Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jones On Primacy of Preaching

Since preaching has taken a back seat or at least seen as not God speaking in the power of His Spirit to His people, I'd like to offer some insight from Martin Lloyd-Jones on the nature and primacy of preaching. Keep in mind that Jones spoke there words in a lecture many decades ago. This shows that the problem of unbelief in God's prescribed means of grace occurs in every generation.

Jones speaks of those who distrust of preaching,

"If only these men who have been set aside as preachers, and others who are prominent in the church were to go out and take part in politics and in social activities and philanthropic works they would do much more good than by standing in pulpits and preaching according to the traditional manner."

Is this not what we hear constantly today? Jones also explains what preaching is not. Perhaps many see preaching as lectures or pulpiteering or a public address or essays or the giving of a testimony or someone who is a great orator speaking homilies or "literary effusions" or moralism "social-political talk" or entertainment or counseling.

In referring to all of the methods that men have made up as a substitute for preaching Jones says,

"Well now the great question is-what is our answer to all this? I am going to suggest, and this will be the burden of what I hope to say, that all this at best is secondary, very often not even secondary, often not worthy of a place at all, but at best, secondary, and that the primary task of the church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God."

Again, Jones defines the basis of preaching:

"I want to go a step further and to suggest that this evidence from the NT itself, supported and exemplified by the history of the church, leads us to the conclusion that the ultimate justification for asserting the primacy of preaching is theological. In other words I argue that the whole message of the Bible asserts this and drives us to this conclusion. What do I mean by that? Essentially I mean that the moment you consider man's real need, and also the nature of the salvation announced and proclaimed in the Scriptures, you are driven to the conclusion that the primary task of the church is to preach and to proclaim this, to show man's real need, and to show the only remedy, the only cure for it."

"The business of the church, and the business of preaching-and she alone can do this-is to isolate the radical problems and to deal with them in a radical manner. This is specialist work, it is the peculiar task of the church. The Church is not one of a number of agencies, she is not in competition with the cults...religions...psychologists or any other agency, political or social or whatever it may chance to be."

Some may misunderstand this last quote and say, "Yes we agree." They will argue that AA doesn't have Jesus or is missing the "Jesus factor". This however, would miss Jones' point. Jones is not arguing for a "Jesus factor" but for a proclamation. The Gospel comes to men in the preached word and the two sacraments/ordinances. It is an announcement. It is not therapy or good works.

Christians should not try to transform people with new methods and means. Christians must trust what God has told us to do. We must remain faithful to our calling. No matter what so-called Christians may come up with to "bear fruit", if it has abandoned Christ's means of grace, then it is not to be followed.


Cory said...

Amen brother. I was thinking about Jones the other day. Specifically, his views on preaching to a singular, small body. We've had this conversation before, but now I've been thinking about it in the context of the New Testament Epistles. Paul commands some of his letters to be read to multiple bodies. The book of Revelation was apparantly delivered in its entirety to seven different churches (although admittedly addressed that way). Would Jones have considered multi-campus preaching in a softer light with this in mind, or does he explain these things away? Would he not see the circulation of New Testament Epistles exactly the same as what we do in the pulpit? Thoughts?

Howard Fisher said...

I realize that technology has changed the dynamic of the question from sitting at home listening to my radio or watching church from my living room. However, I still doubt Jones would agree with the TV thing on several campuses at the same time. Let me offer some quotes.

"Any true definition of preaching must say that that that a man is there to deliver the message of God, a message from God to those people."

"Preaching should make such a difference to a man who is listening that he is never the same again. Preaching, in other words, is a transaction between the preacher and the listener."

"He [the preacher] is dealing with living persons, people who are in need and in trouble, sometimes not consciously; and he is to make them aware of that, and to deal with it. It is this living transaction."

"You can have good preaching with a poor sermon; it is a real possibility...You can put the sermon into print, but not the lightning and thunder."

"The whole personality of the preacher must be involved."

"The second element I would emphasize is a sense of authority and control over the congregation and the proceedings."

"Another element to which I attach importance is that the preacher while speaking should in a sense be deriving something from congregation."

"The fact is that the world expects us to be different; and this idea that you can win the world by showing that after all you are very similar to it, with scarcely any difference at all, or a but a very slight one, is basically wrong not only theologically but even psychologically."

"...the man who thinks that all this can be done by reading, or by just looking at a television set, is missing the mysterious element in the church life of the church. What is this? It is what our Lord was suggesting, I think, when He said, 'Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, the am I in their midst.'"

If we can watch the preacher via a TV set, even if it is a large one, why do we need to sit next to each other. Why can't we all sit next to each other on the internet?

The idea that we can digitally pipe in the preacher raises some interesting questions. To contrast this with the reading of the NT to different churches raises this question all the more. Your question is basically asking, "If the Apostles had the communication technology, would they have just stayed where they were and read or preached through these modern means?"

In the original context, the letters were meant to be read to the local assembly by the Elders of that local assembly. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, a message for each congregation. If we can allow for the conclusion for the Apostles to be accepting of modern technology, then why not allow John Piper to be piped into churches all across America?

Cory said...

Those are great quotes by Jones. I pretty much expected such an answer. I'm not sure I intended to ask what the apostles would have done with our technological abilities, but how what Piper does (for example) is different than the circulation and recitation of NT epistles. Considering that each letter was read by an Elder of the local congregation to the local congregation helps resolve the issue in my mind.

Howard Fisher said...

"Considering that each letter was read by an Elder of the local congregation to the local congregation helps resolve the issue in my mind."

It really is tough to disagree with Piper on this point. He is probably one of the greatest preachers of our day. I would rather watch Piper on a video than hear much of what passes as preaching. Yet I don't know that the Apostles would stand in a pulpit and preach to congregations via video. I think God is faithful to train men for such a work.