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Preaching

The Word Became fresh…On exodus 4:24-26

Commenting on the below passage…

‘At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’ So he let him alone. It was then that she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood,’ because of the circumcision.”

(Exodus 4:24–26 ESV)

…Dale Ralph Davis, in his book The Word Became Fresh, writes this:

‘We do not understand how Yahweh could be so abrupt, so lethal, with Moses. We get used to thinking that there is a dull predictability about God. Sometimes we may even begin to think that because we follow a certain system of doctrine (e.g., Reformed theology) we therefore know what God will and won’t do. And there is a danger among both believers and unbelievers of slopping into this way of thinking that so much as says, ‘God would never demand or require of us anything we believe unreasonable; God would never do anything I consider to be against good judgment. That is a recipe for an idol. The most shocking part of Exodus 4:24-26 is most useful to me. It forces me to ask if God is free to be who he is, or, do I try to make him my prisoner, subject to what I think
he should be? A Christian must keep asking himself: Am I worshiping the God of the Bible or only God as I wish to think of him?’

Dale Ralph Davis The Word Became Fresh (p.69)

I am only part way through reading this book, but it is brilliant in helping us think through preaching the OT. I heartily recommend it (not just for preachers, his commentaries are also brilliant to read through leisurely). You can never have too many books…unless you are highly allergic to them and you are required to carry an Epinephrine (adrenaline) pen around with you just in case of an emergency. In that event, don’t page a Doctor, it might make you worse.

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Preaching

David F. Wells on Preaching…

Preaching is not a conversation, a chat about some interesting ideas. It is not the moment in which postmoderns hear their own private message in the biblical words, one unique to each one who hears, and then go their own way. No! This is God speaking! He speaks through the stammering lips of the preacher where that person’s mind is on the text of Scripture and the heart is in the presence of God. God, as Luther put it, lives in the preacher’s mouth. This is the kind of preaching that issues a summons, that nourishes the soul, that draws the congregation into the very presence of God so that no matter what aspect of his character, his truth, or his working in this world is in focus, we leave with awe, gratitude, encouragement, and sometimes a rebuke. We have been in the very presence of God! That is what great preaching always accomplishes.’ From The Courage to be Protestant p. 197.

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Luther's Eight Sermons at Wittenberg

Luther’s Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, March 1522 (Part 5)

In the fourth sermon that Luther preached, he addressed the use of images and the eating of meats. Taking a slightly different tact to what the later Reformed churches would, Luther writes, ‘On the subject of images, in particular, we saw that they ought to be abolished when they are worshipped; otherwise not,—although because of the abuses they give rise to, I wish they were everywhere abolished.’  Luther thinks that there can be images that are beneficial provided they are not worshipped. Once an image is worshipped, the line has been crossed. Luther also admits that images count for nothing before God: ‘This cannot be denied. For whoever places an image in a church imagines he has performed a service to God and done a good work, which is downright idolatry.’ Yet Luther warns against the unthinking destruction of images because he wants people to be taught from Scripture that they are nothing, so that the authority of God’s Word would be the means by which they are rejected. Again, in this approach, Luther is seeking to prevent the institution of a legalism in reaction to a legalism of its opposite. In other words, Luther was concerned not to create a new law in the place of the old, rather he would preach the truth: ‘If they had heard this teaching that images count for nothing, they would have ceased of their own accord, and the images would have fallen without any uproar or tumult, as they are already beginning to do.’

What of Luther’s fondness for the crucifix then? ‘For I suppose there is nobody, or certainly very few, who do not understand that yonder crucifix is not my God, for my God is in heaven, but that this is simply a sign.’ Luther’s logic is this ‘…although it is true and no one can deny that the images are evil because they are abused, nevertheless we must not on that account reject them, nor condemn anything because it is abused. This would result in utter confusion.’ Luther illustrates this by reminding us that many people worship the sun and the stars – should we then rip the sun and stars from heaven? What of women and wine, he continues, both of which can cause much misery to man? Luther postulates with tongue in cheek: should we kill all the women and pour out all the wine? Driving his point home he then concludes that if this is the way we want to reform – by destroying our enemy – we will have to kill ourselves, because ‘we have no greater enemy than our own heart.’ But in the final analysis for Luther, preaching the Word of God is the means of reform, and the gospel is its power.


Luther also addresses the issue of meats: ‘It is true that we are free to eat any kind of food, meats, fish, eggs, or butter. This no one can deny.’ But, Luther adds, we must know when to use our Christian liberty. First, Luther says if you are sick you should eat meat as required irregardless of the offence caused. Second, ‘… if you should be pressed to eat fish instead of meat on Friday, and to eat fish and abstain from eggs and butter during Lent, etc., as the pope has done with his fool’s laws, then you must in no wise allow yourself to be drawn away from the liberty in which God has placed you, but do just the contrary to spite him, and say: Because you forbid me to eat meat and presume to turn my liberty into law, I will eat meat in spite of you. And thus you must do in all other things which are matters of liberty. To give you an example: if the pope, or anyone else were to force me to wear a cowl [a hooded robe worn my monks], just as he prescribes it, I would take off the cowl just to spite him. But since it is left to my own free choice, I wear it or take it off, according to my pleasure.’ Thirdly, there are the weak in the faith. ‘Toward such well-meaning people we must assume an entirely different attitude from that which we assume toward the stubborn. We must bear patiently with these people and not use our liberty; since it brings no peril or harm to body or soul; in fact, it is rather salutary, and we are doing our brothers and sisters a great service besides. But if we use our liberty unnecessarily, and deliberately cause offense to our neighbor, we drive away the very one who in time would come to our faith…Thus we, too, should order our lives and use our liberty at the proper time, so that Christian liberty may suffer no injury, and no offense be given to our weak brothers and sisters who are still without the knowledge of this liberty.’

To conclude, we should use our liberty (even defiantly) when our freedom has been threatened by those who would seek to make us slaves to something i.e. the Roman Catholic dietary laws. But when our liberty affects a weaker brother or sister this is when we must be willing to lovingly put our liberty aside.

LW 51:85-88

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Preaching

‘Recovering the directory of public worship on preaching’ – Chris Gordon

‘When the subject of preaching is addressed today, we are accustomed to asking only about the faithfulness of the message, but we avoid, almost altogether, the question of effectiveness. If T. David Gordon is at all correct, ‘that less than 30 percent of those who are ordained to the Christian ministry can preach even a mediocre sermon’…and that ‘of the sermons he has heard in the last twenty-five years, only 15 percent had a discernable point’, the question of effectiveness in preaching is an important one….’ Keep reading: https://agradio.org/recovering-the-directory-of-public-worship-on-preaching

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Luther's Eight Sermons at Wittenberg Uncategorized

Luther’s Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, March 1522 (Part 3)

Luther begins his second sermon with a summary of his sermon from the day before: ‘Dear friends, you heard yesterday the chief characteristics of a Christian man, that his whole life and being is faith and love. Faith is directed toward God, love toward man and one’s neighbor, and consists in such love and service for him as we have received from God without our work and merit. Thus, there are two things: the one, which is the most needful, and which must be done in one way and no other; the other, which is a matter of choice and not of necessity, which may be kept or not, without endangering faith or incurring hell. In both, love must deal with our neighbor in the same manner as God has dealt with us; it must walk the straight road, straying neither to the left nor to the right. In the things which are “musts” and are matters of necessity, such as believing in Christ, love nevertheless never uses force or undue constraint. Thus the mass is an evil thing, and God is displeased with it, because it is performed as if it were a sacrifice and work of merit. Therefore it must be abolished. Here there can be no question or doubt, any more than you should ask whether you should worship God. Here we are entirely agreed: the private masses must be abolished. As I have said in my writings, I wish they would be abolished everywhere and only the ordinary evangelical mass be retained. Yet Christian love should not employ harshness here nor force the matter. However, it should be preached and taught with tongue and pen that to hold mass in such a manner is sinful, and yet no one should be dragged away from it by the hair; for it should be left to God, and his Word should be allowed to work alone, without our work or interference. Why? Because it is not in my power or hand to fashion the hearts of men as the potter molds the clay and fashion them at my pleasure [Ecclus. 33:13]. I can get no farther than their ears; their hearts I cannot reach. And since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I, force any one to have faith. That is God’s work alone, who causes faith to live in the heart. Therefore we should give free course to the Word and not add our works to it. We have the jus verbi[right to speak] but not the executio[power to accomplish]. We should preach the Word, but the results must be left solely to God’s good pleasure.’

Even when something is truly wrong and unbiblical (like the mass) Luther warns against responding to it without faith in God and love for man. If we have faith in God when we respond, we cannot but be drawn to the absolute conviction that His Word alone is the only means of reformation. If we love our fellow man, we will not physically drag people away from the mass – by the hair which must have happened – but be faithful preachers of the Word, ‘his Word should be allowed to work alone, without our work or interference…we should give free course to the Word and not add our works to it.’ This is what made the reformation a reformation – rather than a revolution! A revolution is man’s way of making change through violence, coercion and a manipulation of reality and truth. A reformation is God’s way of making change through the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word of truth. The Devil loves revolutions, God’s Word is too powerful to need them.

Luther goes on to say that forcing change on someone results, ‘in a mere mockery, an external show, a fool’s play, man-made ordinances, sham-saints, and hypocrites. For where the heart is not good, I care nothing at all for the work. We must first win the hearts of the people. But that is done when I teach only the Word of God, preach the gospeland thus God would accomplish more with his Word than if you and I were to merge all our power into one heap. So when you have won the heart, you have won the man—and thus the thing must finally fall of its own weight and come to an end…Faith must not be chained and imprisoned, nor bound by an ordinance to any work. This is the principle by which you must be governed. For I am sure you will not be able to carry out your plans. And if you should carry them out with such general laws, then I will recant everything that I have written and preached and I will not support you…

And in Luther’s conclusion to this sermon we can see the very heart of the reformation, the so called’ ‘formal cause’—that is, the ultimate authority of Scripture summarised in the phrase Sola Scriptura. This is a famous quote from Luther and one of my favourites—but it makes the point:In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany; indeed, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe [i.e. a revolution]. But what would it have been? Mere fool’s play. I did nothing; I let the Word do its work. What do you suppose is Satan’s thought when one tries to do the thing by kicking up a row? He sits back in hell and thinks: Oh, what a fine game the poor fools are up to now! But when we spread the Word alone and let it alone do the work, that distresses him. For it is almighty, and takes captive the hearts, and when the hearts are captured the work will fall of itself…’

So what does the church really need? The devil says psychology, eloquence, oratory, trendiness, sociology, relevance, revolutions. Nope, we just need faithful preachers of the Word. Full stop.

LW 51:75-78

©Nathan L. Runham. All Rights Reserved.

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Uncategorized

Westside Reformed Church » Is your church preparing you for trials?

Westside Reformed Church » Is your church preparing you for trials?
— Read on westsidereformed.org/is-your-church-preparing-you-for-trials/

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Theses

Thesis 2: The church that uses principles of worldly wisdom to sell the gospel (like an Apple store, i.e an attractive logo and professional website, uniformed ushers and greeters, catchy vision and mission statements, short and shallow talks etc) needs to spend more time on foolish things like preaching the Word.

Explanation: when churches use worldly principles to reach the ‘unchurched’ they are inviting spiritual malnutrition among Christians because these principles overwhelmingly address the perceived needs of the perishing, rather than conducting the fullness of worship for those who are being saved. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV)

If we cater church services for the wrong audience – under the guise of church planting or evangelism – the folly of the cross will be removed so as to not offend the perishing. Whereas, where the Word of God is preached faithfully, those who are being saved, will be, without the use of vain principles. “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–29 ESV) This foolishness includes the methods of Christ, the message of Christ, and the means of Christ (his preachers).