Saturday, January 2, 2010

V. Means of Grace: The Foolishness of God

Preaching is highly prized among conservative Evangelicals--even if it may be questionable preaching. Ministers are know in Evangelicaldom by their preaching prowess, stupendous speaking and charismatic chats. In some ways this is a good thing, yet, I fear, in today's inbred entertainment mentality, many churches follow the man and not the message. They like a good speaker, not because of what he says as much as how he says it. His highly charged presentation, flashy outfits, well-timed sighs and bold presence entertain the masses. The flash, the glamor, the ambiance of the stage create an atmosphere readily molded to the visual generation than the audio-rational mentality of yesteryear.

In fact, do many conservatives even understand why preaching has been so highly valued in our past? Or do we just follow along out of blind traditionalism? In true Protestant fashion, we must ask: what says the Lord?

In 1 Corinthians chapter one, Paul begins this book with the famous diatribe against Christian tribalism (group pride) [an upcoming article-see my blog]: "Now I say this, that each of you says, " 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.' " (v.12). Paul is quite amazed that the Corinthians so quickly fell away. In remedy to such man-centeredness, Paul reminds them of the supremacy of the Word, specifically preaching: "For Christ did not send me to baptize [or give the Lord's Supper], but to preach the gospel..." He tells them that they should not look to the man but to the message. True, if he is preaching the message it will be reflected in the man, but the root of the matter is preaching.

And such preaching is not based upon clever manipulation of words or rhetorical flourish (as the Greek speakers were wont to do), but upon the power of the doctrine presented. It is a message that is foolish to those drowning in their sins: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing...."

Yet to we who are saved and being saved, it is the power of God! Gospel doctrine is power; biblical ignorance is impotence. Paul continues his reprimand by connecting the message with the method:

" pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." It is not only the Gospel that is the power of God, it is specifically that Gospel as preached that the Spirit is pleased to use.

Naturally, being inspired, Paul was consistent in his presentation. In that other famous book, Romans, Paul again aligns preaching with salvation in chapter ten:

"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (v.14)

Of note is the fact that writing existed during Paul's time. Thus, the Spirit through Paul could have easily said: "And how shall they read without a reader?" It is the hearing, and, thus, the preaching, that is emphasized in these verses. That is why Paul quotes Isaiah in blessing the feet of the minister who brings the Good News through his speech (v.15). Paul concludes his line of reasoning just as he did in 1 Corinthians: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (v.17)

Again, latter in the Epistles, Paul ties the Spirit of truth with the message of truth:

"For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, *you welcomed it not as the word of men*, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe." (1 Thess. 2:13, emphasis added)

This is the foolishness of God that transforms lives, families and churches. This is the power of God! Paul is only echoing Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones: preach and if the Spirit pleases, he will raise up the dead bones and bring life! The Reformation began this way; the first and second Great Awakening began this way; and any future revival will begin this way. These passages are summarized in our catechism: "The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means [of salvation]..." (LCQ 155).

Preaching, in an age of sports, internet, television and other more entertaining mediums, is foolishness because it does not please the flesh, that old man. It takes work to sit still, more work to listen, and yet more work to listen intelligently and write notes! But if we take seriously these passages, we will be blessed, we will grow and we will persevere.

The means of grace, those tools used by the sovereign Spirit in His time and way, must begin with the Word. Nowhere else is Christ found. And Christ and His Words are our life. That is why four sections were used to expound the Scriptures as the foundation of the Christian faith and life. It all depends upon the Spirit, but for our part we must obey by reading the Word, inviting friends to hear the truth, and finding good, faithful preaching. Pray that we will.

[Next: What Are Sacraments?]

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite

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