Preaching (August 2 study)

In our last study, we continued to look at some biblical-theological truths that hopefully helped make us more discerning of what that central event of corporate worship – preaching – is.  There are both good and not so good approaches to preaching out there.  The merits of every sermon must be judged on the basis of God’s Word.  Below are some extracts from an essay setting forth one model of preaching – called redemptive-historical preaching – embraced by the contemporary Reformed tradition: one that I believe is most faithful to the biblical witness.

According to the Biblical view of reality there are two ages: this present evil age, and the age to come (Matt. 12:32; Gal. 1:4, Eph. 1:21). These two ages provide an overarching framework for understanding our identity as Christians…

This two-age view of reality takes on an additional twist in the New Testament. According to the teaching of Jesus in the gospels, the age to come (or the Kingdom of God) has arrived earlier than expected (Mark 1:15; Luke 17:20-21)…

As real and life-changing as the arrival of the eschatological Kingdom is, however, we who are believers in Christ have not yet arrived to its fullness. For those who have been transferred into the age to come by the Spirit still dwell on earth in the flesh…

Redemptive-historical preaching begins with this two-age understanding of the Christian life. It strives to bring the hearers into a fuller awareness of their position in Christ: already raised with Christ, yet groaning in this present age and longing for the second coming of Christ. The implications of the believer’s eschatological and Christ-centered identity are comprehensive and practical. It is the redemptive historical preacher’s goal to bring out those implications (“applications”) from every text of Scripture.

This approach differs dramatically from the contemporary preaching method I call “the application bridge.” This is the misguided attempt to make Scripture relevant by crossing the chasm between the ancient text and the modern world by building man-made application bridges. Redemptive-historical preaching denies the existence of the chasm in the first place, thus eliminating the need to “make” Scripture relevant or applicable. The text does not contain certain abstract principles or ideas that can be extracted, processed, and then applied to our situation. Rather, the text itself is an extension of the incarnation. In the history of redemption in the Old Covenant, God has ordained a typological anticipation of the coming of Christ in the flesh. And the text of the New Covenant is the apostolic proclamation of the fulfillment of the Old Covenant history and the inauguration of a new creation by Christ. United to Christ by means of the text, we live and move and have our being, not in this present evil age which is passing away, but in Christ himself.

If we take the application bridge approach, we are in effect denying that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We would be saying that our lives are ultimately tied to this passing evil age, rather than to the eschatological Kingdom to which we are bound by our union with the crucified-but-now-exalted Christ. The application bridge denies union with Christ with the Christ in whose death we were severed/crucified from this corrupt, present evil age (Gal. 6:14) and in whose resurrection we have ascended into the incorruptibility and glory of the age to come…

What, then, is redemptive historical preaching? It is preaching which strives to imitate the preaching of the New Testament itself by making applications that are determined by the redemptive historical, eschatological, and Christocentric nature of the text. Applications which merely build a bridge from the ancient text to the modern world leave the people of God still in the hopelessness of the present age. Applications which show them who they are in Christ (indicative), and which exhort them to live in light of the implications of that union with Christ (imperative), bring the people of God into the heavenly arena of the glory of the age to come. (Lee Irons)

Elder qualifications and preaching (July 26 study)

I have already drawn attention to the fact that the elder qualifications in Titus 1.5-9 have many things in common with moral virtues expected from upstanding pagan citizens in the ancient world of Greece.  (This is one piece of evidence for the fact that even non-Christians know something of God’s moral law because they still bear his image, though imperfectly due to the Fall (see Romans 2.12-16).)  This should not be strange if we understand that the New Testament calls Christians to live as citizens of two kingdoms.  When it comes to our citizenship in the common earthly kingdom (for the Christians addressed in Titus, it was the world of the island of Crete), we share many things in common with unbelievers including a common sense of morality and social order.  Accordingly, the elder requirements set forth by Paul outfits the potential candidate to live peaceably within broader society, thereby removing any unnecessary offense from the gospel, but also making  it attractive to a watching world.  The list of qualifications is focused on the external and easily observable.  They are characteristics quite obvious to the public eye.  What then are some of the traits that the church should be looking for in a man aspiring to the office of elder?

For one, he is to be “above reproach” (v6a).  This basically means he is to be a man of good reputation, with no obvious moral blind spots or blemishes, and therefore blameless in the eyes of the watching community.  He should be the husband of one wife (v6b).  This in essence is a call to sexual faithfulness to one’s spouse, if married.  It does not necessarily preclude single or divorced men from running for office.  Paul is also concerned that elder candidates have children that are faithful (“believing” is not the only possible translation here) and submissive, but have not necessarily professed faith (v6c).  In short, such a man should rule his household well, a vital indicator of this being that he is rearing his children in the covenant (exposing them to the public and private means of grace) and keeping them from open acts of insubordination.  Furthermore, he should be blameless (v7).  This is not a call to perfection, but rather evidence of social respectability (v8).  He should be free of those vices that would disqualify any member of society from respected positions of leadership.  And, in turn, and putting it positively, he should be one who opens his house to strangers; a lover of that which is virtuous and of good repute; he is to be a man who treats his neighbor with the civility of justice and fairness, and he must be one who fears God.

Up until v8, one could say that there is significant overlap with what one might expect from model leader in the ancient Greco-Roman world.  However, in v9 we find a qualification that highlights explicitly the antithesis between Christians and the rest of the world: faithfulness to God’s Word and the the ability to preach the gospel of the kingdom of Christ.  Remember that the gospel is not something that can be observed from the created order or conjured up by sinful mankind.  Rather it is God’s message of redemption revealed by the Word of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When it comes to salvation, the message of the gospel calls fallen mankind to forsake this world, forsake moral improvement, forsake success, forsake social influence and good reputation – forsake everything – repent and trust solely upon the person and work of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  This gospel is what the minister is called to preach from the Word, week in and week out, for convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation (WSC 89).

The best of the confessional Reformed tradition has been painstakingly serious about seeing that only qualified men enter the pulpit to preach, and that what they preach is Christ and him crucified.  This entails that Christ is preached from all of Scripture with the sensitivity to unfolding of God’s redemptive plan from Genesis to Revelation.  Good preaching draws God’s people into text of Scripture where we find that our life is no longer ultimately defined by this world, sin, death or damnation, but by eternal life, righteousness, peace and joy in Jesus Christ.  Paul writes in Colossians 3.3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

In addition to the sermons that you can find on the resource page, you can find some more terrific examples of Reformed (that is bible-based, Christ-saturated, redemptive-historical, law-gospel) sermons, here.

More on preaching and how to discern when it is faithful to Scripture in the weeks to come.

The following are links to some of the main Reformed and Presbyterian confessions, which include Scripture references (please note that I do not necessarily endorse everything on the websites that host the confessions/catechisms listed):

Heidelberg Catechism (HC)

Belgic Confession (BC)

Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)

Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC)

Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC)