Imagine a morning worship service. The pastor reads the text for his sermon. Then everyone closes their Bible. Dangerous – I can think of no other word to describe this situation. Let me explain why.
The Bible teaches us that the preaching of God’s Word is God’s Word. Nowhere is this made more explicit than 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” When the Thessalonians heard the preaching of men like Paul, they heard the voice of God speaking to them.
This is implicit in Ephesians 4:17, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” The Holy Spirit says that Jesus came and preached to the Ephesians. But we know that the Lord never traveled to Asia Minor to preach. So, how can it be said that Jesus preached in Ephesus? He preached through Paul and others. When they preached, it was as if Christ was preaching through them. The preaching of God’s Word is God’s Word.
However, there is a crucially important biblical qualification. The preaching of God’s Word is God’s Word when it’s done faithfully according to God’s Word. If the words of the pastor are contradicting God’s Word, they can’t possibly be God’s Word. The preaching has to be in line with intention and meaning of Scripture. We see this from the example of the Berean Jews in Acts 17. Acts 17:11 says, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The Holy Spirit commends these Jews for hearing the preaching of the apostles and comparing it with the written Word. Because the two lined up, “many of them therefore believed.”
There are three reasons why it’s dangerous for believers to close their Bibles when listening to preaching.
First, it’s dangerous for you. What if the pastor is just feeding you his own opinion instead of preaching the text to you? How will you tell if you don’t have your Bible open? When you have your Bible open, you can better discern whether the pastor is preaching the Scriptures or his own ideas. You can better discern whether the preaching you’re hearing is God’s Word.
It’s also dangerous for your pastor. Every human being needs accountability, including pastors. When pastors face a congregation where everyone has their Bible closed, the likelihood they’ll get away with preaching their own opinions is far greater. In 1 Corinthians 9:16, Paul wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” In Galatians 1:8, he wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Accursed means “damned.” In other words, damned be the pastor who preaches another gospel. As a preacher, those words make me tremble and bring me to beg for the accountability of my listeners. I want them to hold me accountable to preach only God’s Word. They can do that far better when they listen to me with an open Bible.
Finally, it’s dangerous for the gospel. All Christians want the gospel to move forward. We all want the gospel to touch hearts and transform lives. But if God’s Word is not being preached faithfully, how is that going to happen? Preaching is a means of grace. It is a way through which the Holy Spirit graciously brings people to Christ. Yet it only does that as the preaching is faithful. If we love the gospel, if we long to see people saved through it and lives transformed through it, then we all have a vested interest in ensuring that the preaching we hear is the preaching of the Word of God. That’s done best when you have your Bible open in front of you.
It’s not just the responsibility of elders to ensure that the preaching is faithful. All believers have a calling to hear preaching, but also to think about whether it is faithful, biblical preaching. When we close our Bibles and blindly trust our pastor to do what’s right, we’re actually not too far off from the medieval church. In the medieval church, many people just uncritically trusted what the priests were saying. Look where that led. The Reformation put preaching front and centre. But the Reformation also put the Bible in people’s hands. Regular Christians could again follow the example of the Bereans. Not only would it be sad, it would also be dangerous if we would dial back the Reformation’s gains by listening to preaching today with a closed Bible.