Monday 23 January 2012

Preaching and Gracious Gospel Invitations

Preaching is far more than giving out the information that we have prepared. In my opinion, the best preachers are those who are the best prepared; those who have given much time, with much private work before they enter the pulpit. However, the mode of delivery is not something that we can afford to neglect as preachers. In my personal experience I constantly evaluate my preaching, perhaps sometimes too much, but this is something that we need to be prepared to do.

While preaching in two congregations last year, in both sermons, I applied the sermon to different hearers in the congregation. At times I specifically addressed people and called them to respond to Christ, to come to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. I specifically addressed children during the sermons and I stopped and looked at some of the children in the congregation, to address them and call them to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. What struck me was that in both services, afterwards, someone remarked that they do not hear the use of gracious gospel invitations very often in the circles that they move in. Both comments were said positively and it set me off thinking for the following months.

Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ. Following his denunciation of Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum, he does not shrink back from preaching the gospel and in applying that message by calling people to himself. The doctrine of election does not cause him to shrink back from calling people to respond either (read Matthew 11:25-27). Listen to Christ in Matthew 11: 28-30:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We can use a variety of ways to apply the gospel but apply the gospel we must, in order to call men and women to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15). These are gospel imperatives! Once I used the title of a book by John Bunyan to call people to Christ, the title is "Come and welcome to Jesus Christ". We must not be wooden in our approach, but gracious gospel invitations should be warm, passionate, repeated and with gravitas.

May all ordained ministers grow in applying the gospel to a lost and fallen world, not least by 'casting the net' to catch men, in a world in desperate need of forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Preaching and the use of Rhetorical Questions

These blog posts can only achieve so much, but one of my desires is to encourage those who are called to the office of pastor, in order that they can better serve the flock of God. As a fellow pastor-teacher, I regularly evaluate my method and approach in preaching so that I can better serve the church for the glory of the Triune God. In recent times it has come to my attention, how important the use of rhetorical questions are in preaching in order to keep people's attention and to drive home the truth of God.

By preaching I mean expositional preaching, a sermon that draws it's message out of the Bible. The reading of a text followed by preaching based on the text read, with clear headings, the putting forth of clear doctrines and warm-hearted applications. Let me explain what a rhetorical question is, and why they are important.

What is a rhetorical question? It is a question that is asked for effect, where the answer may sometimes be obvious or it may help the listener to understand the message. A verbal answer is not expected. Additionally we can ask why are the use of rhetorical questions helpful in preaching? Such questions invite people to think, question, analyse, examine and evaluate. They raise that attention span of people listening and they just naturally speaking, encourage active listening. The need for such questions also aids the application of the truths of God. A preacher should not be simply 'giving out' information. The preacher needs to connect with his audience so that they can meaningfully apply the truth of God's Word and the use of rhetorical questions in preaching can help that to happen.

However, there is a more important reason why rhetorical questions should be used in preaching. Jesus Christ models this example, God speaking in the Old Testament uses these questions and so have effective preachers in church history.

1. The Lord Jesus used Rhetorical Questions

The Sermon on the Mount illustrates this perfectly. Matthew 5: 13 'You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?'. Matthew 12: 12 'Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!'. It would be an interesting study to read one of the Gospels and to note how many questions our Lord asked in his teaching ministry.

2. God Spoke Directly through the Prophets using Rhetorical Questions

One you become aware of this you begin to see this teaching method everywhere. For example in Amos Chapter 3, the prophet is defending his ministry and the Lord speaks through him in a whole series of rhetorical questions, questions that really make you think. Read Amos 3: 3-8. Another example is the end of Micah Chapter 7:18 and this question really leads us to the throne of grace. 'Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?'.

3. The Example of the Preacher Samuel Davies

In the last Reformation Christianity for Today conference, one of the sessions looked at a sermon by Samuel Davies. Davies was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards and the title of the sermon was ‘The Vessels of Mercy and the Vessels of Wrath Delineated’, Romans 9: 22-23. The number of rhetorical questions was beyond number almost. Here was a great preacher, one who knew how to drive home his message. What did he use? Rhetorical questions. May we learn to do the same.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Is the 'missional movement' just another wind of doctrine?

One of the seeming buzz words at the moment in evangelicalism is the word 'missional'. A new word that has crept into the vocabulary of conference speakers and such like, under the radar. It is quite common for the advocates of these new ideas to assert calmly 'we need to be more missional' or 'a missional approach is needed' and such like. But, what do people mean when they say such things? There lies the problem. Such movements are often fluid and this can be attractive because under the guise of being acceptable, ministers and often younger ministers, can try to reinvent the wheel, often in the quest for success.

Why did I ask if this movement is just another wind of doctrine? Well, firstly because it is biblical to ask such a question. Paul the apostle writes to the church at Ephesus expressing his desire that the church would mature to a 'unity of the faith', to mature manhood, while warning of 'winds of doctrine' (Ephesians 4: 13-14). I have walked with the Lord for over two decades and I have got used to these new ideas regularly coming along. Over the years, I have been misled by some of them myself. We need to 'test everything' 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

Often missionalism proposes new approaches to the church in the pursuit of church growth, or new approaches to connect or engage with a post-Christian society. One initial point we need to make is, that if want to know how to approach a post-Chirstian society, then we need to look at the pre-Christian society, the world of the New Testament. What were the priorities and methods of the New Testament church?

The early church's apostles and elders clearly recognized that the crucified, risen and ascended Jesus Christ was governing his church, growing his church and spreading his church (Psalm 110). This was a crucial undergirding principle. The methods for the spread of the gospel were the establishing of an apostolic blue-print for local churches wherever they went. The apostles were not randomly establishing different practices in different cities. What did this apostolic pattern look like?

1. The church was governed by elders, who were men which met the biblical qualifications (Titus 1:5-9).
2. One of the men had to be clearly equipped to teach and preach sound doctrine publicly (1 Timothy 5:17).
3. The priority of the church was to listen to sound preaching which was declaratory, public instruction through a qualified man. Those church devoted themselves to being diligent hearers and doers of the word of God.
4. There were not many people who were allowed to teach (James 3:1).
5. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper were taken very seriously and they were central to the life of the church.
6. The apostles' doctrine was the basis for fellowship and not the other way around (Acts 2:42).
7. There is no mention of music bands being used to draw people to the gospel!

In our own day, new methods often take root unchecked and they then become a new tradition, sadly sometimes without a fight. Let us not give ground to allow the church to be moved away from a biblical foundation, let us test all things and indeed test our own opinions constantly as well.