Reformed Baptist Fellowship

The Place of Preaching in the Church of Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on May 31, 2011 at 10:50 am

The LBCF of 1689 highlights the ministry of the word in connection with saving faith:  “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the word…”  It should come as no surprise to reformed Christians that God places a great emphasis upon preaching in the church of Jesus Christ.

The Bible is clear concerning the fact that sinners must hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved.  There is objective truth revealed in the Bible concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that sinners must hear in order to be saved.  There are several passages that demonstrate the necessity of the gospel with reference to the salvation of sinners; see for instance Rom 1:16; 10:17; 1 Cor 15:1-4; Eph 1:13-14; 2 Tim 3:15-16; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23.  This means that no matter how dramatic or powerful our personal testimony may be, if we do not set forth biblical truth, the sinner we witness to will not have the saving data used by the Spirit to affect life-saving change.

The Bible not only emphasizes the objective truth that must be communicated, it highlights the primary vehicle for that communication:  preaching.  In Rom. 10:14-17, the Apostle Paul sets forth the necessity for God-sent men to communicate the truth of the gospel for the salvation of sinners.  John Murray comments, “The main point is that the saving relation to Christ involved in calling upon His name is not something that can occur in a vacuum; it occurs only in a context created by proclamation of the gospel on the part of those commissioned to proclaim it” (Romans, p.58).  Note specifically verse 14 where Paul says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?”  We could accurately translate the second question this way:  “And how shall they believe Him whom they have not heard?”  When a biblically qualified man accurately expounds the Scripture, Christ is speaking in the churches.  Paul illustrates this in Eph. 2:17 when he says “And He [Christ] came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.”  Jesus never physically traveled to Ephesus, but from His place of authority at the right hand of God, He preached peace by His Spirit through His earthly representatives.

In 1 Cor. 1:21, Paul summarizes the entire history of philosophy and then notes God’s means of bringing redemptive blessing upon sinners, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”  The “message preached” refers to the objective content of preaching; but it is in fact preached.  It is important to remember that there were other mediums available to communicate the message in Paul’s day, but God was pleased to use the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.  This verse ought to promote caution among ministers and churches who question the effectiveness of preaching and who are toying with means not ordained in Scripture for the communication of the gospel.  In a comment on Matt. 4:9 that is fitting in this connection, C.H. Spurgeon wrote,  “May thy church never yield to the world with the idea of setting up the kingdom of Christ in a more easy and rapid manner than by the simple preaching of the gospel!”

A final passage to consider is 2 Tim. 4:1-8.  When a wise man comes to die, we ought to give strict attention to those words uttered in his 11th hour – such is 2 Tim 4.  Paul charges Timothy to “preach the word.”  He does not charge Timothy with telling stories, engaging in drama, or successfully managing the church as a CEO; he commands him to preach the word.  Paul then specifies the manner of preaching:  Timothy is to be ready in season and out of season, he is to convince, rebuke, exhort, he is to be patient, and he must clearly teach the truth of the Bible.  Paul then gives two reasons for the command:  “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (verse 3) and “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering” (verse 6).  The second reason is clear:  Paul is about to die and he wants his successor to do what he himself had engaged in constantly.  The first reason is clear too, if not a bit puzzling.  In the midst of defection from sound doctrine on the part of the church, the God-sent preacher is to continue to preach sound doctrine!  Whether or not the church wants biblical exposition and application is not the issue:  Christ has commanded faithful, earnest, and accurate preaching of the whole counsel of God for the glory of God and for the edification of the saints, and the salvation of sinners.

The Second Helvetic Confession states concerning preaching:  “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good” (1:4).  May God indeed revive in each of us an appreciation for a sound pulpit ministry.

Jim Butler, Pastor
Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack
  1. This message, I believe, is right on.

  2. …and timely. I agree with Jim!

  3. Hello,

    I noticed that the Second Helvetic Confession seems to restrict preaching to the pulpit ministry inside the church;

    “…Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called..”

    I essentially agree with the article, but I would like further clarification on some points:

    “Inside the church?”:

    As the Gospel expands to unreached areas, preaching is, for the most part, not done inside of a church for a church does not yet exist. Explaining the Bible to tribals, Muslims, Hindus, etc, more normally takes places in informal settings and in a variety of informal ways. Also, many folks who are highly skilled at pulpit ministries are sometimes very poor at one-on-one explaining of the Gospel to people on the street or to the unchurched, unreached, etc. Also, much evangelism and the bringing of new souls into churches is done by women.

    I know preachers who are grand oraters and have told me that they spend sometimes 30 hours a week preparing for their Sunday morning sermons. However, several of these preachers spend little time throughout the week outside of the pulpit ministering to people. These men that I know were always the most vocal about the “primacy of preaching” and the “central role of the pulpit ministry” and yet their churches have either remained small or have shrunk since I have known them and their is litle personal engagement with the sheep.

    As we stress the authoritative preaching of the Word by elder-qualified men, how do we also stress the place of evangelism in the Church and not limit the ministry of the church only or mainly to the authoritative pulpit ministry of the Church?

    Also, in a zeal to become good “preachers” how do we take care to remain good “pastors” of the Sheep in ways other than the Sunday sermon? I have known some good “preachers” who were not necessarily good “pastors.”

    Also, what are the boundaries of this term “preaching?” Can preaching occur in other settings besides a “pulpit ministry?”

    Would you call explaining the bible around a tribal campfire preaching? Would you describe engaging people in the marketplace or the community square as preaching? How about answering questions and dialoguing a bit as you give people the Gospel? Or presenting the Gospel on a street, in a tribe, at a meeting, etc. What are the parameters of this operational definition?

    My concern is that, as we stress a solid “pulpit ministry” inside of the church, we might diminish those efforts to spread the Gospel not associated with a pulpit or we might restrict our view of missions and evangelism only to one methodology.


    Also, regarding the negative use of the phrase, “telling stories”:

    Jesus told many stories and used very visual images to communicate truth to people. Among tribal peoples and illiterates, deep expository preaching of one or two verses is less suggested than giving the people the stories of Scripture, even if every verse is not touched on deeply, with the main points of each story illustrated. In fact, missionary work among tribals and oral cultures is primarily done through largely chronological bible storying, such as the Firm Foundations model used by New Tribes Mission. This seems to be a solid and a biblical way of communicating God’s truth in a way that people can understand and remember and pass on. I am assuming that this is not what you mean by telling stories. I tell stories from the Bible chronologically and most of the OT consists of stories.

    Jim, I like your articles. Can you do a follow-up on the use of the word kerusso that occurs outside the official pulpit ministry of an established church as well as this fine article?

    What I see on the mission field is that the “pulpit ministry inside the church” occurs at a later point. The initial encounter with the Gospel for many people is through the work of non-ordained men and women and evangelists explaing the Gospel or witnessing about Jesus in a number of informal settings and in a myriad of ways.

    In truth, most of the new growth of churches that I have seen has been by laymen praying and explaining the Gospel in informal ways to people. Much of this is done through personal testimony as well. Then, after this initial contact and engagement is made, the new believer or the new inquirer then feels comfortable enough to enter a church and, only then, is more grounded in the truth by means of the authoritive pulpit ministry that occurs weekly.

  4. All of the below-listed words are translated as “preaching” or “preach” in at least one English translation (forgive my transliterations, I have no greek fonts).

    The combined perusal of these terms, and other related terms, should cause us to reject any restriction in the concept of preaching to only the “pulpit ministry” that occurs weekly in established churches. Being able to kerusso or eunggelizo or Parresiazomai can occur, and does occur in the New Testament, in many other contexts that are not the formal pulpit ministries of churches:

    Kerusso,
    Euaggelizo,
    Kataggello
    Dialegomai
    Laleo
    Didasko
    Diaggello (and apaggello, paragello, and related words)
    Parresiazomai (parresia)

    Then, there are these related words that, while not being translated as preaching or preach in any english translation that I know of, are still related concepts:

    Apologeomai (apologia)
    Suzeteo (suzetesis)
    Strateo (cf. Strateia)
    Epagonizebthai
    Elegko (Elegkos)
    Parakaleo
    Matheteo

    -Some of the above terms seem restricted to certain men, but other terms seem to be performed more broadly and many of these terms appear in an evangelistic context and not merely in the established church.

  5. Wonderful and encouraging, thanks for a great post.

  6. Trevor,

    Thank you for the feedback. The article had a specific and narrow focus: preaching in the church. As well, an emphasis upon one thing does not necessarily imply the negation of another thing. For example, if I say “the heart is the most important organ in the body,” this does not mean the kidneys are unimportant or unnecessary.

    As far as story telling: exposition of Scripture may include story telling (a la Jesus Christ), but not story telling to the neglect of exposition of Scripture. Sorry if that wasn’t clearer in the post.

    Sorry for the brevity, but I have to get back to sermon preparation. Just kidding 😉

    Jim

  7. Without Biblical Preaching there is no church. There may be a building — there may be people — but without Biblical Preaching it is not the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. NOTHING can take the place of Biblical preaching. Thank you Jim!

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