Dear Church Family,
In recent weeks, I’ve been reflecting on preaching. You may read the previous installments online:
Preaching: What is the Gospel?
Preaching: The Foundation and the Superstructure
Preaching: The Abuse of Redemptive Historical Preaching, Part 1
Preaching: The Abuse of Redemptive Historical Preaching, Part 2
Preaching: The Abuse of Redemptive Historical Preaching, Part 3
Last week, we examined the inappropriate view of preaching in which some argue that every sermon ought to have the same message: justification by faith alone in Christ alone. I tried to show the implications of such a view of preaching with regard to: the calling of a pastor to feed the sheep, some basic rhetorical issues, and how it inappropriately alters (and flattens) how believers read the Scriptures. I also tried to explain why I think this methodology of preaching the same message no matter the text is attractive.
One of the main points that I sought explicate was this: while God’s people need to continually hear and be reminded of how they have been saved by faith alone in Christ alone, the Bible has more to say to God’s people than this one message. With that in mind, today we will look at a particular portion of the Westminster Confession of Faith that helps us to see the multifaceted message of God’s Word.
Insights from the Westminster Confession of Faith
Chapters 14 & 15 of the Westminster Confession of Faith deal with faith and repentance, respectively. WCF 15.1 reads: “Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.” Plain enough. Repentance and faith in Christ are to be preached by every minister of the Gospel. Chapter 15 then goes on to define and describe the different aspects of repentance.
Chapter 14, though, provides us with some insights that helps to guide and direct preachers and readers of the Word, alike. Chapter 14 (Of Saving Faith) gives the definition, source, and means of faith (14.1), the effects of saving faith (14.2), and the victory of saving faith (14.3). [by the way, 1 Peter 1:1-2:12 teaches all of these.] Consider, in more detail, the second paragraph:
By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. (WCF 14.2)
Notice the use of the two verbs (believes and acts). By faith, a Christian believes what is revealed in the Word of God because of the authority of God speaking in the Scriptures; one of the discernable marks of saving faith is that a person believes that the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God. Then – and here’s where it gets really interesting and applicable to how a preacher preaches, and how a hearer responds – by faith a Christian acts differently depending on the particular passage and its contents: (1) obeying the commands; (2) trembling at the threatenings; (3) embracing the promises. Finally, the paragraph concludes with the principal act of saving faith: receiving and resting upon Christ alone.
This portion of the Westminster Confession of Faith helps to chart the waters in the debates over what it means “to preach the gospel.” Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps, we ought to be asking, “What does it mean to preach the Word of God?” (WLC 159). Whichever question we ask, however, we need to understand WCF 14.2 and the importance of preaching the particularities of a passage (commands, threatenings, promises, or perhaps even several of these). Then, let God work faith in the hearers, a faith that manifests itself in different ways depending on the passage of Scripture that was preached. In the end, I suppose it comes down to the preacher having faith, himself – as defined in the first sentence of this paragraph – faith in the authority of God speaking in the Scriptures.
Here, we’ve just introduced the concept of how believers act differently based upon what each particular passage of Scripture contains. Next week, we will examine the Scriptural basis for this idea.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch