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The means of grace (1): preaching

September 2018 | by Andy Young

Do you hear God’s voice? Has Jesus ever spoken to you? Has the Holy Spirit ever brought the truth of God to bear on your life in a personal way? Can you say that you meet with the Triune God regularly?

It may surprise you that as an evangelical, Reformed and Presbyterian minister of the gospel, who is committed to historic and confessional Christianity, I believe passionately that every Christian should be able to affirm all of these questions with an uncompromising ‘yes!’ God does still speak. Jesus does still address his people today. The Holy Spirit is very much active in bringing the truth of God to bear upon the lives of God’s people.

I am aware I need to quickly explain what I mean. Let me first say what I do not mean. I do not believe that God speaks today ordinarily through the miraculous, through prophecy, or through tongues. I do not think we should have times in our worship services when people can share ‘words of knowledge’. Neither am I speaking about special experiences or revelations or visions, whether in church or in private. No, the canon of Scripture is closed. We have a completed revelation from God in the sixty-six books of the Bible.

Yet I believe God still speaks today. How? Put simply, through the means of grace. In the preaching of God’s Word especially; but also in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and in the prayers of God’s people; all in the context of the gathered and worshiping church, God speaks, God blesses and God fellowships with his people.

This needs to be recovered

This is something which needs recovering today. We need to see and experience the extraordinary working of God, in the ordinary means of grace. The church in general, and Christians specifically, are in crisis. We want to know God. We want to experience him. We want to grow in our faith, hope and love. Yet we are looking for him in all the wrong places.

The early church ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:42) precisely because in these they knew Christ ‘communicated the benefits of redemption’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism 88). And so we need a recovery of devotion to these means. We need to make these means the centre of church life and our own devotional lives. To that end I will look briefly at each of these means in the following few issues of ET.

Let’s turn first of all to preaching. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 could not be clearer: Paul commends the church for receiving his preaching ‘as the Word of God.’ Note that Paul is referring to preaching. This ‘Word of God’ is what they ‘heard;’ it is what Paul ‘proclaimed’ to them (Acts 17:4). On the basis of this, and many other passages of Scripture, the Second Helvetic Confession states: ‘… when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful.’ In other words, if you want to hear God speak today then sit under the preaching of God’s Word.

This truth should transform us

Now it is at this point we feel the need to make various qualifications. Of course we need to be aware of the dangers of clericalism and the church speaking ex cathedra. We also do not want to elevate preaching to the same level as the inerrant words of Scripture. Yet I would suggest there is another danger, and that is in making these qualifications we miss the wonderful reality of what Scripture teaches us, and what the church has long believed: when God’s Word is preached, we hear the voice of God. Or as a friend of mine puts it: ‘Preaching is Christ speaking.’

We need to let the reality of this sink in. If this is true — if God communicates today primarily, and ordinarily, through the preaching of God’s Word — then this should transform the worship, witness and weekly reality of every church and Christian.  Who preaches should be transformed: we need a well-trained ministry. More, we need men who themselves know and love the Christ who speaks through them. How preaching is done should be transformed: preaching is not a talk about Christ, or an explanation of Jesus, but Christ himself speaking through the preacher. What we preach should be transformed: the Bible, nothing more, and nothing less. Preaching should be explicitly rooted in the Word of God from which it gains its authority.

Finally, the where of preaching should be transformed. By this I mean the place preaching has in the life of the church. It should be the centrepiece of our worship. More, it should be the highlight of every Christian’s devotional life. Yes, we should read our Bibles and pray regularly as individuals and families. Yet the focus and climax of our relationship with God should be in the preaching of God’s Word with the gathered and worshipping church, Sunday by Sunday.

So, do you want to hear God’s voice? Do you want to know his presence? Do you want Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to speak into your life? He already is — in and through the preaching of God’s Word. Who would want to miss such a thing?

Andy Young is the church planting minister of Oxford Evangelical Presbyterian Church