A Trumpet With A Clarion Sound

Mike Willis
Bowling Green, Kentucky

"For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (1 Cor. 14:8)

As Paul wrote on the subject of tongue-speaking, he emphasized the need for speaking in an understandable manner. In this, he compared speaking in a language unknown to the hearer to a trumpet which gave an uncertain sound. In that generation, the sound for alarm was given, not by a siren, but by a trumpet. One trumpet sound communicated one message and a different sound communicated another message. One sound called an assembly together (Num. 10:2), one called the princes together (Num. 10:3), one sound commanded the tribes on the east side of the camp to move forward (Num. 10:4), and another blast indicated that the enemy approached for battle (Num. 10:9). A trumpet which did not give a definite sound was worse than no trumpet; it left the people confused and alarmed, not knowing what to do.

The preaching of the gospel is like the blowing of a trumpet. Gospel preaching has a distinctive sound and ring to it. When men cease preaching a distinctive message, the gospel loses its distinctiveness; it ceases to call men to repentance and to salvation. Instead, it soothes the conscience and provides less-threatening platitudes which effect no change in the hearer's personal life and does not bring him salvation.

Gospel Preaching Is Distinctive And Clear

Gospel preaching is definite and clear in its presentation. The gospel is an inspired revelation from God which announces God's will (2 Tim. 3:16,17; 2 Pet. 1:21). It is not wise man's thoughts about God! Instead, it is a divine revelation to man-a revelation which can and should be understood, respected, and acted upon.

When men lose confidence in that revelation, the gospel is reduced to man's groping for God's will.

Nothing hinders evangelism more today than the widespread loss of confidence in the truth, relevance, and power of the Gospel. When this ceases to be good news from God, and becomes instead "rumors of God," we can hardly expect to exhibit much evangelistic enthusiasm (John Stott as quoted in Growth and Decline In The Episcopal Church by Wayne B. Williamson, p. 54).

When men lose confidence in the revelation, they no longer know what the truth is and cannot speak with authority on many issues concerning which God has spoken in the Bible. They cannot speak with certainty regarding homosexuality because many learned men consider it a sickness or malformation of genes. They cannot speak with certainty regarding woman's role in the church because they believe Paul spoke under the influence of his culture rather than under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Such attitudes reduce the New Testament from a divine revelation to man's "guesses" about God.

I am concerned that the distinctive message of the gospel is being lost. In place of the clarion ring of the gospel, we are hearing disconcerting ambiguous preaching which has nothing definite to announce about standards for living. Men will be left with the guilt of their sin if they do not hear and obey the gospel. How sad will be their eternal plight if they hear only a changed, diluted, or perverted gospel.

The Gospel Loses Its Distinctive Sound

Here are some occasions when the gospel loses its distinctive sound.

1. When The Pulpit Is Used For Thinking Out Loud. To some men, the pulpit is a place to think, instead of a place to announce a revelation from God. Preachers raise questions which they do not answer. They raise the question of whether or not women can be ordained as deacons and then leave it unanswered. They question whether or not the Bible allows a contribution to be taken on some day other than the first day of the week and leave it unanswered. They assert that there is no authority for a church building or church treasury. They wonder if the Lord's supper must be observed on the first day of every week.

The result of this kind of preaching is that members are confused. All kinds of questions are raised, but no answers are given to these questions. Why? Because man's opinions and not the Bible are used as the standards for decision making.

The pulpit should not be used as a place for the preacher to "think out loud." The pulpit is to be used to announce the revelation from God. When it is used as a place for the preacher to think out loud, the gospel is changed from a distinctive message with a clarion ring to a trumpet blowing an uncertain sound. Such preaching confuses the church and leaves it unsettled. Brethren come to church to be taught, encouraged, given direction, and edified by the gospel. They leave services bewildered and confused by a preacher who used the pulpit to think out loud instead of using it to proclaim the message of God's saving grace.

2. Preaching Which Leaves Sin Unrebuked. Some of the change which is occurring in the pulpit is not so much in the area of what is being said as it is in the area of what is not being said. An emphasis is given to positive preaching to such a degree that things which might alienate the white upper middle-class American are left unsaid. Things which were preached when Christians were meeting in a rented building on the other side of the tracks sometimes are not welcome in the expensive structures in white upper middle class suburbia. Affluency should not change the content of the gospel.

Sermons on the oneness of the church are becoming rather rare. One might preach that "the church of Christ practices congregational singing" but never get around to exposing the sinfulness of the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship. Sermons on the identifying marks of the New Testament church are as rare as hen's teeth in many pulpits. Sermons exposing the errors of the denominations in town are rarely ever preached. In some congregations, a person could attend months at a time and only hear sermons that could have been preached in any denomination in town. "Issues" among the brethren should never be mentioned in the pulpit of the church, according to some brethren's thinking.

Such preaching leaves a congregation untaught and an easy prey to any false doctrine which comes. Our concern to prevent this from happening demands that we say this.

Among subjects pertaining to immorality, that which is left unsaid is also very revealing. Sermons on love, joy and peace are commonplace. Though no one would deny that sermons should be preached on these subjects, I become amazed when the pulpit is never used to condemn social drinking, unscriptural divorce and remarriage, immodest dress, mixed swimming, and other works of the flesh. One can preach against drunkenness, but he dare not preach against social drinking for fear that he might offend some influential member. He can preach about modest apparel, but he dare not suggest that mixed swimming is a violation of God's revealed will on the subject for fear that some of the members who are involved will become upset.

By systematically eliminating strong doctrinal and moral preaching because it might offend some visitor or brother, the pulpit is robbed of its power. Denominational folks can attend worship services and leave without ever knowing that they are lost; erring brethren can worship without learning that their practice is sinful. Though no one is in favor of offensive, rude, and abusive preaching, every Christian needs to demand that the pulpit contain a plain and clear statement of the truth in no uncertain language. Those sinners who are present need to be shaken by the truth of the gospel, not made comfortable and lulled further into spiritual stupor. These brethren need to hear the distinctive sound of the gospel in order to know how to respond to it.

3. Preaching Which Attacks The Faithful. The pulpit is further abused when it is used to attack faithful Christians. In some cases, the preacher has used the pulpit as a place to attack those in the local congregation who have crossed him in some way. He calls them by name or paints their picture in such a manner that no one has any doubt about whom he is speaking; then, he proceeds to lambast them. The distinctive sound of gospel preaching has been replaced by personal and vindictive attacks on brethren in such cases.

Sometimes the pulpit is used to assail those faithful brethren who have fought the enemies of the church. Men who were in the foreground of the battle against institutionalism are criticized and condemned by men who were still in grade school when those battles were fought. They seem to know more about how to fight the battle from the historical perspective of twenty years removed than those men knew who lived at the time, saw the error, and did what they could to save the church from it. Standing in the quiet pulpits of churches which were salvaged by brave spiritual warriors, these preachers condemn the necessary judgment decisions which were made in the heat of the battle, like the arm-chair quarterback who knows more about how to win a football game than the trained athletes who devote their entire lives to the sport. Aside from the arrogance manifested by such criticisms, one cannot avoid stating that using the pulpit to attack and assault these faithful brethren is a misuse of the pulpit. One cannot learn the truth and be delivered from sin by hearing such tirades. Those who hear this kind of preaching have doubts raised in their minds regarding the issues which were fought at that time and are not helped spiritually by such preaching. The distinctive message of the gospel is obscured by such attacks.

4. Preaching Which Teaches False Doctrine. The distinctive message of the gospel is also robbed of its power by false teaching. When men start preaching that man has a sinful nature, that men can be saved who have never obeyed the gospel, and that there are Christians in all denominations, then the pulpit has been robbed of its power and a gospel invented by man has been substituted for the real "good news" of Christ.


We need preaching which will save the lost and encourage the saved. We need preaching which win "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted." We need preaching which produces results-sinners turning from their sins and living according to the word of God. In an effort to address the issue of the kind of preaching which is needed today, this special issue has been prepared. I think that it is a balanced presentation of the kind of preaching which will help keep the church strong.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 9, pp. 257, 280-281
May 2, 1985