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.

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How is the World Reassembled?

Christopher Ash in his book The Priority of Preaching spends an entire chapter talking about how the preached word is God’s method for bringing people who very different from one another together in harmony. He talks about how human beings are scattered because of sin. In Christ they are brought back together. He uses the term “reassemble” to describe this process. Here is a summary of a portion of that chapter along with a quote at the end.

The broken world cannot be reassembled by:
  •  Technology: We are finding that technology does not reassemble people at all.  We still “connect” with those most like us. 
  • Force: A unity created by force is lost as soon as the source of that force is lost, such as a king or ruler.
  • Natural Human Affection: There is no natural human affection that will reassemble people who are not like each other. Naturally we divide. Naturally we get into our little circles and stay there. 
  • Religion: There can be religious assemblies that gather people together.  However, because they reject God and refuse to submit to his word they are assemblies of lies and deceit.  They are dangerous and they do not bring together diverse groups of people. Nor do they heal what is really broken.
The world can only be reassembled through grace.
“Only the preached word of Christ, the word of grace preached again and again and again, pressed home with passion and engagement, only that word will create God’s assembly to rebuild a broken world. It has been said that the church is crater formed by the impact of the word of God (Karl Barth); or that ‘the scriptures are God’s voice, the church is his echo’ (John Donne). Those are vivid pictures. But it is perhaps more scriptural to say that the church is the living organism conceived, shaped and grown by the seed of the word of God within (cf. James 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:23). The church’s DNA is the DNA of the preached word of God. And by that word Jesus gathers unlikely people.”

Snoring, Vomiting, and Flirting During Calvin’s Sermons

I am really enjoying Scott Manetsch’s book Calvin’s Company of Pastors. It is history done right with the right amount of detail and the avoidance of simplistic viewpoints.  At my church the children are in worship. This creates a fair amount of distractions from crying to kids falling and hitting their heads to children arguing with each other. Therefore I found this description of what attending a sermon in Geneva often looked liked encouraging. My comments are in brackets.

The Genevan ideal of a simple, well-ordered service in which the faithful attentively listened to, understood, and responded to the Word of God was not always achieved in practice. [Good to know this is not just a 21st century problem.] A variety of discomforts and distractions made attendance at sermons a challenging experience for even the most devout at times. The city’s churches could be stifling hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. On several occasions the frigid winter weather prompted the ministers to move services from the cavernous temple of St. Pierre to the smaller (and warmer) church of St. Germain…There were also plenty of human distractions. Between 1541 and 1609, a long litany of nuisances great and small elicited the complaints of ministers as well as parishioners. Members of the congregation frequently arrived late to Sunday worship [That never happens today], missing the congregational singing and the introductory prayers. Others left early [Can’t miss the start of the game.], causing a commotion during the concluding baptismal service. At weekday sermons in the church at St. Gervais, parishioners sometimes found it difficult to hear the preacher because of the noise caused by the blacksmith shops nearby. In Geneva’s churches, babies often wailed, dogs barked, and schoolboys chatted happily through the morning sermon. Worshipers were also distracted when people succumbed to violent coughing fits, when drunkards vomited in full view of the assembly, or when weary souls fell asleep and snored along with the sermon. Some people chased controversy and invited complaints when they brought more than their Psalter hymnals with them to church. In 1560, for example, Francoise Frochet made a spectacle of herself when she came to the sermon at St. Pierre’s  carrying apples, pears, and chestnuts [What did they do with the cores, throw them at the pastor?], which she noisily shared with those sitting next to her. Pierre Toulieu also got into trouble when he sat through a worship service in a countryside church with his musket propped up on his shoulder [Wonder what that pastor thought? Is he going to shoot me?] and his hunting dog sleeping at his feet. It is clear, moreover, that many townspeople welcomed the preaching service as an opportunity to socialize with friends or flirt with members of the opposite sex rather than listen to the sermon. The case of Benjamin Maret and Antoine Grifferat is altogether typical. Maret and Grifferat were brought before the Consistory [Church leaders in Geneva] in 1563 for having talked and laughed throughout the Sunday morning sermon at the temple of St. Pierre. After extensive questioning, Maret admitted to flirting with a young woman in a red bonnet [I think I am predestined to be with you.] while Grifferat confessed to chatting with a friend for part of the service “but not during the entire sermon.” Due to such noise and distractions, some people found it difficult to concentrate on the preacher’s sermon.

I love this paragraph because it is a reminder of two things.

First, churches, people, and worship don’t change. There are always distractions in worship. There always have been. That picture you have in your head of everyone sitting quietly listening to the sermon is a lie. Sometimes I get irritated at the noise in worship. But why? Worship does not take place in some pristine world without noise and distractions.

Second, God works in worship services despite the distractions.  The preached Word week after week changed the men and women of Geneva despite vomit, cold, heat, snoring, and babies. And that Word changes us as well, despite bathroom breaks, microphones that don’t work, crying babies, a two year old hitting her older brother, and flirting teenagers.

Word is Necessary, Sacraments are Not

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Pierre Marcel in his excellent book Infant Baptism, takes several pages to discuss the similarities and differences between the Word and the sacraments. He clearly explains how the Word and the sacraments are the same and how they are different. Here are some good paragraphs explaining the priority of the Word over the sacraments. All italics are Marcel’s.

The Word is indispensable to salvation, but the sacraments are not. The sacraments, in fact, are subordinated to the Word; they are signs of the content of the Word and are joined to it. The Word, therefore, is definitely something apart from the sacraments, but the sacraments apart from the Word are nothing: apart from it they have neither value nor power. The sacraments are nothing less than, but nothing more than, a visible Word. All the benefits of redemption come to us from the Word and only through faith, but there is not a single benefit which can be received through the sacraments alone, apart from the Word and without faith.

It is for this reason that the preaching of the Word should precede the administration of the sacraments in order to teach us and bring to our knowledge the significance of the visible sign. The words which are call “sacramental” are nothing other than a summary preaching of the promise of the Gospel, which ought to be proclaimed by the minister with force and clarity so that believers may be brought to the end for which the sign was prescribed.

The Word is thus indispensable for salvation, whereas the sacraments are not.

Naturally the next question is: If that is the case then why should we administer the sacraments? Do they become unnecessary if they are not absolutely necessary to our salvation? I will post Marcel’s answer to that question tomorrow.

The Pastor As Father

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John Stott Preaching

John Stott’s little book The Preacher’s Portrait is an excellent overview of pastoral ministry, in particular the attitude pastors should have towards preaching and the congregation. Stott uses five Biblical words to describe our work: Steward, herald, witness, father, and servant. In the chapter on the pastor as father Stott carefully describes what it means for a pastor to be a father to his congregation. It was the chapter that cut me the deepest. He says love is the chief idea behind Paul describing himself as father in I Thessalonians 2:13

Love, then, is the chief quality  of a father to which the Apostle refers when he uses the metaphor to illustrate his ministry; not a soft, sickly sentimentality, but a strong, unselfish love which cares and which is not incompatible with discipline.

Stott then goes on to give some fruit that comes when a pastor loves his congregation. Continue reading

Why a Conservative Interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 is Not Enough

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Attacks on Scripture must be defended by exegesis of specific passages. For example, hammering out the meaning of I Timothy 2:11-12 and the surrounding verses is an essential exercise in dealing with men who want to subvert God’s teaching concerning women pastors and elders. But correct interpretation of key passages is not sufficient. Exegesis of specific passages must be placed in the overarching paradigm of Scripture and the created world. Is I Timothy 2:11-12 an extension of the way God made the world, the creation order applied to leadership and teaching in the church, or is it the exception to God’s created order? How we answer this question will probably have more impact on our view of ordaining women than the specific exegesis of the passage.

If we believe that men and women are interchangeable then a conservative interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 does not make sense. Why would God restrict women in the pulpit, but no where else? If men and women are interchangeable in the created world as a whole, in places such as homes, businesses, politics, parenting, seminaries, etc. then why would they not be interchangeable in the church? A man can hold to the conservative interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12, but if his position is egalitarian everywhere else then he is putting a square peg in a round hole. He is saying that God randomly decided women shouldn’t preach while everywhere else men and women are the same. Eventually something has to give. Usually the first generation holds the line despite the incongruity. But the following generation will often smooth out the square peg, which usually means denying the plain teaching of a passage.

But if God made men and women for complementary, but distinct roles in creation then I Timothy 2:11-12 fits with the way God created the world. If men and women are not interchangeable then the conservative interpretation of this passage (and many others such as I Corinthians 11:3-16, Ephesians 5:22-33) is not odd or strange, but naturally flow with the teaching of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and with nature and created order. It is round peg in a round hole. What Paul says in this passage is what we would expect him to say given the rest of Scripture and the world we see around us.

My point is simple and applies to other areas of interpretation as well, such what is love or marriage in the sodomy debates. We should exegete specific passages, but we must do so using all of Scripture as well as nature, not just the specific passage in question. We should not assume that the correct interpretation of a passage is enough. Even if we get I Timothy 2:11-12 correct, if our paradigm is off then feminism will win. A conservative interpretation of this passage that is not rooted in creation order cannot hold the line.

This is a repost with some slight revisions from May of 2015. 

The Westminster Assembly on How to Preach

Here is as list from the Westminster Directory for Public Worship on how the minister is to preach the Word. There is a lot of wisdom in these few points. All bold is mine.

  1. Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.
  2. Plainly, that the meanest may understand; delivering the truth not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect; abstaining also from an unprofitable use of unknown tongues, strange phrases, and cadences of sounds and words; sparingly citing sentences of ecclesiastical or other human writers, ancient or modern, be they never so elegant.
  3. Faithfully, looking at the honor of Christ, the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people, not at his own gain or glory; keeping nothing back which may promote those holy ends, giving to every one his own portion, and bearing indifferent respect unto all, without neglecting the meanest, or sparing the greatest, in their sins.
  4. Wisely, framing all his doctrines, exhortations, and especially his reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail; shewing all due respect to each man’s person and place, and not mixing his own passion or bitterness.
  5. Gravely, as becomes the word of God; shunning all such gesture, voice, and expressions, as may occasion the corruptions of men to despise him and his ministry.
  6. With loving affection, that the people may see all coming from his godly zeal, and hearty desire to do them good. And,
  7.  As taught of God, and persuaded in his own heart, that all that he teaches is the truth of Christ; and walking before his flock, as an example to them in it; earnestly, both in private and public, recommending his labors to the blessing of God, and watchfully looking to himself, and the flock whereof the Lord hath made him overseer: So shall the doctrine of truth be preserved uncorrupt, many souls converted and built up, and himself receive manifold comforts of his labors even in this life, and afterward the crown of glory laid up for him in the world to come.