Does This Have to Be in a Sermon?
Doesn’t the gospel have to be proclaimed in each service every Sunday again? Paul writes: woe to me if I do not. This is why the congregation of the Lord has to hear the gospel time and again. And then also the complete gospel. Isn’t this in conflict then when the judgment of God reverberates in the proclamation of the Word? Does it have to be mentioned that man is destined to die and that judgment will follow? Wouldn’t that message lead to people leaving church on a sour note, if you weren’t getting depressed during the sermon already?
Warnings in Preaching
“From various sides the complaint has been heard that the judgment of God is no longer clearly heard in today’s preaching. The warning element in the proclamation is no longer getting its rightful place, it is said. This is then at the expense of the depth and gravity of preaching.
It is difficult to judge whether we are dealing with a reactionary movement. There have been times that in some churches the proclamation of God’s judgement was strongly emphasized…
The gospel receives its full meaning especially in the light of the proclamation of God’s judgment. It is the gospel that proclaims that the Lord does not sideline his judgment, but maintains it. Whoever loses sight of this backdrop of the gospel also loses appreciation for the miracle of the gospel. Also in our time the danger is not imaginary: that we consider the judgment of God (that the Bible speaks so insistently) only to those who live outside the church and are alienated from the faith.”
It has been twenty-five years since Dr. L. Floor wrote these introductory words in his book The Judgment of God according to the New Testament.
Meanwhile, the complaints have not diminished. They have increased strongly. This is why more than one side asked me to write something about it. In general people miss the warning element in sermons and at funerals. The impression may arise that everyone’s life is in order or even that everyone will be saved.
If we do not warn the people around us, aren’t we responsible when our neighbour perishes forever? Or should we not take it so seriously?
Is It Really Necessary?
It seems that more and more people do not think it necessary that warnings are issued about eternal damnation. A number of considerations need to be taken into account. In the first place, one can have a fairly optimistic opinion on the state of mankind. People may think and do bad things at times, but that is part of who we are. These things are exceptions, minor issues and mistakes, Mankind is not nearly as wicked as has been proclaimed.
In the second place, it is believed that if God is a God of love, everything will be well for everyone in the end. The philosophy of an influential Theologian that Jesus died for all mankind, is increasingly accepted. He was crucified between two criminals! The one called on him, but was the other lost to perdition? According to this view this cannot be imagined or true.
In the third place there is a fear about the proclamation of God’s judgment. People are afraid to be considered old fashioned, behind the times. This is the reason why ministers remain silent about the judgment even when they are of the opinion that people should really be warned. And at times their own conscience will accuse them that because of their shortcomings in this regard, people will be lost.
In the Bible
In God’s Word we clearly see warnings. The Old as well as the New Testament give countless examples of this. Moses and Elijah warned the people of God. What the prophets proclaimed is very clear. Think of what Ezekiel says about the watchmen. “You shall warn them in my name, says the Lord. If you do not, I will require the blood of the people from your hands.” With all urgency and seriousness, the people of God are called to repentance.
In his book Dr. L. Floor demonstrates that serious warnings belong in the preaching of the gospel in all of the New Testament, also within the Christian congregation.
In his book Priestly Preaching, Prof. W. Kremer dedicates a complete chapter to judgment in the preaching. In a penetrating way he asks for attention for this aspect of God’s Word. Only in this way do we work responsibly with God’s Word and with the church.
It is important that especially consistories pay attention to this. They have been entrusted with the supervision of the preaching of the Word in the congregation of the Lord. They need to be on guard against a one-sided preaching.
In the Sermon
An elder once gave as his opinion that in the meetings of the congregation, the whole of the congregation should be addressed as holy in Christ. He felt that in the preaching there should be no warning against unrepentant lifestyles or hypocrisy. This should only be done at a home visit by elders to a specific member. Whether it is indeed done there remains the question. In other words, when the warnings are not present in the preaching, they will often fall totally by the wayside. With all the consequences connected to this.
In a conversation between consistories it can happen that the warning element of the gospel is seriously discussed. An honest and open discussion between one another. But what happens afterwards? There are still brothers who have the opinion that the preaching should only be a kind-hearted pulling toward Christ. Warnings in the preaching is rejected as fear-mongering. Aren’t we dealing with the congregation of the Lord? Aren’t the promises of salvation given to the entire congregation? What else do they need?
When it is pointed out that John the Baptist in his preaching was warning and pointing to the axe at the root of the tree, these brothers react with: yes, that was John; we are now in the congregation of the Lord Jesus. When it is then pointed out that Jesus in his perfect preaching seriously warned and spoke about the wise and foolish builder, the wise and foolish bridesmaids, and that he preached pointedly: go in through the narrow gate on the narrow road, it is said that we do not have to preach this in the church because we are in the congregation of the Lord. And then we can still add: So what must you do with what the exalted Christ wrote to the seven churches in Asia Minor?
The warning element does not receive a place in their thoughts or the preaching other than by exception.
And this point of view springs from the idea that we should only preach the good news.
We can argue that this does no justice to the message which should be heard in the congregation. In Lord’s Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism we confess that “the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ’s merits, as often as they by true faith accept the promise of the gospel. The kingdom of heaven is closed when it is proclaimed and testified to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of God and eternal damnation rests upon them as long as they do not repent.” Both elements need to have a place in the preaching to the congregation of the Lord. Both elements are part of the gospel!
Time and again the New Testament makes clear that the judgment of God is a response, a divine response to the sin of mankind. The judgment of God is such a stark reality because the sin of mankind is such a horrifying reality. Thankfully the message of judgment and wrath is framed in the message of the good news of redemption in Christ. But this does not mean that the judgment of God is not something terrible…
God’s final judgment remains a reality for everyone…
The terror of this judgment as the New Testament proclaims it, points clearly to how seriously the Lord abhors sin. It is not our opinion of sin, but God’s opinion that counts. The judgment of God as we find it in the New Testament, is the divine answer to the fundamental problem of sin.
I conclude with a closing quote from the previously mentioned book: “The coming judgment serves as an encouragement to find refuge in God. For this reason the judgment of God has a rightful place in the proclamation of the gospel”.
It is serious when you withhold the full proclamation of the gospel!
This article was translated by Jelko Oosterhof.