Maybe we took a wrong turn somewhere…

In preparing this Sunday night’s lesson on the reformation doctrine of preaching, I came across this very helpful article by Cornelis Venema, professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. In it, he traces the doctrine of preaching through the various reformed confessions to show a distinct and uniform teaching that is often missing from many evangelical and even reformed churches. Perhaps most helpful is his following summary of the problem:

In spite of the historic and uniform conviction of the Reformed churches regarding the centrality of preaching as a means of grace, this conviction does not enjoy a lively and ready reception among many Reformed churches today. The Reformation’s view of preaching has been seriously challenged in recent years, even in churches and communions that fall within the Reformed tradition. On the one hand, there is a spirit of democratization and egalitarianism that chafes at the notion of an ordained ministry whose administration of the Word of God in preaching has a place of pre-eminence in the church. When this spirit captivates the churches, all of the members alike become equally “ministers” of the Word of God, the minister of the Word and sacraments being only a specialized expression of a more general activity. And on the other hand, there is a growing prejudice that preaching no longer serves as an effective means of communicating the gospel. This prejudice can give birth to an almost endless proliferation of new devices or strategies for preaching the gospel—from a kind of neo-sacramentalism among some evangelicals to alternatives to preaching in drama, music and other, sometimes esoteric, worship practices. The only common thread holding these devices together is that they constitute an alternative to preaching. The sorry image of preaching today can easily be illustrated by noting that the expression, “to preach to (at) someone,” is generally thought to be objectionable.

While the process of regaining the reformation’s view of preaching while not devaluing the various ministries of discipleship in the church may be a difficult one of unsteady progress, we do well to begin by recognizing the problem.

3 Comments

  1. Tim Bloedow May 3, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    It would be very interesting to sit in on discussion among our RP elders on this topic. It can go in many directions and bring up many points, some more or less obvious based on the quote above and much of it revolving around interpretation of Ephesians 4 and even some consideration of what was involved in Paul’s ministry when, in Acts 20, he talks about both public preaching and ministry from house to house. Does a return to a more “elevated” view of preaching throw out the whole practise of Biblical counseling? The pracitse of nouthetic counseling, at least in models that pursue it systematically as a key component of church ministry, seem very dependent on a particular interp. of Eph. 4 that appears to be criticized in the quote above. In this vein, a counter to strong emphasis on counseling ministry is that counseling is or should be or can be done in the preaching. I’d like to know and hear the differences between such preaching and non-counseling preaching. That might be useful for context in such discussion as well. I know there are all kinds of other ways that preaching is diminished and marginalized, etc. But the context of my particular interest in this discussion is the ministry of Biblical counseling which may or may not diminish preaching, depending on how people approach the subject and interpret the pertinent Scriptures..

    • Jared Olivetti May 3, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      Tim, just a short follow-up: I don’t think we need to undermine or devalue the personal ministry of the Word (counseling) in order to restore to its proper position the public ministry of the Word (preaching). We get into problems when we’re forced to choose. Jesus didn’t choose one or the other. Paul didn’t choose. They understood and taught the primacy of preaching along with the value of personal ministries of discipleship.

      • Tim Bloedow May 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

        That’s how I’d approach it as well, at least at this time, Jared. That’s at least in part why I find some of the polarized views and practices I’m coming across rather interesting/odd.

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