Why Preaching and Not Conversation?

preach the word

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.

No Substitute for Preaching in the Church

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

With any area of ministry, we must have God-ordained reasons for doing what we are doing or it is not really ministry.  These theological underpinnings not only keep us on track, but also invite God’s blessing because we can know with confidence that what we are doing is what He has commanded.  Jesus bought the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  We want to serve Christ with full knowledge that we are doing the task He has given us as we will one day give an account (Hebrews 13:17), and as He has promised His presence and power (Matthew 28:18-20).

In Chapter 2, “No Substitute,” Lloyd-Jones asserts “that the ultimate justification for asserting the primacy of preaching is theological…the moment you consider man’s real need, andPreaching and Preachers also the nature of the salvation announced and proclaimed in the Scriptures, you are driven to the conclusion that the primary task of the Church is to preach and to proclaim this, to show man’s real need, and to show the only remedy, the only cure for it.” (37)

Forty-four years after these words were spoken, man’s need and Christ’s salvation remain the same.  However, if the church is afraid to lovingly but confidently teach that man is a great sinner in need of a great Savior, then certainly preaching will begin to change.  In fact, in many churches it has.  We must hold onto the biblical truths that man is completely spiritually dead without Christ, and that Christ is the only way to salvation.  These truths are not popular in our pluralistic feel-good culture, but they are the most loving.

Lloyd-Jones, a medical doctor before he became a preacher, explains that if a doctor sees a man in pain and simply gives him morphine because he hates to see people in pain–but ignores the symptoms that point to a disease–then he is actually doing a criminal act (42).

May we have this laser focus as we consider our own churches, our own ministries, look for a church, or pray for our pastor:  “…the primary task of the Church is not to educate man, is not to heal him physically or psychologically, it is not to make him happy.  I will go further; it is not even to make him good.  These are things that accompany salvation; and when the Church performs her true task she does incidentally educate men and give them knowledge and information, she does bring them happiness, she does make them good and better than they were.  But my point is that those are not her primary objectives.  Her primary purpose is not any of these; it is rather to put man into the right relationship with God, to reconcile man to God.” (41)

With all of our technology today, we might ask the question: Why do we still need preaching?  Why can’t we simply do church at home or a coffee shop on the internet, or on TV, or by reading a book?  Lloyd-Jones helps us with an often-overlooked truth:  “Now the Church is a missionary body, and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is a part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and its message.  It is therefore most important that people should come together and listen…that has an impact in and of itself.” (52)  What a joy, to think that one way you are a missionary is by simply worshiping at church on any given Sunday!  We need to hear preaching together, and we need to hear preaching that is not afraid of proclaiming man’s greatest need and our only Savior.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Blogging Through “Preaching and Preachers”

I am never more reminded of my weakness and God’s power than when I stand up in a pulpit to preach God’s Word.  I remember one time that I preached in a small village outside of Juarez, Mexico and the congregation enthusiastically sang a song right before I stood up to preach:  “The Messenger of God Is Coming.”  It said something about how a message from God would now be given, and how the Bible would be opened and our hearts should be open too.  I remember praying, “God, may it be Your message, not me.”  I didn’t have anything to offer those dear people–and that was magnified in a culture and language not my own–but God sure did, in His Word.Preaching and Preachers

I am only aware of two preachers who read my blog (the pastors I work with), so why would I decide to blog through a book on preaching, the classic Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones?

First, I need it.  As school started for 16 weeks at The Master’s Seminary this week where I received my M.Div, as the High Schoolers I work with as a Pastor of Family Ministries are starting a new school year, and as my own son starts Kindergarten–I realized that I needed the discipline of growing in preaching by sharing with you what I am learning each week.  There are 16 chapters in Preaching & Preachers, so I see it as a semester of continuing education, and Lord willing growing in grace and knowledge in the proclamation of God’s Word.

Second, you need it.  You may not be a preacher, but preaching does matter to you.  You listen to preaching every Sunday.  As has often been said, “As the pulpit goes, so goes the church.”  If reading my musings from Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching & Preachers helps you listen to a sermon better, pray for your pastor more, or find a church that has this view of preaching the Bible, then it is time well spent.  There will be blog posts on other topics now and then throughout the Fall as well, but after this 16 weeks of blogging through Preaching and Preachers I will go back to “blogging as usual.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones exclaims at the beginning of Chapter One, “The Primacy of Preaching,” that “the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” (17)

This is a sweeping but true statement, just as true today as it was in 1969 when these lectures were first given at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  When we preach (and I would add even when we teach Bible studies, as I do more often than formal preaching), we need to derive our authority from the Scriptures so that we are meeting this most urgent need.  As Lloyd-Jones explains, “While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching.” (21)  If we truly believe that God’s Word is sufficient, that eternity is real, and that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, then we will do all that we can to make sure that we are doing “true preaching.”

Lloyd-Jones gives the apostolic example of Peter and John healing a man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, which created great excitement and interest in receiving similar benefits.  What did Peter do?  “Peter again preaches and corrects them, and immediately draws their attention, as it were, from the miracle that he and John had just worked to the great truth concerning Christ and His salvation, which is so infinitely more important.” (29)

The church does many good things and in many good ways.  I am involved in many of those programs, from missions to High School ministry to Awana to a Good News Club.  These are all ways that we can “preach” the Gospel and God’s Word to both unbelievers and believers alike.  But it starts in the pulpit.  I am so thankful to be in a church where Gospel-centered, Bible-saturated sermons are expected and desired.  As Lloyd-Jones said, “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival?  It is renewed preaching.  Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching.” (31)  By God’s grace, may we be found faithful at the church’s most urgent need–true preaching.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.