The Primacy of Preaching
[A sermon by Rev. David Fagrey, preaching at our Reformation Conference, October 28, 2001, at Trinity Covenant Church. Edited slightly]
“It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:21b
Introduction: The Reformation was not only a restoration of the true Gospel, but it was also a restoration of the primary means of communicating the true Gospel: preaching.
The Modern Attitude. We live in a time when many people (even in churches) are questioning the whole idea of preaching. Many people think preaching is old-fashioned and out of date. Preaching was necessary back in the days when most people could neither read nor write and did not have their own Bibles.
But today, we are a more cultured and educated people; we can read the Bible for our selves. Plus, there are plenty of study Bibles and Bible study books. We also have the Internet. ‘There is nothing that the preacher can tell me that I can’t get somewhere else. Why do I need the preacher to tell me something that I can read for myself?’
Furthermore, it seems kind of ridiculous for a man to stand up and shout at a congregation for 30 minutes. That doesn’t seem to be the best way to communicate with people. It doesn’t allow for any dialogue or feedback. It is not very personal.
It would be better to sit down together either one-on-one or as a group and guide each other along the pathway of truth. That is more dignified than standing up and talking down to people.
A president of a Reformed college said: “we have to face the fact that people don’t want to be preached to or lectured to.” And listen to this slogan from a modern church: “Come to our church, our pastor won’t preach at you.”
People don’t want to be preached at. Plus, the Gospel can be better communicated through puppet shows, dramatic skits, liturgical dancing, and multimedia presentations.
Ways to Boost Attendance. In May 1991 an article appeared in the Wall-Street Journal, documenting some of the new methods currently being used by local churches to boost attendance and attract the unsaved.
One example cited was that of a staged wrestling match featuring church employees. To train for the event, 10 church employees got lessons from a professional wrestler, in pulling hair, kicking shins and tossing bodies around without doing real harm. That is just one of many such examples.
Our generation is not the first to look down on preaching. Preaching was also de-emphasized before the Reformation. There was very little, if any, preaching. Many priests could not even read the Bible. All the emphasis was on ceremonies and dramatic pictures and statues.
This is the same thing that is happening today. The rituals and ceremonies and pictures may be different, but that is where all the emphasis lies.
Now, today, we’re going to see from the word of God that preaching, though it is foolish in the eyes of the world, is the most important function of the local church. Preaching is the primary method that God has chosen to communicate the gospel and to communicate His grace.
Theme: The primacy of preaching. Let’s begin with the words, ‘preacher’ and ‘preaching’. Paul did not invent these words. These words came from the culture in which Paul was raised.
Herald. The word ‘preacher’ [keruj] means ‘a herald’ (we have the Reformed Herald). In ancient times a herald was an official spokesman (ambassador) for a king or a military general. A herald would make public proclamations on behalf of the king.
For example, Pharaoh commanded heralds to go ahead of Joseph’s chariot and to cry, “Bow the knee” (Genesis 41:43; cf. Daniel 3:4; 2 Chron. 30:1-10; 36:22). The herald’s words were the official words of Pharaoh himself. A herald is one who publicly proclaims an authoritative message from the king.
A preacher is a herald or an ambassador who publicly proclaims an authoritative message from the King of kings Himself – the Lord Jesus Christ.
The word ‘preaching’ [kerusso] always refers to a verbal, public proclamation. And it is different from teaching or evangelizing.
Teaching is Different. When it comes to teaching, for example, there are many ways to teach and to instruct people. You can instruct someone privately (Acts 20:20) or by a letter. But preaching always refers to verbal, public proclamation. A pastor is called to preach and teach. Preaching is a distinct act than can be distinguished from teaching.
Evangelism is Different. Preaching can also be distinguished from evangelism. The word ‘evangelize’ [euaggelizo] means to communicate good news. It refers to all kinds of ways of communicating the gospel, not just publicly. The gospel can be communicated in private conversation or in a letter.
In Acts 8:35, Philip’s private conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch is described by the term ‘evangelize.’ But his public proclamation of Christ in Samaria is described by the term ‘heralding’ or ‘preaching’ (Acts 8:6).
The word ‘evangelize’ is used to refer to all kinds of ways of communicating the gospel. The word ‘preaching’ is used only for verbal, public proclamation. All Christians are called to evangelize – to share the good news (Acts 8:4: euaggelizo), but not all are called to preach.
All Christians are called witnesses (cf. Isaiah 43:10; 1 John 5:10), but not all are called preachers.
Only certain men are called preachers. In the NT, only apostles and pastors are called preachers.
Those who are to be preachers must be called and appointed to that office. No one can decide on his own to be a preacher and then just start preaching. No herald just decided on his own to start making public proclamations for the king. He needed to be commissioned and appointed to that task. Preachers also need to be commissioned and appointed.
In Romans 10:15, Paul asks, “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” One cannot preach unless one has been sent or appointed to preach.
Mark 6:13-14: “And [Jesus] went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, …that He might send them out to preach“! The 12 apostles did not send themselves. They were sent to preach (cf. Mark 6:7-13).
The Apostles. The apostles were official heralds of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were appointed to publicly proclaim the word that the Lord commanded them to proclaim.
And before the apostles died out they appointed other men in the church who would carry on the work of preaching God’s word. The Apostle Paul commissioned Timothy (who wasn’t an apostle, but a pastor) to “preach [herald] the word” (2 Timothy 4:2).
And Paul commanded Timothy to teach others what he had taught him: “commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The Lord commanded the apostles to preach His word. The apostles commanded the church to preach the Lord’s word and train others to preach the Lord’s word.
No Invention. Preaching is not an invention of the Church; it’s a commission that she receives from the hand of the Lord through the hand of His apostles. It’s a commission that she is to pass on from one generation to another. And preaching is to continue until Christ returns.
Christ has determined that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). The gospel shall be preached to all nations, “and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Preaching is to continue until the end of time. Therefore, preaching can never be out-dated or old fashioned.
The Primary Method. Preaching is to be the primary method of communicating the gospel. This was the primary method of Jesus Himself. After John was put in prison, the first thing Jesus did was He “came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14).
Mark 1:38: “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” I came to preach, Jesus said. He said His highest priority was to preach the gospel. It should also be the church’s highest priority.
The Chosen Method. It is through preaching that the Lord continues to speak today. He could have chosen to speak to us directly from heaven, but He has chosen to speak to us through the voice of man.
And I think if we were honest, we prefer it this way. Exodus 20:19: After God audibly spoke the ten commandments from the top of Mount Sinai, the people said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” Therefore, God spoke to His people through Moses. Cf. Deut 5:25.
God speaks today through preaching. 2 Corinthians 5:20: “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
Not a Private Opinion. When the preacher says, be reconciled to God, he is not sharing his opinion or giving advice. He is publicly proclaiming an authoritative message from the King of kings Himself.
To reject the ambassador is to reject the one who sent him. Luke 10:16: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me.” To reject the herald is to reject the King.
Preaching is authoritative public proclamation on behalf of the King. According to one commentator: “the preacher does not share, he declares. It is for this very reason that small group Bible studies can never replace the preaching of the Gospel. Preaching is not a little talk. It is not a fireside chat” (Arturo G. Azurdia, Preaching: The Decisive Function, an article appearing in the book The Compromised Church).
Azurdia: God is not asking for discussion. “As the Lord of the universe, He is declaring a word that demands compliance from His creatures.” Therefore, “the Gospel demands a method of communication that is authoritative.”
Azurdia: It might be okay for parents to teach the alphabet to their children by putting on a purple dinosaur costume and singing the ABC song. But this method would be radically inappropriate for the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey in making their television appeal to find their daughter’s murderer.
Authoritative Method. The Gospel demands a method of communication that is authoritative. Yes, God wants all Christians to share the gospel, but He also wants us preachers to declare the gospel publicly with all the authority and forcefulness and passion we can muster.
Now, the Lord not only confronts men through the preaching of the Word, but He also saves men through the preaching of the Word. “The message of liberty actually sets people free.” V.21: “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Cf. Acts 26:18.
I said in my first sermon that God saves us through faith – a faith that He supplies. Well, how does He give us faith? Does God give us faith while we are staring at a sunset or watching Monday night football? Faith comes through the preaching of God’s word. V.21: “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching [khrugma] to save them that believe.”
God causes people to be born again while listening to a sermon. 1 Peter 1:25: you have been born again by the word of God, which was preached to you!
Romans 10:17: ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-2.
Our confessions say the same thing. Heidelberg Catechism Q.65: The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts “by the preaching of the holy gospel.” Belgic Confession: faith is “wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God” (art.24). Canons of Dort: “it pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the proclamation of the gospel” (5.14).
It may seem foolish, but God has chosen to use this foolish method to save His people.
Not by Drama or the Dance. God has not promised to save people through drama or contemporary music or liturgical dancing or wrestling matches. He has promised to save people through the preaching of His Word. He might make an exception to His rule, but His rule is preaching.
God has not promised to save people in plane crashes. He may and He has, but He has not promised to. It is only safe to go where God has promised to save.
Other alternatives might draw bigger crowds. But just because a church grows does not necessarily mean people are getting saved. Cancer grows too.
God could have easily chosen a different method. He could have chosen drama if He wanted to, but He didn’t. Nowhere do you see the Apostles using Drama. They could have. The Greeks in those days invented the theater. But the Lord commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel (1:17). Preaching is even more important than baptism.
Let us not try to be smarter than God. The Bible says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (v.25). God has chosen the foolishness of preaching.
God has chosen to use preaching not only to save His people, but also to KEEP His people saved. In other words, when it comes to the perseverance of the saints, God primarily uses preaching to preserve His saints. V.18: “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are BEING SAVED [present tense] it is the power of God.”
The Power of God. The gospel is the power of God. It is spiritual food (spiritual steak) for our soul. Faith comes more than once by hearing and hearing the Word of God. Jesus is the author and finisher of faith, and one of the ways that He finishes faith is through the preaching of His Word.
Pierre Marcel: “private Bible reading is not sufficient to make the believer ‘a full man’ and to induce him to apply the teachings of the word. Private Bible reading leads one to the service of preaching, and preaching, in turn, leads one to personal Bible reading. But preaching occupies the central place” (The Relevance of Preaching, page 63).
It’s the Food. It is not that personal devotions and Bible study aren’t important. But preaching is to be central. That is why the pulpit is at the center of the church. Preaching is the most important thing, just like food is the most important thing about a restaurant.
Is it old-fashioned to think that the most important thing about a restaurant is to have good food?
Imagine a restaurant, which advertises everything about itself except the food. “Come to this restaurant: it has great service, great atmosphere, all the table settings are china, fancy napkins, beautiful background music, reasonable prices, all the waitresses are neatly dressed, great location, a lot of parking, accessible to the physically disabled, food is so beautifully arranged on the plate.’
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FOOD? If the food is no good, I don’t care how fancy the restaurant is. If the food is no good, then the restaurant is no good.
If the spiritual food is no good, what good is the church? I don’t care how many whistles and bells a church has. The most important thing about a church is the preaching of pure doctrine of the gospel. Through it God grants and nourishes faith.
Now, if we really believe that, then the least we can do is invite as many people as we can to church in order to hear the preaching of the word. If God saves people through preaching, then the most important thing you can do is to tell someone to come to church and hear the preaching of the gospel.
And if God uses preaching to sanctify and preserve His people in the faith, then as Christians one of the most important things we can do is to come and listen regularly Sunday after Sunday to the preaching of the Word. Staying away from preaching is to stay away from the very place where God saves and preserves His people.
Therefore, may we never be ashamed of the foolishness of preaching or of the reformation. To the praise of the glory of His grace!