William Tyndale (1494-1536)

https://i0.wp.com/www.william-tyndale.com/images/tyndale1.JPG

An English Reformer, a martyr and the single greatest translator of the Bible into the English language. Educated at Oxford and Cambridge, Tyndale’s passion was to make the Scriptures available to ordinary people. It is estimated that as much as ninety percent of the 1611 King James or Authorized Version of the New Testament was taken from Tyndale’s earlier work and somewhat less from his translation of the Old Testament, which was never completed because of his execution outside Brussels on false charges of heresy.

(from Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition)

The Preachers’ Problematic Practice

 https://i0.wp.com/www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/files/2013/05/preaching.jpg

The Preachers’ Problematic Practice

As a Christian, I enjoy listening to sermons. That’s because it is God-ordained means to grow and mature me. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the ministry of the word is the ordinary means of grace whereby my faith is increased and strengthened (WCF, 14:1).

As a preacher, I also enjoy listening to sermons – from others that is. I like to learn how others handle certain texts and topics. And there are many fine preachers today (and past) that I can learn from.

As a student of preaching, however, I don’t always enjoy listening to sermons. That’s because as a student, I’m required to listen to some bad sermons – sometimes even by fine preachers. As one of my homiletic professors used to say, “That’s a great sermon, but wrong text!” His point was the sermon wasn’t based on the text though it was a good sermon. It was not exegesis, but eisegesis. Many of us who preach regularly, we’re all guilty of such practice. However, this is not the only pitfall to avoid as preachers.

The following are some common problematic practice that preachers (new or seasoned) make:

  1. Preaching is not a Bible study.

There’s a distinction between preaching and teaching (cf. Luke 20:1; Acts 5:42; 15:35; 28:31; 1 Timothy 5:17). If you don’t know the difference, then that’s for you to know. :)

  1. Preaching is not a running commentary.

Some pastors think of themselves as “expository preachers” when their sermons sound more like a running Bible commentary that of J. Vernon McGee or Chuck Smith. Running Bible commentary is not expository preaching.

  1. Failing to give the direction at the onset.

You need to give a clear direction at the onset what the sermon is about and where it’s going. Effective preachers give signposts at the beginning of their sermons (and often throughout the sermon as a reminder). The listeners are clear what the sermon is about and where it’s heading at the onset. They’re not confused nor do they try to guess to the end. Sermon shouldn’t be a guessing game for people. It should be very clear. That’s why one of the most difficult jobs in preaching is clarity. It’s hard work. But it pays off.

  1. Burying yourself to your notes.

Don’t bury yourself in your notes when preaching. It’s perfectly OK to use notes since many of us can’t remember everything we studied in our preparation. But do make eye contact with your audience. And do so often.

You may argue that Jonathan Edwards read his notes when preaching. But let’s be honest. You’re no Jonathan Edwards. And I’m not either.

  1. Failing to pause.

One of the most effective tools in preaching is to pause. When done it rightly and appropriately, it powerfully aids your sermon. One of the preachers that is masterful at this is R.C. Sproul. Learn to pause.

  1. Citing names of scholars and pastors in your sermon when majority don’t know who’s who.

I’m all for source citation. There’s enough plagiarism in academics, especially, in the institutions of higher education. I even witnessed seminarians who were being trained as pastors or already as pastors get caught in academic thievery! I also know of plenty of preachers who steal quotes, ideas, or phrases from others, and preach as if they’re the originators. Hence, I’m all for giving proper citation for your source.

But in preaching, it’s unnecessary to cite names of scholars, pastors, and even naming theological journals. Honestly, most people in your congregation probably have never heard of Geerhardus Vos, Herman Bavinck, Victor P. Hamilton, and so on. I’m not sure if they even care. However, without citing the last name(s) of your source, to say something like “according to one scholar…” and having footnote(s) in your sermon notes is sufficient. Naming the names may be impressive if you are presenting a paper at ETS or other scholarly meeting, but not when preaching.

  1. Using Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic words in your sermon.

I often wonder why? Is it to impress the audience? Let’s be honest again. You know and I know, we’re no experts in the biblical language.

When I plan to listen to a preacher or I know ahead that a preacher will preach something out of the New Testament, sometimes I’m in the audience with my copy of Bruce Metzger’s The Greek New Testament (4th edition) along with my English translation as a Berean. And so often, I’ve witnessed preachers fail to pronounce the word properly or say something is in Greek when it isn’t. As one of my teachers used to say, if you’re going to say something in the original language, at least say it right.

When you’re tempted to use a Greek or Hebrew word, ask yourself whether it’s really necessary. This is not to say that you can’t ever use it. Sometimes using the original language in preaching can be helpful. For instance, pointing out the difference between agapao and phileo in John 21:15-17. Understanding the difference is not only important in your exegesis, but also in your exposition. Your people do appreciate such exegetical observation. So, if you think it’s necessary, then mention the original word. If not, keep it out.

  1. Failing to answer “so what?”

Ask “so what” question throughout your sermon, especially, your sermon points. And then see how they are related or relevant to the overall message of the sermon. Sometimes the “sermon points” hinder than help. It’s always a good practice to ask yourself “so what” and then see if your sermon points provide the answer and clarity to the main point of the sermon.

  1. Sermons are not compilations of quotes by various people.

In his book Lectures To My Students, Charles Spurgeon equates illustrations to windows in the house. Just as the primary purpose of windows is to let the light in, so do good sermon illustrations.[1] However, having too many illustrations is likened to having too many windows open in the house, whereby greater chance for bugs and birds to come in and become nuisance. So is with sermons with too many quotations and/or illustrations in the sermon. They become nuisance.

  1. Saying too many “um,” “uh,” “like,” and other filler words.

I concur with D.A. Carson that filler words, such as, “um” and “uh” are one of the most unintelligible sounds, not only in American language but in any language.

Preachers are given the highest task for delivering the message from the highest one. As ambassadors for the highest kingdom and as representatives for the king of kings, our presentations should not be tainted with unintelligible noise or with other hindering manners.

  1. Preaching is not a means to promote yourself or tell your stories.

Woe unto preachers who use their pulpits as a platform to promote themselves. Woe unto preachers who are more interested in telling their stories than the redemptive story. Woe unto preachers who think preaching ought to be funny and entertaining, and fail to be the prophetic voice.

As a student of preaching for 20 years, I’m still learning. To preach well doesn’t happen overnight. But we all need to commit to become skillful of our craft.

[1]Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students (Grand Rapids: Ministry Resources Library, 1954), 349.

Argula von Grumbach (c. 1492-c. 1563)

https://i2.wp.com/www.neufeld-verlag.de/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/n/e/neufeld-verlag_argula-von-grumbach_birnstein_cover_e-book_1_2.jpg

A German Reformer remembered for her defense of Luther and the Reformation to the German nobility. Born into a struggling Bavarian noble family, Grumbach was trained to be a maid to Emperor Maximillian’s sister and learned to read and write German. After reading the works of Luther – with whom she regularly corresponded – and other Reformers, she used her knowledge of the German Scriptures to refute the clergy who attacked the Reformers. Her criticism of the Roman Catholic Church led to her husband’s removal from his position as prefect, after which she endured personal and public abuse.

(from Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition)

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke.jpg

An English Reformer most known for his work on the Book of Common Prayer. Soon after graduating from Cambridge, Cranmer began his long career in the service to English royalty. Eventually, in 1532, Henry VIII named Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury. During the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer completed his most important works, the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Homilies, and invited to England significant Reformed theologians such as Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli. Despite his death as a martyr under Mary Tudor in 1556, Cranmer is sometimes accused of pandering to royal authority and changing his theological convictions, as with his fluctuating views on Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper.

(from Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition)

Why Easter Sunday Is Not (and Shouldn’t Be) Drastically Different Than Other Sundays

https://i1.wp.com/umsm.convergencecms.co/templates/photos/event12217/easter-sunday.jpg

I like Resurrection (Easter) Sunday. Primarily for what happened. The first Resurrection Sunday was a pinnacle point in the redemptive history. Its significant has profound implications for today and tomorrow. Hence, as a church this day is an important day, not only for our congregation, but for all Christendom. It is special.

At the same time, it is not greatly different (and shouldn’t be drastically different) than any other Sunday. The minister still calls the “call to worship.” There’s still praying, singing, giving, reading, and preaching like other Sundays.

For churches that regularly preach and teach the gospel, this Sunday is no different (at least not drastically). Our liturgy reflects the cross and resurrection every Sunday, not just this Sunday. The songs we sing and the hymns we cherish reflect the message of resurrection and we do so every Sunday. We pray certain ways every week because of the resurrection. We preach what we preach and the way preach because of the resurrection. We think, we hope, we trust, we choose, and we live every week in light of the resurrection. Hence, for churches that are gospel-driven, this Easter Sunday is not drastically different than other Sundays.

The gospel includes not only what happened on the cross, but what also happened afterwards. Moreover, the redemptive story does not end with resurrection. It further includes the ascension and the future return of Christ. Hence, the gospel or God’s redemptive history includes the fulfillment of the past, and the present and future realities. This belief is nothing new. This is what the churches have been confessing all throughout her history. For instance:

I believe in God the Father… And in Jesus Christ…suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried…the third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Our weekly confession of faith depends on what happened in the past. For that reason, it has profound implications both presently and eschatologically. Hence, the churches that are true to the gospel regularly preach, teach, sing, pray, serve, fellowship, discipline, and partake and fence the table, not only on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. They do what they do every Sunday precisely because of the gospel. Hence, Easter Sunday is no different than any other Sunday. In fact, to worship on the first day of the week (and doing so every week) is to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:1; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). That is why churches gather on the first day of the week and that is why it is called the Lord’s Day. Thus, every Sunday is Lord’s Day precisely because of Christ’s resurrection. That is why if you are a member of gospel-loving, gospel-preaching, and gospel-driven church, chances are this Easter Sunday is not drastically different than other Sundays.

Jesus, Our Only Substitute

https://i1.wp.com/blogs.blueletterbible.org/blb/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2012/11/110712_subst_atone1.jpg

What is so unique about Jesus’ death?

Is it that he died for someone? The idea that one would die for another is not unique. We all have heard of a soldier or policeman taking a bullet for one of their own.

Is it that he died sacrificially? That isn’t unique either because we all have heard of parents that have sacrificed their own lives to save their children. So, the notion that one would die for another is not unique either.

I’m afraid that if this is the only way that we would present the gospel, then we missed the crux of Christianity.

When speaking of the gospel, we must point out the uniqueness of Christ’s death, namely the quality of the substitute. We’ve all heard one story or another that tried to relate to the substitutionary death, as illustrated above. However, all of them fall short.

When anyone dies, it is a just death (i.e., death that is just). If God is sovereign in who he allows to live and doesn’t, then there’s no “accidental” death. Death comes to all (Heb. 9:27).

Moreover, death is deserving to all because the wages of sin is death. Besides having some sentimental emotions, there is no propitiation or redemption when a sinner dies for another sinner. In other words, what does a sinner dying for another sinner do? Nothing. Both would die, still in their sin.

Without the perfect sacrifice (i.e., without any blemish) that can meet all of God’s holy demands, there is no propitiation, no redemption, and no reconciliation with God. Hence, the biggest question then is, who meets the perfect standard to be our propitiation, for our atonement? Who is qualified to meet all of God’s holy demands by dying as our substitute? And this is where Jesus Christi comes into the scene.

He lived thirty-three years or so, to fulfill every law. The four Gospels display his righteousness, so that after his death, his righteousness then can be imputed to his elect. Moreover, he lived the perfect, righteous, and holy life without any sin, to testify to all that he was the only one who was qualified to die the death of perfect substitution. This is the message of an important aspect of the gospel, namely the quality of our substitute.

Therefore, if we fail to understand God’s rightful condemnation on all sinners, the uniqueness of Christ’s death, and the quality of our substitute, then the death of Christ is mere sentimental emotion at best. And we do injustice by reducing the power of the gospel to a mere moral lesson.

For some people, the notion of substitutionary death is morally wrong. As a reaction against such notion, in his book The Cross, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:

To them, the idea that one man should be punished for other people’s sin is immoral. The whole notion is quite unthinkable. A man bears his own punishment. This idea that somebody else comes along who is absolutely innocent, and that you put your guilt on him and that he then bears the punishment – the thing is quite immoral. They say they cannot believe in a God who does a thing like that, a God who can punish his own Son, cause his death, in order to forgive others. It is not justice. They say that it violates their sense of justice and of morality. Have you not heard that? Perhaps you have thought it? If you have, the cross is an offence, because the essence of this doctrine is subsitution. It teaches that Chrst is the Lamb of God ‘that taketh away the sins of the world'; that our sins are transferred to him, are imputed to him, and put upon him; and that it is ‘by his stripes we are healed’. It teaches that God has smitten him. God has ‘laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Is 53:6). And to the modern man, the natural human thinker, this is an offence, immoral, unjust, and unrighteous. So he hates it and he rejects it ([Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1986], 48).

I would like to echo the following prayer of a Puritan:

O MY SAVIOR,

I thank thee from the depths of my being, for thy wondrous grace and love, in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs, as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty, as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.

By thy cross, crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;

Make it the ground of all my comfort, the liveliness of all my duties, the sum of all thy gospel promises, the comfort of all my afflictions, the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces, the very essence of my religion;

And by it give me that rest without rest, the rest of ceaseless praise.

(From “The Grace of the Cross” in The Valley of Vision [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1994], 171).

Amen.

Hugh Latimer (1485-1555)

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Hugh_Latimer_from_NPG.jpg

An English Reformer and preacher known for the emphasis on social action and Christian piety in his preaching. Latimer became a priest after graduating from Cambridge. He lost favor with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1520s because of his Protestant sympathies, but won favor with King Henry VIII and was named bishop of Worcester in 1535. He was forced to resign this post when the king enacted the Six Articles, which prevented the spread of Protestantism. He was most popular under Edward VI, but with the succession of the Catholic Mary Tudor, he was martyred in 1555.

(from Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition).