A famine of moral and practical preaching

Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Acts 20:26–27

In the Reformed church today, there has been a too great backlash to moralistic preaching. In many ways this is understandable as there has been a grievous loss of the gospel in many quarters when men preach “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” to the exclusion of our only hope – Christ crucified for sinners. Many no longer hear that Christ came to justify the ungodly – that our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), for which we will praise God now and forever.

But in an over-reaction to gospel-less moralism, men have turned away from preaching the moral commandments of the Bible. The fruit of this practical, if not theoretical, antinomianism has caused many to no longer showcase the mark of the Christian disciple (love) and led to lives filled with sinfulness. It has also led to destroyed families and ruined marriages because no longer do Christians hear “all the counsel of God” and God’s will for their lives, their marriage, their family, etc.

Preaching Holiness

Many New Testament texts teach that the fruit of salvation must be holy lives lived for righteousness. Christ Himself teaches that His light must shine through our conduct and lives. Never to earn salvation, not ever to earn favor with the Almighty, but the product of the new, regenerated, heart, and the work of the grace of Christ given to us by the Holy Spirit, and exercised by ourselves. It is hard to understand how one can read the Sermon on the Mount without seeing how Christ would have us live. Consider some other texts in the New Testament epistles.

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Titus 2:13-14

and

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

The Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us and washed us from all our sins, so we may live holy lives, and for Him. That is the teaching of Romans 6 as well:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Romans 6:1-2

Preaching Practical Doctrine

Because of the abuse of moralistic preaching divorced from the grace of God, many men no longer preach sanctification. In addition, practical preaching is almost nonexistent. I have listened to many sermons as of late from men – and almost all of their sermons are week in, and week out, indicatives. With nary an imperative to be found. If moralistic preaching divorced from the gospel leads to burdens impossible to bear, a lack of moral preaching leads to the sheep being starved and disordered.

Opportunities for Wolves

Sensing this vacuum, this has also led to grievous wolves entering the church to lure away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:29-30) by preaching on neglected, but vital, topics for Christian living. Such men have a defective or heretical view on justification, and disciples not being fed “all the counsel of God” are leaving orthodox churches to pledge their allegiance and eternal souls to unorthodox men. This is devastating.

Pastor, please preach “all the counsel of God”. This is often far more difficult for your flesh to do as it takes a lot of thought and meditation to dive into the realm of application (this was noted in the Westminster Directory of Public Worship). You will have to know your flock to do it well (Proverbs 27:23). Any minister that spends time with his sheep would have a catalogue of vital topics on matters of holiness and practical living to preach on to tend to them. There is such power in preaching the Word that it will help reduce the amount of time you spend in the counseling room as you pick up after lives shattered by sin.

For the love of Christ, in the power of Christ, for the glory of Christ

Preach that obedience to the commandments is the fruit of a justifying faith and that obedience to the commandments comes from the greatest motivation of all:

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
John 14:15

And what the Lord Jesus Christ commands He gives power to fulfill through a vital union with Himself:

He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do… nothing.
John 15:5

May the people of God be a light set upon a hill as they are sanctified and more Christly through the preaching ministry, that all would glorify our Father in heaven.

Amen.

Confirming ministers by Presbytery

At the November 2019 meeting of the Midwest Presbytery of the RPCNA, I was made eligible to receive a call as a minister of the gospel. In the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, candidates for the ministry are required to pass thirteen Presbytery exams before they may be ordained to gospel ministry.

If the notion of a Presbytery is foreign to you, a brief explanation might be helpful. A Presbytery (from the Greek word for an elder: presbyter) is composed of the elders of churches in a geographic region that form a broader court above the local churches. In Acts 15, such an assembly adjudicated a problem too difficult/controversial/far-reaching for individual congregations to resolve. Much fruit has come out of such assemblies – the great creeds and confessions of the faith have come through these God-ordained church councils.

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A Presbytery meeting. Photo credit: Bryan Schneider.

In Presbyterian churches, a minister’s credentials are held by a Presbytery and not a local congregation. As such, Presbyteries are responsible for approving men to become ministers. Much more can be said on this, so I would suggest James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ if you wish to plumb the depths of Presbyterian church government. A free PDF copy can be found at Monergism.

With that by way of background, Presbytery exams for candidates are not easy. Our forefathers might have called them “trials” rather than “exams”. A fellow student stood on the floor of Presbytery for three hours in the taking of five exams (Preaching 2, Exegesis Paper, Systematic Theology 2, Church History, and Pastoral Gifts). I “only” took three this time around (Systematics 2, Church History, and Pastoral Gifts) and was examined on the floor of Presbytery for two hours.

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Candidate (me) answering questions in front of the Presbytery. Photo credit: Nick Schoeneberger.

In addition to the examiner, any Presbyter can ask the candidate questions. When the exam concludes, the entirety of the Presbytery votes up or down on the exams – each presbyter gets an equal vote.

Undergoing these trials can be grueling. But the blessing of being confirmed through the elders of the church is tremendous. Why? Because godly men confirm a man’s inward calling. Consider that the Lord tells potential ministers of the gospel:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV)

When we present ourselves approved to God, we do so through the means of a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14) through which safety is found for both church and candidate.

Why must the calling be examined externally and by a multitude of counselors? Because our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We often think of ourselves more than we ought. Sometimes, we might even think less of ourselves than we should when the devil and the flesh want to discourage a man from serving Christ’s kingdom. As such, Paul writes to Timothy that presbyteries must confirm the calling on a man, finally leading up to his ordination by the laying on of hands by the presbytery:

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14, KJV)

It is the presbytery that confirms the giftedness of the calling and that the man is approved and is capable of “rightly dividing the Word”.

It is a tremendous blessing to not doubt the gifting and calling of the Lord to sacred gospel ministry. No man should feel confident in themselves to proclaim the gospel without a presbytery’s confirmation. There is security in going before God’s people with a calling confirmed by the elders of Christ’s Church.

It also is a comfort to the people of God to know that the man standing in front of them week after week has his calling confirmed and has been approved to feed the Word of Christ to them and to walk with them as an undershepherd of Christ.

taking-queries

Taking the queries of licensure after passing my exams. I was blessed to have my own pastor administer these queries. Photo credit: Bryan Schneider.

For that, and many other reasons, it is a tremendous blessing to be a Presbyterian. I have three more exams to take before being ordained (Lord willing). The Lord may have other plans for me if a congregation does not call me, or I am unable to pass my final three ordination exams.

But through this process, it has been a great comfort to know all has happened under the Christ appointed means: oversight of godly counselors that Christ purchased as gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:11) and who are granted the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 18:19) as undershepherds of Christ.

In all this, Christ as the Head of His Church is glorified and His people are protected. Presbyterianism, the Biblical form of Church Government, is a great gift from Christ to His people.

Soli Deo Gloria!