Do you prefer to hear a practical sermon or a “doctrinal” sermon? A famous statesman in the founding days of our nation gave his opinion in his autobiography.
Raised a Presbyterian, Benjamin Franklin had not been attending public worship when he moved to Philadelphia. When the Presbyterian preacher there invited him to the services, Franklin went each Sunday for over a month. But he didn’t like the preaching. He complained about too much teaching on the doctrines of this denomination and not enough on morals and being good citizens. The text for the last sermon he heard at this church was Philippians 4:8. When the minister announced this Scripture, Franklin thought he was finally about to hear a practical lesson on everyday living. Instead, the preacher exhorted the assembly to read the Bible, attend worship services, and partake of the Lord’s Supper. That was it for Franklin. He never attended there again. He became more convinced than ever that real religion was believing in God, living a good moral life, and treating others right.
Though he deserves respect because of his contributions in the formation of our republic, the tragedy is that Benjamin Franklin rejected the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures and denied Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of man.
Many have left mainline denominations in our time. They still believe in Jesus and read their Bibles, but like Franklin they are tired of hearing about doctrine. Their lives are hectic, their families are torn apart, their bodies are hurting and their hearts are burdened. The last thing they want to hear is a sermon on tenets of their belief system. Some of them no longer attend church anywhere and are content to pray to God and be kind to others. Many of them attend a community church or megachurch which offers lots of entertainment and sermons designed to help them “live the dream.”
If these people had left their denomination because of unbiblical teaching and had turned to the New Testament as their standard, the story would be encouraging. But the problem goes deeper. Many people don’t want to hear about any doctrine, true or false, scriptural or unscriptural. That is where this trend affects us as well.
When a preacher devotes nine out of ten sermons to baptism, the acts of worship, and the qualifications of elders, it is easy to see why members whose personal lives have been turned upside down by trials and temptations would be frustrated. But the answer is not to go to the other extreme and spend so much time rebuilding shattered lives that we forget the spiritual and yes, doctrinal, foundation of Christianity.
No preacher ministered to the personal needs of people more than Jesus. He was the perfect “practical” preacher. But remember that the Lord taught and debated about teachings like the fulfillment of prophecy (Luke 24:44), His second coming (Matt. 25), divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:1-9), the Holy Spirit (John 14-16) and many others.
Sometimes the historical and “doctrinal” sections of the Bible are more practical than people realize. Consider the second coming of Christ. Peter showed that it can motivate us to live a godly life (II Pet. 3:10-11), and Paul said the promise of heaven sustains us as we endure afflictions here (Phil. 1:21; II Cor. 4:16-5:11). What could be more practical than that?
We are to respect and teach all that the Lord commands (Matt. 28:20). We need to be balanced in our teaching. And let us not forget that “practical” sermons on marriage and raising children are “doctrinal” lessons because “doctrine” means teaching.