There is a preacher who preaches for a megachurch in Houston, Texas who has been described as “the most popular preacher in America.” The church he preaches for televises their worship services and he is seen all over the country. The church takes in 70 million dollars a year in contributions. He has written several best-selling books and for one of his latest books he was paid an advance of 13 million dollars. Based on all the foregoing I can see why he is considered to be the most popular preacher in America. If the criteria for popularity is money and the number of people who follow you he certainly qualifies as popular preacher. But, I wonder, if the Apostle Paul were alive today would he be popular? Would he even be allowed into the pulpits of most churches today? I believe Paul would be unpopular today for the following reasons.
The aforementioned most popular preacher in America begins every sermon with a joke. Sometimes his listeners send him jokes and he uses them to start off his sermons. He uses very little scripture and really his sermons are just feel good talks about how to be successful and get ahead in business and life. It’s the power of positive thinking wrapped up in a fluffy feel good package. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul beginning one of his sermons with a joke? In I Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul described his style of preaching. “I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In Romans 1:16 Paul declared that the gospel he preached was the power of God unto salvation and in Acts 20:20-27 Paul reminded the Ephesians that he had kept back nothing that was profitable for them. “I am pure from the blood of all men, for I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.” That kind of preaching would not make Paul popular today! It is the kind of preaching still needed in the world and in the church today.
The Houston preacher described above never preaches on sin. In fact, in one interview he was asked why he never mentions the words sin, judgment, or hell. He answered that he has not been called to judge people but to encourage and inspire them therefore he never uses those words. When I heard that answer I knew why he is considered the most popular preacher in America! The way to build and maintain a megachurch is to never preach about sin. Paul used the words sin, judgment, and hell in his preaching, however. In II Timothy 3 Paul wrote that perilous times were coming when men would be covetous, boasters, blasphemers, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, traitors, despisers of those who are good, and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. By the way, if those times are not here already, may the Lord have mercy on us when they arrive! I think it obvious, however, that we are living in a time when it is perilous and dangerous to be a Christian and to take a stand against sin. In Galatians 5 Paul declares the works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, murder, drunkenness, etc. Are these still sins today? If so, it is the “calling” of every preacher to preach against them just like Paul did. If Paul were here today he would preach against sin and that would not make him the most popular preacher in America!
If Paul were here today he would still preach that there is a pattern for the work and worship of the church. That would make him unpopular not only with outsiders, but with many people in churches of Christ today. The popular notion that it does not matter how we worship as long as we are zealous and sincere would be contradicted by Paul. In fact, it is contradicted by Paul in the epistles he left us. In I Corinthians 11:2 he praised the brethren for “remembering him in all things and keeping the ordinances as delivered.” When Paul praised them for remembering him, he meant they remembered and recognized his apostolic office and authority. Paul, as an inspired apostle, set down the pattern for the observance of the Lord’s Supper and he declared it should be kept as delivered. After giving a pattern for the assembly in I Corinthians 14, Paul says in verse 38, “If a man does not recognize this he is not to be recognized.” In II Thessalonians 2:15 Paul admonishes us to stand fast and hold on to the traditions we have received by the word of God. He is speaking, of course, of inspired traditions. If he were here today Paul would preach that the traditions, ordinances, and patterns revealed in the New Testament must be kept today if we are going to serve and worship the Lord acceptably. That kind of preaching would make Paul unpopular even in churches of Christ!
If Paul were here today he would preach the same thing he preached about baptism as he preached 2000 years ago He would not be popular and in fact many would accuse him of preaching “water salvation.” In recounting his own conversion Paul declared that he was told, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” He immediately arose and was baptized, and it was after his baptism that he stopped praying and rejoiced knowing his sins were forgiven. Paul preached that baptism puts us into Christ where all spiritual blessings reside. (Romans 6:3-5 & Galatians 3:27) Baptism is so essential to salvation that Paul commanded 12 men he met in Ephesus to be baptized a second time because their first baptism was invalid. I wonder what would happened if Paul told all those who have been baptized thinking they were saved before baptism that their baptisms are invalid and they need to be baptized again for the right reason? I do not think that would make him the most popular preacher in America!
The point to this whole article is, of course, that Paul would be unpopular today. The reason is not because Paul’s preaching would change – it would not – it is because people have not changed. Paul was not popular in his own day because people did not want the truth, and that has not changed. Paul, undoubtedly, was not concerned about popularity but preaching the truth and so should we. I do need to say, in closing, that Paul was popular with those who loved the truth, and if I may say it this way, he was popular with the Lord. That is all that mattered to Paul, and may it be what most matters to us!
Article By: Jerry Dickinson