Friday, June 01, 2007

The Conversation of Worship - The Preaching of the Word

God is also heard when Scripture is taught or preached.[1] With the accurate handling of the Word of God, the preacher becomes the voice of God to the gathered congregation. Therefore, when a preacher or teacher stands up with God’s word, he is bound to communicate the truth of the text to his audience. When the preacher accurately communicates that truth, it is not the word of man but the word of God. Sidney Greidanus says,

Contemporary preaching of the gospel … is an indispensable link in the chain of God’s redemptive activity … This high view of preaching can never be the boast of preachers, of course; it can only underscore their responsibility. For with the prophets we noticed that their authority did not reside, ultimately, in their calling or office but in the words they spoke, whether they were from the Lord. So it is with preachers today: they have a word from the Lord, but only if they speak the Lord’s word. The only norm we have for judging whether preachers speak the word of the Lord is the Bible.[2]

Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with references to the communication of the message of God in preaching. Two notable passages are found in Nehemiah and 2 Timothy. In Nehemiah, at the restoration of the people to the land, a number of men “explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:7-8). Here, preaching is seen to involve the explanation of Scripture in order to give people understanding of it with its commands and demands of God on their lives. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul commands Timothy to “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Here, preaching is seen to be the heralding or proclaiming of the Word, in all circumstances, with the goal of bringing the hearer under the power of the commands and demands of God. In essence, these two passages communicate the same basic idea of preaching: Tell people exactly what God has said and what they should do in light of what God has said.

The Bible places great emphasis placed on preaching and teaching the word in the corporate life of the church[3] and double honor to be given to elders who do it well (1 Tim 5:17).[4] Today, that emphasis too often takes a back seat to good administrators or executives, or even good communicators who do not handle the truth faithfully. The pastor is too often judged by his ability to communicate rather than his ability to faithfully exposit the Word. It is also lost in the midst of activities that a church pursues: the socials, the exercise clubs, the concerts, the programs, or the band. The contemporary church has too easily dispensed with solid, expositional preaching.

Paul warned of a day when people would not endure sound doctrine, choosing to turn away to other kinds of teachers (2 Tim 4:3-4). The word translated doctrine is from the same word translated just a line later as teacher. Implicit is the idea of rejecting sound doctrine is the rejection of the preacher who proclaims such doctrine. At the same time, these itching ears will not endure silence. They will gather for themselves a different kind of preacher with a different kind of message—myth instead of truth. At the heart of this warning is the implication that people are driving the pulpit. A people driven pulpit will always tends towards myth, while a Bible driven pulpit will tend towards truth.

It is hard to conceive of a more accurate description of the modern day than what is found in 2 Timothy 2:3-4. Many compelling, winsome, and gifted communicators gather a crowd, not because of the biblical content, but because they scratch the itch. Too often the Scriptures are called on to support the worldly way of doing things rather than offering a divine and radical substitute. The pastor becomes a group counselor rather than a prophetic voice. Preaching has been relegated to moralistic lessons rather than divine mandates. This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

In some cases, the preaching is driven not by the desires or the hearer but rather by the pet issues of the preacher. This is equally bad. The pulpit cannot become a soap box for the preacher’s pet issues—his theological, psychological, social, or political speculations. Biblical preaching must be driven by the text being brought to bear on the lives of the hearers. Preachers must ask the question, Is the Bible necessary to preach this sermon? If it is not, then he must question whether or not he is speaking for God or for himself. A preacher is to be the voice of God to people, and therefore, must call on the Word of God to change the people of God through the communication of the truth of God applied to life, calling people to submission to the lordship of Christ.

Cotton Mather said, “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher [is] to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.”[5] While we might take issue with the eschatological implications of that statement, it is undeniable preaching should be done with the goal of calling all humanity to submission to the lordship of Christ. Worship can never take place so long as man’s heart is ruled by anyone or anything other than Christ. Preaching is therefore part of worship, in that it lays the truth about God and from God before the hearer and calls him to a glad and necessary response of submission.

Biblical preaching must address the thought processes from which our actions derive and then address the behavior itself. Wrong behavior is no accident. It is the outgrowth of wrong beliefs about God and the gospel. The preacher must bring the Bible to bear on the thinking of the hearers, so that their view of God is radically changed by the Scriptures thereby producing godliness in their lives.

Preaching must handle the text accurately if it is to be worship and to draw forth worship. Drawing forth a response to falsehood is not biblical worship, no matter how well intentioned or persuasive the speaker might be. True preaching must take the text and, in the words of Nehemiah, “translate it to give the sense so that they understand the reading.” To fail to “give the sense” is to fail to worship God. It is, in fact, to erect a substitute god and call people to worship that.

When a text is distorted, it is to the detriment both of the preacher and the hearer. Peter warned of those who, as “untaught and unstable” would distort the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul exhorted Timothy to “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16). Care must be taken because of the fact that preaching is the voice of God and there is the expectation of authority in it.

Today, many are trying to “dumb down” Christianity to make it appealing to the world. For many, preaching is an attempt to be funny, clever, and relevant. However, the true relevance of Christianity is found in its dissonance from the world and all its values. We are not bringing Christ down to the world. Our call is to bring the world up to Christ. God is seeking worshippers, not people who feel better about themselves. God is seeking people who will be “addressed, undressed, and redressed” before him each week.[6] He is seeking people who will fall before him in submission to his word. Showing the relevance of the word of the Lord to a world steeped in ungodliness does not require compromise. In fact, it demands clarity without compromise.

When the truth of God’s word is clearly preached, God is worshipped with the result that people are rightly taught the true meaning and implications of the text, and thereby are called into a response of submission to the lordship of Christ. Only when this has happened, can biblical worship take place. Preaching is not an add-on to worship, or something that the church does after worship (i.e., music). It is a part of worship and it draws forth biblical worship through its call to submission.

[1] It is doubtful to this author that there is a great difference between teaching and preaching. Every teaching session should include some “preaching” in the form of a call to change something in our lives to conform it to God’s word. Every preaching session should include in it the teaching of truth so that there is something to which the listen should respond. The bottom line is that when the word of God is rightly handled, God is speaking.

[2] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 9.

[3] Cf. Matt 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8; 2:42; 6:2-4; 8:4-5; 1 Tim 4:11-15; Titus 1:9. Consider also that of the qualifications for pastor, only two are related to skill sets: able to teach and able to manage (1 Tim 3:2, 4-5). The other qualifications all deal with character.

[4] Double honor here probably include honor of all kinds, including monetary remuneration.

[5] Cotton Mather, “Student and Preacher, or Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry (London: Hindmarsh, 1726), v, cited in John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), p. 22.

[6] Michael Horton, A Better Way (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), p. 180.

No comments: