The Problem with the Primacy of Preaching
|Trinity Church., Newport, RI|
When we walked into the colonial era
Church in , we were immediately confronted by the high,
massive pulpit that dominates. The pulpit is all out of proportion
to the rest of the building. The communion table, which it hides, looks almost
insignificant in relationship to it. I
could not pass up the opportunity to have my picture made in that pulpit. Newport, RI
The docent pointed out that the pulpit reflected the Reformation principle of the primacy of the Word. As Reformation Christians, we uttered hearty if inaudible “Amens.”. And, of course, I believe the Word, read and preached, comes first. The sacraments of themselves would be meaningless and ineffectual without the Word.
But the primacy of the Word preached among Reformed evangelicals is not without problems. When preaching is so primary that it becomes almost everything, some things are covered that are better exposed. The tendency is to think, if the preaching is “good” the rest can be more or less ignored.
I think this goes a long way to explain the unity achieved in the various coalitions and alliances. Preaching, especially that which is from and to the “heart” and evokes a “heart” response, brings people together whose ecclesiology, worship, and “non-essential” doctrines are very not compatible. Baptists, Presbyterians, and Charismatics (notably not Lutherans) can get “together” because of the preaching they approve. No matter what the differences among Mahaney, Dever, DeYoung, Mohler, and,
they can “preach” to large gatherings of
followers. No matter what Lloyd-Jones’ views of ecclesiology, the baptism of the
Spirit, or baptism itself, the man “could preach,” even if much of
the exposition did not rise from the text itself.
This also explains the way congregations and denominations can live with internal contradictions. Well, what if we sing “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” and “Blessed Assurance”, or, for that matter , “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” nothing is lost if the sermon is Reformed. No matter if there is a cool “worship leader.” a praise band, or a gospel choir, if the preaching is ok, these other things are pretty much “indifferent.”
The Word begets, nurtures, and preserves faith. But, God has joined the Word and sacraments. Man ought not to put them asunder. And, Word and sacrament, produce a system of theology, a practice of ecclesiology, and a manner or worship.