The Reformation, a Return to the Primacy of Preaching
Pastor of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church
Christ-centred preaching is the source of hope,
comfort, and life for the regenerated believer. Those touched by the
love of God desire above all to hear faithful preaching which directs
them to their mediator and saviour, Jesus Christ. By the 16th century,
the Roman Catholic church had removed this source of comfort and
encouragement from the saints. Empty relics and complex liturgies
replaced the personal, powerful preaching of the Word.
In Martin Luther's zeal to make Christ central in all
things, Christ was brought back into the worship service. Christ was not
brought back in through a cold crucifix on a wall, but in the power and
warmth of the faithful preaching of the Scriptures. "To place the Bible
in a central position had been done by the theologians of earlier
centuries. To place Christ in the centre of the Bible as totally as
Luther did, was previously unheard of" (A. S. Wood, Captive to the
Word [Paternoster Press, 1969], p. 171).
Luther's conviction was that all Scripture had been
given for the sake of Christ, in order that He might be made known and
glorified. In Christ alone Scripture and worship find its meaning.
Christ is the substance of Scripture. If Christ is known, then
everything else in the Scriptures becomes plain and able to be
understood. Luther saw every passage in the Bible, whether in the Old or
New Testament, to point to Christ.
John Calvin shared this conviction with respect to
the centrality of Christ in the preaching and life of the saints,
demonstrating it by a life committed to preaching. Calvin knew and
believed that the most important means that would be able to bring
reform to wicked Geneva was the preaching of the Word. By the grace of
God, the history of Geneva's reform is a testimony to the power of God
through faithful, Christ-centred preaching.
Charles Terpstra demonstrates in this small booklet
the fact that the Reformation of the 16th century was instrumental in
returning to the church that which she so desperately needed—the primacy
of faithful, biblical preaching!
Christ is God's grace, mercy, righteousness, truth,
wisdom power, comfort, and salvation given us of God without any merit.
Christ is the salvation of the church. Christ must not only be
proclaimed, but Christ must be heard in and through the preaching The
encouragement, salvation, comfort, and holiness of the church are
dependent upon it!
During the years prior to the Reformation there was a
void of Christ-centred preaching. Tragically, that void is again evident
in our day. "A Return to the Primacy of Preaching," a Reformation Day
lecture given by Charles Terpstra in late October of 1994, serves
as a timely reminder and pertinent warning to the church of the 21st
century to maintain the primacy of preaching as that aspect of worship
which God has ordained for His glory and for the edification of His
With humble gratitude to God, faithful Reformed
Protestants commemorate the great Reformation of the sixteenth century.
We say humble, because the Reformation was a mighty work of God's grace,
and because we are the blessed recipients of this glorious tradition.
Thus, as often as we remember this event, we must do so with
thankfulness to God.
The heritage of the Reformation is rich.
Consequently, there are many different aspects to the Reformation which
are worthy of consideration. But one of the most important is that it
constituted a return to the primacy of preaching. In this, we have the
support of many other historians and analysers of the Reformation. To
quote one man who wrote on the Reformed tradition of worship:
Whatever else it was, the Reformation was a great
preaching revival, probably the greatest in the history of the
Christian church. Riding a rising tide of preaching in the late
Middle Ages, the Reformers expanded the practice still farther, and
gave it a significantly new function and character (James Hastings
Nichols, Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition, p. 29).
In this respect, the Reformation was a return to the
days of the early church, when preaching was at the centre of the
service and when God's people came eagerly to feed upon the Word of God
proclaimed from Lord's Day to Lord's Day. This is what makes the
Reformation so pertinent to our day. For it is especially this heritage
of the pure preaching of the Word which we count so necessary for the
church of all ages, and which is so precious to us. Every truly Reformed
Christian wants faithful preaching, because he knows that this is the
way of salvation God has ordained for his soul (Eph. 4; Rom. 10).
But we also realize that this heritage is being
undermined and lost; it is being replaced today in churches which have
their roots in the Reformation. This grieves us, as well as the Lord
God. For this reason, this subject is relevant, even urgent, for our
We turn then, to our subject, dividing it into three
The Reformation, a Return to the Primacy of Preaching
1. The Need for Such a Return
2. The Reformation as a Return to Preaching
3. The Significance for the Church of Christ Today
1. The Need for Such a Return
During the Middle Ages (approx. 500 to 1500 AD)
preaching gradually lost its place of primacy in the church, until it
was all but lost from her life and work in the years before the
Reformation. We should remember that the Middle Ages were in general a
time of gradual but steady decline for the church. As she increased in
her worldly power and influence, she decreased in her spiritual strength
and influence. Sometimes the Middle Ages are referred to as the "Dark
Ages." This was certainly true also with respect to the preaching.
The days before the Reformation were preaching poor
times. Many of the established clergy, bishops, and priests, simply did
not preach at all. It is said that the lay people could not expect any
preaching from the priests in the local parish. Weeks and even months
could go by without their hearing any sermon from the pulpit of their
local church. Many priests simply forsook their parishes (local
churches), checking on them only on occasion. The English Reformer, Hugh
Latimer, called such absentee priests "strawberry parsons" since "they
came only once a year and stayed for a very short time" (quoted by G. J.
The Preaching of the English Reformers, pp. 9-10).
Writing already in 1520, Martin Luther explained,
Lo, whither hath the glory of the
church departed! The whole earth is filled with priests, bishops,
cardinals and clerics, and yet not one of them preaches by virtue of
his office, unless he be called to do by another and by a different
call besides his sacramental ordination ("The Babylonian Captivity,"
Works, vol. 2 [Baker, 1982], p. 280).
And if and when the bishops and priests did preach,
the quality of the sermons was very poor. There was preserved in the
worship service a place for preaching. This was called the "homily," a
brief sermon. But these homilies were for the most part nothing but
borrowed sermons from the church fathers. The priests did not do any
original work, nor was there any exposition of the Scriptures. The
sermons were therefore not edifying but boring treatments of meaningless
subjects of the Middle Ages. In addition, these sermons were filled with
many absurd stories and fables. Besides, even where the sermons were of
good quality and content, they were most often read in Latin, which most
of the people could not understand. On the character of these sermons
John Calvin wrote:
… What sermons in Europe then exhibited that
simplicity with which Paul wishes Christian people to be always
occupied? Nay, what one sermon was there from which old wives might
not carry off more whimsies than they could devise at their own
fireside in a month? For, as sermons were then usually divided, the
first half was devoted to those misty questions of the schools which
might astonish the rude populace, while the second contained sweet
stories, or not unamusing speculations, by which the hearers might
be kept on the alert. Only a few expressions were thrown in from the
Word of God, that by their majesty they might procure credit for
these frivolities (Selected Works of John Calvin, ed. &
trans. Henry Beveridge, vol. 1, p. 40).
This weakness in preaching also applied to the
travelling preachers, the friars. These were special religious orders of
men in the Roman Catholic Church. whose beginnings had been sound and
good. This class of clergy arose because of a lack of preaching in the
church and care for the sick and poor. Founded by Francis of Assisi and
Dominic in the 13th century, they were organized into preaching orders,
which would travel throughout the countryside bringing the message of
the gospel to the poor peasants. But gradually, these friars too fell
victim to the abuses in the church. They gave in to the sermon style of
the day, and worse, became nothing more than instruments of the pope.
Hence. also their preaching became corrupt and
worthless. Instead of bringing the pure and simple gospel based upon the
Scriptures, they resorted to embellished messages in which the stories
of the Bible were mixed in with sensational fables and traditions,
designed to entertain the peasants. Thus did they spread fact and
fiction, truth and error, and therefore, confusion, throughout the
countryside. The result was that, though they still travelled preaching,
the message they brought was not that of the gospel, but of loyalty to
the pope and the need of money for the church coffers.
It is also striking but sad that with the preaching
so bad and the people so ignorant, another method of bringing the gospel
to the people was being used—drama. Groups of dramatists would travel
from town to town putting on mystery plays and passion plays. Sound
familiar?! Yes, history is being repeated in our day! Entertainment once
more fills the churches! And sadly, this occurs in Protestant churches
which have their roots in the preaching revival of the Reformation!
But if there was little or no preaching done by the
ordained clergy of the church, who was doing the preaching? Undoubtedly,
there were a few faithful bishops, priests, and friars scattered
throughout the vast regions of the church world who continued to bring
the gospel to the humble city and country folk. But one Reformer was
convinced that there was another faithful preacher at work in the
Hugh Latimer, in a sermon preached in 1548
denouncing the sin of a lack of sound preaching among the clergy of his
day, announced whom he considered to be the "most diligent preacher and
teacher in all England." Said he,
And will ye know who it is? I will tell you: it
is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is
never out of his diocese; he is never from his cure; ye shall never
find him unoccupied ... And his office is to hinder religion, to
maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kinds of
popery. He is ready as can be … to devise as many ways as can be to
deface and obscure God's glory. Where the devil is resident, and
hath his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles;
away with bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the
Gospel, and up with the light of candles ... Where the devil is
resident that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry;
censing, painting of images, candles, palms, ashes, holy water, and
new service of men's inventing; as though man could invent a better
way to honour God with than God himself hath appointed. Down with
Christ's cross, up with purgatory pickpurse, up with him, the popish
purgatory, I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor and
impotent; up with decking of images and gay garnishing of stocks and
stones: up with man's traditions and his laws, down with God's
traditions and his most holy Word. Down with the old honour due to
God, and up with the new god's honour ... Oh that our prelates would
be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow
cockle and darnel (quoted by G. J. Murray, The Preaching of the
English Reformers, pp. 70-71).
Such was the situation prior to the Reformation. Not
only was the true biblical preaching no longer central; it was also
virtually nonexistent. How do we account for this?
There are especially two reasons for this decline and
dearth of preaching. First, there was the rise of the authority of
the pope, and with that, the decline in the authority of the
Scriptures. During the Middle Ages gradual stress was laid upon the
offices of the church. With this came a multiplication of offices:
cardinals, bishops, priests, monks, etc. In particular, the office of
the papacy came to dominate, when the bishop of Rome assumed the title
of successor of Peter and head of the entire church of Christ. From that
point, all it took was a few dominant popes, and the power of the pope
was firmly established. And that is what happened in the Middle Ages.
Yet these men were not satisfied with being the mere successors of
Peter. Assuming to themselves the office of Christ, these popes took the
position that they were the direct mediators between God and men; they
were the voice of God to the people. Hence, the pronouncements they
made, and the decisions they took were the infallible, authoritative
word of God.
The result was that the authority of the church and
her tradition were exalted above the Scriptures. As far as the church
was concerned, the people no longer needed the Bible nor the preaching
of it; they only needed to hear and abide by the teachings of the popes.
The Bible and the preaching of it were even considered dangerous to the
people. Because of these things, the Bible was virtually taken out of
the hands of the people. And with that, of course, went the preaching.
A second reason for the loss of the primacy of
preaching was the emphasis placed on the mass as the chief means
of grace. During the Middle Ages great stress was also placed on the
sacraments and with that, on the formal, outward worship of the church.
The result was that at the time of the Reformation the worship services
of the Roman Catholic Church were filled with countless unbiblical
rituals and ceremonies. But at the centre was the mass. This was Rome's
sacrament of the Lord's Supper, only with many abominable additions.
According to the Romish church an amazing thing takes
place in the mass. First, the bread and wine are changed into the actual
body and blood of Christ. And, second, the priest offers up the 'body"
of Christ in a real, atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.
Consequently, the people were led to believe that they were fed with the
actual body of Christ in the wafer, and that this was the chief means of
grace for them. They were taught that on the basis of the priest's
repeat performance of Christ's death they had the forgiveness of sins.
Their salvation, they were told, was tied to the mass.
It is not difficult to see that with this idea of the
sacrament the preaching of Christ crucified had to take a back seat. In
the mind of the church at that time, was it not far better to have
Christ really crucified again before your eyes than simply to hear about
it in the Word preached?
Thus did the mass become the heart of the worship
service, because it was seen to be the chief means of grace. And the
preaching was relegated to a low, insignificant place in the worship; it
was no longer primary. Indeed, it was unnecessary!
For these two fundamental reasons, the priests and
other officers of the church did not really need to preach, nor were
they trained to do so. The priests did not have to bring the message of
the gospel to the people. All they had to do was dispense the grace of
God through the means the church established as the vehicles of
salvation. The attitude that prevailed was: Why use the preaching of the
Word when there are so many other easier ways to bestow divine
Hence, for the most part the clergy of the Roman
Catholic Church went untrained in the art of sermonizing. Seminaries for
the training of preachers were unheard of. Instead men were taught how
to hear confessions, read the forms of the church, and follow her
elaborate rituals and ceremonies. The result was an office of ministry
that was woefully ignorant of God's Word, and consequently incapable of
delivering its message to the people. Even if a priest had wanted to
preach, he did not know how.
The most serious consequence was that God's people
were being deprived of a true knowledge of God through His Word
preached. Souls were starving since they were being fed stones for
bread. There was a famine of the Word in the church (Amos 8:11). But God
would not have it so for any longer.
2. The Reformation as a Return to Preaching
The Reformers restored the Church to her central
They brought down the papal system and pointed out
the errors of mass. They denied the mass the primary place in the
worship of the church. They cried down the sad lack of knowledge among
the clergy and laity.
But what was to be done? What was to take the place
of the mass? How were the people to receive the grace of God? How were
they to be built up in the knowledge of the truth?
The unanimous answer was: by the preaching of the
The Reformers came to this conclusion on the basis of
the Scriptures themselves. The Reformation was a return to the
centrality of preaching because it was a restoration of the Scriptures.
As the Bible came once again into the people's hands in their native
language, and as they poured over it, they came under the powerful
conviction that the Bible was the sole authority for the faith and life
of the church. Therefore, they took it up as their sword to bring
reformation to the church. With this sword, they cut down the authority
of the pope and exalted the authority of God's Word, the Bible. With
this sword they shredded the Roman Catholic Church doctrine and practice
of the mass.
But with this instrument they also established anew
the true doctrine and the pure worship of God. In the Scriptures they
rediscovered the truths of God's absolute sovereignty in salvation,
justification by faith without works, and Christ's Headship
over His church. And here they found again that pure, simple, humble way
of worship God has commanded—with preaching at the heart as the chief
means of grace.
In this way did the Reformers become convinced of the
indispensability of the preaching. Having studied the Scriptures
themselves, they came to see that the church could do without all the
ceremonies and elaborate services. But there was one thing she could not
do without, and that was the pure preaching of the Word. As they studied
the Scriptures, they noticed that the prophets, Jesus Himself, and the
apostles had all been instruments to bring the Word of God.
Consequently, they rediscovered the truth that the
proclamation of the Word was God's method of salvation. This is easily
verified from the writings of the Reformers. We are familiar with Martin
Luther's 95 theses, which he nailed to the door of the castle church at
Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these
theses is #62 which reads: "The true treasure of the church is the most
holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God."
A little later in life Luther expanded on this in his
"Treatise on Christian Liberty":
One thing and one only is necessary for Christian
life, righteousness and liberty. That one thing is the most holy
Word of God, the Gospel of Christ ... Let us then consider it
certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without
all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not, there
is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the
Word, it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of
life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation,
of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of
every blessing beyond our power to estimate.
… On the other hand, there is no more terrible
plague with which the wrath of God can smite men than a famine of
the hearing of His Word, as He says in Amos, just as there is no
greater mercy than when He sends forth His Word, as we read in Psalm
… Nor was Christ sent into the world for any
other ministry but that of the Word, and the whole spiritual estate,
apostles, bishops and all the priests, has been called and
instituted only for the ministry of the Word (Works, vol. 2,
Calvin reiterated this when in preaching on Eph.
4:11-14, he said,
Now the fact is that it [i.e., the church, CJT]
cannot be built up, that is to say, it cannot be brought to
soundness, or continue in a good state, except by means of the
preaching of the Word. So then, if we earnestly desire that God
should be honoured and served, and that our Lord should have his
royal seat among us peaceably, to reign in the midst of us, if we
are his people and are under his protection, if we covet to be built
up in him and to be joined to him, and to be steadfast in him to the
end; to be short, if we desire our salvation, we must learn to be
humble learners in receiving the doctrine of the gospel and in
hearkening to the pastors that are sent to us ... (Sermons on
Ephesians [Banner, 1973], p. 374).
In fact, it may be said that the Reformation itself
was brought about through the power of preaching. How did the
Reformation begin? It began with preaching. Men such as Wycliffe, Huss,
Savanarola, and others before Luther, brought about reformation by
preaching. And how did the Reformation move forward as an unstoppable
force? By means of preaching! This was due to the fact that the
Reformers believed preaching to be the power of reformation. There was
present in the 16th century the radical wing of the Reformation, which
wanted to use physical force and human power to effect change in the
church. But the Reformers despised this, and instead held that only the
preaching could effect change, since it was God's spiritual power.
This was concretely manifested in Wittenberg, when
Luther returned there after he had been excommunicated at the Diet of
Worms and subsequently hid at the castle at Wartburg. The radical
element in Wittenberg was threatening to ruin the true reformation of
the church there by resorting to the arm of flesh. But Luther came and
preached eight sermons in eight days, pleading with the people not to
use force but to rely on the power of the Word. In his second sermon
Luther stated clearly that the Romish mass was evil and that he wished
it to be abolished. But he went on to say,
Yet Christian love should not employ harshness
here, not force the matter. It should be preached and taught with
tongue and pen, that to hold mass in such a manner is a sin, but no
one should be dragged away from it by force. The matter should be
left to God; His Word should do the work alone, without our work.
Why? Because it is not in my power to fashion the hearts of men as
the potter moulds the clay, and to do with them as I please. I can
get no farther than to men's ears; their hearts I cannot reach. And
since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I,
force anyone to have faith. That is God's work alone, who causes
faith to live in the heart. Therefore we should give free course to
the Word, and not add our works to it (Works, vol. 2, pp.
A little later in the same sermon Luther gave an
example of how his preaching had been the power in effecting the
I have opposed the indulgences and all the
papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God's
Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then while I slept, or drank
Wittenberg beer with my Philip and with Amsdorf, the Word so greatly
weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor inflicted such
damage upon it. I did nothing; the Word did it all … For it is
almighty and takes captive the hearts, and if the hearts are
captured the evil work will fall of itself (Works, vol. 2,
Thus it was that the Reformers labours
consisted chiefly of the proclamation of the Word. Luther, Calvin, and
all the other Reformers were chiefly preachers. It is true that they
were also men who wrote and lectured. All of them wrote books,
commentaries, catechisms, and letters. And of course, as pastors of
established churches, they had their regular duties of the
ministry—bringing the word privately, leading meetings, and so on. But
all of these labours were founded on and were the fruit of their
preaching. The chief thing that has come down to us from them is their
That is because they saw their primary task to be
that of preaching the Word. That becomes plain when one considers their
labours in their respective places. Beginning in 1510, Luther preached
at Wittenberg; and here he continued until his death in 1546. For
36 years then, Luther expounded the Bible in Wittenberg, first in the
little chapel, and then in the great city church. He preached often: at
least two times on Sunday, and usually three times a week, in the
morning. And his method was to preach systematically through the Bible.
The centrality of preaching is especially evident in
the ministry of Calvin at Geneva. When he came here for the first time
in 1536, he immediately set himself to the task of preaching. But it was
when he came back in 1541, that the labour of preaching the Word became
dominant in his life and in the city of Geneva. Not only did Calvin
himself labour in Geneva for 23 years chiefly as a preaching pastor, but
he also established the preaching of the Word as central to the life of
the entire city.
Shortly after he returned in 1541, Calvin
worked with the government of the city to adopt an organized policy for
the churches of the city. The result was the "Ecclesiastical
Ordinances." In these "Ordinances" the work of the pastors was outlined.
In the three congregations preaching was to be conducted twice on Sunday
and every day of the week! These sermons were at least an hour in length
and usually longer.
Furthermore, both Luther and Calvin trained men to
preach and sent them out with the Reformation gospel. Believing that the
chief task of office of pastor was preaching, they established schools
and seminaries where men might be prepared for this work. Luther did
this at the University of Wittenberg, and Calvin did the same with his
Academy at Geneva. At these schools young men were trained in the
doctrines of the truth and in the knowledge of the Scriptures. And with
this knowledge these men went out into all of Europe, Asia and beyond
with the message of the gospel.
Thus did the Reformers restore preaching to the lives
of God's people and to the centre of the worship service. For this
reason too, God's people came readily to hear the preaching. In the
preaching was the message their souls needed and craved. It was a
refreshing oasis in the otherwise barren desert of the church scene.
This God used to feed and nourish His people once again. Once more God's
people had the Word, and with that, a true knowledge of God and of His
works and ways. This was the great benefit of the Reformation as a
return to the primacy of preaching.
In this connection, T. H. L. Parker, a significant
and sympathetic biographer of Calvin, makes these comments regarding the
preaching which the people heard due to Calvin's diligence in the
Before he smiles at such unusual activity of the
pulpit, the reader would do well to ask himself whether he would
prefer to listen to second-hand views on a religion of social
ethics, or the ill-digested piety, delivered in slipshod English,
that he will hear today in most churches of whatever denomination he
may enter, or three hundred and forty-two sermons on the Book of the
Prophet Isaiah sermons born of an infinite passion of faith and a
burning sincerity, sermons luminous with theological sense, lively
with wit and imagery, showing depths of compassion and the
unquenchable joyousness of hope. Those in Geneva who listened Sunday
after Sunday, day after day, and did not shut their ears, but were
"instructed, admonished, exhorted, and censured", received a
training in Christianity such as had been given to few congregations
in Europe since the days of the fathers (John Calvin: A Biography
[Westminster Press, 1975], p. 92).
This is our Protestant heritage. This is what God has
given Reformed churches through the Reformation.
But where do we stand today? Is the conviction of the
Reformers still our own? Do we believe that the preaching ought to be
primary in the labours and life of the church today? Is this what
pastors are giving themselves to in their ministries? Is the preaching
of the Word of God what we seek and love to receive each Lord's Day for
the salvation of our souls and those of our children?
3. The Significance for the
Church of Christ Today
The church today needs once more to return to the
primacy of preaching. Sadly, we are again seeing a serious decline in
the important place of preaching in the church—only now in evangelical
and Reformed churches. Ministers of the gospel are forsaking their
God-given duty to "preach the Word" (II Tim. 4:2). They are busy with
counselling sessions, with church meetings, with social activities, and
with their own personal interests. And what is it that suffers? What is
neglected? The exposition of the Word of God before the public assembly
of the church on the Lord's Day!
Worship services are packed with new
innovations—beautiful singing by trained choirs, liturgical dancing,
testimonies, dialogues, dramatic presentations, and many other forms of
entertainment. And what gets less and less time and attention? What is
shoved to the rear of importance in the worship service? The preaching
of the Word!
But why is this? What is the cause or (are) the
causes of this near loss of preaching? Is it that many evangelical and
Reformed seminaries are no longer training their students to be chiefly
preachers of the gospel, but rather counsellors and liturgists and
administrators? Is it that the churches are full of unfaithful shepherds
who are feeding themselves and not the sheep of God? These may be
reasons too. But they are all subordinate to a more basic and underlying
That is that Protestant churches have forsaken the
sole authority of the Scriptures and have, therefore, lost their
confidence in the preaching of this Word. Reformed churches have been
influenced by the higher critical views of Scripture that swept this
country at the beginning of this century. Men denied that the Bible was
the inspired and infallible Word of God through and through. They
claimed it was more the word of man than of God. In this way they
undercut the Bible's authority and power. And Reformed and Protestant
churches have fallen for this lie. This is "the great evangelical
disaster" as Francis A. Schaeffer points out in his book by that very
title. Hence, Protestant churches have lost their confidence in
preaching this Word. If the Bible is in fact mainly the word of man, why
The English preacher D. M. Lloyd-Jones makes
precisely this point in commenting on the decline of preaching in the
20th century. He gives as the leading factor accounting for the decline
of preaching this: "... the loss of belief in the authority of the
Scriptures, and a diminution in the belief of the Truth." And so he
While men believed in the Scriptures as the
authoritative Word of Cod and spoke on the basis of that authority
you had great preaching. But once that went, and men began to
speculate, and to theorize, the eloquence and the greatness of the
spoken word inevitably declined and began to wane ... As belief in
the great doctrines of the Bible began to go out, and sermons were
replaced by ethical addresses and homilies, and moral uplift and
socio-political talk, it is not surprising that preaching declined (Preaching
and Preachers [Zondervan, 1972], p. 13).
That is where the church is at today.
What is the answer to this? A return to the
Scriptures, first of all. And then, on the basis of that Word, a
conviction that preaching is God's method of saving and building up his
church. This, too, is what Lloyd-Jones prescribes:
So I would sum up by saying that it is preaching
alone that can convey the Truth to people, and bring them to the
realization of their need and to the only satisfaction for their
need. Ceremonies and ritual, singing and entertainment, and all your
interest in political and social affairs cannot do this ... What men
and women need is to be brought to a 'knowledge of the truth'; and
if this is not done you are simply palliating symptoms, and patching
up the problem for the time being. In any case you are not carrying
out the great mandate given to the Church and her ministers (Preaching
and Preachers, p. 40).
This is the way the church will be gathered and her
saints remain strong. What is it that God's people need? What is it that
will still effect true reformation in the life of the church in these
days of apostasy? It is the preaching of God's holy Word.
This alone will be effective and blessed, because it is God's way. To
this primary labour He has called and does call His church yet today.
Anything less than this is disobedience to Him.
Let us be warned that a departure from this
God-ordained method is sure to spell doom for Reformed and Protestant
churches. Let us pray and work for faithful pastors to bring us the
faithful Word. By all means let us preserve the pulpit!
In conclusion, let us hear once more from Luther:
Therefore, it must be a grievous sin not to
listen to the gospel, and to despise such a treasure and so rich a
feast to which we are bidden. But it is a much greater sin not to
preach the gospel, and to allow so many people who would gladly hear
it to perish, for Christ has so strictly commanded that the gospel
and this testament be preached that He does not even wish the mass
to be celebrated unless the gospel be preached.
For this reason, it is so dreadful and horrible
to be a bishop, pastor, and preacher in our times, for no one knows
this testament any longer, not to mention that they ought to preach
it; although this is their highest and only duty and obligation.
They will certainly have to account for the many souls who perish
because of such feeble preaching (quoted in A. S. Wood, Captive
to the Word [Paternoster Press, 1969], p. 94).