This article is about preaching and the central place it has in the worship service.

Source: Clarion, 2008. 2 pages.

A Guide to Reformed Worship – Preaching

Many years ago, when he was pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, Donald Grey Barnhouse had a regular radio program. One day he asked the question of what things would look like if Satan took over a city. Most of us would probably imagine a community besot with violence and perversion. Barnhouse painted a different picture. All of the bars and pool halls would be shut down, there would be no more pornographic filth, the streets and lawns of the city would be tidy, and there would be no swearing or cursing. The children would all be polite and the churches would be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.

Satan wants nothing more than to see churches which get everything else right in worship, but neglect the preaching of Christ. After all, it is through the preaching of the gospel that sinners are saved: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

It was passages like that which God used to stimulate the Reformers to bring back the biblical practice of regular preaching into public worship.

According to John Calvin, Martin Bucer, and the other Reformers, the preaching of the Word was an indispensable element of Christian worship.

However, the medieval church had not always seen it the same way. Over time, the mass came to be central, while preaching was rare and infrequent. God led the Reformers to see that this was entirely out of line with what the Bible says. Hughes Oliphant Old writes, “That the liturgy should be celebrated without the preaching and hearing of the Word was to the Reformers an unthinkable disobedience to the clear commandment of Scripture.”

The Clear Commandment of Scripture🔗

Besides Romans 10:17, one of the clearest passages of Scripture regarding preaching is found in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Paul was not writing to an ordinary believer, but to a man who had been ordained to the ministry of the Word. Timothy was a minister in Ephesus in the same capacity in which we find ministers today. Paul’s mandate to Timothy was clear: he was to preach the Scriptures!

When we look closer at the Greek word that Paul uses for “preach,” we discover some unique characteristics of biblical preaching. For one thing, it is verbal proclamation. It would be unimaginable in the world of Paul to use the word kerusso to describe a drama or a play. It would also be unheard of to use this word to describe a dialogue or a conversation. The preaching Paul had in mind was a monological proclamation using words.

Besides that, it was authoritative. Timothy was called to “herald” the Scriptures. I already mentioned that the verb there is kerusso; this word is closely related to the Greek word kerux, which means “herald.” In the ancient world, a herald was sent out by a king or a high-ranking official. He was endowed with the authority to represent the one who sent him. In other words, he did not present his own message and his own thoughts, but only the message he’d been given. In fact, there is evidence that heralds would not dare change the message for fear of death. Not changing anything, they could proclaim their message confidently and with authority.

Finally, Timothy was called to verbally and authoritatively proclaim the Word. In his time, before the completion of the canon, this meant the Old Testament. Timothy was mandated to exposit the Scriptures and from them preach Christ. He was not permitted to use any other source but that which is divine. From the written Word of God, Timothy and other preachers of the apostolic era (including Paul), declared “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Don’t Take it for Granted!🔗

Today, in our public worship, we cannot take for granted the centrality of the preaching of the Word. Around us, also in ostensibly Reformed circles, this biblical emphasis is under attack. A number of years ago, I wrote about a Christian Reformed pastor in Calgary, Alberta who was using a television show (the Simpsons) as the text for his sermons. The story was reported as some kind of novelty in one of the major daily papers. Unfortunately, this is no longer a novelty in the broader Christian world. Though thankfully there are still churches which hold to the careful, systematic, and expository preaching of Scripture, they seem to be rarer and rarer. I remember meeting a man in Fresno, California who was desperately looking for a church, just one church in this city of 600,000, that would preach the Word of God, rather than Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life.

Our insistence on preaching the Word is one of our strengths as Canadian Reformed churches. We have no reason to boast in this, but we certainly can be thankful for it. It is a gracious gift of God. So, when we have friends or acquaintances who ask about our churches and what they’re like, this should be the first thing that we draw their attention to. We ought to make clear that, in our churches, the Bible is an open book from the beginning of the service to the end. Not only that, but the Word is laid open through the preaching and in that Christ is vividly portrayed and preached for the wonderful Saviour that He is. If we wish to see our churches grow from the outside, let us make known what is most important in our churches: the preaching of Christ crucified! This is such a rare commodity in today’s milieu that God will surely use it to draw those who are hungering and thirsting for his Word.

As for us, we should be careful not to take the preaching for granted. In an egalitarian age, it is easy to dismiss the preaching as just another man’s opinion about what the Bible says. However, if we understand Paul correctly, we do not hear the voice of a man in faithful Biblical preaching. So long as the Word is faithfully preached, it is the Word of God itself. This was captured quite strikingly in the Second Helvetic Confession: “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” I sometimes wonder whether we believe that. Coming to the preaching with a right attitude is important. We need to be humble and teachable.

However, we can also improve our reception of the preaching through some simple practical steps. One of the most obvious is to get a proper night’s sleep on Saturday night. Though an occasional lapse is perhaps understandable, regular habitual sleeping in church shows contempt for God’s Word. In Matthew 10:15, the Lord Jesus warned that the covenant people who openly displayed contempt for his Word would be punished more harshly on the Day of Judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah.

In addition, it is worthwhile to cultivate a habit of note-taking in church, particularly if one finds it difficult to focus. Listening is difficult work and our minds easily wander. We hear the preacher mention a word or a concept, perhaps he uses an illustration, and before long our thoughts are wandering down some rabbit trail. Some of us are more prone to this than others and for those of us who are, let me commend the habit of note-taking. Not only does it help to focus in church, it also gives you a permanent record of what was preached for future reference. Those sermon notes can be very helpful for your own personal study of Scripture and also for group Bible study.

There is much more that could be said about preaching. For our purposes in this series, it should be emphasized that we have preaching as central, not only because it is commanded, but because Christ is central and Christ is revealed in his Word. The church without preaching is in danger of losing its very status as a church. Let’s hold on to this biblical practice!

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