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.

To Preach Well We Must Know the Flock

Pastors need to know the flock to preach effectively. Here is a comment from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. Bold is mine. The pastor

Needs not always to prosecute every doctrine which lies in his text, so is he wisely to make choice of such uses as, by his residence and conversing with the flock, he finds most needful and seasonable; and among these, such as may draw their souls to Christ the fountain of light, holiness, and comfort.

A man who knows his sheep will be able to bring the Word of God to them each Lord’s Day in such a way as to rebuke their sins where they are falling, encourage perseverance where they are growing in holiness, comfort them in the midst of pain and difficulties, and most of all draw them to Christ.

I know it is not possible in every church for the pastor to know every member. But the pastor should be among the people enough to know them well enough to bring the Word to them effectively each Sunday. If he doesn’t know his sheep he might be preaching on Sundays, but he won’t be preaching to them.

Ryle’s Five Points for Simple Preaching

Any preacher should go and read J.C. Ryle’s Simplicity in Preaching. I have become more convinced over the years for the need for simplicity from the pulpit. I have also become aware of how hard it is to attain simplicity. To be simple requires hard work. This little pamphlet by Ryle can be read in one sitting and bought for .99 on Kindle. Here are his five main points.

And now bear in mind that my five points are these:

First: If you want to attain simplicity in preaching, you must have a clear knowledge of what you are going to preach.

Secondly: If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must use simple words.

Thirdly: If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must seek to acquire a simple style of composition, with short sentences and as few colons and semi-colons as possible.

Fourthly: If you would attain simplicity in preaching, aim at directness.

Lastly: If you would attain simplicity in preaching, make abundant use of illustration and anecdote.

Preach, Don’t Patronize

Let me observe, in the next place, that when I talk of simplicity in preaching, I would not have my readers suppose I mean childish preaching. If we suppose the poor like that sort of sermon, we are greatly mistaken. If our hearers once imagine we consider them a parcel of ignorant folks for whom any kind of ” infant’s food” is good enough, our chance of doing good is lost altogether.People do not like even the appearance of condescending preaching. They feel we are not treating them as equals, but inferiors. Human nature always dislikes that. They will at once put up their backs, stop their ears, and take offense, and then we might as well preach to the winds.

J.C. Ryle in Simplicity in Preaching