Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Goal of Preaching
I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word. Psalm 119:16NKJV
This morning we look at Question 159 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “How is the word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?” It gives the answer, “They that are called to labour in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.”
What is the goal of preaching? Considering the vision and mission statements of many churches, many would seem to answer this question in terms addressing the perceived improvement of human society. Phrases such as “radical inclusiveness,” “racial reconciliation,” “global transformation,” “urban renewal,” “alleviating poverty,” “social justice,” “cultural revitalization,” “community formation,” “encouraging people,” “building relationships,” “personal empowerment,” or similar ones are common. In addition to being man-centered, all of these phrases have at least one other thing in common: they are all non-Christian. That is, there is nothing distinctively Christian in them. They could refer to godly activities done by faithful Christians, but unbelievers could be a part of and practice every one of them as well. So while it might be a good thing to try to alleviate poverty in a particular circumstance (it might also be a bad thing if it involves giving someone bread who refuses to work: 2 Thess. 3:10), it can be done entirely apart from Christianity. Many adherents of false religions and atheists can boast of close relationships, mutual encouragement, friendly communities, and the like. Moreover, each of these activities can be pursued in such a way that is hostile to our faith. Urban renewal can be achieved through racism against whites; radical inclusiveness can mean forced acceptance of all forms of sexual practice.
Much of today’s preaching reflects this man-centered, world-improving emphasis. God’s Word is valued as the most effective tool to bring about improvements in human society. Rather than allowing God’s Word to show us what we should be believing and practicing, man’s already held beliefs are brought to bear on God’s Word, and Scripture is abused to reinforce the values and emphases of our secular society. Liberation theology openly boasts of practicing eisegesis, which means reading a desired meaning or already held belief into Scripture. Notice how the Westminster divines refute this man-centered emphasis of preaching. First, we are to preach sound doctrine. Sound doctrine refers to the teaching of Scripture that is actually and objectively being communicated by the words. We seek it by the practice of exegesis: the meaning we find is already there, it is the one intended by the Holy Spirit in the words themselves, and we bring it out of the text and apply it to our lives. How do we discover this correct meaning?
Hermeneutics refers to the science of interpreting texts. Reformed Theology has historically practiced the grammatico-historical method of interpretation. That is we ascertain the meaning of a passage by studying the original languages of Scripture according to the definition of the words themselves as used in that day. We also take into account the larger context of the passage, in accordance with its genre, its human author and audience, the occasion on which it was written, and the purpose or goal of the writing itself. Finally, we check our derived meaning against other passages of Scripture in what is called the analogy of faith or the analogy of Scripture. Since we know God’s Word is infallible and inerrant, the meaning we believe we have found in a passage cannot contradict any known teaching of the Bible. This process might sound complicated but we do the exact same thing whenever we read anything today: we interpret texts according to the definition of words, the context of the article, its purpose, etc. And this is the way the Word of God must be preached. We set forth what it actually says, seeking first and foremost to be faithful to Him, and trusting in His power to go forth in and through it to accomplish His purposes. The goal is to glorify God by proclaiming His truth and calling all to believe it and to obey it. The result might not be the positive things of the modern church’s mission. We might have to break certain relationships, exclude some practices, be made sorrowful unto repentance, accept responsibility for our failures, admit our lack of power, etc. It comes down to whose kingdom are we seeking to build: God’s or the world’s? In whose wisdom do we really trust? Allow God’s Word to judge and determine everything in your life.