The Primacy of Preaching
Preaching reaches its pinnacle when the message is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
What is a dinosaur? One definition is that it is a large reptile that once lived on the earth but is now extinct. In our era, it seems that such a term could be used, in a proverbial sense, to describe the preaching of God’s Word – it is like the extinct dinosaur! Many churches, even those taking the name evangelical, have practically dispensed with this vital part of the ministry. Preaching has become the ‘dinosaur’ in such places of worship, at best relegated to a tag-on to the regular meetings, or at worst abandoned altogether. What place should the preaching of God’s Word have in our church gatherings? Should it be replaced with singing and music? In a day when there are so many people with physiological problems, would it not be better to have counselling sessions rather than preaching? Of course, singing should have a role in the worship of God; and there is a place for helping individuals with their problems, but preaching must have the primary place in the worship of God.
Preaching has been granted the approval of God in the Scriptures. When the Bible is read through, it becomes clear that preaching is the method the Lord uses to communicate His message to mankind. When our first parents fell into sin, it was the voice of Lord God that came walking in the garden in the cool of the day. This voice communicated a word of judgment and a message of salvation to fallen man. It did not merely offer advice but declared things as they really were. Old Testament prophets were sent forth as messengers to declare the mind of God. The New Testament furnishes us with examples of preachers, men like Peter and Paul, who set forth the truth of the gospel. In Acts 6, when the widows were to be cared for, men were appointed to perform that work, but the apostles declared, “we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). They were affirming the primacy of preaching in the early church. The greatest model of all is the Son of God Himself who essentially was a preacher and gave to this ministry a dignity never to be surpassed. New Testament expressions referring to Christ as the Teacher underscore that the Lord believed in the primacy of preaching. The apostle Paul’s last words to Timothy were, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) This is the principal means God uses in the salvation of the lost, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Should we relegate to the cupboard under the stairs that which God would have sounded forth from the housetops? God’s pattern is to send men with a message declaring, “Thus saith the Lord.” Nehemiah 8:4 records that Ezra stood upon a pulpit of wood to speak to the people. When the Word of God sounds from an elevated position, it gives the sense of a message with authority. This is not a discussion where everyone voices their opinion; rather, this is God speaking through His Word. There is something special about coming to God’s house where God’s people meet to hear the Word preached. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says that, where His people meet, He is in the midst. May we often be found with the spirit of Samuel, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.”
All true preaching must be Christ-centred. Without a proper message, the preaching is like a sounding brass or a tinkling symbol. Preaching reaches its pinnacle when the message is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Observe the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The preacher may be the greatest orator and one who can produce the finest arguments in his discourse, weaving his sermon with illustrations, but if he fails to uplift the person and work of the Redeemer of men, he has reduced this God-ordained means of preaching to an empty shell. It is as if the pulpit were vacant without a messenger to speak forth the words of soberness and truth. A visitor went to hear Joseph Parker, minister of the City Temple, and commented that Parker was a great preacher. The same man later attended the preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and commented that Spurgeon had a great Saviour. This latter remark signals the true primacy of preaching. It must be about the Lord Jesus Christ.
True Christ-centred preaching is blessed by God. The real test of its true value and virtue is seen by what is achieved when preaching is given its proper place in the ministry of the Church. It is a fact that in those times when the preaching of God’s Word was considered to be vital in the life of the Church, there was a revival of true religion. The Puritans, noted for their pastoral preaching, spoke to the conscience, and personal problems were solved. As people sat under the consistent teaching of the Word of God, it had a sanctifying effect.
When Whitefield, Wesley and others in the eighteenth century sounded forth the gospel of Christ, there was a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The country was delivered from the ravages of an episode like the French Revolution. Following this Great Awakening, there came an awareness of the social deprivation in the land. Hospitals were founded, education of the masses was introduced, slavery was abolished, and child-labour became a thing of the past. How true are the words of the Saviour in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The need of mankind is great when it is considered that he is in spiritual rebellion, darkness and ignorance. Our society has lost its way and is dabbling in every conceivable wickedness. It does not know that it is doomed to failure and destruction. There is but one thing which can save our nation from total collapse and disintegration, and it is for the Church to reassert itself again through the primacy of preaching. It was Hosea who said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Evidently the Word of God was not being set forth as it should have been. What a contrast there was when Paul preached, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13). This will change the heart of the individual, which will change the atmosphere in the home, which will change the nation.
Rev Wesley Graham
(Missionary in Nepal.)