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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Preaching in the Church -- continued

In my previous post, I examined a good portion of a sermon given by Dr. Steve Lawson at the Shepherds Conference, as live-blogged by Tim Challies. I dealt with some of what I consider to be misapplications of Nehemiah 8 with relation to the modern practice of preaching. Some very interesting discussion took place in the comments of that post, and I encourage you to read the post and all the comments, if you haven't done so already.

Today, I want to touch briefly on the remainder of Dr. Lawson's points in preparation for moving on to a more general discussion of preaching and teaching. I apologize that it's taking as long as it is to get through this. Lately, I've been spending time interacting with Steve Camp on his blog with regard to the Reformed doctrine of the "active" and "passive" obedience of Jesus Christ vis-à-vis the righteousness that is imputed to us. It's been an interesting discussion, and I must commend Steve for his graciousness in dealing with my "nitpicking"! The whole discussion reminds me of a post I wrote last August called "Whisper Down the Lane" Theology about our tendency as believers to believe what a "trusted source" tells us about Scripture, rather than searching the Scriptures ourselves. And in a way, it relates to this topic of preaching.

There were some comments in the discussion on the last post with regard to "pew-sitters". Those of you who know me, and who have been reading here, probably understand that I am very passionately against "passive Christians". I do understand that there are some who sit under a pastor's teaching who do diligently check the Word for themselves. It can happen, and I don't want to give the impression that I don't think it ever does happen. However, and this is the point that I feel cannot be emphasized enough, we cannot overlook the fact that the very nature of our institutionalized "church" experience fosters passivity. Diligent Berean searching continues to be the exception, rather than the rule. Additionally, with a rather disturbing predictability, most who discover something in their Berean searching that causes them to question the doctrine being taught are treated badly as a result.

We do not see in the New Testament a pattern of "passive" listening and accepting. We see, rather, a pattern of active participation by the members of the Body and instructions to that effect. Certainly, we should respect those who are elders (by definition, those who have earned that respect by their diligent faithfulness to the Word and to the Lord) and their words should carry more weight with us. But I can find no evidence in the New Testament where believers were exhorted to receive without question the teachings that were being presented. Why else would the Bereans be spoken of so positively?

So, having said all that, to wrap up my response to Dr. Lawson's sermon, I will pick up where I left off. Last time, I shared the three major points of Dr. Lawson's sermon, and dealt with the first one and part of the second. The second point (characteristics of biblical preaching), had five subpoints, of which I dealt with three. Picking up, then, with the fourth point, I will use the same format as last time, where Tim Challies' words are in italics, and my response is in plain text.

  • A God-exalting thrust: Ezra blessed the Lord and there was an unveiling of the Word of God. We are to be exaltational expositors. Ezra blessed the Lord and the people cried out "Amen!" bowing low before God. Expositional preaching should be elevating God and lowering man. The more you lower God and raise man, you are trivializing the grace of God. But when God is put in His rightful place, you are magnifying the grace of God.

    This point has much more weight with regard to the entire Christian life than just to preaching. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Anything that we do, anything that we say, should be with the intent of God being glorified. I love the words of John the Baptist when he said about Jesus, "He must become greater; I must become less." Should this not be the focus of every believer?

  • An [sic] precise explanation: Until you have given the true meaning of the text, you have not given the text. Christianity is concerned primarily with the mind, not with feelings or relationships, as important as those may be. It is all about truth - God’s objective revelation interpreted rationally. A pastor explains the text and gives the author’s intent for that text. He explains the text, exhorts with it, and moves on to the next text.

    I don't know if Dr. Lawson gave any support for his statement that "Christianity is concerned primarily with the mind, not with feelings or relationships" when he presented this sermon, but none is given here. I have to say that I'm not sure I agree with this statement. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. I'm not sure that one can extract from that commandment that any of those is of greater importance than the others. Much is said in the New Testament about relationships as they relate to Christianity. (For example, what does it mean to be "in Christ", if not to be in a relationship with Him? See John 15:1-17.) Christianity is not merely an intellectual exercise. To imply that there is a divide between our minds and our relationships is a bit difficult to defend, in my opinion.

    Again, however, that point being put aside, we have here the emphasis on "the pastor" being the one to explain the text, give the author's intent, etc. As I pointed out in the last post, Ezra was not actually the one explaining the text anyway. It was a group of thirteen other men who explained what Ezra read aloud. That may seem like a nitpick, but I think it's a significant point that we should not overlook.

    There also is a bit of danger in the term "true meaning". I may be overshooting here, but this gives an impression to me that we can't read the text for what it says, but rather have to make sure we find the "true meaning" behind the text. Now to be fair, I don't believe that Dr. Lawson is here encouraging a liberal interpretation of Scripture that reads everything as metaphoric and allegorical. But we have the subtle implication, once again, that the pastor will be able to share the "true meaning" with the passive laity, who must come to the pastor (see my comments in the last post about the idea of crying out "Bring me the book", which I have since found out was the title of this sermon by Dr. Lawson) and ask for the interpretation.

With that, I will end my critique of Dr. Lawson's sermon. I mentioned in the comments of the last post that I had emailed Dr. Lawson and given him the opportunity to correct my understanding or submit a rebuttal. As of the writing of this post, I have not received anything from Dr. Lawson in reply. However, if he does reply, I will be sure and post his response publicly so that it can get just as much visibility as my critique.

I must say, however, that this is not anything personal against Dr. Lawson. Frankly, I don't even know Dr. Lawson. I've never heard him preach, and here I'm only going on what Tim Challies chose to type as he listened. But the topic itself was one which I was already addressing, and this gave a rather straightforward way of presenting the rationalization that is commonly given for "biblical preaching" in our churches today.

Next time, I hope to get further into the distinction between various words translated as "preach" and explore some theories with regard to the difference between preaching and teaching. But for now, I toss it back to you, my dear readers. What are your thoughts?

Until next time,

steve :)

6 comment(s):

Whenever a pastor, or anyone else, hints that they are "the God appointed and God chosen" person to understand and explain scriptural text to us lowly lay people, it feels just like somebody scraped their finger nail across the blackboard.

And God forbid, should they ever mention that they are feeding us meat, it is all that I can do not to break out into hives.

Thank the Lord, we have all been given the Spirit of Truth. And we can all be like the Bereans.

By Blogger Larry Who, at Tuesday, March 28, 2006 10:37:00 AM  

When preachers reduce understanding the Christian life to an intellectual exercise are Christians not equally reduced to being nothing more than intellects?

The Father reveals Himself as equal to "love" in 1st John. Does an intellectual exercise that requires love to be known and expereinced as mental words only logically make sense?

I understand everyone's concern for decision-making to not be based on the vagaries of feelings. There is an incontrovertible logic that supports such concern. But, to hold that God is only understood with the power of logic is to reduce the crucifixion and the resurrection to nothing more than historical events to be analyzed.

By Anonymous ded, at Tuesday, March 28, 2006 12:04:00 PM  

I'm going to post this in a comment, instead of an actual post, but I wanted to share a link with you all. In my search for other uses of Nehemiah 8 as a defense of "biblical preaching", I came across the site A Puritan's Mind. On that site, I found an article entitled Who Administers the Sacraments? It is an extremely lengthy article by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon, and frankly, I found it hard to even read the whole thing. But this one paragraph (a quote of question #307 from Calvin's Catechism) jumped out at me as I read:

307. Is it necessary, then, that there should be pastors?
Yes; and that we should hear them, receiving the teaching of the Lord in humility by their mouth. Therefore whoever despises them and refuses to hear them, rejects Jesus Christ, and separates himself from the fellowship of the faithful (Matt. 10:40; Luke 10:16).

This is pretty severe. The fact that Jesus was talking to the disciples (not giving instructions specifically to pastors) about going into the world to evangelize is completely ignored by the use of those two verses (which are essentially parallel passages) to defend the constant listening by believers to a preacher. Jesus is clearly, in the context of the two "proof texts" offered, speaking about being received or not received by the unsaved to whom He was sending the disciples.

If the above quote is indeed what the Reformers believed (and apparently John Calvin believed it, since it is his catechism being quoted), then we need a new Reformation.

For more examples of how at least one segment of Christianity views the work of the pastor, see the articles linked on the right-hand side of this "Pastoral Office" page on Dr. McMahon's site. I am not posting these links as an endorsement of the content. I am posting them to show a clear example of how deeply convoluted we have allowed "church" to get.

Anyone who can demonstrate how my evaluation of preaching in a New Testament context is (to use Calvin's language) rejecting Jesus Christ and separating myself from the fellowship is free to share their reasoning here, and I will gladly put it in an actual post to give "equal time" to the opposing view.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, March 28, 2006 8:06:00 PM  

Steve, in reading this post and your earlier ones concerning preaching and teaching, I find some points upon which we are in agreement.

1. "Preaching" and "teaching" should not be used interchangeably.

Right! The objective and methodology of each are different.

2. There is a difference between evangelism and spiritual teaching.

Right again!

Now concerning the proper model of preaching. We really have only a few examples of it in the N.T.:

Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" was pre-church, but it was delivered to the disciples. Most of the other discourses of Christ would probably be more aptly defined as teaching.

Peter's sermon at Pentecost. This was the birthday of the church, the word was delivered in a way that was both expositional and practical.

Stephen (not a pastor) also preached a sermon that was evangelistic in nature.

Paul preached at Mar's Hill. Now this was not in a "church" setting and could probably be described as "evangelistic preaching" or even perhaps as "debate".

In each of these cases, it involved men standing before men and declaring the truth of God's Word. So I would say that preaching is probably intended to be a monologue in nature.

Teaching, on the other hand, can and usually should be interactive.

Sorry about the length of this comment. I am enjoying this discussion and look forward to its continuation.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Wednesday, March 29, 2006 1:55:00 PM  

Gordon, thanks for the positive response. You are currently a pastor, correct? If so, I appreciate you not just getting offended at what I have been writing, but thinking through it with me. You and Ray give me great hope! :) :)

You guys have already anticipated most of the points I've been leading up to with regard to the preaching/teaching thing. I agree with you that preaching is much more "monologue-ish". This is very well suited to public evangelism.

And you are quite correct that we don't have very many models of preaching in the New Testament. I assume this is why people use Nehemiah 8 as the model, since it is one of the clearer illustrations.

I think all of the examples you gave from the New Testament, including the public preaching of Jesus, fall into the evangelism category. In other words, they are proclaiming the good news of the Gospel and announcing the kingdom. I have yet to find any example of this in church (i.e., in a gathering of believers).

On another blog, someone asked the question with regard to simple church: Who disciples these people? How are they taught true doctrine?

The answer is rather simple. Mature believers teach younger believers, who mature, and then teach others. Somehow, I find that most people agree this is a model for evangelism (i.e., a believer tells a non-believer about the Gospel, and once that non-believer becomes a believer, they then are supposed to tell others), but we don't apply it to the deeper levels of discipleship.

For that, you are expected to bring your new convert friends to church and let them hear the preacher preach.

Hmmmmmm. I'm not sure I can explain why that is. But I don't think it's healthy.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, March 29, 2006 6:07:00 PM  

I can tell you why it is, "Because that's the way we have always done it." :)

I do find Paul instructing Timothy to "preach the word". Given the surrounding context of this mandate, I would take it to mean in the setting of the church.

However, I think you are right concerning the responsibility of mature believers to mentor and disciple the younger. It is certainly not to be left solely in the hands of the pastor and church staff.

Discipleship is something that is near and dear to my heart. For some time now, I have been very concerned about the approach of "duck 'em and forget 'em". I know that no one would admit to using that tactic, but the fact remains that many do.

I preached to my church recently a message on the "Ministry of Mentoring". I think some older Christians, for some reason, fear that the younger ones will not listen to them. And in some cases, they may be right. I think that perhaps we have abandoned a culture of respect for our elders, but that is another topic.

At any rate, I appreciate the honest look you are taking at this matter. I do not believe we should abandon preaching in the church, but there is definitely room for improvement in the way we teach the word (and the preaching too, for that matter).

God bless.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Thursday, March 30, 2006 4:56:00 AM  

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