Welcome to Carnivorous Caribou

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Preaching Sola Fide


Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

This post marks my last article on the five solas as they regard to preaching.

Sola Fide

Imagine a church where the pastor tells his church to abstain from all alcohol, avoid movies, enter their children in Christian schools and that women should only wear dresses.

Down the street, another pastor exhorts his congregation to get involved in environmental issues, invite your neighbors over to your house, seek to understand your surrounding culture and avoid a judgemental perceptions at all costs.

Which sermon is pleasing to the Lord? The conservative message? The trendy message? Both?

Possibly, neither. Consider:
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.--Romans 14:23
Therefore, the pastor who calls his people to be separate from the world, giving guidelines for achieving moral purity may be calling his people to sin. Likewise, the pastor who challenges his people to be more tolerant, perhaps even more missional, laying out perfect strategies for connecting with lost people may be calling his people to sin.

Because avoiding movies is bad? Or conversely, is inviting your neighbors over to your house wrong? It is, if it neglects faith. Consider these words:
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.--Hebrews 11:6
If faith is not the center of our motivation, we will not be pleasing God. Neither a full-fledged boycott of the things of the world, nor an unadulterated leap into your neighbors' lives means a thing if segregated from faith. This shouldn't stump us. For if God is most pleased by the perfect obedience of His Son, and if that obedience is credited to our account by faith, then that in my life which pleases the Father must purely be the reflection of my faith in His Perfect Son.

So what does this mean for preaching?

Application must aim at the heart. We are not called to be coaches for behavior modification. We are called to be heralds of the transformation producing Word of God. Our application should not be action steps or exterior based uniformity. To instruct our Body in ways to behave during the week without addressing the heart primarily is simply to attach the hose to the power washer so they can spray down their own tomb. No, our application must address who they are, and then speak to how they act in light of this truth. To do anything else is simply a different form of legalism, and is beating--not shepherding--your sheep.

Application must find its fulfillment in Christ. A quick glance at Matthew 5 will remind us that when Jesus focused the Law to the heart, the standards went up, not down. On the outside, a man may consider himself pure if he has never had a physical relationship with anyone other than his spouse. However, direct the Law to the heart and suddenly one act of lust reveals the adultery in his heart. The standard has been raised, and the man sees his guilty position.

At this point, the preacher must direct attention to Jesus Christ. God, in His grace, provided multiple opportunities for us to hear His pleasure with His Son (Matthew 3:17; John 17:5). Our preaching must proclaim Christ, so that when we present application, the listener understands that we live holy lives, not to earn our righteousness, but because He Himself is Holy. No sermon, whether in the Old Testament or New, can neglect Christ as the main character and be a sermon preaching application in faith.

Application must be grounded in the gospel. This statement should not be necessary. For if we preach at the heart, our people will understand they fall short of God's glory. If we preach Christ's perfect fulfillment, we've practically covered the entire gospel message. However, I am shocked how often this element becomes neglected.

I have noticed an odd phenomena. Those churches which most would label as "seeker-____________" or "missional" or "outward focused" are often pastored by men who think a clear gospel presentation is not necessary weekly. I really can't understand this. They strategize, plan and possibly even compromise some standards just for the sake of attracting an unregenerate crowd, and then once they are gathered, they neglect to lay the gospel out in full.

I believe the answer lies in the attraction mindset. When I gather the unregenerate (and focus my service around getting them there and keeping them coming) I must give them what they want. And the "natural man" does not want application aimed at his heart. The nonbeliever wants to hear a better marriage is achieved by committing to a weekly date night or learning the art of "active listening." They want to be told to get out a calculator and work through this formula to determine your charitable giving. They do not want to hear they must love their wife like Christ loves the Church. They do not want to be told their questions about charitable giving have more to do with learning contentment than debt reduction processes. Therefore, the pastor neglects to aim at the heart. Since application is not aimed at the heart, there is not need to look to Christ for perfect fulfillment. Since Christ is not necessary to achieve this standard, a gospel presentation would feel like an odd proselytization commercial, and would fall on deaf ears. Therefore, the gospel is alluded to, but not enunciated.

The preacher must present the gospel weekly. Not because their will be visitors there (though there will be, and they will have opportunity to hear). Not because they probably have false converts sitting in their midst (though any honest reading of the Scriptures will reveal they probably do). But because every person, unregenerate and regenerate alike, needs to hear the gospel. The nonbeliever must hear the words of Christ for their conversion. The believer must hear the gospel to be reminded that any application must be built out of what Christ has done and their full reliance on this message.

To do anything else is to neglect faith, and cause our people to not please God. To stand before people claiming to share the Word of God, and to instruct in a way that causes God displeasure is not the mark of a good shepherd.

Brothers, we must preach faith alone!

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