It is a Great Vice to Waste the Sermon

pulpitHere is a section from John Calvin’s sermon on I Corinthians 11:17-19.

It is necessary to consider why the Lord wishes that the Church congregate, that there be a certain place, that there be a sanctuary designated for the invocation of his name and the preaching of his word….There must be some goal in order that whatever God has established among us may serve and be useful for our salvation. No one should return home without having gotten some good from the worship service…we come here to hear the word of God, we offer prayers for and with each other and we partake of the sacraments. Afterwards, each one of us in our own home will have some idea of what to do to manifest our Christianity. We must by no means think ourselves acquitted before God because we have heard the sermon each week, prayed in the company of believers, professed our faith, and participated in the sacraments. We must not, I say,  be beguiled into thinking that God is altogether satisfied if we do those things, but we must consider their end and their utility, profiting by being daily confirmed in the fear of God and by the increase of our faith. In brief, we must show that it is not in vain that we have been to the school of our God, for it is indeed a profanation of the doctrine we hear if we continue in the same condition as formerly. 

[Later he says]: This is an exceedingly great and intolerable vice. The result is that we assemble in worship and our lives do not show any semblance of improvement. We act as if we had never heard a single word, had never been instructed in the will of God. If we differ in no respect from those misfortunates who have received no instruction, do we not thereby show that we scorned God every time we come the sanctuary in his name? It is flagrant hypocrisy and duplicity to claim that it is to offer ourselves sacrificially to God when we come to hear his word and yet depart without having been edified by it.

Note how Calvin describes the pieces of the worship service. There are four pieces he mentions: hearing the Word, prayers, professing our faith [probably the Creed], and the sacraments. It is odd that he leaves out singing, but that might have been subsumed under prayers. These things accurately describe a Biblical worship. Nothing else is necessary. The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 88 says something similar, , “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption? A88: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer;[ all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” What is most amazing is how consistent Christian worship has been down through the ages. There have of course been many outward changes in style, dress, type of buildings, etc. But the core pieces have always been there: word, prayer, and sacraments.

But of course the main thrust of this passage is that the sermon should change us. Calvin understood that when the congregation entered worship they were were coming to the “school of our God.” The congregation must come into worship ready to profit and grow. They should go home “having gotten some good from the worship service” and having “some idea of what to do to manifest [make clear] our Christianity.”  If not they are hypocrites and those who profane God’s worship.  The sermon has a purpose, end, and goal, that we love God more, love our neighbor more, put sin to death, and grow in righteousness. Of course, the pastor is to make sure his sermons faithfully put forth God’s Word. But the congregation is largely responsible to learn and grow. In most churches, if a member does not grow it is his or her fault, not the pastor’s.

Do you go into the sermon ready to profit and grow? Week after week are you finding ways to apply the sermon to your life? Do you come away with either a belief or practice you need to change? Or do you leave “in the same condition” as you came in? Most of us listen to at least 50 sermons a year. Many of us also have evening services and Wednesday night. If you go to these and don’t mature then you are no better than a man who sleeps in on Sunday morning. Don’t waste all these sermons. Enter God’s house on Sunday ready to profit.