This article is about the preacher as ambassador of Christ and what this means for the content and style of the preaching.

Source: The Outlook, 1979. 3 pages.

Lord Give Us Good Preachers!

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.

2 Corinthians 5:20(a)

Not Just Talking, but Preaching!🔗

Those who attend church services nowadays often experience very strange things, not only with respect to the organization of the service liturgically but also the manner with which some believe that they may preach. Let's reflect upon these things.

If things are well with us, then we go to church Sundays to learn God's Word (L.D. 38, Catechism) as it is proclaimed by one of God's servants. Because they are commissioned to "preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2; 2 Corinthians 4:5). This means that the minister does not come in his own name, but with a special mandate from God to speak HIS WORD in His name: a word which exposes, comforts, warns and encourages. He who stands in the pulpit is according to 2 Corinthians 5:20 the ambassador of Christ, the one in and through whom God actually speaks to His congregation. In the Sunday worship services nothing less than the "bread of life" is served, that spiritual nourishment which we need in order to live as HIS PEOPLE dur­ing the week ahead. And that Word of God — nothing else, nothing less — we desperately need in order to live. It is our pilgrim's provision on life's journey to heaven.

That means that the congregation must really see and respect the minister as the servant of the Lord. Similarly, the preacher must not bring whatever he chooses or pleases, but only that which the Lord as His Sender wants to say to His congregation. And that happens in the official church worship service, called by the elders, for there is the local gathering of God's people.

That implies that the preacher is fully aware of the holiness and the earnestness of his service to Christ, that things do not turn about him but that he must point away from self to his Lord! The SENDER of this servant — He is central. For that reason a friendly little talk before the service, a kind of "pastoral greeting" in the sense of "how nice to see you" is dangerous because it arouses the feeling that we are engaged in "a cozy mutual meeting" rather than to exercise real worship activity in God's very presence.

If the preacher is aware of Him in whose Name he speaks this will affect not only the content but also the style of his preaching. That means: he must speak in a proper manner with no "play to the balcony" or use of that language which is vulgar or offensively common. When one hears some preach­ers in the pulpit these days one is struck that what they say is mere talk rather than preaching (the ex­position and application of God's Word).

Often the sermon today is short, sometimes very short. It seems as if sermons must always be shortened and easier to follow — and with such a meager diet the church member and the church peo­ple are sent off to work for a whole week. Some church members can't suppress the question, "Why did that minister have to study theology?" What he is doing isn't really preaching anyway, but simply a miniature address or a collection of stories with a few pious remarks thrown in. This fills the time, but what in the last analysis is its real content?

Do church people still know what a sermon ought to be? He who consistently uses a very thin diet spiritually will soon find himself undernourished and without knowledge. Note, on the spiritual level, when it concerns food for the soul, it is also true that "poor sermons and lean preaching" bring dire consequences.

I know, you can get so used to it so that after a while you don't see it any more and become insensitive. Quickly one then reacts to such preaching by saying that it is still "pretty good". This goes on un­til one somehow gets to hear a good, substantial — to put it bluntly: old-fashioned Christo-centric — sermon. For some this arouses regret because so much has been missed! At least if it is still spiritual­ly well with a person. We say this because it can also arouse the opposite reaction: the "good sermon" is then offensive because people no longer know and/or care to know what preaching really is and what it ought to be. Some then dare to defend the other so-called "sermons": "I don't think it’s so bad," and, "After all we live in a different time".

All of us concerned churchgoers have in recent times experienced enough of that. No wonder that some make long trips or attend church in other denominations in order to find a good sermon. It is a matter of deepest seriousness that such effort seems necessary. Often stones are served up for bread, and with that the people of the church must make do for the coming week. Would the deepest cause here be the ever more infectious "horizon­talistic spirit of the age?" Sometimes in their discouragement people ask, "Is it for that preacher still a matter of calling instead of 'just a job' in which his heart is little interested?" Does he only see the people and not the Lord of the congregation, for whom he must talk long enough to fill the (short) time of the service, or is he so actually and deeply convinced of his "holy calling" that you can sense out of his very words and from the very manner of speaking that he knows what he is doing? After all, it is an enormous privilege to be allowed, to speak in the Name of God to His people as a prophet in His service. And is it not a speaking which as a holy obligation requires that one speaks nothing else than the Word of the Lord. God?

Audience Participation!🔗

It is therefore good at this point to say once again that if the preaching does not demonstrate such character church people ought to get into action, demanding of the consistory that this be given to the congregation!

After all, we do not attend church to listen to all kinds of stories or opinions from the pulpit, or to be kept pleasantly occupied for an hour (or less) by the preacher.

We are there to hear the Word of God, proclaimed, to meet God thereby in order to dwell there in com­munion with Him and with each other. And, above all, to experience the ministry of reconciliation: Be ye reconciled to God through Jesus Christ as the Word of life. That after all is the heart and the richness of Scriptural preaching, the dispensing of the manifold grace of God. By that the people of the church are built up and sinners by sheer grace through faith in Jesus Christ are actually reconciled with God.

That sometimes on the pulpit, from which the Truth of God ought be brought (that is the real feast, namely, that God will yet speak to us of "grace and peace" for Christ's sake), this very Truth is doubted or denied by them is still worse! There we find one of the deepest causes for the current ecclesiastical decline. Bad sermons which fall short of God's Word and its real interpretation have a direct and evil result on the church's condition.

Sometimes one asks, "why do they no more see or notice this or that instance of apostasy, or such spiritual reversal?" Would it be due to the fact that we can also be rendered unfruitful or even dead by such preaching? Eyes can be closed and ears can be shut, so that people no longer see and now shrug their shoulders when someone else protests against pulpit abuse. Sometimes it seems that some believe that they may tolerate just anything. The church people who do not protest against such things will get preachers who dare to go on and on in the wrong course. Why do church people simply keep still?

It must be said loudly: Get into action! Don't just let it go past you. Ask for that to which you for God's sake are entitled and which you for your very life's welfare are in need, that you may be fed unto everlasting life.

Life during the week — wherein we as believers must become noticeable — has everything to do with that proclamation of the Word. And for that reason we may not be satisfied with the sincerest but mere dissatisfaction, the kind which sighs, say­ing "Really it ought to be different," or, "The preaching today was again very poor, very thin fare. It's too bad! No, something ought to be done about it." You have to work as much as you can in order that the desperately needed reformation in these things may come. Cease not to talk about these things and work at it! Above all, pray unceasingly for the restoration of the needed preaching!

And may God give our preachers the courage to bring God's Word unabridged, uncurtailed. Not adapted to what people think they want to hear, but to what God wills that the people shall hear. And must hear!

Such a preachment will naturally be in good pulpit style and pulpit language, a style not geared to human effect, not characterized by the desire to im­itate unduly commonplace language, not adapted to the one whom one is addressing but to the God in whose Name one is speaking. It is simply impossible and improper to use just any word or, for example, to speak in an obviously intentionally popular way in order to gain a hearing and to create an effect. He who stands in the holy service of the Lord as His preacher must also use the vocabulary which benefits this service. The preacher must speak as one who is completely impressed with the holy earnestness of his commission to speak only in the Name of the Lord.

Give Us the Clear and True Word of the Lord!🔗

This must be done in conformity to the mandate of the Lord.

Church people must not be kept occupied by the typical efforts of some kind of conference leader, to use that analogy, but by the pure preaching of the Word by God's ambassadors. That Word must not be subjected to our efforts to make it 'attractive' for men — it is too holy and too high for that — but preached as the divine command to believe, to be converted, and thereby accepted. Once again: the Word of God must not be made acceptable and at­tractive by virtue of all kinds of daring expressions or down-to-earth language characteristic of the world and designed purely to create effect, even if it does make people in church laugh, but God's people must be fed and maintained by the true and clear Word of God. That other banal speech presents the Gospel precisely as unworthy of anyone's trust.

Not what the preacher as such has to say, nor how cute, nice and unique his manner of speech, matters but what the Lord has to say — that is what preaching is all about!

Pray, therefore, for faithful and beautiful preachers. Pray: Lord, give wherever necessary, even on the pulpit, conversion, courage and boldness! Give us preachers so deeply stirred by your Word and impressed with the truthfulness, trustworthiness and authority of it, that they can do and desire nothing else but to bring that Word alone in all its glory and holiness, power, authority and majesty.

This means no human word or a gospel according to man's desires or interest. We want exclusively the full and satisfying Word of God, that bread of life, Jesus Christ, who said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." 

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