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Preaching Agreement

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					                            CORE SEMINARS
                         Capitol Hill Baptist Church

                Living as a Church, Week 3
                    Preaching: The Foundation for Unity


I. Introduction: God Creates his People through Preaching

As Christians, we all agree that preaching is important. That‟s probably why
we‟ve found ourselves here on a Sunday morning at a church that does such
a lot of it. But when we think about the topic of church unity, it‟s not
immediately obvious how preaching fits in, and perhaps even less obvious
how preaching as a communal experience contributes to the unity of a
church. Nonetheless, I would guess that we‟re all pretty sure that preaching
is an important part of unity—perhaps even the “Foundation for Unity” as
this week‟s class title suggests. The question is how. How does preaching
foster unity, and what implications does that have for the type of preaching
we support at this church and how we benefit from that preaching. This
morning we‟ll be thinking carefully about the intersection of two vital
components of a healthy church: Biblical Preaching and Biblical Unity.

Well, then—let‟s begin our investigation with the groundwork for this
foundation: the Word of God—because God‟s word and God‟s people have
always had a very interesting relationship. The Word of God is not simply a
tool to inform and benefit the people of God; it is actually the basis for their
existence. God‟s word is central to their identity. Whenever God has
created—or recreated—his people, he has always done so through the power
of his word. Think of the momentous first words of the Ten
Commandments, “And God spoke all these words” as God dictated what
could well be the first recorded words of all the Bible, giving Israel his law
and making them his people. Or consider God‟s prophecy that he would
recreate his people out of their exile in Babylon through Ezekiel‟s vision of
a valley of dry bones:

“So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was
a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. . . . I
prophesized as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they
lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” (37:7, 10)

Or consider that haunting passage in Ezekiel 16:

“On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with
water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in
cloths. . . you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were
born you were despised. „Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in
your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made
you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became
the most beautiful of jewels.”

It is the power of God‟s word that brings his people to life—that saves them
from the wretchedness of their spiritual poverty.

God‟s people in the New Testament also found their genesis in the spoken
word of God. Teaching God‟s word was a hallmark of Christ‟s mission. As
Jesus says to his disciples in Mark 1:38, “Let us go . . . to the nearby
villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

It is Peter‟s preaching of the gospel in Acts 2 that first ignites the church,
and the apostles faithful teaching that sustains it.

Now, what do we take away from this? When we begin to think through the
relationship between preaching and the unity of God‟s people, we must
recognize that God‟s word is central to the identity of his people. That is,
after all, one of the distinctives of the Christian faith. Christianity is not
primarily about spiritual experience or about warm community or about acts
of service. Christianity is about a message that can be supported or refuted
based on historical fact: “that Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according
to the Scriptures, and he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” (I Cor
15:4-5)

With that principle in mind, let‟s get on to the relationship between
preaching and unity. To do that, we‟ll begin by examining the unique role
that preaching has in grounding a church in God‟s word. Then we‟ll look at
the ways in which Biblical preaching is a necessary foundation for church
unity. As we go along, we‟ll take time to explore the corresponding
characteristics that preaching in a church must have if it is to build that kind
of unity. My goal for this class is that you will leave here with a better
understanding of what type of preaching to encourage in this church and
other churches, that you would be more informed as you pray for those who
preach to you, and that you would be better equipped to apply preaching in a
way that builds this church in unity.

So let‟s begin.

II. The Unique Role of Preaching in a Church

You‟ll notice that most of the references I cited a minute ago refer to God’s
words—or the message of the gospel—not our own words. And yet
preaching is our own words, isn‟t it? The central emphasis that the Bible
places on God‟s word creating God‟s people doesn‟t automatically transfer
over to an emphasis on preaching. To some of you, I might seem here like
I‟m splitting hairs. If the Word of God is central to the church, the of course
preaching is also central. But there are many churches today that claim to be
Bible-centric but leave preaching as a secondary focus. It is important for us
to understand that we cannot claim to center our church on the Word of God
without centering our church on preaching. Not word studies in small groups,
not book studies in our quiet times. Preaching. The reason for that is
simple: preaching is distinctive because it is communal in nature. When we
listen to preaching, we as a church community gather to struggle together
with the implications of God‟s word for our life as a church. The difference
between preaching and our own study of the Bible is important.

Now, then—we‟ve already seen a Biblical emphasis on God‟s Word. Where
is the Biblical emphasis on preaching? There are examples all over. So
when God gave his law at Mount Sinai, he gave his people teachers—the
Levites—who were to live among them and teach the Word of God. You
might have thought that the revelation of the very Law of God would have
been enough to guide God‟s people. But God saw it necessary that some
Israelites be assigned the task of teaching that law. Similarly, when Jesus
sent his disciples out to the people, he instructed them not simply to recite
Bible passages, but to “preach the kingdom of God.” Even our church‟s
logo on the cover of your handout reflects the centrality of preaching to a
local church in its quotation from Romans 10:17: “faith comes from hearing
the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” And as
Paul mentions a few verses earlier, “how can they hear without someone
preaching to them?” (v. 15)

So we see in Scripture that preaching is critical to the mission of the church.
Practically, then, what characteristics of preaching make it so important in
the creation of God‟s people? I‟ll give you two—both of which stem from
preaching as an act of the church community. This is a critical point because
between the individualism of our culture and our good protestant heritage of
recovering the priesthood of all believers, we can sometimes think that
simply having the Bible ourselves is sufficient—and so we undervalue the
communal teaching of the Word of God—which happens in this church on
Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights. So two
characteristics of preaching that make it critical to the mission of the church:

1. #1: Preaching provides the external perspective that we as sinful people
need if we are to consistently understand what the implications of God‟s
word are for us. We all agree that our hearts are sinful—and yet we often
forget that such sinful tendencies carry over to our ability to interpret the
Word of God. Yes, God has blessed us with the Holy Spirit who makes
God‟s words clear to us. But nowhere in Scripture does God suggest that the
presence of the Holy Spirit makes our interpretation of the Bible free from
error. Preaching is important because it is a perspective that emanates from
somewhere outside my own head—and forces me to confront the truth of
Scripture.

2. Characteristic #2 reaches even beyond that: preaching in a church is
backed by the united testimony of an entire community of Christians—each
with their own sins, but each indwelt by God‟s life-giving Spirit. When the
church works as it should, then the words that Mark or Michael preach on
Sunday morning are tacitly confirmed by the elders—and ultimately by the
congregation at large. If Mark or Michael began speaking what this
congregation understood to be contrary to Scripture, they would no longer
preach here. Not to be glib, because the very concept of firing a pastor is
one that must be taken with extreme seriousness. But from a 50,000 foot
view, that‟s how things work.

The congregation is the final authority on matters of discipline and
doctrine—and so you can have extra confidence in the truth of what you
hear preached in a healthy church because it is backed by the testimony of a
community of Christians. To use an example from the business world, most
of us know quite well that the most efficient way to run an organization is to
run it authoritatively from the top (note that I didn‟t say the best way to run
an organization—simply the most efficient). When the CEO of a
multinational corporation decides that the company must change its
compensation policy, things happen, and they happen quickly. Conversely,
an organization that vests authority in its members doesn‟t move quickly at
all—in fact, it is quite resistant to change. Now, transitioning back to the
church, when you start out with the perfect message of the gospel, that‟s
exactly what you need: resistance to doctrinal change. All that to say, one
distinction between preaching and our own personal thoughts about the
Bible is that preaching represents the agreement of Spirit-filled believers—
and so it carries extra weight.

So not only is God‟s word central to what it means to be a church, but
preaching that word in the church is also central—something we see in
Scripture itself and from our own experience. What does the centrality of
preaching mean for us? I have one thought for you before we move to our
next section.

When you are looking for a church, keep in mind that the quality of
preaching is key. If biblical preaching is the emphasis of a pastor, it will
strengthen every ministry of the church. If he sees preaching as a side-line
to his calling, it will have a shallowing impact on everything else. But keep
in mind the connection between Biblical preaching and the spiritual health of
a congregation. For good reasons, you may choose to join a church with
solid preaching that is attempting to reform an unhealthy congregation. But
do this with open eyes, because the two are dependent on each other. A
healthy congregation with poor preaching will languish over the long-run.
And solid preaching cannot continue in the right direction indefinitely unless
it produces a healthy congregation.

That applies to this church as well. Don‟t think that simply because we have
good preaching today that such a blessing is guaranteed to continue into the
future. We need to be vigilant to continue building a healthy, Biblical
church culture because, as we saw two weeks ago, it is ultimately our health
and unity as a church that will protect the integrity of the gospel message.

[Questions]
III. How Preaching Promotes Unity

So far, we‟ve seen that the identify of God‟s people is grounded in the Word
of God—and that preaching is the lynchpin in that connection. The next
question is how exactly that works: how does preaching promote unity? For
the remainder of our class, we‟ll examine three ways in which Biblical
preaching promotes unity and the implications for the type of preaching we
should encourage in a church and how we should respond to that preaching

A Message Around Which to Unite
The first way that Biblical preaching promotes unity is that it makes clear
what we are uniting around. As we noted two weeks ago, church unity has a
particular purpose—to showcase the power of the gospel in uniting very
different people who all call on the name of Jesus. How is that gospel
message proclaimed? Primarily through preaching.

Biblical preaching makes crystal clear the specific message that defines who
we are as God‟s people. What implications does that have for us as
members of this church? Well, quite obviously, first and foremost it implies
when we are considering calling someone as a pastor, we should look for
someone whose preaching is gospel-centric: that explains the gospel and
exalts the gospel and describes the implications of the gospel. Preaching
must never get away from the gospel. I‟m not just talking about explaining
the way of salvation in every sermon. I‟m talking about how every sermon
should be filled with the basic tenants of the gospel message: that God is
holy, that we are sinful, that our only hope in everything is Christ‟s perfect
work on the cross. A good question to ask when evaluating a sermon is “Is
it distinctly Christian?” Could this sermon have been just as well received in
a Mormon gathering or a Jewish synagogue or a group of ethical moralists?
Does it go beyond the moral truths of God‟s word to explain how the gospel
upends our behavior and rests as the only true source of hope?

A second implication of the fact that preaching promotes unity by being true
to the gospel: we should take seriously the responsibility we when we hear
preaching that is not Biblical. Remember that in the New Testament, when
error slipped into a church‟s teaching, the apostles did not blame the
preacher; they blamed the church. (2 Tim 4:3) You are accountable for the
integrity of what you listen to on Sunday morning and what message you
support with your tithe money. If you are concerned that your pastor is
preaching error, then you are responsible to learn more, and as a church to
confront that error if necessary. Before moving any further, let me describe
in more detail how we should respond to teaching we suspect is unbiblical.

A few guidelines to remember:
   1. Remember that you may well be mistaken regarding what you think
      you heard or in your ability to recognize what is true. Humility,
      thoughtfulness, and the advice of another church leader, will always
      serve you better than speaking out of anger or being rash. And when
      you speak with someone about what you feel is error in their
      preaching, do so with respect; after all, this is someone in whom a
      congregation has decided to invest significant authority. Recall Paul‟s
      words to Timothy in I Tim 5:1—“Do not rebuke an older man harshly,
      but exhort him as if he were your father.” If this is Paul‟s advice to
      Timothy the pastor, then how much more does it apply to us?
   2. Where you have thoughtful criticism that you feel can help the
      ministry of a pastor, then share it with him, especially if you have
      developed a relationship of trust. Even if you are not concerned about
      error per se, but perhaps an area of insensitivity or a way of saying
      things that is unclear—these are useful things to share with someone
      who preaches, particularly if they are inexperienced. But remember
      that thoughtful criticism is very different from complaining. Before
      approaching someone with criticism, it‟s worth exploring your
      motives. Is your attitude one of grumbling, or a desire to see God
      more glorified through the preaching of his word?
   3. Consider carefully the severity of the error you suspect when you
      determine the time and place in which to have a conversation with the
      preacher. Did the preacher make an application that seems to disagree
      with your politics? That is probably not worth consuming the pastor‟s
      time immediately after the service while a non-Christian waits to
      discuss the gospel that they heard for the first time during the sermon.
   4. If you decide to share your concern with a friend, consider with whom
      who you discuss it. Is your concern going to disrupt that friend‟s
      ability to trust the pastor in the future? Trust is fragile; make sure that
      you do not damage it without good reason.
Of course, beyond knowing how to confront unbiblical preaching, we must
know how to encourage preaching that is good. Be in the habit of
encouraging those who preach regularly in this church.

So preaching can promote unity by making the cause of our unity—the
message and implications of the gospel—clear to all who listen.
Builds Us Up in Christ
A second way in which preaching can promote unity is by promoting
spiritual growth. Where Biblical preaching teaches a congregation who God
is, what he has done for us, and what implications that has for our lives,
Christians will be built up in their faith and better equipped to love. This
sounds like an obvious point: why else does preaching exist but to aid in
spiritual growth? But the issue is one of degree: sound preaching will
promote unity and peace in a congregation like nothing else. It is difficult to
underestimate the positive impact of years of good teaching in a church.

Now, then, it is worth considering what type of preaching will best grow our
congregation, and what we can do to help this process.

Let‟s take those one by one. First—what type of preaching will best foster
spiritual growth? Preaching that is predominantly expositional. When we
say that a sermon is “expositional,” we mean that it is designed to exposit a
particular passage of scripture, and that the main point of the sermon is the
main point of the passage. The alternative is what people call “topical”
preaching—where the preacher determines the primary point he wants to
communicate in the sermon and may or may not use a main passage of
scripture to support that point. Topics could be prayer or justice or parenting
or holiness. Having established the topic, the preacher then assembles
various supporting texts from various parts of the Bible. A topical sermon is
not built around one text of Scripture but around a chosen theme or idea.

Let me say up front that topical preaching is in no way bad—we have topical
sermons at this church from time to time. But the assertion I will make is
that a preaching schedule that is predominantly expositional will grow a
congregation better and with more lasting results than one that consists
primarily of topical preaching. Why is that? Because expositional
preaching not only communicates a set of ideas and applications to a
congregation, it also equips that congregation with a better understanding of
their Bible. And as a preacher moves through successive passages of
scripture week after week, the congregation better understands Scripture in
its overall context. In that sense, expositional preaching is not a style of
preaching—it is not about how to say something; it is rather about how to
decide what to say. In my experience, expositional preaching is a bit like
taking someone out to fish with you. They get the fish for dinner, but they
also get a better understanding of how to fish for themselves.
So then, why should we prefer a steady diet of expositional preaching to a
preaching schedule with is primarily topical? Two reasons.

   1. When we build our message on the main point of a passage of
      Scripture (rather than a topic), we let God‟s Word set the agenda for
      the sermon. We believe that Scripture is comprehensive in its
      provision of what we need in life. If a preacher faithfully covers all of
      Scripture, he will not miss any aspect of what a congregation needs to
      grow in Christ—something that is quite difficult to do if you rely
      primarily on topical preaching. Very practically, expositional
      preaching forces a preacher to address uncomfortable verses, or those
      sections of Scripture that don‟t fit as cleanly into his theology.

   2. By its very nature, a topical sermon rarely results in the preacher
      saying anything more than what he already knew when he sat down to
      write the sermon. When a pastor preaches a passage of Scripture in
      context, however—taking the point of the passage as the point of the
      message—he and the congregation often hear from God things they
      did not know when the pastor began to study the passage.

By relying on preaching that is primarily expositional in nature, a church
increases their opportunities to grow in their knowledge of Scripture and to
grow in their knowledge of God.

There is another implication we should take away from the fact that
preaching is what grows a congregation—and that is that if we are to profit
in this way, we must apply this preaching to our lives. Preaching should
never be a theology lecture; it is driving toward application. Of course,
theology is application—learning something new about God‟s sovereignty is
often more practically impactful than even the best list of ten things we
should do differently starting Monday morning. But remember that
preaching cannot promote unity unless it is applied by the congregation. As
a church, then, it is good for us to note what we have learned from a sermon
and to think about it through the week. It is good for us to begin
conversations about the sermon with friends and family members on Sunday
afternoon and throughout the week. In fact, regularly talking with others
about how we can apply the preaching we hear is perhaps one of the best
long-term strategies for promoting unity in this church. That‟s one reason
why the Sunday night devotionals are always on a related topic to the
morning‟s sermon—so that we can spend time each Sunday evening
considering what we as a church should take away from the sermon.

[Questions; ideas for applying preaching together]

Creates a Unique Vision for Ministry
3. The last way in which preaching promotes church unity is that a shared
experience of preaching develops a church‟s unique vision for ministry—in
a sense, its own distinctive personality. Different churches in different
circumstances are led by the Holy Spirit to respond to the truths of Scripture
in different ways—and this forms the unique characteristics of each church.
Some churches have a particular burden for reaching out to populations in
their city suffering from homelessness. Others focus on students. We could
be characterized as the church that has a burden for missions in Central Asia,
for the propagation of the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, a deep investment
in the Angel Tree ministry, and a desire for one-on-one discipling and
workplace evangelism.

While it is inevitable that different churches develop different visions for
how to take advantage of the opportunities that God has given them, it is
imperative that such vision come through a conviction of how the truths of
scripture apply to a particular church. A vision for ministry should not
come from the pastor‟s idea of what he wants for the church; it should not
come from a strategic analysis of what will bring the most people through
the doors. Vision should come from careful analysis of Scripture. But not
only is it important that such vision be Biblical; it is important that vision be
shared. Otherwise, a church can develop into factions with conflicting
visions as to how the church should deploy its resources to reach its goals.
How is it that a congregation come to a shared vision for ministry?
Fundamentally, it is because they share a common teaching ministry. There
is something special about listening together to the same body of teaching
week after week, developing in a common direction as we struggle together
to understand God‟s calling for this church.

So it is important not simply that preaching be biblical, not simply that it be
applied, not simply that it be predominantly expositional—but that the
experience of listening to preaching and the experience of applying that
preaching be shared by a congregation. Now, practically, what difference
does it make that preaching be a shared experience? Why can‟t we all listen
to different sermons, each directed at our stage in life or our profession or
our age? Why is it not sufficient to go to a church where I know the
preaching is of poor quality because I supplement it with good sermons on
CD from another church during the week? What are the benefits of
preaching that is a church‟s common, shared experience?

I‟ll give you three.

First benefit of preaching as a shared experience: the best way to apply
preaching is in relationships with others in our church. I get far more out of
a sermon when I discuss it later with my wife and my small group than if I
just use it for my own personal edification. As I mentioned before, that
communal aspect of application in itself grows our unity as a body. It‟s
worth thinking carefully about the opportunities we are missing to use this
community to help us apply the teaching we hear—and what opportunities
we are missing to help other Christians apply that teaching to their own lives.

Second: making preaching a shared experience reinforces the fact that God‟s
word is the beginning and end of our life together. The main reason we
gather each week is to hear God‟s word preached. The more we keep this
event central to our calendars, the more we will keep God‟s word central to
our life as a church. What that means for you and me is simple: we should
support that ministry through our regular attendance.

The last benefit of making preaching a shared experience is that it allows us
to hear the particular message that God is directing to our congregation. We
have particular needs as a body, and when Mark or Michael prepares a
message, they are applying God‟s word with us in mind. That same benefit
doesn‟t accrue from a message on CD by a pastor who doesn‟t know you.
And often in ways that are clearly supernatural, God directs this church‟s
sermons to meet the specific needs of this congregation. I‟ll give you a good
example: the one sermon that I preached here at CHBC on a Sunday
morning. I recall as I was deciding what to preach on, Chris Bruce—one of
our elders—dropped by my office and suggested that I consider the book of
Habakkuk because we had yet to do a series on Habakkuk. Now as you
know, Habakkuk is one of the most concise and powerful treatments
anywhere in the Bible of how we should view God‟s goodness and
sovereignty in the midst of great evil and suffering. As I was putting my
thoughts for the sermon together, another of our elders at the time—Scott
Croft—suggested that since we are in a city that thinks often about
government, I should focus specifically on how we should view suffering
that occurs when our government has failed to protect us. The week before
the sermon, I struggled through particular suffering that had impacted my
own life—one of the most difficult weeks of my life, in fact—and a trial that
made me much more sensitive to Habakkuk‟s struggle. The resulting
sermon—on how Christians should respond when bad things happen to
apparently good people—was delivered on September 9th of 2001. Two
days later this city was attacked by terrorists, as we well remember. The
supposed coincidence of the Sunday morning sermon was so striking that a
reporter from the Washington Post called the church office several days later
to ask about it.

Was it an accident that God in his sovereignty planned that sermon for this
church on that Sunday? Absolutely not. Did he have a particular message in
mind for us that week that we needed to hear? Absolutely. Preaching as a
shared experience is important because God has planned each message for
our good as a congregation.

IV. Conclusion

With all that we‟ve said in mind, what should we do differently as a
congregation to promote unity through preaching?

First, we should take our responsibility seriously to promote Biblical,
growth-enabling preaching in this church through the pastors we hire and the
way in which we encourage and support them. Second, we should
remember to pray for those who preach to us. Pray that God would
communicate more through them than they already know, and that they
would be sensitive to the leading of his Spirit. Third, we should consider
carefully how we respond to good teaching. Because you are a member of a
church, every opportunity you miss to apply good teaching to your life and
the lives of others is an opportunity you miss to build this congregation up in
unity.

Praise God that he has given his church faithful ministers of the Word to
build us up in God-glorifying unity. Pray that he would do so in ever
increasing measure here at our church.

				
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