I started a new series of sermons today (yes, I still have a series on Isaiah running, sometimes I run two series at a time). I’ll be preaching a few sermons on why we do things the way we do in our church. Today, I preached on the centrality of Scripture, and how our belief is reflected in what we do when our church gathers together.
Everyone has traditions — they way they do things. We want our traditions to be “on purpose” — established to serve a Scriptural purpose. That is the focus of this series. Following are some of the thoughts from today’s message.
The Divine Word
II Timothy 3:14-17
14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
A. The Scriptures Make Us Wise Unto Salvation. They are the means by which we receive faith, and eternal life. Romans 10 tells us that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” It is by the Word of God that we learn of the Cross, by the Scriptures that we receive faith, and are born to life eternal.
I Peter 1:23-25
23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
B. The Scriptures are Inspired. They are the very breath of God, the Conveyor of His Spirit, living and life-giving. (Note I Peter 1:23 and John 6:63 above.)
C. The Scriptures are Profitable. By them we are taught, corrected, reproved, instructed. They purify us and cut to the heart of the matter, slashing through sin’s deceitfulness.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Using the Word
II Timothy 4:1-2
1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
A. We are to Preach the Word. We have something wonderful, and we are to proclaim it. Why would we want to proclaim human ideas when we have the Word of God? When you have wheat, why would you eat chaff?
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.
This is the duty of those to whom God has entrusted the leadership of the church — they are to speak the Word to the church.
Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
B. We are to be Always Ready with the Word. This is the general idea of “instant in season, out of season.” To be always ready, of course, requires that we know it, so that we can give the Word to those who need it. Thus, we are to be diligent with the Word, both so we can give it rightly as God intended, and so we can be ready to give it when needed.
II Timothy 2:15
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
C. We are to Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort. If we give the Word faithfully, it will confront people with their need to change, encourage them, challenge them, directly rebuke them. If our hearers are never encouraged, never rebuked, never challenged, either we aren’t giving it faithfully or they aren’t listening.
Because of the Centrality of the Word
Because the Word is central, there are certain things we do. Not all of these are commanded by Scripture, but all are intended, not just to be empty traditions, but to establish and strengthen an understanding in our church — that the Word of God is central to who we are as a church. Others may do some or all of these things, or they may differ. My purpose here is not to say that every church must do as we do in all of these things, but rather to clarify the purpose for the things we do.
A. Our Services Build Up to the Preaching of the Word. There may be rare exceptions, but as a general rule, we will have a time of preaching the Word of God, and this generally comes near the end of our worship service. In general, the service is planned to build towards that time. We choose songs / hymns to fit the theme or some aspect of the Scripture message. Usually, the congregation either knows the passage / theme of the sermon or has a pretty good idea of it before I even start preaching.
B. We Do not Skimp on Preaching Time. I heard of a “seeker-friendly” church which promised that the sermon would not be more than 12 minutes, that they would not bore you with a long sermon. Their message, whether they intended it as such or not, is that the Bible is boring. Their other message is that the teaching / preaching of the Bible isn’t really that important.
We don’t do that. I’ve been known to stop preaching after less than 30 minutes, but if I do, someone will tell me they didn’t get their money’s worth. 🙂 A sermon doesn’t have to be long to be effective, but even an effective sermon, if it is short, runs the risk of de-emphasising the Word of God.
C. The Preaching is Focused on Explaining / Applying the Text, not on Human Opinion. It is not my job to give chaff, but wheat — to speak to the church the Word of God. People should be able to look at the Scriptures I am explaining and see that it means what I’m saying. They should be able to think about those Scriptures and tell that any applications that I make are true to the text.
This has an important application outside of the time we meet. It is my job to carefully study and pray for faithfulness to the text. It is the responsibility of the congregation to pray for me in this.
D. I Use my Blog for Scriptural Explanation / Application. Some of my blog posts are quick thoughts, thoughts on the news, things I found funny or interesting or challenging. But a lot of my posts are in-depth explanation and/or application of Scripture. Not everyone in our church makes it to our church meetings every week. By making teaching available to them, I maintain that emphasis on the centrality of Scripture.
This means some of my blog posts are long, and a lot of people don’t like long blog posts. That’s ok. The primary purpose of my blog is not to be a famous blogger. I’m not selling advertising here. 🙂 The primary purpose is to supplement the Bible-centric ministry of our church. I may not be posting as many in-depth articles as I have at times in the past, but that is due to lack of time (because of increased work responsibilities and health limitations) rather than a change of emphasis.
E. I Rarely Quote Scripture Without Citing the Reference and Encouraging People to Look it Up. I don’t always cite the reference — sometimes, I don’t remember. But as a general rule, I want people to be looking to their Bible to see that what I am saying is actually true to God’s Word. I want them to be reminded constantly — this is God’s Word we are discussing, this is not just “Jon talking.” Getting people turning through their Bibles helps to emphasise the centrality of the Bible.
F. The Pulpit is Visually Central. In a Catholic church, typically the altar is central, and the pulpit is off to the side (this is often the case in Anglican churches as well). The Catholics believe that the altar and the “mass” are central, the “mass” being a sacrament necessary to salvation, a means by which Christ is received. We believe differently. We believe that it is through the work of the Holy Spirit through His Word that we receive faith (as per the Scriptures I cited above). By placing the pulpit front and centre, we emphasise that truth.
G. We Use the Translation We Believe Best Matches the Words God Gave, and We Study the Words God Gave. God gave Hebrew words and Greek words, and promised to preserve them, but those were not English words. The people in our church do not read or speak those languages, so we have to use a translation. We do not use the easiest translation or the one that flows easiest in modern English, but the one we believe best matches the original God-given words.
Part of the difficulty of the translation we use comes from the decision of the translators to, as much as possible, convey the actual words of the original (what translators call “formal equivalence”). That makes the English awkward at times, but we believe it is worth it. By using a more difficult translation, because we believe it is closer to the original than other translations, we communicate the importance of accuracy in understanding what God really said, even if it takes more work. We emphasise the centrality of the Bible — the words God really gave.
We also study the words God gave — the original Greek and Hebrew. Even when a translation is accurate, the English words can have more than one meaning or emphasis. If I want to be true to the words God gave, I need to study them and make sure that I know what they said so that I explain the English words with the correct meaning / emphasis. When appropriate, I include the fruit of that study in my explanation of the text, which emphasises to the hearers the importance of the Scriptures by stressing the need to understand them rightly. The Bible is important enough that it is worth it for a pastor to study the original languages, if he is able to do so, or to use some of the study tools available to him, if he is not. By being very careful and diligent in our study, we reinforce the importance and centrality of Scripture.
H. We Use Biblical Songs and Scripture Songs. The songs/hymns that we sing are Biblical, with frequent references / allusions / quotes of Scripture. I frequently note this in introducing the songs, so that people understand they are singing Scripture or singing Scriptural truths. And almost every week, we will sing at least one song that is in entirety either a direct quote of Scripture (Scripture songs) or a paraphrase of Scripture (such as a Psalm from one of the psalters).
I. We Encourage Bible Reading. Of course, I frequently make reference in my sermons to the value of reading the Scriptures, but we also do certain things that encourage people to read the Scriptures. We will have men from the church bring a brief devotional during our services. They need to read the Scriptures in preparation, and by doing so they encourage others to read the Scriptures. It reinforces the fact that the Scriptures are for all of us.
Once a month, we have a Scripture reading testimony time, where each member of the congregation is encouraged to come prepared with a Scripture passage (1-10 verses) that they have read in the preceding week or two. No commentary, no explanation, simply a reading of Scripture. The person announces their passage, gives everyone time to look it up, and then reads it (or asks someone else to if they prefer). This encourages everyone to be reading the Scripture, everyone to be thinking as they read of what would be beneficial to others. It is a very simple but very important way that people can encourage others to read the Scriptures. And it emphasises, once again, that the Bible is central to what we do when we meet as a church.
None of these things make the Bible central to our church, but together, they help to remind us and emphasise to us that the Bible IS central. This is the reason behind some of the things we do, the way we “do church.” We do these things, not just because someone once thought they would be a good idea, or would appeal to people. We do them because we believe they help to emphasise what we believe God wants us to be as a church. We do them “on purpose,” because we believe in the centrality of the Bible.
While reading this post, I found a hymn going through my mind:
“How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds
and drives away his fear.”
Too often I have found that a short sermon is often what the congregation want to hear, but not necessarily what God wants then to hear. Those,like me, who listen to rather than preach sermons should be thankful for those preachers who are willing to make their hearers feel uncomfortable by telling them God’s truth,not chickening out because “what I ought to say might upset Fred in the second from back row.”
One of my favourite management textbooks tells its readers that the person you least want to go speak with is almost certainly the person you need to go speak with, and often it is the same with Scripture. The passage you least want to read or preach on is almost certainly the passage that is most necessary right then.
Thanks, Fred, good comment.
I love your idea of biblical testimony, just reading out a passage that has blessed and stayed with a person through the week. Fantastic idea.
Thank you. We’ve found it very beneficial. It would be hard to do in a larger church meeting, of course, because such a small percentage of the congregation could take part, but for a smaller church it is very effective. It could also be used in a smaller Bible study. And it is something kids can take part in easily, so it could even be used in a Sunday School class, and would encourage kids to be reading their Bibles.
Very good. I agree.