Thursday, May 17, 2012

Together for the Preaching

The Problem with the Primacy of Preaching

Trinity Church., Newport, RI
When we walked into the colonial era Trinity Church in Newport, RI,  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.

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, Duncan, 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.


Ken Pierce said...

It's interesting, though, if you read through the history of preaching, the current love of "expository" preaching is a relatively recent phenomenon, and really borrowed from Baptist Broadus.

For instance, read Calvin's sermons, or Davies, or Edwards, or earlier Puritans or BM Palmer or JH Thornwell, or CEN Macartney. The sermons were remarkably Biblical in their content, but they could never be considered expository in the modern sense of that term.

Which suggests to me that maybe expository (in that sense) is not a great category for preaching.

mozart said...

I'm beginning to think "Christian Curmudgeon" is a pseudonym for Scott Clark.

mozart said...
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Rich said...

Fair enough; I do agree that many "reformed" churches pay much attention to preaching while neglecting other aspects of worship.

But to truly put an emphasis on preaching is to put the emphasis not merely on the act itself but the word that is going forth when the bible is opened and the man of God opens his mouth to proclaim truth. And if the word is rightly divided then it will flow down like living water to all other aspects of the church. In all things, the scriptures will be central to our singing, ordinances, ministries, etc. This, I believe, is what it means to make preaching the primacy of worship.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Ken, I am not student of the history or preaching. But, by expository I mean any method that lets the text speak in its original (grammatical and historical) context and then in its redemptive context. I think Calvin did that. I think MLJ often did not. He preached a lot of "principles" he thought he drew from the context and a lot of experience. Welsh and personal. I have a high appreciation of him. I heard him 9 times over 8 days the summer I married hurricane Susan and the summer that hurricane Camille hit the Coast. Also just weeks before I began seminary. He was powerful in the pulpit, and I loved the way he took shots at the special music all week. His sermon that week on Acts 2:42 was formative of and influential on the whole of my ministry - not to say that I preached on that text as much or more than any other. I read a lot of him. I preached some of him. But I do not think he is a good model for preaching.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Mozart, I am sure Dr. Clark would be offended by your comment.