Building Sermons: Pt. 4 From the Gospels

For centuries scholars have spent their lives studying homiletics, the art of constructing sermons.

The subject is a part of the larger field of composition. In fact, composition, or rhetoric, was virtually the only major course of study open to students in secondary schools in ancient Rome. More commonly today educators speak of the discipline as communication. Gospel preachers, then, are wise to avail themselves of the vast amount of information that specialists in this area have committed to writing.

Authorities on homiletics speak generally of three types of sermons: the topical, the textual, and the expository. In building sermons from the Gospels, a preacher may employ any of those. If he selects a passage for an expository sermon, guidelines from homiletics scholars require that all main points, as well as sub-points, come from that same portion of the Bible. Furthermore, the minister must not leave out anything that appears in the verses being used.

Perhaps the best way to make these facts clear is actually to demonstrate the process in the building of such a sermon. The remainder of this article attempts to do that from a paragraph in the Book of Mark that lends itself well to use in an expository sermon. The passage focuses on the subject of a biblical word of faith.

All sermons, of course, begin with an introduction.

To start with, then, the preacher might explain that theological errors in current teachings on a word of faith, come from at least two sources. Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science movement is one of them.

A short anonymous poem illustrates well her "mind-over-matter" concept:

There was a faith healer in Deal
Who said, "Though I know pain isn't real,
When I sit on a pin, and it pierces my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel."

Theological errors on the word of faith also come from a rather surprising second source. Pentecostals have historically opposed Christian Science theology as false doctrine and have considered the Christian Science movement to be a cult. Recently, however, some Pentecostals have invented their own form of mind-over-matter teaching, known as the Positive Confession movement. They have claimed Mark 11:22-26 as a classic passage to support their view.

Immediately following its introduction, the second element of a sermon is the thesis or proposition.

Here, then, the sermon writer might propose that, to find a supply for one's needs in life, he or she must observe all the truths of Mark 11:22-26.

According to homiletical guidelines, the key word of this proposition is truth.

It is key because it determines how each main point in the body of the sermon will be selected and stated. In this article the author will explain the erroneous misuse of the passage by the Positive Confession movement.

To begin with, then, one should note the truth of what Jesus declared here concerning the concept of "saying." Some read verse 23 with an emphasis on "saying." For them the Master declared, "Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,'" and "believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says [emphasis mine]."

Proponents of this theology speak of a spiritual law of confession. It works in the positive, but also in the negative. It works for saint, but also for sinner. They sum up their teaching by declaring, "What you say is what you get!"

Several things are wrong with this view.

Primarily, it reduces God to a spiritual law when He is a Person.

In fact, it virtually leaves God out, and the result is rank humanism. The source of the miraculous becomes the tongue of man rather than the voice of God. In addition, because it is generally related to getting things, it is also a cloak for covetousness.

Further, this theology makes gods of men, as clearly indicated in the teachings of E. W. Kenyon, often considered to be the father of the Positive Confession movement.

He says that man originally had the very nature of God. Man was created in the same class with God. According to Kenyon, however, man lost the nature of God at the Fall and gained the nature of Satan. All of his descendants, then, have that same nature of the devil.

Kenyon teaches that in the beginning Jesus, like Adam, had the nature of God. As God, then, Jesus could not die for the sins of others. It was necessary for Him to die spiritually before He could die physically. Thus, on the cross He first died spiritually. He became a sinner, lost His deity, and descended into hell. Therefore, Kenyon teaches, Jesus had to be born again, recreated, to gain back the nature of God, His deity. Jesus experienced that regeneration while in hell. After He had regained His deity, Death could no longer hold Him, and He was raised from the dead.

From that point, it logically follows, for Kenyon, that man must also be born again to regain the nature of God. The end result of his argument is that born-again man is now like Christ, possessing all the attributes of God. For this reason, Kenyon says, the believer speaks creatively, even as God speaks. Thus, what the believer says is what he gets.[1]

Paul offers a balancing view on the significance of "saying" in Acts 13:9-11.

To silence a sorcerer who opposed the preaching of the Gospel, the apostle pronounced a curse of instant blindness on him. The key to understanding this miracle of judgment is in what happened before the apostle spoke. He was quickened by being "filled with the Spirit" (v. 9). Clearly, Paul's word was an utterance of the Holy Spirit, not a word of his own. If Paul were in an identical situation and said the same words, but without the Spirit using his vocal organs, nothing would happen! Thus, a person speaks, but it comes to pass only if it is the Holy Spirit who utters the statement through the individual.

Second, after considering what Jesus indicated about "saying,"one should observe the truth that the passage in Mark 11 teaches about "praying."

Jesus made reference to "when you pray" and "whenever you stand praying" in His lesson (vv. 24, 25a).

On the other hand, those who misuse the passage ignore its emphasis on praying. Kenyon declared that the ability to speak creatively is the believer's constant and permanent possession; therefore, it is ridiculous ever to pray for power with God. Charles Capps, a noted proponent of Positive Confession and a personal acquaintance of the writer, declares that we need never pray but only say answers to our problems, speak a supply for our needs, declaring a "creative word of faith," as Jesus did. But to meet the requirement of "not doubting in the heart" (v. 23) requires praying. Such control over doubt necessitates a gift of faith. Jesus probably had that in mind when He began this paragraph by saying, "Have faith in God," (v. 22).

Faced with a father who brought his son, suffering from convulsive seizures, the disciples thought all they had to do was "say" (Mark 9:14-29). Following their failure, Jesus corrected their erroneous theology. He explained, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting" (v. 29).

The sons of Sceva thought all they had to do was "say" in order to free a man possessed with demons, as described in Acts 19:13-17.

They pronounced what they thought was the magical formula as they declared, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches" (v. 13). Not only did nothing happen to heal the man, but also he gave all seven of them the beating of a lifetime! It takes fasting and prayer for us to be open to the gifts of the Spirit, such as a genuine word of faith.

If one can do it all oneself, why did God even make provision for a gift of faith? If one can heal oneself by denying the symptoms and confessing the healing, why did God even provide for gifts of healings?

As a third point of study, one should consider the truth Jesus teaches on "forgiving" in the Mark 11 passage.

Those who misuse this passage overlook its emphasis in verses 25 and 26.The Master spoke of the necessity of forgiving while standing to pray, if one expects God to forgive him; and if the person praying does not forgive, neither will God forgive him. The unforgiving person is an unforgiven person. Isn't that the way one prays in the Lord's Prayer?

This requirement exists not simply because God has rules or is harsh and stubborn; rather, by harboring ill will in failing to forgive, one would cut himself off from fellowship with God. It is as impossible for an individual to relate to God while harboring such feelings, as it is for a married couple to relate peaceably when there is an unsettled matter between them.

An unforgiving spirit blocks answers to prayer (1 Pet. 3:7). Thus, this passage teaches that mountain-moving faith comes through a relationship with a personal God, rather than through the discovery and use of impersonal spiritual laws.

Finally, a sermon ends with a conclusion.

That conclusion begins with a re-statement of the thesis. In this case the preacher declares again, "Then, to find a supply for one's needs in life, he must observe all the teachings of Mark 11:22-26."

The conclusion of a sermon also generally restates its main points. In this case, Jesus' teachings in this passage require that one pray earnestly, in keeping with God's will. The person must also relate acceptably to God with a forgiving attitude and meet all His other requirements for holy living. Further, he must, through prayer, stay full of God so the gifts of the Spirit are available to him.

Selected Bibliography

    Kenyon, E. W. The Hidden Man. Fullerton, California: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, 1955.

    Kenyon, E. W. Identification. Fullerton, California: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, 1968.


About the Author

    Dr. Charles Harris is a recently retired Profes­sor of Bible and Pastoral Ministries as well as the Chairman of the Division of Church Ministries at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He was associated with the college for thirty-eight years.

    In addition to his duties as an educator, Dr. Harris is also an author. His writings have appeared in The Sunday School Counselor, God's Word for Today, and The Adult Teacher. Among his works are three books, What's Ahead, Proofs of Christianity, and Under the Glass: An Analysis of Church Structure, as well as a commentary on Second Corinthians in The Complete Biblical Library. He was a contributing author of Power Encounter, A Pentecostal Perspective.

    Dr. Harris holds a bachelor's degree in Bible, a master's degree in counseling, and a doctorate in education.[1]

For a more thorough and detailed understanding of Kenyon's position, one should consult his major works, E. W. Kenyon, Identification. (Fullerton, California: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, 1968) and E. W. Kenyon, The Hidden Man. (Fullerton, California: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, 1955).