The Preaching of the Word and Christ’s Call to the Church

Good Morning,

Building a biblical understanding of what a minister is and what a minister is to do in the preaching of the word is the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls. I know that saying is usually wrapped around Martin Luther’s statement on justification by faith alone, however, I don’t think it is overselling the importance of both the minister and people of God knowing what the former is to be doing to make the same claim about the office the man (and yes, the Bible only knows of qualified men to ordained office) called out takes on when he steps into a pulpit. As our first catechism question makes clear that person must fit the requirements as laid out by Paul in passages like 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Ephesians 4. That calling must be confirmed not only inwardly by the Holy Spirit, but outwardly by the Church.

In our Presbyterian circles that means first of all the session of elders at the local level are to test the man’s holiness, from their personal experience and by examining him as to the seriousness of his commitment. That hurdle being jumped, the individual then is to be overseen, investigated, and supported by the Presbytery, who then after subjecting him to various trials will license and then ordain him to the gospel ministry. All men have clay feet, and while it is certainly the case that some ungodly/wicked men get through that process, there is not a better way than the way our Lord has established for His sheep to be fed, and shepherded in grace. Let’s see the Q/A’s:

Q. 158. By whom is the word of God to be preached?

A. The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.

Q. 159. How is the word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?

A. They that are called to labour in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

The main calling of a Biblical minister as laid out in Q.159 is to preach Jesus. Preach Him twice a Sunday in public worship, preach Him in his life and discipleship, and preach Him in the highways and byways of the earth. To quote the apostle he is to know nothing else but Christ and Him crucified. A pulpit man who spends his time in the doldrums of politics for example is missing the opportunity he has been presented by God to actually have the effect he wants to have while middling in that worldly morass. Certainly to preach the whole counsel of God will in due time present touch points that prophetically speaks to wickedness of the civil magistrate, and likewise give occasion for building up a case for what a godly government looks like. However, the problem comes in when the newspaper becomes the main exegetical text of the preacher instead of the word of God. The sheep hear enough of ideas on how to fix Washington six days a week, let them rest on the Sabbath Day. Give them the meat of grace and mercy in the gospel.

Notice how the latter WLC question makes the point that the minister is not to use the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but rather in the demonstration of the Spirit proclaim the good news freely offered in Christ. What this is referring to is that there are times in the life of the Church where the well-trained minister will be seeking oratorical flavoring from the best rhetoricians the world, or even the house of the Lord, can provide and his sermon can become very well ordered and logically coherent, yet be as dry as the Sahara. While we certainly believe that men can be convicted by the most boring exhortation possible, that doesn’t mean it’s good to preach people to sleep. Ministers need to sermonize as a dying man to dying men to quote Richard Baxter. If it doesn’t seem to make a difference in your love of Christ, how can a pastor expect it to change the way a sinner sees the glory of God? Again, that doesn’t mean that for a minister to preach well he needs to be loud. Screaming can be as dull as monotonous droning. Passion is what is on the agenda here in the catechism question. Trusting in the power of the Word is necessary.

One other thing worth bringing forward from the list of attributes of biblical preaching given to us by the Westminster divines is the phrase . . . applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers. The first half of that clause is a call for the one doing the proclaiming to sit down and think before he speaks. Proper planning and study is a necessity. The minister is to live in the Bible so that he can be ready in season and out of season. It is my opinion that some pastors take as long as they do to write a sermon because they are neither confident in the gospel message nor do they know the Scriptures very well. So every sermon session is a struggle in finding something to say, when every page of our holy book shouts Jesus and His cross. Part of applying oneself to the preaching of the word means, as the second half makes clear, to knowing your sheep. Central to good pulpiteering is regular visitation and interactions with the people whom God has given for a shepherd to oversee. How can a minister know what or how to apply the passage before him if he doesn’t know the necessity or capacity of the congregation?

Witnessed in this, as we close out our time for today, is the basic truth that speaking to literal children/youth and to a mature crowd means you don’t need to talk to the latter about gaming culture anymore than providing application to the former on end-of-life care. When Paul preached at Ephesus he knew the sins of Ephesus, when he preached at Athens he knew where to prick the conscience of the folks in Athens. Good preaching takes effort, and the catechism today instructs those who would be ministers that God does not accept the lazy or the stubborn into the ministry of His Church. You can see then why this matters so much, that I would have started this lesson in the way that I did, marking out why the minister knowing his role is so important.

A last word:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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