Monday, July 23, 2007

Back to the Basics: A Return to the Centrality of the Word of God

Amidst the cacophany of evangelical music trends, one noticably missing element stands out in our corporate worship: Spirit-empowered preaching. Somehow, our churches have gotten away from the centrality of the Word of God in worship and instead replaced it with praise bands, drama skits, testimonies, DVD clips and so forth. We have more programs than we know what to do with yet when it comes to personal holiness and public evangelism we are as stagnant as ever. Long forgotten is the fundamental tenant of Historic Protestantism of sola scriptura and the primacy of preaching. Instead, we are more concerned with our Senior Citizens program, our Youth Group, the Sunday School department and the Movie Night events. We have obscured the aim and objective of the people of God: to exult over Holy Writ. As a result, many in the church do not even question when our worship services become reduced to singing and self-help talks. Is it any wonder that we haven't seen revival in our churches? Is it any wonder that the Spirit of God hasn't come down from heaven and blown over the dry bones around us? If we expect to see such a change in our churches, we would do well to heed the words of the apostle Paul in his second epistle to Timothy. In chapter three, Paul reminds Timothy of the "sacred writings" and points to them as the ultimate and authoritative source to guide him in his faith and practice. Then, the apostle makes this bold claim:

"16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." -2 Timothy 3:16-17

Here, we will examine three points Paul makes concerning Holy Scripture: its origin, its function, and its goal.

1. Its Origin

First, notice in verse 16 that Paul says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God." The Greek word here is theopneustos, which means Scripture is divine in nature. It has as its very source God. Though brought to us through human instruments, the Bible is the revelation of the Creator to His creation. Thus, we should tremble with fear when we hear it read aloud! We should bow our heads in reverence as we contemplate its truth. We should fasten it to our hearts and delight in its riches for this is God speaking to us. To reject Scripture is, in essence, to reject God. Calvin said that we ought to show the same amount of reverence to Scripture as we do to God himself. And since we owe that kind of reverence to Scripture, it follows that we owe that kind of reverence to all of Scripture. "All Scripture" Paul says is "breathed out by God." We must not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God but preach the whole gamut of Scriptural truth.

2. Its Function

After asserting the authoritative origin of Scripture, Paul then begins to list the function or the role of Scripture. Pay close attention to four things he mentions: "...profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Consider that three of the four functions of Scripture have negative connotations in most evangelical minds. It is only the fourth that seems positive: "training in righteousness." The word that is used for teaching in the KJV is the notorious "doctrine." In our postmodern age where authority is rejected and egalitarianism is espoused, no one wants to think of having to be taught, much less reprooved or corrected. However, that is precisely what Paul says the function of Scripture is and if we are to be faithful to it, we will allow it to do its sharpening work.

3. Its Goal

To prevent us from thinking that the teaching, reprooving, correcting and training proccess is for no purpose, Paul inform us that it is so "that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." The Greek word here for "competent" has as its meaning the idea of completeness or wholeness. It means one who has reached a point of spiritual maturity. This person who has reached spiritual maturity is "equipped for every good work." Thus, the goal and end of Scripture is not just so we can have theological knowledge. The goal and end of Scripture is so that we can have knowledge and have it "equipped." The Bible's goal is never to sever doctrine from practice but rather doctrine is foundational to all our Christian practice. Paul would have had a hard time imagining an ivory tower theologian.

In light of Paul's words, let us then be about the reforming work of our churches. Trusting that fidelity to God's Word is our priority and that Christ, not us, will build His church. Soli deo gloria!

8 comments:

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Awesome post! I completely agree that we need to recover then centrality of Scripture in the local church in order to see revival. The early church that grew so mightily did not follow Rick Warren's 40 days of purpose, rather they were devoted to the apostles doctrine, to prayer, to worship and fellowship. The first thing listed is the apostles doctrine. They were devoted to the apostolic teaching located in the Scriptures. If we want to see revival like that, we must stand firm on the Word of God!

Scribe said...

I see no other viable alternative but the recapturing of the centrality of Scripture. Is it a wonder why the church suffers from a tragic lack of discernment?

Scribe said...

Amidst the cacophany of evangelical music trends, one noticably missing element stands out in our corporate worship: Spirit-empowered preaching. Somehow, our churches have gotten away from the centrality of the Word of God in worship and instead replaced it with praise bands, drama skits, testimonies, DVD clips and so forth. We have more programs than we know what to do with yet when it comes to personal holiness and public evangelism we are as stagnant as ever. Long forgotten is the fundamental tenant of Historic Protestantism of sola scriptura and the primacy of preaching. Instead, we are more concerned with our Senior Citizens program, our Youth Group, the Sunday School department and the Movie Night events.

I couldn't agree anymore than as if I had written the article myself...AMEN!

DT said...

Great post. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Robert Talbert said...

Very good post. But here's a question for you and other readers: How do you FIND churches where the centrality of the Word is actually practiced?

The label of a denomination is neither necessary nor sufficient. Not all churches that belong to denom's where typically you'd see this kind of preaching actually do it. Some churches put good-sounding statements in their "What We Believe" documents but don't actually practice these beliefs. And conversely, some churches who do the best job at staying focused on Scripture are non-denominational or belong to denominations that are a mixed bag.

I'm asking because my wife and I are looking for a church right now, and what you wrote about in the article is really what we are looking for. But it becomes very frustrating when you try to find churches via the web, look for a stated commitment to the Bible, and instead find nothing but self-help "relevant" sermons and mindless praise music; and then consider how many churches you might be missing because they are invisible due to a lack of internet presence or word of mouth.

Robert Talbert said...

By the way, here's a manual trackback for you:
http://pronetowander.wordpress.com/2007/07/24/mixed-bag-at-the-megachurch/

Gordan said...

Robert, I see that no one's answered your question yet. Let me speculate with disgust that the reason for this is that finding the sort of church you're looking for is not an easy thing at all. In my own small town, for example, there is no such preaching to be heard at all, and I have done my homework and visited around. In fact, until I was called to pastor a small church 50 miles from my home, there was no expositional-preaching church within an hour's drive.

But, you might be one of the chosen few who live near one: you might try Founders Ministries (founders.org.) I think they maintain a list somewhere at their site of "friendly" churches.

Robert Talbert said...

Thanks Gordan. I live near a major city and in fact there are several churches on the Founders.org list near me, including two in my suburban county. I'm checking them out online as we speak.