In the fear of the LORD one will have strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. Proverbs 14:26
In whom do we place our confidence? We say that the Lord is our strength, our salvation and our refuge. As the old question asks, however, “If we were charged with being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us?”
Many fine books and articles have been written about the challenges of pluralism and postmodernism to evangelicalism. It is important to understand these shifts in our culture. We do need to learn to communicate to this generation more effectively. On the other hand, we must also guard against the tail wagging the dog.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Whenever the church has been primarily concerned with being relevant to the culture, the church has become like the culture. Prophetic voices in the church throughout the centuries have called the church back to its role as salt and light. Another way of describing this mandate for the church is to say that the church must be counter cultural. Jesus will always be the Scandalon. The Cross will always be offensive. The gospel will always be strange and foolish to the unregenerate. On the other hand, the church will always have the only Good News of reconciliation with God and eternal life in glory forever.
Some sobering verses that keep coming back to me as a pastor are found in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16: But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance of death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
We are the aroma of Christ TO GOD first. This glorious calling enables us to accept the rejection from people who do not receive the preaching of Christ. Frankly, it is painful to have our evangelistic efforts spurned. We grieve for the people who are perishing – we must never lose this compassion for the lost. We must be on guard, though, because compromise with the culture occurs when we get this God first priority wrong.
Secondly, Paul’s rhetorical question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” isn’t so rhetorical in our day. We must answer, “No one, and certainly not me.” This lack of confidence in ourselves is healthy when it drives us back to confidence in the Word of God.
Let me illustrate: Often when I preach, I publicly pray something like this, “Please do not let your servant get in the way of your Word to your people.” What I mean is that I am accepting the responsibility of being a servant of the Word. I am asking God to apply His Word – not my words – to the hearts and minds of His people. To me it seems like an obvious prayer. I have had people misunderstand this. I have had people pray for me and offer me encouragement because they took this prayer as an evidence of personal discouragement on my part. What can I say? I must not be communicating as well as I think I am!
Perhaps people are used to pulpit ministry that consists of a Bible verse or two, a few illustrations and a lot of personal opinion. They may not understand biblical preaching.
I am hopeful that there are winds of change blowing. We need a reformation of authoritative preaching – preaching that is powerful because it is expositional. God has promised to bring results through His Word, not ours (Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 1:16-17; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4).
Personal testimonies and stories can be inspirational, but we cannot take them home with us in the way that we can take faithful biblical instruction home. How can we be Bereans (Acts 17:11) if it is not the Word that we hear proclaimed? How can we trust Christ for our sanctification as well as our justification (Galatians 3:1 and following) if we do not see Him set forth in the preached Word?
My heart aches when I go to conferences and visit churches on holidays and see that many preachers have lost their confidence in the Word of God. Of course they would deny this, but where is the evidence in their proclamation?
Praise God for the exceptions. I commend to you Liam Goligher from Duke Street Church in London who was our speaker at the Fellowship Baptist National Convention this fall. There are many other names that I could name, but it makes me sad to hear from hungry Christians who long to be fed by faithful, Word-centered preachers.
If you are interested in pursuing this line of thought, I recommend a sermon preached by Alistair Begg at SBTS a few years ago entitled, “Preach the Word.” This should be required listening for evangelical preachers.
Fellow preachers, we need to get this right. Church members, if your pastor is not preaching the Bible, be a loving, gracious, educated thorn in his side. If our confidence is not in the LORD but in men, the next generation will not have a refuge.