In this series on the church, it has been my goal to visit and revisit some major issues related to the doctrine of ecclesiology. In a modern age that’s seeking to reinvent and rethink church, we must examine from God’s Word the plan that God has for His church.
The modern culture is trying to escape the idea of sitting in a church building with other people to sing, pray, observe the ordinances, and hear the preaching of God’s Word. In fact, Donald Miller has suggested that he doesn’t connect with God through hearing “traditional” sermons. Donald Miller is the author of the book Blue Like Jazz and recently posted an article on his blog titled, “I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere” (See Jonathan Leeman’s excellent response to Donald Miller here). In this article, he says, “It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him.” What should we say to a new wave of modern types like Donald Miller who suggest that we should hear God in other ways than preaching?
As we survey the history of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind, it doesn’t take long to see that the true and living God of all creation is a speaking God. In fact, that one truth alone sets Him apart from all of the false gods and idols of history. As the Psalmist accurately declares in Psalm 115:5-7 regarding the false gods of human history:
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.
In the beginning, God spoke the totality of creation into existence. In the Garden of Eden, after He formed man in His image and likeness, we see that God had fellowship with man and that fellowship involved speech. After the fall of man into sin, we see that God spoke a message of judgment. Throughout the unfolding plan of redemption from Genesis and all throughout the Old Testament, we see that God spoke to man. He would often speak to prophets and command them to address the people of God. This was the case with Moses, Daniel, and all throughout the line of prophets to the ushering in of the New Testament in His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus, being “very God of very God,” tabernacled among mankind. He spoke. When Jesus spoke, it was the Word of God. In fact, Dr. Steven Lawson in a sermon he preached in the 2014 G3 Conference stated, “God only has one Son, and He made Him a preacher.” Although Jesus was fully man, He remained fully God. The very creation of God could not accept God, and in their sinful state, they rejected the speaking God in person. That rejection culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus on the Roman cross.
Following the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus – the apostles went out preaching the Word of God. Although they did not have the completed canon of Scripture, they preached. As they preached and instructed the early church, God was continuing to write His Word through the apostles in a similar fashion as He had done through the prophets. This was the work of the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to Timothy warning him that there would come a time when the people under his ministry would not want to hear the Word of God. They would reject sound doctrine and crave for themselves teachers to preach a message they enjoyed to hear as opposed to the Word of Truth. That day eventually came to Ephesus and beyond. We continue to live in that day.
Although we see the early church gathering to hear God through His Word in Acts 2, why must we continue to hear preaching? What is the big deal? Shouldn’t we move on to bigger and more modern forms of communication through technology? Why do we gather and hear preaching? I believe many answers could be discussed regarding this question, but I have categorized the answer under three basic headings.
God Continues to Speak
Let’s face it, most of the time when we hear people use the language, “God told me” we get very nervous. That nervous felling is natural. Anytime someone quotes God – it’s a serious thing. However, even the most conservative cessationist believes that God still speaks. Francis Schaeffer communicated much from the title of his well known book, He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Our God is not muzzled or silenced. While we may not hear God speak in an audible voice, the completed canon of Scripture has been God-breathed and preserved over the ages so that we will continue to hear the voice of God until we hear the voice of God on the other side of the veil of life. People often look in the wrong places to discover God’s will. They often listen to the voice of man far more than the voice of God. If we desire to hear God speak, we should listen to Him from His book – the Bible. While we should read it in private, God has likewise called His church to assemble in public to hear the preaching and teaching of His Word (Hebrews 10:25).
We must incline our ear to the voice of God on a regular basis. We are so blessed to have the Word of God in our own language and in our own personal copy. Entire people groups have come and gone in world history without the Bible in their language. We are living in such a remarkable time of world history whereby we have the access to the Bible in our own native tongue and in numerous copies.
As God continues to speak, we as God’s people must continue to hear and worship Him. The Word of God is a divine revelation of God. If we want to hear God’s voice and see a picture of God, we must see and hear through the pages of the Bible. God desires His people to worship Him through the Word. As we get a glimpse of God from His Word, it should cause us to see His glory and this radiant picture of God should be so bright that it fills our hearts with unspeakable joy. This joy should cause our eyes to dance with amazement. As God continues to speak, through a book with fixed letters and sentences, we should never grow board with hearing His voice from the pages of the Bible. The preaching of God’s Word should usher us to the heights of worship! Albert Mohler, in his article titled, “Expository Preaching – The Antidote to Anemic Worship” says “the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.”
Preaching Is God’s Plan of Discipleship
God’s plan and pattern for making disciples is not centered on singing. Although the early church sang, the Puritans sang, the Reformers sang, and all throughout church history we are greatly indebted to the hymnody of the church – singing always takes a backseat to preaching. True discipleship is accomplished through preaching rather than drama and other forms of modern Christianized entertainment.
Acts 2 provides us a picture of the early church as a gathered body surrounding and submitted to the Word of God. They were submitting themselves to the apostles teaching (doctrine) which was undoubtedly the Word of God. The apostles taught the Old Testament and pointed to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment. They were living in a special time whereby they likewise were being used as tools by God to write His Word in printed form. This oral culture was being given a fixed version of God’s Word for preservation purposes.
The early church gathered together and learned the Word of God. They grew in holiness as they heard the Word of God. Their faith was strengthened as they heard the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Although the act of preaching today seems old fashioned and outdated, we must not tamper with the pattern that God has ordained and preserved throughout time. Although we are living in a modern age of technological advancement, we must still see the value of preaching. Rather than moving to a video based sermon from the chair of the local coffee shop, we must gather with the church and listen to God speak from His Word through the preaching of a pastor. The sense of community, passion, and accountability is missing when you view preaching through a screen. The presence of the Word in the hand of the preacher who is communicating the Word of Truth is powerful. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said of preaching, “What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this: It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.“1
As we consider the subject of preaching, we must think through the way the church preaches. True discipleship must take place through the most pure means of preaching. The most accurate and true form of preaching is expository preaching. This is the method of verse by verse preaching. Any attempt of serious discipleship will handle God’s Word in a very cautious manner. The most careful way to handle, study, read, and preach the Bible is by expository preaching. Rather than moving to a trendy style of modern communication that seeks to market the Bible rather than preach the Bible – we must stick to exposition. In an age of modernity where verse by verse methods may seem boring, we must remain committed to passionately explaining the Word of God line by line and phrase by phrase! Albert Mohler writes, “Expository preaching is central, irreducible, and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God.”
Preaching Is God’s Plan for Global Mission
John Piper has rightly stated the following in his excellent book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, “Preaching is God s appointed means for the conversion of sinners, the awakening of the church, and the preservation of the saints. If preaching fails in its task, the consequences are infinitely terrible.”2 The church’s aim and goal is to make disciples of all nations. The greatest sending agency of church history is not some parachurch organization – it’s the church itself. The message of the church is God’s message of good news. That message has been communicated and revealed in a book – the Bible. It must be preached.
The way that God calls out missionaries from the local church is by passionate preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The means of God to open blind eyes and save lost sinners is by the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the great work of the church. The church is a preaching station with good news to proclaim. When we give up on preaching we abandon the very plan that God has ordained to reach the world with the good news. Can we use technology to preach the good news? Sure! There is nothing wrong with great use of technology to spread the truth. However, preaching must begin in the church, and through the church, and missionaries are sent out from a Bible preaching church to go and preach the Bible and plant other churches. This is the task of the church – the preaching of God’s Word.
As the church continues to assemble, the church must continue to preach. The centerpiece of the life of the church must be the preaching of the Word. When preaching is removed, the church dies. Therefore, we must be cautious in our attempt to rethink church in our modern culture. There are certain things we must keep our hands off of and preaching is one of those things. Should we learn to preach better? Should we learn to preach in a more excellent manner? Yes! But in all of our attempts to “better” our church life, we must continue to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice
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1.Quoted by Curtis C. Thomas, Practical Wisdom for Pastors, Crossway Books, 2001, 74.
2. John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Baker, 1990, 54-55.