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A theology of preaching – part 3

Go to theology network for the full paper on preaching.  I'll post it here in chunks.  Be great to talk about it if you want to comment.

The Word of God

In saying that preaching is itself the word of God, it should be made clear that the bible has a vital role.  The law and the prophets proclaim the gospel of the Son in advance – a gospel which was ‘according to the Scriptures’.  The apostles attest its finished truth and significance for the global church.  Both Old and New Testaments are the Spirit's perfect and authoritative testimony to the Son.  This completed canon stands above the church as its infallible rule and the test for all its proclamation.  It is enduringly and entirely the word of God written. 

Yet, to be true to these same Scriptures, we must confess that the title "God's word" does not simply apply to the bible.  Already we have seen how the Son is originally and definitively ‘the Word of God’.  But we can also identify a third sense in which it is right to use the phrase ‘word of God.’  The witness of the church – a Scriptural, Spirit-empowered, Christ-focused witness – can also be called ‘the word of God’. 

Consider how the book of Acts describes the growth of the word. 

Acts 6:7:  And the word of God continued to increase

Acts 12:24: But the word of God increased and multiplied. 

Acts 13:49:  The word of the Lord spread through the whole region

Acts 19:20:  In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Where there is Scripture-consonant, Spirit-empowered witness to Christ, not only does the church grow - the word grows.  And it is God's word, His presence and power attending and enlivening it.

Consider also these verses from the epistles:

“…when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”  (1 Thessalonians 2:13) 

“You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this is the word that was evangelized to you.” (1 Pet 1:23-25)

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.”  (Hebrews 13:7)

So we see that the reformers did not overstate their claims.  The preacher’s lips are speaking God’s living and active word!  What does this mean?

Recently I sat in a friend’s living room on a Tuesday afternoon.  There were about ten teenagers present and we had John chapter 20 open on our laps.  I looked them in the eye and told them that the risen Christ had entered this living room and was confronting each one of us in a way more blessed than Thomas’s own encounter (this is the clear implication of verses 29-31).  I called on them all to confess Christ as their own Lord and God to receive the life that was on offer.  Now, here’s the question.  If they refused to do so, had they merely disobeyed me?  Had they merely disobeyed Glen Scrivener the preacher?  No, to refuse my words in this context is to refuse Christ Himself.

 

When are the preacher’s words God’s? 

Here is a vital question.  What is the context in which such feeble and faltering human words carry divine authority?  I rarely expect teenagers to notice my words let alone submit to them as divinely authoritative.  In what context are my words to be heeded as God’s?  

The first thing to say is that the initiative lies entirely in the hands of the Speaking God.  No human technique conjures Christ into the upper room.  Equally no locked doors can keep Him out!  Revelation is always grace.  So then, perhaps we should rephrase our question.  Not, How can we bring God’s word down?  But, How is it that God chooses to speak through our human words of witness? 

Here is my central conviction: 

At God’s initiative, preaching is God’s own word when Christ is proclaimed according to the Scriptures.

This draws together the three senses in which we have spoken of the ‘word of God’: Christ, Scripture and proclamation. 

This is the key context.  And we must be wise to perceive when this context holds.  We still listen as Bereans to discern its biblical character (Acts 17:11).  We still ‘test the spirits’ to discern its Christ-focus (1 John 4:1-3).  If proclamation fails these tests it fails to be proclamation.  Yet where Christ is proclaimed biblically there we can (and we must!) prayerfully expect divine encounter. 

Before we go on, you will notice that this context is not an institutional or situational context.  It is not God’s word because it is Sunday, this is a pulpit, and the preacher is ordained.  The context I am putting forward could apply to any number of situations – a bible study, a drink with friends, a greeting card, even a text message.  We can speak words of immeasurable comfort to one another in a thousand different situations.  Yet the focus of this paper will be on preaching to the congregation gathered around word and sacrament by those the Second Helvetic Confession referred to as ‘lawfully called’.  It is not that genuine proclamation only occurs in the Sunday sermon or only from the lips of the ordained.  Not at all.  But there especially we are to prayerfully expect the voice of the living Christ.

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