Preach God’s Word
PRESS REVIEW Clarion 24 July 1998
By J. De Jong (Was toen professor o.a. in homiIetiek aan CANADIAN REFORMED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY)
Preach God’s Word
Under the heading above, Rev. Rob Visser of the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa writes in the paper Kompas, the “church magazine” of the FRCSA devoted to building up Reformed life in that country. Rev Visser’s article highlights the important place of preaching in a Reformed setting.
1. In Whose Service Does the Preacher Stand?
Those who are called to preach the Word in the congregation are called ministers of the Word. Paul often writes about the administration of the gospel with which he and other preachers had been charged. There are two important examples of this in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; but our ompetence is from God, who has also qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills but the spirit makes alive. And if the dispensation of death, carved in letters of stone, came with such splendour that the children of Israel were not able to look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, fading as this was, shall not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendour? (2 Cor 3: 5-8). All this is from God who through Christ, has reconciled us to himself and has entrusted to us the inistry of reconciliation; that is God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:18-20). (See also 2 Cor 6:4, Eph 3:7, Col 1:23-25;1 Tim 1:12, 4:6; Acts 6:1-4.)
The administration that a preacher of the gospel has received, he received from God. He stands in the service of Christ, and must function as a representative of Christ. He must also be an upright minister of Christ, a servant of the Word of Christ. He may not proclaim his own words and ideas, but must proclaim the word of his master (Acts 6:4). The preacher as proclaimer of the Word does not stand in the first place in the service of the consistory or the congregation. This may never happen. A consistory or congregation may also not reason this way. The minister is called to proclaim the Word of Christ on the pulpit and not the leadership strategy of the consistory. The preacher is not called to preach what appeals to the consistory or the congregation, but what Christ says in his Word. This means that in the administration of the Word the minister must always remain independent over against others. This is clear when we read 2 Timothy 4:1,2.
And I charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who will come to judge the living and the dead by his appearing and by his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and admonish, be unfailing in all patience and teaching. Timothy is called to continue to preach the gospel, also when this becomes unpleasant for people. The Word must rule! Christ’s Word must rule over his servant and he must openly and honestly, in prayerful dependence upon Christ, proclaim the Word in a given situation. If the preacher does not do this, he will be called to account and the LORD will hold him responsible. In this way the preacher is properly the servant of the congregation. This is strongly maintained in Colossians 1:24-29. If the minister in his preaching must admonish the congregation sharply and strongly, he may not do this because he is angry or because something unpleasant happened to him, but he must do this with patience. Paul clearly gives this guideline to Timothy (1 Tim 4:2). This means that he must foster patience and love with the people he wishes to reach. He must also foster teaching, since he will want to make clear from the Word why this needs to be said. In this way he will build the congregation.
That the preacher is a servant of the Word is also emphasized in the Form for Ordination of Minister of the Word. In the charge given to the preacher, we read:
Preach the pure doctrine, so that by your preaching and teaching the congregation may be kept in obedience to the Word of God. In the charge given to the congregation we read:
Take heed to receive the Word of God, which you shall hear from him, and accept his words,
spoken according to the Holy Scriptures. . . .
Later also in the prayer:
Grant that those entrusted to his pastoral care may acknowledge this servant as sent by Thee. Give that they may receive the instruction and admonition of Christ which this shepherd shall bring to them and that they may joyfully submit to his direction.
As a servant of the Word, the preacher stands in a special place in the service of Christ. The task which Christ has given him to do implies that in a certain sense he comes to stand over against other people, and this in four ways:
1. over against himself.
2. over against his fellow office bearers.
3. over against the congregation.
4. over against all who listen.
1. The Word does not find its origin in the heart of the preacher. When he preaches it is not his own word he brings; it may not even be his own word. This means that in deep dependence on his Master the preacher must ask God in prayer:
“Lord control me through Thy Spirit, let Thy Word control me so that I proclaim it and nothing else.” With this also comes the prayer that you have the courage of faith to proclaim the Word impartially, independent of yourself and any other person. This means among other things that you preach against yourself and you admonish your own sins and smallness of faith. The minister stands in service of Christ and in this way Christ guarantees that his Word is proclaimed.
2. What Is the Address of the Preaching?
One can say that the address of the preaching is the whole world and every man. In the perspective of world mission, this is true. But now we are concerned with the existing congregations as the address of the preaching. An important question for the preaching is: How do we see the congregation? Do we see every member as a believer, elected and regenerated? Or do we see them as unbelievers, lost and unregenerate? Or do we view the congregation as we experience it, as a congregation composed of some believers and some unbelievers? We must avoid this sort of subjective judgement of the congregation.
When Christ gathers a congregation today we must view this as Paul viewed the ongregations to whom he wrote his letters. He repeatedly calls them holy, and uses the term “believers” for them. With these terms Paul reminds us that the congregation is a covenantal congregation. Members of the congregation are not just like all other people. The LORD has come to them with his promises. Hence they stand in a special way under the care of Christ. The congregation to which the Word is administered is not an arbitrary group of hearers.
These are people with whom the LORD has made his covenant, people to whom He in a special way has shown his love. These people belong to Christ. Through God’s initiative they stand in the judicial position of being children of God. To this position they must repeatedly give a believing answer. The congregation is a covenant congregation, without us thereby asserting that all members are believers, regenerated or elected. (See Jer 13:23, John 3, 1 Cor 10, Rev 2, 3)
Precisely in the covenant congregation the member must be called to faith and conversion. The LORD has come to us in His wonderful love and to this love we must react, otherwise our condemnation will be the heavier. We also confess this truth in the Reformed confession where the marks of the true church and the true believers are mentioned (Art. 29 BC). It is also said here that there are hypocrites who are mixed with the good, but yet do not belong to the church. The confession is in agreement with the Word of the LORD which states that there are also unbelievers in the congregation. This is also confessed in Q&A 84 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which deals precisely with the preaching as one of the keys of the kingdom. We should carefully note the answer:
According to the command of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ’s merits, as often as they by true faith accept the promise of the gospel. The kingdom of heaven is closed when it is proclaimed and testified to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them as long as they do not repent.
With our baptism the LORD has truly without any doubt come to us with His promises. The wonderful privileges must be acknowledged by us, and therefore the congregation must be addressed as congregation of Christ. This may not lead to a false security among us. Baptism does not mean that someone is regenerated or elected. We confess this clearly in the first paragraph of the Form for the Baptism of Infants. “We and our children are conceived and born in sin. Therefore the wrath of God abides on us and we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again. This is what the immersion in or sprinkling with water
teaches us, through which the uncleanness of our soul is depicted to us. So we are admonished to forsake ourselves, to humble ourselves before God and to seek our cleansing and salvation outside of ourselves.”
The LORD does not give regeneration in baptism, but He promises this in baptism. He promises that He will dwell in us with his Spirit and unite us to Christ. The preaching may and must address the congregation from this perspective of God’s wonderful promise. The preaching may and must announce, recommend, proclaim and shout forth to the congregation the riches of God’s covenant concerning a kingdom of Christ for poor sinners.
The preaching is Christ’s appeal to his congregation. The centre of the preaching is then always and ever Jesus Christ in whom the triune God has come to us.
These worthwhile comments are passed on for our reflection and consideration.