The Role Of The Preacher & The Nature Of Preaching -continued
The preacher's role is vital, for God has designed that His people be taught by gifted men. Much of the believer's spiritual growth directly relates to the effectiveness of the preaching he or she is under. So it's a serious issue with God for preachers to live by God's standards and for believers to hold them accountable. And it's vital that people respond in obedience to proper preaching.
Let me close with an unforgettable plan suggested by an unknown parishioner as to how to accomplish this. Fling him into his office. Tear the "Office" sign from the door and nail on the sign, "Study." Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.
Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he's bruised and beaten into being a blessing.
Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley. Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.
Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God! Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day-"Sir, we would see Jesus."
When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day's superficial problems, and manage the community's weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can. Command him not to come back until he's read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, "Thus saith the Lord."
Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he's back against the wall of the Word. And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left-God's Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.
And when he's burned out by the flaming Word, when he's consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he's privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.
The reformation marked a return to the centrality of preaching because it marked a return to the centrality and authority of the Scriptures. If the Word of God is what it claims to be, then it mandates that we proclaim it and preach it.
Once the authority of the Pope was challenged and the legitimacy of the Mass was questioned, then something had to take their place. What would it be? Preaching. The Reformation restored the church to her central task - preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Luther believed that the "true treasure of the church is the most holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God." After posting the 95 Theses, Luther later wrote in his Treatise on Christian Liberty, "One thing and one only is necessary for Christian Life, righteousness and liberty. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the Gospel of Christ. . . . Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not, there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word, it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate. . . . On the other hand, there is no more terrible plague with which the wrath of God can smite men than a famine of the hearing of His Word, as He says in Amos, just as there is no greater mercy than when He sends forth His Word, as we read in Psalm 107."
John Calvin had an equally high view of Scripture and said in his preaching on Ephesians 4:11-14, "Now the fact is that [the church] cannot be built up, that is to say, it cannot be brought to soundness, or continue in a good state, except by means of the preaching of the Word."
When the Protestant Reformation was well underway and established, Luther gave all the credit to the power of the Word of God saying, "I have opposed the indulgences and all the papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. . . . I did nothing; the Word did it all. . . . For it is almighty and takes captive the hearts, and if the hearts are captured the evil work will fall of itself."
Luther's commitment to preaching was more than mere words. John Piper notes that "in the church in Wittenberg in those days there were no programs, but only worship and preaching; Sunday 5:00 a.m. worship with a sermon on the Epistle, 10:00 a.m. with a sermon on the Gospel, an afternoon message on the Old Testament or catechism. Monday and Tuesday sermons were on the Catechism; Wednesdays on Matthew; Thursdays and Fridays on the Apostolic letters; and Saturday on John."
Walther von Loewenich said in his biography, "Luther was one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christendom ... Between 1510 and 1546 Luther preached approximately 3,000 sermons. Frequently he preached several times a week, often two or more times a day."
Reformer John Calvin had just as tenacious a commitment to the preaching of the Word. "To give you some idea of the scope of the Calvin's pulpit, he began his series on the book of Acts on August 25, 1549, and ended it in March of 1554. After Acts he went on to the epistles to the Thessalonians (46 sermons), Corinthians (186 sermons), pastorals (86 sermons), Galatians (43 sermons), Ephesians (48 sermons) - till May 1558. Then there is a gap when he is ill. In the spring of 1559 he began the Harmony of the Gospels and was not finished when he died in May, 1564. During the week of that season he preached 159 sermons on Job, 200 on Deuteronomy, 353 on Isaiah, 123 on Genesis and so on. One of the clearest illustrations that this was a self-conscious choice on Calvin's part was the fact that on Easter Day, 1538, after preaching, he left the pulpit of St. Peter's, banished by the City Council. He returned in September, 1541 - over three years later - and picked up the exposition in the next verse!"
Both Calvin and Luther established schools in which they sought to train men for the exposition of the Word of God. They believed that the majesty of God is revealed in His Word and that God's glory was put on display when God's Word was preached. In his commentary on Jeremiah 5:13 Calvin writes, "If His word is not allowed to have authority, it is the same as though its despisers attempted to thrust God from heaven or denied His existence. We hence see how the majesty of God is, as it were, indissolubly connected with the public preaching of His truth."
The Reformation was, therefore, not just a rediscovery of the glorious truth of justification by faith alone, but it was the greatest revival of preaching in the history of the Christian church.
Satan knows no new tricks. We can see the same thing happening in our day as happened in the years preceding the Reformation, promising the same disastrous results. The irony is that it is churches with a rich protestant heritage that seem intent on taking us back to another dark age.
Worship services are packed with announcements, beautiful singing, specials, dancing, videos, dramas, and every conceivable form of entertainment. The one thing that can find no place in the modern worship service is the preaching of the Word!
"Sermons" are called "talks" or "conversations." We are told they should be short and relevant - geared to a topic of the day. Pastors download their sermons off the internet or buy their outlines and manuscripts from someone else. The hard work of exegesis and exposition is neglected in favor of stories, anecdotes and feel-good, self-help homilies.
Protestant churches have forsaken the sole authority of Scripture and the worship service has become an hour of pandering to people's flesh instead of preaching in the power of the Spirit. The voice of God is no longer heard in most churches because the Word of God is no longer preached and explained.
Commenting on the dearth of biblical preaching in our own day, one of the greatest expositors of the twentieth century, Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, "While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching. But once that went, and men began to speculate, and to theorize, and to put up hypotheses and so on, the eloquence and the greatness of the spoken word inevitably declined and began to wane. . . As belief in the great doctrines of the Bible began to go out, and sermons were replaced by ethical addresses and homilies, and moral uplift and socio-political talk, it is not surprising that preaching declined."We don't have to imagine what the results of this trend will be. May God give us the grace to "preach the Word!" PRAY THAT IT BE SO!