Preaching – We Can’t Quit!

To preach, or not to preach? – today there are those who would have us believe that this is for us to choose. Be sure to read this ringing article by Rev. Fred Van Houten, pastor of the Ninth Street Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Mich., in which he seeks to set the matter straight. Quoting Richard Baxter, he concludes: “I preached as never sure to preach again, And as a dying man to dying men.”

  Even though the Bible may seem to tell us this is the thing to do, we can’t do it! “Quit you like men” is the word of I Corinthians 16:13. But the right kind of men don’t quit. The old proverb speaks aptly, ‘Winners don’t quit; quitters don’t win.’” As with many Bible texts, the modern versions clear this for us, especially for our children. However, we can catch the sense of the text very well, even in the old versions. What it really means is to quit everything else besides one’s faith and calling in the Christian life. Modern versions have “be courageous,” “be brave,” “be valiant,” “live like men.” The New International Version expresses it well as “be men of courage.” I like particularly the “act like men” of the New American Standard Version. This is just the reverse from quitting; it is “acting.” The familiar words of a song by the men’s chorus catches the thought very well: Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things! Give heart and soul and mind and strength To serve the King of kings! Why do Preachers Quit? – Of late we are concerned about the ministers who are dropping out, especially as far as the preaching ministry goes. Why is this? Some articles have been written on this subject and various explanations have been offered. I am sure some people may understand such analyses of the situation. However, even though conditions may at times be provocative for that kind of action, it is not “acting like men.” Perhaps the basic reason for dropping out of the ministry is the attitude displayed by so many people. In common parlance we talk of being born thirty years too soon, but sometimes we may think we were born thirty years too late! The golden age for ministers is past. Along with the spirit of restlessness and rebellion against authority and tradition, there is a lot of criticism today. People find fault with a lot of things and often blame the preacher. He must not leave too early, but woe to him if he stays too long. He must be mature in experience and judgment, but he must not be old. He must be a real young people’s man, but woe to him if he fails to perform the many pastoral duties. He must be novel and variable, but not fail to produce doctrinal sermons. He works long hours and yet retires late every night with “unfinished business” on his mind. From the human angle one can understand that some are saying, “that’s not for me; I’m bowing out.” What About the Calling? – But we can’t quit! We have a calling! The work of preaching is one of the highest, greatest, and most glorious tasks to which anyone can be called. Furthermore, the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching, and this makes it the greatest need in the world also. Some may call this assertion into question. We are told by some that the day of preaching is past. This is the day of personal encounter, dialogue, and counseling. Because of this attitude on the part of some, the church finds herself in an ineffective status today. From Bonhoeffer some have learned to speak of “religionless Christianity,” and assert that the church herself is the great hindrance to the Christian faith. It is claimed by such that traditionalism, formality, irrelevance, and lifelessness have made the church an obstacle standing between people on the one hand and Christ’s teaching on the other. Now there may be some truth in this on the part of some churches. No one will deny that. But what does the true church stand for? The Bible is God’s Self revelation. The real church preaches Christ and Him crucified. In the language of Paul, the preacher is an ambassador of Christ. He has a calling, a commission; he speaks as the mouthpiece of God and in behalf of Jesus Christ. We may think that an ambassador has received a political “plum,” that he has an easy life lolling around the beautiful buildings of some foreign capital. But he has to speak! He may be in a difficult position and the only one who can speak for his country, but he has to speak. In the land where he serves, “amorous America” may not be so amorous any more. He is not there to bargain and discuss and exchange pleasantries, not even to advise. He is there to declare decisions and policies of his government. If he fails to do that, or if he does more, he will soon be out of a job. Whose Authority? – One of the sad earmarks today is the loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures. If one has no authority he cannot speak effectively; and certainly he cannot preach. ‘When men believed in the authority of the Word there was great preaching. When once men begin to whittle away at the pillars of the infallible Bible they cannot preach any more. They may relate thoughts and exchange ideas, but that is not “thus says the Lord.” They can theorize and speculate and conjecture and make hypotheses, but they cannot assert the authoritative Word of God. There may be ethical addresses and social discourses and political utterances, but not preaching! Authority, I realize, can be a dangerous word. It can lead to authoritarianism, to one’s throwing his weight around. The Apostle Paul speaks of “the authority which the Lord gave me” (II Cor. 13:10). That is the answer. It comes from God. How highly he prized that authority. “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). This gave character to Paul’s ministry, and it will give power to ours today. We don’t have to apologize for it. And then there is no room for proud independence and vain self-assertion. What we need in the church today is such an urgency of calling that the preaching task becomes an inescapable one. O that we ministers could say with Paul, “For if I preach the gospel I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). Peter did not apologize for his speaking either. When the Holy Spirit was poured out the result was a great sermon. People were “pierced to the heart” and said, “what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). When the lame man was healed and people gathered around him, Peter preached again (Acts 3). When as a result the apostles were on trial for their preaching, he preached once again. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Is Preaching Secondary? – Another more recent development is the increasing emphasis on a person-to-person relation and counseling. Please do not misunderstand. r am not discounting counseling and counselors. But today there is a playing down of the importance of preaching while counseling is held up as the more effective way of ministering. Speaking—or listening—from the counselor’s desk is glorified more than the parish ministry with its inescapable burden of endless pastoral visits and continual consistorial sessions. Personal counseling and such similar activities are meant to supplement the preaching of the Word, no) to supplant it. Counseling. is a personal ministry, follow-up work, or application of truths of Scripture. But preaching has an indispensable place. People are worthy of a well worked out message produced by a servant of the Lord competent to exegete the Scripture. Surely the Word of God is worthy of that too. All this speak~ of the primacy of preaching. It is instructive to learn from Acts 6 how a real crisis arose in the early church. The Grecians murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected. So what did the apostles do? Did they quit preaching in order to take care of the poor? This was a real social problem, with perhaps some political overtones. Was it not the business of the church to deal with this crying need? Why continue preaching when people are starving and suffering? But the apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with the commission they had received from the Lord, said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables . . . we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4). They enlisted more laborers, but did not relinquish preaching. This is the priority, the primary task of the church, and the principal work of the preachers. We must not allow any social, political, personal, or practical interest to deflect us from this, even though the cause may be a good one and the need may be great. The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” not a social organization, a political society, or a cultural group. One of the final climactic words of Paul to Timothy is: “preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (II Tim. 4:2). Why So Urgent? – What a great message is entrusted to the preacher of the gospel! Sinners must hear the clarion call to repentance and faith. Christ’s beloved sheep and precious lambs must be fed. The riches of Christ are described as unfathomable beyond human exploration. How rewarding to give one’s life to such a task. It carries an invitation to wealth that we can never exhaust and can never fully appreciate. The preacher is called to be an apologist for God. Today people are disturbed by implications of modern science, assailed by rationalization of modern psychology, and appalled by the threat of modern theology that initiated “situation ethics” and the “death of God.” We are called to make God real in His worth, work, and ways in order that men may come to know Him as revealed in Christ. So don’t quit! Someone has to speak loudly and clearly. Blow the trumpet with all your breath! Preach “as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). It is true, we are frail, finite, and fallible men. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves” (II Cor. 4:7). Remember, “our adequacy is from God” (II Cor. 3:5). If the song of heaven is going to be heard amid the many noises of earth, some have to preach the gospel of amazing grace. There are various ministries in the church today, and preachers take assorted assignments. But we still need parish pastors and preachers. It may be more interesting for a choir member to sing alto, tenor, or bass, but some must sing soprano. As a choir needs sopranos for melody, so the cause of Christ needs ministers to man the pulpits. The Word must be proclaimed and applied. The sheep must be fed and nurtured. Then there is the comfort the Word gives for all times and ages. How people need that! When I have to conduct a funeral, especially if it is a very sad one, I have a temptation to run away. It is so difficult to comfort sorrowing hearts when they are prostrate with grief. Others do not have to do anything, but I have to face them and try to give meaning for the sad hour. But then with prayer and study and love it is so reassuring to feel the power of the Word, also in the hearts of those who mourn. 1 could not change positions with a king! I could not be anything else but a preacher! So don’t drop out! Brace your feet; stand erect; breathe deeply; open your mouth wide! We have the Word of God! We have the message of eternal life! What greater calling is there? Let’s be faithful to it! And then to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Remember the lines of Richard Baxter: “I preached as never sure to preach again, And as a dying man to dying men.”