves. Still other teachings have gained acceptance through oral communication. When believers hear one another confirming a particular saying, spiritual principle or doctrine it is often accepted without any further investigation.
Refutation preaching or teaching is by no means a modern phenomenon. It is as ancient as the prophets of Israel who employed it often. The priests would often encourage the people to tithe, attend church and show honor to them while the lives of their constituents were obviously out of tilt with Gods will. The prophets would appear and “refute” the commonly accepted and much loved teaching of the priests by saying that the people needed less sacrifice and ceremony and more repentance and confession. This did not make them very popular and often the prophets were thought to be on the outer fringes and not to be taken too seriously. Their teachings were categorized as heresy, fantasy and sometimes lunacy. Many times the prophets were explicitly instructed to warn the people that a familiar saying they all verbally exchanged was displeasing to God. These sayings were referred to as “proverbs.” Similar to today’s hackneyed popular sayings, after investigation they often prove to be insubstantial and inaccurate. Two Prime examples can be found in Ezekiel’s prophecies.
22 Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, the days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?
23 Tell them therefore, thus saith the Lord God; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision.
24 For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel.
25 For I am the Lord: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord God. (Ezekiel 12:22-25)
2 The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, What mean ye that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?
3 As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Ezekiel 18:1-4)
Among the great refutation preachers Jesus Christ stands far above them all. He challenged commonly accepted interpretations of the written word and he shook down many of the oral traditions and popular sayings that were so common in his day. Jesus often spoke in the following way…
21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…
(Matthew 5:21 / Matthew 5:27 & 28)
22 But I say unto you…
(Matthew 5:22 / 5:32 / 5:34)
31 …It hath been said…
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time…
Jesus used refutation when he was tempted of Satan in the wilderness…
6 …for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee…
7 …It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
This kind of refutation is more refined as it is discernment between two scripture passages. Both were authoritative and wholly inspired of God but one was petted, preferred and protected above all others dealing with the same subject. This preferred passage was used as a ploy to attain the evil intention of its bearer that in this case is the devil. In other cases it is often some very sincere Christians.
Over emphasis of a scripture passage was another problem Jesus dealt with through refutation. An example of this is seen in the Pharisees’ attempt to foil the teachings of Jesus on the subject of divorce. The Pharisees tested Jesus with a question from the Law of Moses…
…Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? (Matthew 19:7)
Jesus replied with…
…Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives… (Matthew 19:8)
They had elevated the writings of Moses on this subject to a “command,” but Jesus reduced it to permission or toleration with his answer. Jesus actually refuted the dead written word with a living word of the Holy Spirit. He refuted their lopsided approach to this doctrine with a balanced reply from the Spirit and the Word but in any event it was refuted. The apostle Paul also refuted the teachings of the Jewish Christians who were frequently falling back to the Mosaic Law for their salvation. Today preachers are using refutation to overturn the false teachings and heresies but little is done to refute clichés, popular sayings and the obvious errors of teaching and doctrine that are so common among the true believers.
Because common teachings are often not well scrutinized either against the scriptures or common sense you may be laboring like others under a faulty theology. Checking what you believe against the rest of the Bible is a good place to start correcting the problem. You may not change your entire understanding of the Bible but you will be challenged to look closer and deeper at what you have heretofore accepted as basic truth and doctrine. You will be forced to make sure of the foundations of your Bible understanding. This will strengthen you and then perhaps you will be able to agree with Josh Billings who said… “I’d rather know a few things for certain then to be sure of a lot of things that just aren’t so.”