Hymn for the Preaching of the Word

John Newton’s “Prayer for the Ministry of the Word” sings out a prayer to the Lord for the upcoming preaching of the Scriptures.  The words cry out for the blessing of the Lord upon the preacher so that souls would be fed, light would shine, people would walk according to the word, and God would get the praise.  The song can be set to various traditional hymn tunes, including that of “Amazing Grace” (and it would be interesting to see the song set to a contemporary tune):

Thy promise, LORD, and thy command
Have brought us here today;
And now, we humbly waiting stand
To hear what thou wilt say.

Meet us, we pray, with words of peace,
And fill our hearts with love;
That from our follies we may cease,
And henceforth faithful prove.

Now, LORD, inspire the preacher’s heart,
And teach his tongue to speak;
Food to the hungry soul impart,
And comfort to the weak.

Furnish us all with light and power
To walk in Wisdom’s ways;
So shall the benefit be ours,
And thou shalt have the praise.

Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words

There’s a popular saying often repeated by Christians. It has found new life on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe you have even uttered these words, commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.”

I think we can appreciate what many are getting at when they say something like this. As Christians, we should live in such a way that our lives point to the person and work of Jesus. However, good intentions cannot overcome two basic problems with this quote and its supposed origin. One, Francis never said it, and two, the quote is not biblical.

Mark Galli has pointed out that there is no record of Francis, a member of a preaching order, uttering anything close to this. In fact, everything we know about the man suggests he would not have agreed with his supposed quote. He was well known for his preaching and often preached up to five times a day.

The idea may not have resonated with Francis, but for many today, wordless ministry is a compelling approach. “Words are cheap,” we like to say, and “Actions speak louder than words.” Galli explains that the sentiment complements our culture rather well:

Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.

And this is the real problem — not from whom the quote originally came, but just how it can give us an incomplete understanding of the gospel and how God saves sinners. Christians are quick to encourage each other to “live out the gospel,” to “be the gospel” to our neighbors, and to even “gospel each other.” The missional impulse here is helpful, yet the gospel isn’t anything the Christian can live out, practice, or become.

The Apostle Paul summarized the gospel as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through whom sin is atoned for, sinners are reconciled to God, and the hope of the resurrection awaits all who believe.

The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

It appears that the emphasis on proclamation is waning even in many churches that identify themselves as evangelical. Yet proclamation is the central task of the church. No, it is not the only task God has given us, but it is central. While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work God has given the church is to “proclaim the excellencies” of our Savior.

A godly life should serve as a witness for the message we proclaim. But without words, what can our actions point to but ourselves? A godly life cannot communicate the incarnation, Jesus’ substitution for sinners, or the hope of redemption by grace alone through faith alone. We can’t be good news, but we can herald it, sing it, speak it, and preach it to all who listen.

In fact, verbal communication of the gospel is the only means by which people are brought into a right relationship with God. The Apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:13-14, HCSB)

If we are to make disciples of all nations, we must use words. Preaching necessitates the use of language. So, let me encourage us to preach the gospel, and use words, since it’s necessary. But let me also say that agreeing to the centrality of proclamation is not enough. We need to move from agreement with the idea to effective execution of it. Let me encourage us to be a people who not only use gospel words but use them in four ways.

1. Let your gospel words be comprehensible.

In our bid to be accurate about theological issues, we must also make certain we are comprehensible. We want to declare the biblical gospel in a culturally accessible manner. This requires us to define theological words as well as embrace the language of the people to whom we speak wherever appropriate. I find it ironic that some who love the Puritans sometimes betray the Puritan practice of speaking “plainly.” Gospel words should be offered, as much as possible, in the common language of the listeners. How shall they hear if we speak in another language?

2. Let your gospel words be earnest.

We communicate that the gospel is a serious matter because it is a serious matter. I’m not suggesting that everyone should have the same temperament, but I am saying that life-saving “good news” should be offered with sobriety, sincerity, and zeal. No one listens to proclamation about serious issues presented in frivolous ways. When preaching Christ, we need clarity and sincerity.

3. Let your gospel words be heard outside the local church.

Making disciples means giving the gospel to those outside the church. Since we believe that the only God-given means of transferring people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light involves the preaching of the gospel with words, we should be compelled to speak such words to any who will listen. As the ones sent by God (that’s us), we should be ready to “tell the story” to the unconverted people in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.

4. Let your gospel words be heard inside the local church.

The gospel should be spoken in the church because even the redeemed can drift back toward the opposite temptations of legalism and lawlessness. One of the most important things a Christian does is to redirect other Christians back to Jesus though the good news of the gospel. And, we need to speak it in the church so that the unbelievers visiting among us can hear how precious it remains to our lives, that it is not merely a way station on our spiritual journey. The gospel is spoken in the company of faith for both our sanctification and our worship.

The gospel requires, demands even, words. So, let’s preach the gospel, and let’s use words, since they’re necessary. May they be clear and bold words that call those inside and outside the church to follow Jesus.

June 2012 issue of Tabletalk; “Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words” by Ed Stetzer

Preaching Christianity

“The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it is true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort.”
-C.S. Lewis

A Gospel Explosion

VolcanoJeremiah 20:9 – But if I say, “I  will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,” then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.

How often have we tried to quench God’s speaking in our lives and His prompting to speak to others?  Sometimes it is because we are mad at Him because of a difficult circumstance that we blame on Him or blame Him for not preventing.  Sometimes it is out of fear of what others might think.  Sometimes it is because we want to do our own thing and try to hold down God’s speaking against our actions.

The thing about God is that the Bible says He is very patient.  I can imagine the Lord slowly turning up the heat little by little in our lives.  Whether it is through circumstances in our environment or that internal and constant pricking of the conscience.  Sometimes He says, “go ahead and do what you want if you won’t listen to Me” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).  This last one is the scariest because of the damage we can inflict on ourselves bodily, psychologically, and spiritually before we repent and come to Christ.

The best response (other than not trying to suppress God’s speaking) when we hit those stubborn streaks seems to be what Jeremiah does – acknowledge it, speak it out to God, and eventually speak out what God has put in our heart to speak for Him.  The verse doesn’t say that Jeremiah starts speaking again, but shortly later we see that he does.  I have found that when I speak forth His Word to people it can fill me with joy, speak forth Christ to another person, and cause me to wonder what I was thinking to even want to try to shut up the Lord.

Gospel Odyssey – August 4 (Part 2) – August 6

I have been away from internet for a while, so I have a little blog catching up to do as well as some work to do.

As for August 4th (Part 2) I did learn of one more salvation that occurred.  So that is pretty sweet.

August 5th was a day on the campus doing some creative gospel outreach.  There were at least 4 different things done: (1)We brought two couches onto the diag and had signs saying “Pray with me”.  The thought being that if you want to pray about something, sit on the couch with one of us and we’d pray for you.  Apparently it was very effective in Cleveland Heights.  I don’t know how it went at U of M.  (2) We took video cameras &/or digital cameras out on campus and interviewed people.  Either doing a survey, going through a Bible verse, or some other means.  (3) One-on-one gospel and handing out tracts and invites to the bbq’s.  (4) Passing out some of the free cookies on campus along with invites and seeing if a conversation would start.

I did number four.  I would ask people if they wanted a free cookie and about 60% of the time people said “yes”.  Oh, the cookies had the verse, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger –Jesus Christ” [John 6:35].  Usually people would ask why I was handing out cookies and I would tell them to show God’s love.  Just as God freely gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, we are giving out free cookies.  Like the cookies, all we need to do is choose to receive Him.  People, Christians & non-Christians alike, mostly said “thank you” or some other polite expression of thanks.  I only had one college girl pick up the cookie, read the verse, say “*%$*#&% you” after reading the verse, through the cookie down and storm off.  I didn’t even get to mention Jesus’ name, all it took was for her to read the Word & see His name to violently react.

After the day of invites and such we had another gospel bbq at another park.  There seemed to be at least 30 friends and people from the neighborhood show up.  Most seemed to be from the neighborhood, which was really great to see.  Ian Konopinski shared an excellent gospel message about forgiveness based upon Romans 3:23 & 6:23.  Again, Amy Strieter set up a great short drama to start off the message.  I am not sure if there were any salvations but at least one guy from the neighborhood who was already saved said that he wanted to get baptized at Friday’s bbq.

Today is August 6th, and I am blogging quickly while most people are out canoeing.  I thought I’d try to get some work done in the couple of free hours while they are having fun.

A new gospel topic, hope, was introduced today.  They key verse being Colossians 1:27, “To them God made to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”.  We did some canvassing in a new area and then went to three separate nursing homes.  In the nursing homes we sang some hymns, then a person preached a message on hope (Peter McNaughton, Ian Konopinski, and I did this), and then we visited with the people there.  The people at the nursing home we visited seemed to very much enjoy all three aspects.  It was very sweet.  The home even had a dog who lived there as well…kind of a house pet.

Now they are off canoeing while I blog and work.