Sunday, April 15, 2007

The importance and seriousness of preaching

Do you think preaching is important?

I do. I think preaching is vitally important. Why? Because God says so (Romans 10:13-15, emphasis mine):

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

“How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Souls eternally perish without preaching. The Church dies without preaching. I think of what the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-2, emphasis mine):

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

In a message preached last year at Together for the Gospel, while recounting J.I. Packer’s well-known story about his first experience of hearing Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach, Piper makes what I think is an insightful parenthetical comment about the contemporary attitude towards preaching:

“When J. I. Packer was a twenty-two-year-old student, he heard Lloyd-Jones preach every Sunday evening in London during the school year of 1948-1949. He said that he had ‘never heard such preaching.’ (That’s why so many people say so many minimizing and foolish things about preaching—they have never heard true preaching. They have no basis for judgment about the usefulness of true preaching.) Packer said it came to him ‘with the force of electric shock, bringing…more of a sense of God than any other man’ he had known.”

I think Piper is right. Many “have never heard true preaching.” In my opinion, that’s a sad and tragic fact, not only in the “mainline” (and, largely, unbelieving) church, but also within evangelicalism.

Let me speak for myself: To the best of my recollection, I don’t think I ever heard any true preaching until I was nearly grown (if then). I certainly never heard the likes of a Lloyd-Jones or Piper. I still marvel over how some believers in America can be over-fed, with Bible teaching, Bible preaching, books and conferences galore, while other segments of the church are near starving. I’m a product of the starving segment of the American church. The Lord used an old, written transcription of a radio sermon to bring about my salvation. I had never heard in church what I read in that booklet.

I also remember having the attitude that, when it came to sermons, the shorter the better (A fact that I now find amusing, because I’ve always had a terribly difficult time preaching a sermon in under 40 minutes). That all changed after I was saved and as my hunger to know God’s word grew. Nevertheless, my hunger was usually never satisfied in church. I (like a whole lot of believers I’ve known) had to supplement my “diet” with Christian radio, Christian television, books and cassette tapes.

Which causes me to wonder: Are we evangelicals really hungry for a word from the Lord? Do we approach the preaching moment anxious to hear from heaven? Sometimes, I have to wonder. Personally, I just want to hear from God.

Piper makes a further observation about the contemporary attitude towards preaching:

“Oh that the rising generations would see that the world is not overrun with a sense of seriousness about God. There is no surplus in the church of a sense of God’s glory. There is no excess of earnestness in the church about heaven and hell and sin and salvation. And therefore the joy of many Christians is paper thin. By the millions people are amusing themselves to death with DVDs, and 107-inch TV screens, and games on their cell phones, and slapstick worship, while the spokesmen of a massive world religion write letters to the West in major publications saying, ‘The first thing we are calling you to is Islam… It is the religion of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with the hand, tongue and heart. It is the religion of jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme.’ And then these spokesmen publicly bless suicide bombers who blow up children in front of Falafel shops and call it the way to paradise. This is the world in which we preach.

“And yet incomprehensibly, in this Christ-diminishing, soul-destroying age, books and seminars and divinity schools and church growth specialists are bent on saying to young pastors, ‘Lighten up.’ ‘Get funny.’ ‘Do something amusing.’ To this I ask, Where is the spirit of Jesus?”

I don’t know about you, but, I don’t go to church in order to laugh. I’m not against humor—just ask my wife! (She maintains I need my own comedy show)—but it seems to me that the gathering for corporate worship is not the time to be entertained. I don’t want to be entertained; I want to be awed by God. I want to be captivated by His glory. I even want to be convicted of my sin and humbled by His holiness. And, yes, I want to rejoice in a wonderful Savior and “such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3).

But, I don’t want to listen to a comedy sketch.

I can think of innumerable reasons why I deserve the fires of hell. I only know of one reason I won’t go there: the grace of God. When I consider that God would condescend to save “a wretch like me”, how can I not be serious? I’m convinced that preaching is an extremely important and serious business. If I had not heard the word of the gospel, I could not have believed. And if that word had not been preached, I would have never heard.

If you’d like to read the transcription of Piper’s entire message (and I recommend you do), click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen! I also wish to be "awed by God" and not entertained. We can get enough of that any day/night of the week we want.
Thank you for your needed words!