On Preaching the Word

How do we judge effectiveness in preaching of the Word?  In the past, there have times when I stepped down from the pulpit that I say to myself, “I didn’t do a good job.”  When I say this, I usually mean–not that I wasn’t faithful to the text or didn’t prepare well–that I didn’t preach with my usually high energy.  I made more mistakes that unusual.  My recitation of Scripture passages from memory was off and so on.

But then a few saints would shake my hand on the way out and say, “Thank you for that Word.  I needed it.”  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit has already, I believe, begun to apply the preached Word.

Now I take a sacramental view of preaching, that is, believing that the faithful proclamation of the Word is a means of God’s grace, agreeing with the Second Helvetic Confession, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.  Wherefore when this Word is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful.”

To speak of of the preaching of the Word as a sacrament may not sit well with many believers, especially if you’re Baptists, who frown on the term “sacrament,” thinking “superstition or the like.”

And we may speak of sacrament as either a means of saving grace or sanctifying grace, depending on the context.  Consider this:  (1) Paul says the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  Referring to God, James writes, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (1:18 NIV).  Peter adds, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23 NIV).  And after quoting from Isaiah 40, Peter concludes with this: “And this is the word that was preached to you” (v. 25).  This happens when the Holy Spirit applies savingly Christ and his benefits to the sinner who has received thus by faith (2 Thess. 2:13).

(2) And we may also speak of the proclamation of the Word as a means of sanctifying grace, that is, one of God’s means of delivering Christ and all his benefits, to his covenant community.  I believe we see this in Acts 20:32 when Paul says to the Ephesian elders, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (ESV).

Therefore, to the minister of the Word–whether in the pulpit, in your home, at Starbucks, in the library, a parking lot, or wherever–I leave you the following from Michael Horton, which I believe, along with what I’ve argued above, answers the question of “how do we judge effectiveness in preaching?”

“The power of the Word lies in the ministry of the Spirit, not in the ministers themselves.  We do not need great preachers, but faithful preaching of the word.” (Pilgrim Theology, p. 351, emphasis added)

In other words, when we faithfully preach the Word, the Spirit does his work, of either saving or sanctifying.

This entry was posted in Baptists, Helvetic Confession, Holy Spirit, Michael S. Horton, New Birth, Preaching, Sacraments and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to On Preaching the Word

  1. Jon Hughes says:

    Amen. I believe that Karl Barth also took the view that the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God (along with Scripture itself as the Word of God and Christ as the Word of God).

  2. Simon says:

    I had the pleasure of attending a Catholic Mass in PNG yesterday, with my girlfriend. What struck me was just how much Scripture was read, prayed and sung during the service. What also struck me was how brief the homily was. The homily lasted for about 10-15mins. It was a brief exposition of the texts read and also relating them to how our faith is to be lived in the present. It reminded me that there is perspecuity in the text – but not the kind that inerrantists think. At the most simplest and most relevent level, The Word of God (i.e. Christ) teaches us to live a life of self-sacrifice and love. If our preaching teaches us this, then it is indeed sacramental. We don’t really need to get a lecture on justification or God’s sovereignty. The Gospel teaches us that the way of salvation is the way of Christ and his cross. And this is the focal point of Christian homilectic presentations. Preaching/lecturing through books of the Bible is the domain of seminaries, not parishes. Choosing “topical” sermons leads to an unbalanced presentation for parishners. The ancient practise of following a lectionary, where OT passages compliment NT passages and the singing of Psalms appointed for the day is best way for the Church to understand what Scripture means and what the Christian faith is. It is also the best way to cover “the whole counsel of Scripture” as many Reformed like to say. The homily provides context and relevence to the passages read. Deep theological insights are presented by learned priests in ways that can be understood by the lay people. This is the function of the homily. I think if preachers followed these principles, they would be able to worry less about whether what they were saying is right or whatever. It also means that you wouldnt feel the need to entertain you parishners or have their whole worship experience hinge on what you say, which any Protestant knows is the perpetual problem for pastors.

    • TC says:

      “At the most simplest and most relevent level, The Word of God (i.e. Christ) teaches us to live a life of self-sacrifice and love. If our preaching teaches us this, then it is indeed sacramental.” – Indeed.

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