In this article the author discusses the idea that reformation is not through modern techniques, but through the preaching of the Word.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1994. 3 pages.

The Power of the Word Preached

We live in an age in which technology has so facilitated the rapid communication of information through various forms of media that it is without historical parallel. Never before has so much information been at our fingertips. What goes on in the remotest part of the globe often intrudes itself via media into our daily lives, and that usually on the same day where those events have transpired. But not only is factual information thus carried to us, but also various ideas — political ideas; social ideas; scientific ideas and moral and religious ideas. The danger in this is that when ideas are so subtly presented they take the form of fact and normality, and the worn-down mind loses its discernment and is unconsciously conditioned by the media.

This danger is not only confined to the so-called secular corner. As intimated above, the promulgation of religious ideas and information also rides swiftly on the various vehicles of modern media. Although most of the religious information and ideas which reach us through these mediums cannot but grieve us to the quick, we cannot but praise God for the use of many of these means to communicate evangelical and Reformed truth. Yet, even in the realm of evangelicalism the use of modern media should not be without our concern.

One is almost amazed by the phalanx of popular Christian literature and methods which have surged into the bookstores and into the church. Equally surprising is the recent increase of Reformed periodicals which primarily deal with political and social issues.

It is the present writer's opinion that most of the religious ideas communi­cated through modern media are merely treating symptoms and exacerbating the deformation of the church. Perhaps even some of the religious ideas promulgated through such mediums are not entirely inaccurate; yet this by no means offsets their enervating tendencies in general.

In the first instance mentioned above, Western evangelical Christianity has largely imbibed the counselling-mania which the world has given it to drink. It has also, alas, fallen a prey to that man-centeredness which is epidemic in our world. A mere survey of the titles in an average Christian bookstore and the Hollywood marketing techniques used to promote them should be enough to warn us that something is grossly amiss.

In the second instance, there are well-intentioned, intellectual people who are concerned about the state of society, writing periodicals which primarily deal with political concerns and not issues of the soul. This would not be a concern if these were merely holding the plumb-line for the development of a godly society; but when it is too often forgotten that the building of the kingdom of God must be constructed with spiritual fabric, this cannot but concern us. It is too easy for us to analyse the present circumstances and to desire change so much that we begin to think and act in a mechanistic way, and forget that the kingdom of God is a spiritual organism and must there­fore grow by the Spirit's operations. It is far easier for men to be conservative than holy. We must remember this about ourselves as well as others. It is not wrong to use a plumb-line, but to begin to build with materials which are not from the King's quarry is to construct an unstable structure at best.

This, then, brings me to the relevance of the title of this article. Evangeli­calism seems to desire to operate too much like a Fortune 500 company. We think if we just do this or that — if we go to this seminar, if we just counsel these individuals, if we train everyone properly and apply the laws of economics and the principles of psychology — everything good will follow apace. What has been forgotten, or relegated to an obscure place, is the power of the Word preached. The church is in dire need of reformation, and the application of all the kinds of remedies cited above will not accomplish it. We must turn away from fixing our hope upon such ill-suited means. Until we return to the conviction that the church will be reformed and revived pre-eminently by the power of the Word preached, we spend our labour to no profit.

We must return to the belief that preaching is the primary administration of the primary means of grace (the Scriptures). This has been appointed for us in the covenant of grace by the God of grace. Until preaching is restored to its primacy and dignity in the minds of people and preacher, the sorrows of the godly can only be multiplied during the neglect.

By 'preaching' I neither refer to that affectation of authority which bombasts auditors, nor the practice of sleepily commenting on the text in a general way (which neither rouses the preacher nor the people). Both of these are grievously too common in our day. I rather speak of that careful exposi­tion of the Scriptures with the relevant and close application of it in boldness tempered with humility, an application which 'chases the doctrine into the heart and woos and wins the soul to the liking of it'.

There must also persist in us the conviction that although the preacher dwells in a tent of clay and is not an authority in and of himself, he is yet the instrument which Christ is most wont to use to extend and deepen his king­dom. The preacher should, therefore, be neither inflated in his own mind nor adulated by others. He must keep himself like a sword well oiled and polished with the Word, realising that he cannot wield himself, but must be wielded by Christ. He will, therefore, be animated not only to lift up the trumpet of his Master, but to apply the balm of his Master. He will not be content to engage in polemics and to warn his Master's sheep of the errors of the day, nor even merely to state the truth. But, he will speak so as to break the proud heart as with a hammer or to melt it with a soft tongue. That is, he will speak to the conscience of the people; both corporately and individu­ally. He will feed his hearers with the positive encouragements of the gospel as well as strive to convince them of sin. He will, as much as is in him, try to show how precious Christ is to their souls as an alone Saviour for them, and Lord to them, in all his offices. Neither the church nor society will be properly affected by Christianity until this comes about again.

Until we begin to view ourselves as subjects of reformation, and until preachers no longer treat their hearers as objective to it, we cannot begin to see a change. It is not the people 'out there' or 'over there' who alone need reformation and awakening; we need it as well! And we need to hear preach­ing which is cognisant of that fact, that the church might, with one voice, humbly confess her sins and cry out to God to forgive her and to speed his work in her and in the world. Until the ills in the church are addressed, what have we to do with reforming others? Until the pulpit again becomes the counselling desk for cases of conscience, what do we have to do with offer­ing counselling services?

Now, we are bound to give thanks to God for the increase and availability of godly Reformed literature and information in our day. It would be wrong to do otherwise. However, we must recognize the danger of even looking to these things as in themselves the formal means to accomplish reformation or awakening, or as awakening itself. We must rather pray to the Lord of the harvest to grace and gift men, old and young alike, to be able and faithful servants to preach his evangel and law with accuracy, clarity, fearlessness, power, compassion and love.

And, in our zeal for social reform, let us not so desire the execution of justice in society that we blind ourselves of those eyes of compassion with which Christ often looked upon the people. We must remind ourselves that they are as ripe for compassion as they are for the wrath of the Lamb. We must not lose sight of the fact that a wicked society is not an abstract enemy, but a group of persons rebellious against the Universal King, and yet redeem­able by his gracious operations. Grieve we must over those who will not here bow the knee to the Triune Sovereign and embrace his gospel, sadly know­ing that they are (as we once were) dupes of sin and of the devil, and shall pay a most excruciating price for their impenitence in the world to come. Until that time the trumpet of warning and grace can yet sound in their ears.

Therefore let us pray for 'reformation by the power of the Word preached', and long to see that day when the sermon is not just one of the things people attend the church for, but the principal thing. O to long more to see that day when people no longer frequent places of worship for programmes, or for the singing of superficial, self-centered and repetitive songs, or for seminars or videos, or even for 'fellowship', but to hear the Word of God preached to them and to have Christ visit them in it. Then shall our fellowship be more effectual and our singing less effeminate and dull and in its stead will our praises be more powerful and worshipful. Then the reality of divine things will be more with us in our day-to-day lives. Then society will begin to be reformed. The preaching of the Word of God by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven can accomplish more spiritual reformation than all of the righteous legislation we yet desire to see enacted in the earth, or all of the counselling we can imagine.

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