The Minister and the Congregation Under the Word
Recently I was present in a worship service in which a candidate was ordained to the ministry. During the ordination he knelt, the elders held an open Bible over him, and then several pastors spoke the Word of God to him. A characteristic picture of the minister of the Word! He is a minister of the Word under the Word.
Preaching is addressed to the listening congregation
When the congregation assembles for worship, she comes to be under the preached Word. Preaching is to be preaching of the Word of God. The hearer has a distinct place in that preaching. Firstly, he is addressed in the preaching of God's Word through the minister of the Word. The Lord Jesus says: He who hears you hears me (Luke 10:16). These words of Christ give a profound dimension to the preaching. There is a 'missio Dei' behind the preaching of God's Word.
You may know the expression that we must as it were 'hear our name mentioned in preaching'. The Word of God comes to each hearer. To be sure, the preacher of the Word addresses the congregation collectively as the covenant congregation. However, within the totality of the congregation the preacher also is to address the individual members who together form the congregation, so that at the same time attention can be given to the personal needs and questions that live in the congregation.
It is to this congregation that the voice of the Lord comes. God calls the hearers. God calls them as sinners who must be justified.
The Word of the preaching must move in that direction. The administration of the keys of the kingdom focuses on opening the Kingdom of heaven to believers and shutting against unbelievers (Heid. Cat. L. D. 31). Sinners are called to repentance. They are also called to sanctification and the renewal of their entire lives. The voice of God that comes through in the preaching of the Word aims to bring about this renewing of life. God calls them to His glory. Also this aspect, on which the expectation of the congregation is built, is to come throughout in the preaching.
There where in the preaching the voice of God is heard, there repentance, justification and sanctification are brought about. Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of God (Rom 10:17). In the preached Word that is heard there is the calling God, who has sent his servants to preach the Gospel. How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace (Rom 10:15). In this way therefore the preaching is addressed to the congregation.
Preacher and congregation connected through the preaching
Secondly, the congregation not only passively receives the preaching, but actively processes the preaching. Believers have experienced the anointing of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20-27). In view of that, the preaching is not merely the work of one person.
Every preacher knows from experience: if the congregation is not active in hearing, in receiving the preaching of God's Word, then the fruit of the Word of God remains limited. Even more strongly, if the hearers of the Word do not become doers of the Word, who partake of the fellowship of the Gospel and can and do biblically examine preaching, then the preaching shall return empty to the pulpit. However, that does not mean that the Word of God ever returns empty to the Lord of the Word, who sent the Word (Isaiah 55:11), but then the fruit of the Word of God remains scanty. Such evaluation of preaching is a highly spiritual work, which has nothing to do with deliberate criticism of the preacher. Rather, it is examining the preaching in the light of the Word. The Reformation spoke about this as one of the foundational rights of the priesthood of all believers, a right that can never be removed from the congregation. But it is to function in a spiritual way.
This two-sidedness of hearing and truly receiving the Word manifests the power that the voice of God has. God sends His Word. To achieve this he uses the preacher. The preacher may speak to the congregation with this authority. But this proclaimed Word of God turns out to do what pleases Him. It shall prosper in the thing for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11).
That's how both of these elements occur in the preaching: the preacher who is the first hearer of the Word that he may proclaim and the hearer who hears what the Spirit says to the congregation and who as a spiritual being recognizes himself in the preaching and who can and may judge all things, also the preaching that takes place.
On the one hand, the preacher speaks on behalf of God to the congregation. At the same time, however, he is one with the congregation by the Word that he proclaims. This must make him aware that he is at home in that congregation. He himself may belong to that congregation, and he himself may also partake of the salvation that he proclaims to others. In church we see the open bible lying on the pulpit. The minister who knows his place behind it is safe. If he has done his best, he may entrust it all to the Lord. He may not position himself over against the congregation, as if the congregation is his potential adversary. The same bible that as the Word of God protects him, if he has conscientiously performed his work, connects him also with the congregation through the grace of Christ. In that sense when he speaks on behalf of God as the preacher of the Word as means of grace, as one instrument in the comprehensive work that the Spirit does in order to glorify Christ. Preaching is therefore a highly spiritual work. He who neglects it does injustice to God's grace, which in this way seeks to see and find us.