In our day there is a massive assault on the preaching of the Word and a large scale defection from the Word that is preached. There is, first of all, an assault on the preaching itself. There is a strong, open movement today to do away with the public preaching by an ordained preacher. Men are replacing the preaching, at least partially, with discussions, with films, and with various kinds of other gimmicks. Over against all arguments that are raised to defend these practices by saying that they serve to instruct the Church, the answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is conclusive in Question 98: “God will have His people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His Word.” Along with the replacement of preaching there is a questioning whether only those who are called of God to the office of the ministry may preach. The answer ofRomans 10:15 is final: “How shall they preach except they be sent?” There is another assault on preaching today that consists of a noticeable weakening of the duty of pastors to preach for the edification of their congregations. So-called evangelistic preaching predominates in the established churches, preaching that professes to be interested in soul winning, and men are losing sight of the necessity of preaching for the feeding of God’s flock. Men are losing sight of Jesus’ gift to the church of pastors and teachers as we read in Ephesians 4, for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ, that we may grow up into Christ Who is our Head. There is another tragic development in our time that consists of surrendering the distressed souls of Jesus’ sheep and Jesus’ lambs to psychiatry, which then attempts to cure these souls, not with the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ, but with the monkeyshines of men. That which Paul in Acts 20called private preaching from house to house, which he said he did not cease to do for three years in Ephesus, is ceasing.
Hand in hand with the attack on preaching goes the undermining of the Word that ought to be preached. There is in our day a frontal attack on the Holy Scriptures themselves. Men openly deny the inspiration of the Bible, the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. They deny its reliability, and they deny its clarity to the simple, believing child of God. Plain passages of Scripture such as Genesis 1, 2, 3, which are understandable to the smallest child in the church, are taken out of the hands of the people of God and are given over to the interpretations of learned philosophers and theologians. The whole great truth of the clarity of the Bible is at issue. In my judgment, this is the crucial issue for the Church of Jesus Christ today: Is the Scripture the Word of God? Everything depends on that; the Church stands on that; the Christian stands on that; the gospel stands on that! Hardly less dangerous is the attack on the Scriptures made today by flooding the churches with bad, unreliable, and even perverted versions of the Scriptures. Especially the youth of the covenant, the Church of tomorrow, are actually led away from the Scriptures by these unreliable versions. Above all, the attack upon the Word of God today takes the form of preaching a message that is false doctrine, although it pretends to be the gospel. Now, Rome has never changed. Rome continues to preach a gospel of righteousness by works, a gospel that consists of maintaining that a man’s righteousness before God is, at least partially, his own works and efforts. Rome’s doctrine is: Salvation is of him that runneth. But much of Protestantism today has adopted an error that is not a whit better or a bit different than the message of Rome. The message of much of Protestantism today is this: Salvation is of him that willeth. Much of Protestantism has adopted the false doctrine of “free will.” This is the teaching that man by nature still retains the ability to choose Christ and to make a decision for God’s salvation, upon which decision then depends his salvation. This is the teaching that God loves all men, that Christ died for all men to make salvation possible for all men, that God is busy now trying to save all men, and that their salvation depends ultimately upon their free will, their decision for Christ. No less than Rome’s gospel, this is another gospel than the gospel of the apostles. In Romans 9:16, the apostle Paul cries out: “So then it (salvation) is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth”—it is not of works, but it is not either of man’s will. On the contrary, it (salvation) is of God that showeth mercy! The fundamental issue of the Reformation, the difference between the deformed and the Reformed Church, was the issue of the freedom or the bondage of the will of man. And so it is today.
What explains these attacks on the preaching of the Word today? They are all aspects of one great attack on God’s Word in these last days. They are the great apostasy that must come before the appearance of the man of sin, the anti-Christ, and the end of the world. In part, these attacks upon the Word of God are due to the hatred for the Word of God by our ancient foe, the devil, and by his human servants within the churches. As is always the case, the most fierce battle that the Church has to fight is the battle against the enemy within. In part, though, the defection today from the Word of God is due to our weak faith, our lack of trust in God’s Word. We are afraid that the preaching lacks the power to do what has to be done today. We fear that the preaching of the gospel will not be able to save and keep the young people. We fear that the preaching of the gospel will not be able to comfort the depressed. We fear that the preaching of the gospel will not be adequate for us “modern men.” We fear that the Scriptures cannot stand the test of science, that it does not square with the opinions of learned men. We fear that men of the 20th century will dislike the rough edges of the gospel, total depravity and predestination and the others. So we are giving up on the Word of God. And we are dying! And we are restless, lacking peace and joy. And we are becoming worldly, disobedient, self seeking, rather than men who seek the Kingdom of God first! Let us confess our sin of unbelief and put away our folly! The Word of God in the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It is the Word that will save our covenant children. It is the Word that will endure triumphant when this world and its wisdom are in rubble.
This is the calling of the Church: Preach the Word! Preach it twice on the Lord’s Day in the congregation. Preach it to the children in catechism. Preach it privately from house to house. Let this be the life-blood of the Church in all her labor. Let her do it in a childlike faith that by the foolish preaching Christ will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Then the Holy Spirit will be present with us in power. This is the mark of the true Church of Jesus Christ in every age: the pure preaching of the gospel of the Scriptures. The individual church members have a calling too. Individual church members are by no means free from blame in this great departure from the Word of God. In fact, II Timothy 3 lays much of the blame at their feet. Paul says there that in the last days they will have itching ears that cannot endure sound doctrine; they heap up to themselves teachers; and they turn from the truth unto fables. There are many who are indifferent to doctrine. There are many who clamor against preaching that explains the Bible and that is doctrinal. There are many today who forsake the truth in order to satisfy their desire for wild experiences.
The individual believer has a calling with respect to the preaching of the Word of God. The individual believer has the ability to discern the truth and to cleave to it. He has the ability to detect and to reject the lie. Every believer is a prophet, priest, and king. The Reformation restored to you and to me our rightful office as a believer. Therefore, let the believer see to it that he and his children live under the pure preaching of the Word and that he maintains it and supports it. The calling that we have as believers is that which God Himself gave us when He spoke from heaven at the occasion of the transfiguration of His Son, Jesus Christ: “This is my beloved Son: hear Him.” Be sure that you hear Him! By our hearing Christ in the preaching of the gospel with a true faith, we are saved, and God is glorified in the Church, even as we pray: Unto God be glory in the Church by Jesus Christ through all ages, world without end!