Note: This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”
Why do we gather for a sermon each Sunday and not a conversation? Why do I love leading a Growth Group (where we do have discussion and conversation about God’s Word), but would balk at the idea of not listening to a sermon preached on Sunday? Lloyd-Jones gives four reasons in Chapter 3, “The Sermon and the Preaching.”
God Does Not Want to Be Debated
In our post-modern, post-Christian America, this is probably the point in this chapter that evangelicals would most commonly divide on. For a preacher to stand up and declare God’s message seems brash to many in our culture and times. The question then is, is the preacher declaring his own thoughts or those of God? “An ambassador is not a man who voices his own thoughts or his own opinions or views, or his own desires. The very essence of the position of the ambassador is that he is a man who has been ‘sent’ to speak for somebody else.” (71) If the preacher believes that he has a message from God (from the Bible) for the people, it is not an apologetic message. There are other venues for edifying or evangelistic conversation such as home Bible studies, but in preaching, “We believe in the almighty, the glorious, the living God…we must never put ourselves…into a position in which we are debating about God as if He were but a philosophical proposition.” (58)
Christianity is Not Entertainment
Yes, these lectures were given 44 years ago. And yes, if the point that “God does not want to be debated” in preaching rubs our current evangelical culture the wrong way, then “Christianity is not entertainment” points to maybe the second biggest issue in answering the question, “Why preaching and not conversation?” Does the preacher bring the Word of the living God? Do we truly believe that eternity is real and that Jesus is the only Savior? We should not listen to a sermon to be entertained, although we may enjoy the sermon and laugh now and then. We should listen to a sermon to hear from God through His Word. I love Lloyd-Jones’ perspective: “I am a vehicle, I am a channel, I am an instrument, I am a representative.” (71) God in Christ offers something so much greater than entertainment.
Spiritual Things are Spiritually Discerned
1 Corinthians 2:14 explains, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” When we gather to hear preaching on Sundays, there are those whose eyes have been opened to Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) and who have the Holy Spirit to illuminate God’s Word to them, and those who need to know Christ and be reconciled to God. God’s Word is foolishness to them until that happens. These circumstances that the Bible explains require hearing from God through preaching the Word when the church primarily gathers for worship, rather than a conversation or debate.
Preaching Smashes Pride
“The first thing that has to be done with the man who does not accept the Christian faith is to humble him…All men have to be converted and ‘become as little children.’ All they know, and all they are, and all they have, and all they have done, is utterly useless in this realm. There is no hope for them until they become aware of their utter bankruptcy…Truth is revealed to us in the Scriptures and by the illumination that the Holy Spirit alone can produce…I [Lloyd-Jones] argue therefore that this whole notion of having a debate or a discussion or exchange of views concerning these matters is something that is contrary to the very character and nature of the Gospel itself.” (61)
So, even in the 21st century, we continue to preach. We continue to “preach Christ crucified,” (1 Corinthians 1:23), and we continue to preach the Word as “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
Source: Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.