A Slander on the Oyster

“You cannot be truly efficient ministers if you are not ‘apt to teach.’ You know ministers who have mistaken their calling, and evidently have no gifts for it: make sure that none think the same of you. There are brethren in the ministry whose speech is intolerable; either they rouse you to wrath, or else they send you to sleep. No chloral can ever equal some discourses in sleep-giving properties; no human being, unless gifted with infinite patience, could long endure to listen to them, and nature does well to give the victim deliverance through sleep. I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons, it would be a righteous judgement upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear.’ Let us not fall under the same condemnation.”

– C. H. Spurgeon

Questions about Inductive Teaching and Closed Communion

Here are a couple of insightful answers from Jonathan Leeman found at the 9marks ministry website:

Dear 9Marks,

I am a newly appointed missionary and am wrestling with the necessity of preaching in the church context. It’s a fad right now to do inductive style teaching in lieu of preaching in house churches. I brought up the imperative to preach from 2 Timothy 4:2 and the response was that Timothy was likely a missionary and the preaching here is evangelism, not Western-style pulpit ministry. Further, it’s not “practical” and as easily reproducible.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the necessity of monological (for lack of better words) preaching as a transcultural imperative.

Thanks for your time,


Dear Dave,

I sent your question to Zane Pratt who serves as the Vice President for Training for the SBC’s International Mission Board. I assumed (rightly, he tells me) that he’s encountered this before. He tells me it has become the party line in some places, in part because people are looking for a ministry program that’s quickly reproducible. Here’s what Pratt said:

This is a great question, and it shows the intersection between missions strategy, our understanding of the church, and our interpretation of Scripture. In the example you’ve been told, missions strategy is in the driver’s seat. The controlling concern is the desire to see churches reproduce quickly. That in turn leads to a desire to remove any feature of church life that might take time to develop—like having pastors who are able to preach. This requires redefining the function of Bible teaching in the church to something that anyone can do immediately after conversion, like leading a Bible discussion. Finally, in order to warrant this conclusion from Scripture, it becomes necessary to rule out proclamation-type verses in the New Testament from having application to the internal life of the church. Does such a procedure stand up to scrutiny?

There are two Greek word groups under consideration here. One is kerygma and its related verb forms, and the other is didache and its related verb forms. The first of these is often best translated as “proclamation,” and it is often used in the New Testament to refer to the proclamation of the gospel to the world—hence, to evangelistic preaching. In fact, 2 Timothy 4:2 begins with this word. The second word is usually translated as teaching. However, the line between these words is by no means solid. For example, the verbal form of kerygma is used in both Acts 15:21 and Romans 2:21 to refer to ordinary instruction and preaching in the synagogue. In the case of 2 Timothy 4:2, the explanatory context uses the word didache—teaching—to describe what kind of proclamation is in mind. This verse does in fact connect proclamation or preaching with the teaching that goes on in the church.

Of equal importance is the complete absence in the New Testament of any examples of inductive Bible study as the central teaching event in the church. Following the examples of Jesus, the synagogue, and the apostles (see, for example, Paul in Troas in Acts 20), the normal form of teaching would have been preaching or proclamation by one teacher. That is not to say that some form of discussion is out of order. It can be very useful. However, the normal pattern of teaching in the church from the earliest days of New Testament church life has been centered on preaching. Training pastors/elders/overseers to preach is a necessary part of healthy church formation, and the legitimate desire to see the gospel spread as quickly as possible does not negate that obligation.

Thank you, Zane. So helpful.

I remember encountering similar ideas in the Emergent Church movement about a decade ago. Therefore, I responded to the trend in my book Reverberation. When Moody suggested republishing Reverberation as Word-Centered Church last year, I assumed the conversation mostly had died, so I cut out the section on dialogical preaching. Apparently, it has now shown up in missionary circles! So, here’s what I wrote in Reverberation:

A number of writers have been promoting dialogical preaching lately. Such preaching focuses on the back and forth nature of dialogue, but places this conversation into the preaching event. It’s said to be particularly appropriate in these postmodern days since no one believes anymore that “one man has all the answers.” Dialogues give every member of the community an opportunity to express him or herself and offer a perspective on God’s Word. . . .

No doubt, group conversations about God’s Word, as in inductive Bible studies, can be rich and sweet. It is encouraging to hear the young and old, mature and immature, testify to their experience of God’s grace through the biblical text being discussed.

At the same time, God has gifted some—not all—to be pastors and teachers and given them as gifts to his church (Eph. 4:7–13). And he means to particularly bless and grow his church through them.

The pattern throughout Scripture is for a man—a judge, a prophet, an apostle, a preacher—to speak authoritatively on behalf of God: “Thus says the Lord. . .” The speaker’s authority does not derive from himself; it derives from the Word. It’s tied to his faithful presentation of it. The congregation, on the other hand, learns what it means to submit to God by submitting to his authoritative Word as it’s preached. The goal isn’t to exchange perspectives, but to hear what God says. Every Christian (including the preacher) must understand that first and foremost we live under God’s authoritative Word. This reality is best demonstrated and practiced through the preaching event, a place where we learn to sit quietly and listen. The preacher, if he has been faithful, has been sitting quietly and listening all week!

I pray something Zane or I have offered is helpful to you.

Dear 9Marks,

I just found out that the church I am a part of practices closed communion. (“Closed communion” is the practice of restricting the Lord’s Supper to members of a particular local church and only that church.) Could you give me Bible references that speak about this issue? It feels very exclusive and arrogant to exclude even close friends who I know have embraced the gospel and are walking with the Lord. I would appreciate any Bible passages that speak either for or against this idea.


Dear Amy,

If I may, first a word or correction, then of consolation, and finally of counsel. The correction: you shouldn’t assume people are being arrogant because they are trying to obey the Bible as they understand it. Now, I don’t agree with this particular view of the Lord’s Supper either, but I assume that the church and its leaders are doing their best to obey and submit themselves to God.

I do find it’s somewhat common to criticize as arrogant people with strong opinions about what the Bible teaches. And certainly, such people might be arrogant. But they might also might be the humblest of all, because they put aside their own opinions or popularity, and submit themselves to God. I’ve known people in both camps. For our part, let’s do our best to give people the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it comes to the motives of their hearts.

Now the word of consolation: I agree with you that closed communion mistakenly excludes people from the Lord’s Supper who should not be excluded. But let me start with what this position gets right. The Lord’s Supper is not an individual Christian ordinance, but a church ordinance. It marks off the church from the world. Listen to Paul: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). We are shown to be one body when we partake of the one loaf. The Supper is a church revealing meal. He then practically concludes, “When you gather to eat, you should all eat together” (11:33).

This is why the Supper is for the gathered church. It’s for church members. It reveals who the church members are. And this much the closed communion position gets right.

Yet there is another principle we need to remember: the universal church is bigger than just our church. Therefore, it’s the practice of my own church to open the Table to members of other churches. Throughout the New Testament we see examples of churches working together, such as John’s commendation of Gaius for receiving the missionaries he sent (3 John 5–8). What’s more, we see John condemning Diostrephes because he won’t welcome other believers (3 John 9). When we open the Table to members of other churches, therefore, we demonstrate a rightful welcome to the larger body of Christ. So you’ll hear our pastors say something like, “If you’re a baptized member of another gospel-preaching church, then you’re welcome to receive the Lord’s Table here.”

Finally, my counsel. What do you do in your position? First, respect your own church and its leaders. Assume they have good reasons for their position. And, who knows, maybe they’re right and we’re wrong. I think it would be fine for you to have a conversation with the leaders about this issue, and even to present a different view. But I would only do this once, and then I would leave it alone. If you stay in the church, do so only if you can be content to leave the topic alone. Don’t be a source of division. If you feel like you cannot remain in the church because of its position here, that’s fine. But do your best to leave humbly, graciously, and with as little wake behind you as possible.

I pray this is useful. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and care.

Preaching is not Magical

Article by Dan Phillips: Original source here.

Christian worship is a supernatural event – but it is not a magic show.

In pagan worship, forms and rituals are thought to be inherently effective. The Latin phrase is ex opere operato, “from the work worked.” It is the idea that we can do things that in turn will make God do things. This is the essence of paganism and of magic: that forms of worship or manipulation produce supernatural effects simply by our performing them correctly.

In Harry Potter, it’s saying the right gibberish-Latin words (“Wingardium leviosa!”). In other literature, it’s gestures, or words-plus-gestures. In some lands, it’s sacrifice and incantation.

My fear is that some evangelicals – despite our call to reject all paganism – unwittingly entertain a faux-baptized form of the same sorts of expectations and beliefs.

How so?

We (correctly) affirm that the Bible is not just a book, not a mere collection of human musings. It is the word of God, “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and communicates the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). It is the means of saving faith (Romans 10:17), and of growth in holiness (John 17:17). It is truly a marvel, a gift from God.

So we (again correctly) make the preaching of the Word the center of our corporate worship. This reflects the stated priorities of Christ (John 8:31-32) and His apostles (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2). So far, so good.

But here comes the disconnect: sometimes both preacher and hearers get the idea that, if we do that right – that is, preach the Word faithfully – then God must do great and wonderful things, along the lines of our expectations. Sinners will be saved, saints will be transformed and matured, churches will grow. Glory all around. It’s guaranteed!

Right? Wrong.

I yield to no man in my absolute conviction of the centrality of God’s written word to all thought, faith, worship and practice. It is that very conviction which compels me to point out the corollary truth:

The glory of God requires not only faithful preaching of the Word, but also faithful hearing of the Word.

Once you see it, you will find this verity literally all over Scripture. Take Deuteronomy 28:1 – “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” This verse brims with vital truth.

We see here the voice of Yahweh your God – something many Christians say they long to hear. But what they mean by it is not what God means by it. They mean some mystical, subjective inner experience, where they feel something that they identify as God’s voice. This verse means nothing of the kind. It locates God’s voice not within us, but in God’s commandments. God’s voice is God’s written Word.

But beyond that, note that God’s blessing on national Israel was conditioned on their faithfully obeying that voice, that written Word. The Hebrew words translated if you faithfully obey are more literally if hearing you will hear – which is to say, if you will intently listen, so that you may obey.

Though Scripture itself was God’s mighty voice, it would accomplish no good for the Israelites if they did not listen closely, so as to understand, remember, and do what God told them.

“Ah, yes,” I can hear some neo-mystic murmur. “That was the Old Testament. This is the age of the Spirit. Everything’s changed!”

Has it, now?

Turn to Hebrews 3:7, where we read, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says…” There it is: the Holy Spirit speaks! Now, today, in the present tense! The writer is about to quote Him for us. What will He say?

Listen: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion…” (vv. 7b-8a). Wait, those words are familiar. Where did we hear them before? Check the marginal note…oh, there it is: Psalm 95:7-8.

What? But that’s the Old Testament. This New Testament writer is saying that an Old Testament verse is, today, now the voice of the Holy Spirit, speaking to us?

Indeed he is saying that. He learned it from the Old Testament. The voice of God is the written word of God, not an inner glorpy gloop in the gizzard.

Now note what the Holy Spirit is saying: He says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts,” as Israel did in the wilderness. He is not saying, “If you feel something you think is God, chase it down.” Rather, the Spirit is saying, “When you read or hear God’s written Word, do not harden your heart.”

What does that tell us? It is possible to hear God’s word, in its full power and authority, and still receive no blessing, and engage in no worship. How? The writer of Hebrews will tell us in the next chapter:

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. (Hebrews 4:1–2)

The message was heard by the outer ear, but it was not welcomed into a heart of faith. So not only did it not benefit them, it positively condemned them (cf. John 12:48; 15:22).

So yes, what a preacher preaches makes all the difference as to whether a service is or is not truly a worship service that glorifies God.

But how the hearers hear is no less important.

Preaching: The Sacred Task

Text: Hebrews 4:12,13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

God requires much of a preacher. That’s because a Church’s worship never rises above the view of God proclaimed from the pulpit. A high view of God, proclaiming the high majesty, holiness and Sovereignty of God leads to high worship of God. A weak and low view of God leads to weak and low worship of God. There is much at stake in all this…

Mandates of Expository Preaching

Article: Mandates of Expository Preaching by Eric Davis (original source here)

Expository preaching is that type of preaching which seeks to approach the word of God in a manner befitting of the God of the word. As such, its aim is to submit to the authorial intent of a passage, unpacking the meaning in its grammatical and historical context, then explaining, illustrating, and applying the text accordingly.

Therefore, expository preaching is that method of preaching which keeps most in step with the way in which the Holy Spirit inspired the word. It seeks full submission to what the Spirit laid down in Scripture.

Recently, John MacArthur taught a seminar in a doctorate program at the Master’s Seminary for expository preaching titled, “Mandates of Expository Preaching.” With over 50 years experience in weekly expository preaching, the church does well to listen to what he has to say on the matter. Here is a summary of what was taught.

Expository preaching establishes the authority of God over the mind of the hearer.

Churches whose teaching and preaching are more loosely tied to sound exposition from Scripture can tend towards demagoguery. In those cases, the authority is more in the guy than God. That is an unsafe place to be, both as a leadership and congregation.

Expository preaching is a safer place to be simply because the ministry philosophy is submission to every word of God. And submission to the word of God is submission to the God of the word.

The primary duty of the pastor is to establish that God is the authority, not him (Titus 2:15). Preaching is to be authoritative which means it must have a transcendent and divine authority. Our authority is a delegated authority. When you are an expositor of Scripture, you are constantly declaring the authority of the word of God.

Expository preaching affirms the lordship of Christ over the church.

There is a de facto assault by self-appointed, narcissistic pastors who present themselves as if they’re the head of the church by making the dominance of their personality the functional head of the church. Pastors won’t verbally deny the headship of Christ over the church, but they do in practice. They do so when they remove the Bible from its governing position in the church. Doing so usurps the place which belongs only to Christ. Continue reading

How to Make an Effective Preacher

How to Make an Effective Preacher – Author Unknown by Clint Archer (original source here)

John MacArthur, as the President of our seminary, read this out at my graduation ceremony. It has haunted me and inspired me since I became a pastor eleven years ago. When I am tempted to rethink and retool the focus of my ministry, I read and reread this lyrical piece of sage advice, and I am reassured that the priority of my calling is preaching God’s word in God’s way to God’s people.

As much as I love spending time with my flock, socializing and fellowshipping, counseling and discipling, I frequently remind myself that those tasks are essential, but not primary, and must happen only if/when the sermon preparation is complete for Sunday.

My goal is to deliver a well-crafted, thoroughly researched, biblically faithful, theologically sound, and practically applicable world class sermon every week. I will never enter the pulpit unprepared or even underprepared. In times of illness or urgent pastoral duties I have asked others at the last minute (who had been tasked with having “one in the chamber” at all times) to cover for me. But I have never once tried to wing it while standing before the sacred desk.

So, I’d like to share these hardcore marching orders to you, the congregation, to help your pastor be an effective preacher…

Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.”

Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before a holy God and a holy text and broken hearts and a superficial flock.

Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God.

Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing. Shut his mouth forever from spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever from tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.

Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!

Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day: “Sir, we would see Jesus!”

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.

Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.

And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left — God’s Word.

Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly.

Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant.

For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.

Why Did God Choose Preaching As His Means?

From Thomas Goodwin’s Works, 11:362:

But why of all things else hath he chosen his word to do this?

Ans. 1. He hath chosen preaching of the word, because it is the weakest means of all others, and therefore his power would the more appear unto his own glory in it. What is weaker than a word? and yet God created the world by it, for he only said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light,’ &c. But you will say, That was his own word spoken by himself. I answer, that now to manifest his power the more, he will take the voice of a frail man speaking his word for him; and what is weaker than a man’s breath? Indeed, ‘in the word of a king there is power’ (as Solomon speaks), but what power is there in the words of a mean and weak man? Yes, there is a great power, and the reason why God chose this means is given, 1 Cor. 1.18 to ver. 28. It is to shew his power and wisdom unto his own, and to confound the world. They know not God in his wisdom, by reason of their own wisdom which they are so full of, and by reason of their high esteem of worldly learning and eloquence, accounting the plain, naked, and slow style of the word to be but foolishness; that is, a foolish and an empty doctrine, contrary to their reason, and utterly unlike to work any great matter (as the Athenians thought); but God chose it the rather: ‘It pleased him, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe,’ ver. 21, to shew that his foolishness is wiser than men’s wisdom. And if his foolishness be so, then what is his wisdom? He sent his apostles forth, a company of poor fishermen; and were they likely men to conquer the world by commanding living men to believe on one crucified, especially when the conditions were such as these, that men rich, and learned, and great, should wholly deny themselves and their own wisdom, and become fools; was this ever likely? Well, but see, ver. 20, how the apostle triumphs upon this occasion: ‘Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer?’ They are clear put down, they have lost ground both among Jews and Gentiles by this foolish and weak means, this preaching of Christ crucified; all their wit and carnal arguments could not prevail so much as one of the apostle’s sermons. And so when Luther, Calvin, and those other divines came once to preach, where were the schoolmen and learned of the world? Popery fell down before preaching, like Dagon before the ark of God. And God appointed this way, that his wisdom might appear to the confusion of the wise, that so his power might the more appear to the praise of his grace towards them that are called, and to the confusion of Satan, and, ver. 25, to shew that ‘the weakness of God is stronger than men.’ If God can by a word work such effects as all creatures are not able to work, then what would his strength do if put to it? What will that power do for his elect in another world? And this means did God appoint, thereby also to confound the power of Satan, as the strength of Jericho was subdued by the blast of ranis’ horns. Thus, Ps. viii. ver, 2, it is said, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength.’ Through the weakest means God hath ordained the greatest strength; and why? ‘To still the enemy,’ to confound Satan, that he should not boast of his conquest. God therefore chose preaching, that it might be his own power unto salvation.