PRC (6): Discriminatory Preaching

There is not a sermon which is heard, but it sets us nearer heaven or hell – John Preston

Discriminatory Preaching

Should the preaching on occasion cause members of the congregation to doubt their salvation?

I am talking here about preaching with the specific intent of the pastor to cause members to doubt their salvation. This is preaching with the specific purpose of waking up slumbering members and causing them to see their need of salvation. This is not because the pastor likes a congregation full of doubters, but rather has an earnest desire to bring those who are unsaved and hypocrites inside the congregation to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I bring up this question because I believe there is a great lack of this type of discriminatory preaching in the PRC. Indeed, I have had people in the PRC tell me that the minister should never preach with the intent of causing people to doubt their salvation.

The Puritans believed strongly in this kind of discriminatory preaching. I do believe they at times went too far with it, especially in how some of them articulated the doctrine of assurance (a topic I may deal with in a future post) and I have no trouble condemning them for that. Yet, I believe there is much usefulness in Puritan preaching and I strongly encourage people to read the Puritans.

What is discriminatory preaching?

Joel Beeke defines it well,

  • Discriminatory preaching defines the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. Discriminatory preaching pronounces the wrath of God and eternal condemnation upon the unbelieving and impenitent. It likewise offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord by true faith (Matt. 7:22 – 27; I Cor. 1:30; 2:2).
  • The Puritans knew the deceitfulness of the human heart. Consequently, Puritan preachers took great pains to identify the marks of grace that distinguish the church from the world, true believers from merely professing believers, and saving faith from temporary faith. Thomas Shephard in The Ten Virgins, Matthew Mead in The Almost Christian Discovered, Jonathan Edwards in Religious Affections, and other Puritans wrote dozens of works to differentiate imposters from true believers.[1] [Emphasis Mine]

Discriminatory preaching is ultimately aimed at the conversion of the hearers. It is the harsh preaching of the Law. It is preaching that speaks of the close relationship between justification and sanctification. It is preaching that states that these two should never be mixed and yet preaching that confesses that the one can never exist without the other.

To be sure, this kind of preaching is not fun. It does not tickle the ears. It convicts. It causes sorrow. It is also not easy for the preacher to preach this way. But it works for the ultimate good of the believer.

Was the intent of the Puritans in all this to create a morbid people, continually self-examining themselves, always in despair, always in the “dark night of the soul”, never without hope or joy?

No. That was not the intent of the Puritans at all. I repeat myself here for emphasis: the Puritans were zealous for souls. They wanted to establish faith, not dead orthodoxy, in their congregations. They felt the burden of the gospel to preach to the lost, including the lost in their own congregations. They wanted true believers. They did not want to maintain the status quo among their congregations. They did not want average believers. They wanted gospel-impacted believers!

That was not the intent of the Puritans at all. I repeat myself here for emphasis: the Puritans were zealous for souls. They wanted to establish faith, not dead orthodoxy, in their congregations. They felt the burden of the gospel to preach to the lost, including the lost in their own congregations. They wanted true believers. They did not want to maintain the status quo among their congregations. They did not want average believers. They wanted gospel-impacted believers!

Thus, they were almost always preaching with this intent: the conversion of souls and the edification and growth of the saints.

Observe a few quotes from the Puritans below:

John Owen: “A sermon is not made with an eye upon the sermon, but with both eyes upon the people and all the heart upon God…. Ministers are seldom honoured with success unless they are continually aiming at the conversion of sinners.”[9]

Thomas Brooks: “Ministers must so speak to the people as if they lived in the very hearts of the people; as if they had been told all their wants, and all their ways, all their sins, and all their doubts.”[10]

Richard Baxter: “The whole course of our ministry must be carried on in a tender love to our people…. When the people see that you [sincerely] love them, they will hear anything, and bear anything, and follow you the more easily.”[11]

Is your pastor preaching with the intent of the conversion of souls? Pastor, are you doing this? Is this one of things that you are aiming at in your preaching?

What does discriminatory preaching look like?

The Puritans always understood that they were preaching to a mixed group. They understood that the church was composed of the saved, the unsaved elect, and the reprobate. Thus, “each sermon included directions to both believers and unbelievers. The unbeliever was usually called to examine how he was living and what behavior needed changing, then he was admonished to flee to Christ, who alone could fulfill his needs.”[3]

This view of the church and great zeal for the conversion of souls caused the Puritans to preach to the conscience of their hearers. This meant often asking pointed questions. Beeke writes,

  • Plain preaching named specific sins, then asked questions to press home the guilt of those sins upon the consciences of men, women, and children. As one Puritan wrote, ‘We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every busy behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.’[4] [Emphasis Mine]

Calvin too believed that this type of preaching was important. He preached harshly, with the intent that people would be edified unto salvation. He writes,

  • When I expound Holy Scripture, I must always make this my rule: That those who hear me may receive profit from the teaching I put forward and be edified unto salvation. If I have not that affection, if I do not procure the edification of those who hear me, I am a sacrilege, profaning God’s Word…. Teaching on its own is not sufficient, for we are cold and indifferent to God’s truth. We need to be pierced. The preacher has to use vehemence, so that we may know that this is not a game.
  • And the people must not say, “Ho! that is too hard to be borne. You ought not to go on like that.” Those who cannot bear to be reproved had better look for another school-master than God. There are many who will not stand it: “What! is this the way to teach? Ho! we want to be won by sweetness.” “You do? Then go and teach God his lessons!” These are our sensitive folk who cannot bear a single reproof to be offered to them. And why? “Ho! we want to be taught in another style.” “Well then, go to the devil’s school! he will flatter you enough — and destroy you.” But believers humble themselves and are willing to be treated severely so that they may profit in God’s school.[5] [Emphasis Mine]

Calvin also understood the deceitfulness of the heart and saw the need for preaching that aroused the hearers from their spiritual slumber. He writes in his commentary on Matthew 7:21,

  • Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord. Christ extends his discourse farther: for he speaks not only of false prophets, who rush upon the flock to tear and devour, but of hirelings, who insinuate themselves, under fair appearances, as pastors, though they have no feeling of piety. This doctrine embraces all hypocrites, whatever may be their rank or station, but at present he refers particularly to pretended teachers,2 who seem to excel others. He not only directs his discourse to them, to rouse them from the indifference, in which they lie asleep like drunk people, but also warns believers, not to estimate such masks beyond their proper value. In a word, he declares that, so soon as the doctrine of the Gospel shall have begun to bear fruit by obtaining many disciples, there will not only be very many of the common people who falsely and hypocritically submit to it, but even in the rank of pastors there will be the same treachery, so that they will deny by their actions and life what they profess with the mouth. “Whoever then desires to be reckoned among the disciples, must labour to devote himself, sincerely and honestly, to the exercises of a new life.[6] [Emphasis Mine]

Is discriminatory preaching Biblical?

Yes, it is.

The Scriptures often call us to examine ourselves, to see if we are in the Lord, if we have fellowship with the Father and the Son. The issue of assurance and true faith is one of the fundamental purposes of 1 John: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (I John 5:13)

We are then to read 1 John with the purpose of seeing if we have eternal life. 1 John is about establishing assurance in the heart of the believer! One of the chief ways that John does this is in causing individuals to examine their lives and their obedience to the laws of God. He reminds his readers that only those who walk in the light and who keep God’s commandments are in fellowship with God. And yet, John never divorces the issue of sanctification from justification. He is constantly pointing his readers to Jesus Christ. We not only must keep the law of God, but we must also look to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins. Indeed, we must see our sins, for anybody who says he has no sin is a liar and the truth is not in him! It is only in the atonement of Jesus Christ that there is any basis for assurance. Good works are the evidence of our justification, not the act of our justification. Thus, John is arguing that justification will never ever exist without sanctification. And part of our sanctification is a growing dependence upon our justification.

John then writes with the intent of separating true believers from false believers, hypocrites from the pious, true Christians from false Christians. He also writes with the intent of establishing true faith in the hearts of those who may just have outward faith. He writes these things that “ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

Preachers, then, may certainly preach in such a way that it may cause doubt in some. He may also preach with the intent of causing doubt in some so that they may the more clearly see if they are truly in the faith. John does this: anybody who reads 1 John should question whether he is in the faith. The way the importance of sanctification is preached in this epistle should leave everybody convicted, it should leave any serious reader with the question: am I truly in Christ? After all, who can say that he has walked perfectly in the light?

The Apostle Paul also calls us to examine ourselves. We read in I Corinthians 11:31: “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” To this Calvin remarks in his commentary,

  • For if we would judge ourselves. Here we have another remarkable statement—that God does not all of a sudden become enraged against us, so as to inflict punishment immediately upon our sinning, but that, for the most part, it is owing to our carelessness, that he is in a manner constrained to punish us, when he sees that we are in a careless and drowsy state, and are flattering ourselves in our sins. Hence we either avert, or mitigate impending punishment, if we first call ourselves to account, and, actuated by a spirit of repentance, deprecate the anger of God by inflicting punishment voluntarily upon ourselves.2 In short, believers anticipate, by repentance, the judgment of God, and there is no other remedy, by which they may obtain absolution in the sight of God, but by voluntarily condemning themselves.[7] [Emphasis mine]

Further, Peter in 2 Peter 1:10 states, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” To this Calvin writes,

  • He draws this conclusion, that it is one proof that we have been really elected, and not in vain called by the Lord, if a good conscience and integrity of life correspond with our profession of faith. And he infers, that there ought to be more labour and diligence, because he had said before, that faith ought not to be barren.[8] [Emphasis mine]

Does your life match with your confession? Or are you merely professing faith in Jesus Christ, with no effect on your life? To answer those questions requires self-examination. It requires preaching that causes us to examine ourselves. It requires preaching that wakes us up from our lazy consciences: preaching that convicts. It is vitally important to answer these questions: justification can never exist without sanctification. Thus, Peter urges you to make sure that you are living a sanctified life, a life impacted by the gospel, a life impacted by your justification.

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:5 further calls us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. He states, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” Paul calls his audience to do this, not to create a spirit of continual doubting in the Corinthian church, but to affirm his own ministry. If they do find that they are in the faith, that they believe in Jesus Christ, then he is being a faithful minister of the gospel. Thus, Paul is calling the Corinthians to examine their hearts in accordance with what they knew about the Scriptures. He is wanting them to see if he is stablishing their faith in Jesus Christ by his preaching. Does their faith and, especially, Paul’s preaching match up with the gospel?

Is your pastor calling you to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith? Is he calling you to examine your walk, life, and profession to see if it is in accordance with the Scripture?

If, upon examination, you find that your faith is founded upon Scripture, rests alone in Jesus Christ, and has impacted your life, rejoice and have assurance! Rejoice also in knowing that your pastor is a faithful man of God, preaching Jesus Christ to you!

Conclusion:

I wish to conclude with an apt quote from Joel Beeke which nicely summarizes a lot of what I attempted to convey in this post:

Today, many preachers are reticent to confront the conscience. We need to learn from the Puritans that the friend who loves you most will tell you the most truth about yourself. Like Paul and the Puritans, we must testify earnestly and with tears of the need for “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.[12]

[1] Joel Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 701

[2] Ibid, 701

[3] Ibid, 701

[4] Ibid, 688

[5] Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, 11 – 12

[6] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 367.

[7] John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 392.

[8] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 376.

[9] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 708

[10] Beeke, 709

[11] Beeke, 709

[12] Beeke,688

PRC (5): Some Suggestions Regarding Evangelism:

In recent blog posts I have criticized the evangelism methods of the PRC. I wish to offer some helpful suggestions on how these methods can be improved in this article.

Suggestion #1: Prayer. Prayer. Prayer.

I cannot emphasis this enough. The congregation must be earnestly praying for the salvation of souls, both publically and privately. It must have a prayerful zeal for the conversion of the hearers. It must have a passion for the gospel. Prayer is a means of grace: God will only give to those who ask Him. This is the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism in Question and Answer 116:

  • 116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
    A. Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them.

Rev. Hanko states in his pamphlet Reformed Evangelism,

  • We need to emphasize the fact that because evangelism is the work of the church all believers have an important part in that work, though they themselves do not preach. They have the important calling to pray for the work, to support it in that way and with their gifts, and to be themselves witnesses of the truth in all their life. Without faithfulness on the part of God’s people, no evangelism work can prosper.

In preparation for the evangelism sermon you could have a prayer service and a psalm sing.

Also publically announce that you are asking the congregation to pray for the upcoming lecture, that God would use it as a means to the salvation of many (and keep reminding them). Remember also to pray for the minister, he needs your prayers.

Suggestion #2: Make it a Sermon and not a Lecture.

I do strongly believe that there should be evangelism sermons and not lectures (and I write this as somebody who was once on the evangelism committee of a PRC and organized “evangelism” lectures. When the PRC has “evangelism” lectures they are stating a number of things. First, I would argue that they are stating they are more interested in reaching out to other Christians, and not directly to the lost, when giving lectures. Second, they are implicitly denying that the preaching is one of the keys of the kingdom and a chief means of grace when having these lectures. Perhaps, in some fundamental sense, they have forgotten the power of preaching when witnessing to the lost, or at least lost the distinction between preaching and lecturing. Third, they are implicitely stating that they are more interested in an intellectual change in the hearer, rather than a radical spiritual change (i.e. conversion).

What is the difference between a sermon and a lecture?

I think Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it well in his book Preaching and Preachers.

  • I assert that preaching a sermon is not to be confused with giving a lecture. This, again, is something quite different, and for these reasons. A lecture starts with a subject, and what it is concerned to do is to give knowledge and information concerning this particular subject. Its appeal is primarily and almost exclusively to the mind; its object is to give instruction and state facts. That is its primary purpose and function. So a lecture, again, lacks, and should lack, the element of attack, the concern to do something to the listener, which is a vital element in preaching. But the big difference, I would say, between a lecture a sermon is that a sermon does not start with a subject; a sermon should always be expository. In a sermon the theme or the doctrine is something that arises out of the text and its context, it is something which is illustrated by that text and context. So a sermon should not start with the subject as such; it should start with Scripture which has in it a doctrine or a theme. That doctrine should then be dealt with in terms of this particular setting.
  • I therefore lay down this proposition that a sermon should always be expository. (71 – 72)

The Heidelberg Catechism also helps differentiate the difference between preaching and giving a lecture. In Question and Answer 84 it states,

  1. 84. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the holy gospel?
    A. Thus: when according to the command of Christ it is declared and publicly testified to all and every believer, that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ’s merits; and on the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath of God and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted; according to which testimony of the gospel God will judge them, both in this and in the life to come.

Preaching then contains the fundamental gospel message via the proper exposition of a passage of Scripture and is not some discourse on a theological topic, church history, or a specific issue of Christian living. It is the clear exposition of a passage of Scripture, with the intent of preaching of the conversion of the hearers, the edification of the saints, and the glory of Christ.

It is through the means of the preaching, not giving lectures, that God is pleased to gather His church. As the Compendium states,

  • 48. Who worketh that faith in thee?
    A. The Holy Ghost.
    Q. 49. By what means?
    A. By the hearing of the Word preached (Rom. 10:14-17).

Thus, Rev. Hanko states that “the gospel is the means God uses to gather His elect and to bring them to saving faith in Christ and so to salvation.” (Reformed Evangelism). Rev. Hanko also states that

  • As obvious as this seems, many have forgotten it. Thus they talk endlessly about evangelistic methods and spend a great deal of time drawing up complicated and expensive evangelism schemes for their church. It never seems to enter their mind that evangelism means preaching. (Reformed Evangelism).

What should this type of sermon look like?

Rev. Hanko argues in his pamphlet Reformed Evangelism that anytime “the Scriptures are properly preached, Christ is preached. If Christ is being preached, the gospel is being preached.” I whole heartedly agree. He also argues that

  • This does not mean . . . that there is not a difference between preaching the gospel in the church and to those who are outside the church, or that Reformed people believe only in preaching the gospel within the church.

I also agree with this, qualifying that statement with something else that Rev. Hanko states:

  • We would add that the call to repentance and faith is not just for unbelievers either. Those who are already saved need to hear that call in order that they too may turn from their sins (and they do commit sin as long as they are in this body of flesh) and that their faith may be stirred up and strengthened. This is also part of true evangelism.
  • With this in mind there is no need for the preacher to divide the congregation up into groups in his own mind or in his preaching, directing some of his preaching to one group and some to another. ALL the hearers need to hear whatever God the Lord says in a particular passage of His Word. There is not one message for the church, another for the world, one for the “unconverted,” another for those who are “saved and safe.”

While I agree with that I would further qualify it (as a bit of a sidenote) by stating that we should not look at our churches as simply composed of the saved, or believers. We should also realize that there are the unconverted elect and reprobate in it as well. We should then never preach inside the church assuming everybody in it is saved, we should preach what the particular text demands of us. Sometimes that text will be directed to the saved, other times it will be directed to the unsaved. We should always preach the text and not necessarily let our ecclesiology dictate how we preach.

By that I mean that I have no trouble calling the visible church, “the church of God.” I have no trouble calling the visible church “the beloved of God.” I have no trouble calling the visible church “believers.” This is Biblical. God called Israel, “His chosen people.” That does not mean that everybody is saved in it or that I should preach as though everybody is saved inside the church. I should preach as the text demands.

Rev. Hanko makes three suggestions for preaching, when it is particularly directed to the unsaved. While he is speaking particularly of the mission field, I believe this same advice is useful for our own evangelism sermons.

  1. First, in preaching to those who have not heard the gospel before, the message must be simplified and preached in such a way that those who hear understand clearly what the evangelist is saying. This is especially difficult when preaching to heathen who have never heard of sin, grace, redemption and of so many other great gospel truths. . . .
  2. Second, this kind of gospel preaching will address the audience as unsaved in showing them the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. The preacher will beseech and exhort those who hear, pressing upon them the demands of the gospel and the urgency of their own need (II Cor. 5:18 – 21; cf. Matt. 3:7 – 12). [So here the minister might want to pick a text that directly lends itself to this kind of preaching] . . . .
  3. Third, mission preaching involves going out to preach to the unsaved (Matt. 28:19). . . . It will not do, therefore, for the church to attempt to carry out its calling to engage in missions by holding an “evangelistic service” every Lord’s Day evening.

Suggestion #3: Personal Invitations

The more believers see the preciousness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more willing they are to start sharing the gospel with unbelievers. This can be classmates, coworkers, neighbours, etc. The individual members of the congregation need to get passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to radically see the wonder of God’s grace and salvation. They need to see the absolute importance of spreading it. Part of this passion will be one of the spiritual blessings of good gospel preaching.

The question always is: how to go about sharing the gospel?

Well for one, you may find it helpful to write up a short pamphlet explaining the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not have to be very complicated, it could just be a couple of sentences with a bunch of Bible verses. Hand these out to the people you invite, mentioning the topic of the sermon (and obviously the date and time of the meeting).

Two, train people in basic evangelism. Maybe here you could have some actual lectures that teach people in your congregation how to do this.

When I talk to people, I often ask them: “If you were to die today, would you end up in heaven or hell?” Most people say heaven. Ask them why they think that. Again most people say because “they are for the most part good people.” From there you can go on to talk about the Law of God, maybe asking the person some pointed questions like: have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever looked lustfully at another person? From there you can go on to talk about how because of our sinfulness, we are all deserving of the righteous judgment of God. God is a holy God and must punish us for our sins. From there, you can go on to talk about Jesus Christ, the cross, and the need for us to repent of all our sins (an actual turning away) and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Suggestion #4: Be Active

It is very easy for us reformed folks to get complacent when it comes to evangelism. We can often get discouraged in the battle by seeing the complete disregard people have for the truth, the sinfulness of society, and the mockery it makes of the Bible. We can then enter into the type of thinking that states that “nobody else wants to hear the gospel. It’s too radical. Why should I even try? This church has been in this neighbourhood for years, everybody who is going to come has come. I then don’t need to actively go out.”

You should try because God commands you to speak of Him, to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

You should also try because God commands you to love your neighbour. It is hateful of you to be silent regarding the gospel and let your fellow human beings go happily on their way to destruction and the fires of hell.

There is also another way we can get complacent. This is when we forget that God works through means. We can use the age old excuse that God is sovereign and thus, if He wants somebody to get saved, he will get saved. Yes, God is sovereign but He works through His people as a means of spreading the gospel. You are to be a witness of the truth and God will use you as a means to bring people to a saving knowledge of the truth. This may be through a conversation with a co-worker in which you encourage him to come to church on Sunday. This may be through a random conversation with somebody on the street. But always God uses means to spread the gospel.

Let us ever grow then in our zeal for the salvation of souls and in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Let our desire ever be that of Whitefield:

My heart is full of love to you. I would speak till I could speak no more, so I could but bring you to Christ – George Whitefield

Why I left the PRC (4): Preaching and Covenant Children

Preaching and Covenant Children

One of my concerns with Protestant Reformed preaching relates to how the children of believers are treated in the preaching and this ultimately respects how the issue of the covenant is treated in the PRC.

Now my understanding of children of believers and the covenant is that developed by Hoeksema and Kersten in their writings on the subject.

I, in agreement with the official PR position, wholeheartedly reject the notion of presupposed regeneration as a basis for infant baptism. As Hoeksema states in his Reformed Dogmatics Volume II:

  • “With this idea of presumptive regeneration as a basis for infant baptism, we cannot agree. We do not deny that infants can be regenerated or that it is possible for them to have the faculty or power of faith. We even believe that it is the usual mode of God’s working in the church of Christ to regenerate little children from their infancy. But this does not mean that we can presume that all the children born under the dispensation of the covenant are regenerated, nor can we baptize infants on the basis of a presupposition or a resumption of their regeneration. We cannot state as a fact that all the children of believing parents are regenerated, for Scripture plainly teaches the very opposite. Not all are Israel that are of Israel. Only the children of the promise are counted for the seed (Rom. 9:8). There is chaff among the wheat, and many carnal children are among those born of believing parents. Therefore, we certainly cannot and may not presuppose that which is so evidently contrary to Scripture and to all reality.” (375 – 376)

I bring up the issue of presupposed regeneration here because often times it is the contention of people outside the PRC that the PRC holds to presupposed regeneration. Obviously, that is not the case as shown above. Although this misunderstanding does beg the question: why do people think that the PRC holds to this position? Is there perhaps too strong an emphasis in PR preaching and practice that children of believing parents are saved? Is perhaps the fact that not all children are saved, not preached enough? Are there not enough calls for children to repent and be converted in the PRC?

This confusion over the issue of presupposed regeneration could also be due to the difficult rendering of the Reformed Baptism Form. If I did not have knowledge of the history and interpretation of this form, I would be inclined to say that it sounds like it supports presupposed regeneration. How much more then, children growing up and never being taught the correct meaning of the form? How much more young people growing up in the PRC, hearing the form say this baptism after baptism? How much more the young people, who never study the issue of the covenant?

The section I am obviously referring to here in the Baptism Form is the first question that the parents are asked:

  • “Whether you acknowledge that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea to condemnation itself, yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His church, ought to be baptized?” [Emphasis Mine]

Even Bastiaan Wielenga seems to think that this wording is misleading, though he quite clearly argues that it does not teach presupposed regeneration in his commentary on the form: The Reformed Baptism Form. (For more discussion on this point see Wielenga, The Reformed Baptism Form, 321 – 325).

Back to the issue of baptism. I hold to infant baptism because I firmly believe that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. This is good, old-fashioned, Biblical, Reformed and Presbyterian church growth.

As the Heidelberg Catechism states in Question and Answer 74:

  • Are infants also to be baptized?
  • Yes; for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church, and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the
    old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant. [Emphasis mine]

This does not mean that all the children of believing parents are of the invisible church: the elect of God. As Hoeksema again states in his Reformed Dogmatics Volume II:

  • “The church in the world is the gathering of confessing believers and their children. They form one people . . . . They are called after his name. All who outwardly belong to them are subject to the same dealings. According to the will of God, all are baptized in the name of God triune. To all the word is preached. And all – unless they violate the covenant of God before they ever come to confession of faith in the church – celebrate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ at the communion table . . . . Always in the line of the generations of the people of God there are the true spiritual seed; but always there exist also the carnal seed, who live in close proximity and outward fellowship with the spiritual seed, dwell in the same house with them, and are subject to the same influences, but who are not children of the promise and receive not the grace of God in their hearts.
  • The significance of the presence of this carnal seed with the generations of the people of God is very clear both from Scripture and from actual experience. Because of the perpetual presence of that carnal element in the church of Christ in the world, the church must fight her hardest battle in her own house, for by this carnal element the measure of iniquity is filled.” [Emphasis Mine] (380 – 381)

The last statement of that quotation brings up some important questions: Is the PRC fighting its hardest battle in her own house, or with other denominations and their doctrinal errors? Is the PRC directing its hardest preaching towards itself and its own members, or to others?

I believe the fact that not all the children of believers are saved is sometimes forgotten in the preaching in the PRC. Too often it is assumed that everybody in a particular congregation is saved and that comes out in the preaching. Too often there is the tendency to just preach as though the entire congregation is elect. Too often the command of the gospel to “Repent! Believe!” is forgotten.

I am not alone in this concern. Prof. David Engelsma also agrees with me that the church has to be on guard about this and that  the call for conversion is neglected in the preaching. He states in his pamphlet “The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers”:

  • Let us admit that there is a danger that the important place of conversion in the life of the covenant child is neglected both by Reformed parents and by the Reformed church, and therefore also by the child. It is possible that this neglect is due to a misunderstanding, as though mention of conversion of the covenant child threatens either the truth that the salvation of the child is the fruit of the covenant or the truth that in the covenant it is God alone Who saves the child. In part, the hesitation of Reformed Christians to speak of, much less to emphasize, the conversion of the children of the covenant is due to their reaction against the sin against God’s covenant that becomes more and more popular today in Reformed circles, namely, that covenant, baptized, Reformed young people are made the objects of an “evangelism” that treats them as unsaved sinners who must be saved by accepting Christ. If this is what is meant by the conversion of the child, Reformed parents and the Reformed church reject it in the name of the covenant of God sealed to their children in infancy.

That quote by Engelsma raises an important issue: should baptized children be treated as the object of evangelism?

I would argue no, not as though they were outside of the visible church. The children of believers are in a special covenantal position. They are weekly under the means of grace in the preaching, prayer, instruction, worship, etc. I would argue then, (keeping in mind that God always saves through the means of grace) that the church has a duty to preach to them to repent of their specific sins and look to Jesus Christ. The church must also pray continually for their conversion; they must pray for their salvation. The church should not lull them to sleep and false assurance by reminding them that they are part of a true church. The church should not just preach the gospel to them, as though they are already saved. But the church, while taking comfort in the fact that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations, should always remember that God saves through the means of grace. God saves by means of the harsh preaching of the law and the comforting preaching of Jesus Christ.

As Engelsma states in the same pamphlet:

  • “parents and church not only may but are also solemnly required by God to call their children to conversion. They must do this with regard to specific sins, as well as with regard to the entire life of the children. They do this, not only by saying, “Believe!” “Repent!” but also by thorough, careful instruction in the entire gospel of Scripture; by discipline; and by godly example. God works conversion by His Word. Therefore, church and parents teach the children the Bible. He works it also in answer to prayers. Therefore, church and parents are to pray for the conversion of the children.”

There are always two dangers when preaching to covenant children, as Hoeksema points out in his book, Believers and Their Seed:

  • God forms His covenant people in the line of believers and their seed. As such they manifest the figure of such an organic whole. He, then, who would refuse to call that people by the name of the people of God, he who would refuse to address them as God’s people, he who would refuse to assure them as God’s people of the riches of God’s promises in Christ, he who would refuse to point them as God’s people to their calling as those who are of the party of the living God in the midst of the world, but who would rather treat them as a mixed multitude, without any spiritual character or stamp – that man would surely err sorely. Yet, on the other hand, he who would think that he may presuppose that there are absolutely no unregenerate and reprobate individuals among that people, and who therefore would refuse to proclaim woe as well as weal to them if they do not walk in the paths of God covenant, – that man would err just as sorely. No, that entire people must be addressed, treated, comforted, and admonished as the Israel of God. And yet, at the same time, you may never forget that not all is Israel that is called Israel. There are branches which never bear fruit, which bring forth wild fruit, and which are presently cut off.” (115)

I am concerned that the PRC often forgets this or reacts too harshly in response to those who think the children of believers should be treated just like the wicked outside the church. That is one reason I left the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Why I left the Protestant Reformed Church (3)

If you read my first blog post on this subject, I also humbly ask you to read this one. I wish to be abundantly clear in what I say, lest I bear false witness against the PRC in any of these blog posts.

I as a man who has to do battle with the old man every day, am ever in the need of the grace of God and growth in holiness. Thus, my words will never be perfect. I readily admit I can be prone to exaggeration, generalization, and error.

So I wish to remind you that I am writing this from my perspective in the Edmonton PRC. I again state I cannot speak for every church in the PRC. Some of my criticisms and concerns are not applicable to every pastor in the PRC.

That is part of the reason I ask my readers so many questions. I want them to think through these issues themselves. I want them to prayerfully and honestly answer the questions I ask. If your answers do not coincide with my conclusions and if you believe my concerns are not an issue in your church, I rejoice.

But I also write these posts knowing that no church is perfect. My current church and any church has growing to do. That is part of my reason in writing these and trying to get a discussion going about these things. How can we grow in these areas of our ministry? And so I also write these posts, not just to the PR audience, but the reformed church world in general. Evangelism is something that every denomination and church can grow in.

Further, no preaching is ever perfect. I do not believe a pastor can ever say that he has preached against sin enough. That he has preached the cross enough. That he has brought out the beauty of the gospel enough. Preachers are but weak, finite men, preaching about the perfect, infinite God. They are always going to fail for all the words in the entire world are not adequate enough to describe God and His grace. It is by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit that preaching is made useful and a blessing. We can say all the right words, can expound all the right doctrine, but it is all in vain if not blessed by God.

I also do not want you to get the perspective in my posts that I find no good in the PRC. Or that I have never been blessed by PR preaching and writings. If I was to say such I would be lying. I have been convicted of sin by PR preaching. I have been shown the cross by PR preaching. If I had not been, I may not be here writing the things that I do. I do believe there are numerous good pastors in the PRC, some of whom I have been really blessed by. When I applied at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary I readily admitted this. I went so far as to say that this preaching had brought me to a greater understanding of the gospel. I was convicted of sin. I was brought to realize the judgment of God upon sin. I was brought to realize the wonder of sovereign particular grace. I realize that in my first post I said I would not name names, but I think it is important for me to name names here in commendation (nor is this an exhaustive list, these are just some of the names that immediately come to mind). I have been really blest by the preaching of men like Rev. Houck, Rev. Hanko, Prof. Hanko, Prof. Gritters, Rev. Eriks, Rev. Brummel, and Rev. Barnhill. I also still find much usefulness in PR literature. One of the first Dogmatic books I will turn to is Hoeksema’s.

A great difficulty with talking about preaching goes back to the fact that it is God who blesses it. The effectiveness of a preacher is due to the work of the Holy Spirit. A preacher may think he has delivered the best sermon ever and yet God may not bless it. A preacher may think he has delivered the worst sermon ever and God will bless that. I am not stating here that content does not matter. I cannot emphasize enough that content is important. A sermon must always be grounded in the truths of Scripture and orthodox Christian doctrine. A good sermon must always properly exegete a text. Good sermons always have specific elements in them.

I was relatively content listening to PR sermons until I began to listen to other men preach. I was around 16 years old when I first heard a sermon outside the PRC. It was Paul Washer’s famous “Shocking Youth Message.” I listened to it because some families that had left the PRC were saying it was a good sermon.

I did not believe them. I listened to that sermon to find fault with it and I did. I argued that Paul Washer was teaching salvation by works. I argued his presentation of the material demonstrated this. I did not like his preaching because it was not PR and because people who had left the PR liked it. Paul Washer was baptist after all, so there must be something wrong with it. In my foolishness and sinful pride, I looked specifically for errors.

But I had some wise men tell me that there was nothing inherently wrong with it. What it was saying was true. We need to practice sanctification in our lives. We cannot just claim justification and not evidence any fruits of that justification. We need to be truly regenerated. The Christian life is not one of just confessing with the mouth. There must be a changed life and a changed heart as well.

I then started listening to Washer’s sermons with a different attitude and began to be really blessed by them. I began devouring his sermons, realizing more and more there was a fundamental difference between his sermons and those I was hearing on a regular basis in the PR. It was not simply a matter of me “liking” his preaching better because it was more charismatic. It was not simply tickling my ears.

That simply is not true. This is because I began to notice a change in my life. My devotional life began to change. My prayer life began to change. I started to have a deeper love for the Laws of God. I would weep when I considered my sins. I would weep tears of joy when I considered the amazing love of God. His preaching was having a radical effect on my life.

I do not call this a conversion experience. I do not believe I was converted by his preaching. From as far back as I can remember I have always believed in Jesus Christ as my Saviour. But it was Paul Washer’s sermons that helped me come to a much more personal and experiential relationship with my Saviour. His preaching, by the grace of God, made my faith not merely something I knew in my head, but something I knew in my heart.

I realize this is going to sound very subjective to a lot of you.

But it does beg the question: what is the difference between his preaching and preaching in the PRC? Why are so many men and women being converted by his preaching? He is a man being used by God in a powerful way. His preaching is being blessed by God. Is there something we can learn from him? Is there an emphasis in his preaching that is not found in PR preaching?

From my observation, that difference is found in his preaching on the law and the importance of sanctification in the believer’s life. Thus, the arguments in my first blog post.

Why I left the Protestant Reformed Church (2)

In my last post, I spent a good amount of time talking about the need to be evangelical in the preaching and to have harsh preaching against sin.

So that you do not get the wrong perspective of what I believe is good preaching I am not stating that the congregation needs to be pounded week in and week out with condemning preaching. No. That is no way to build up a congregation. Nor am I calling from some fire and brimstone preacher that is constantly condemning. Preaching always needs to be balanced. Sometimes that may call for harsh preaching against sin. Other times that will call for encouragement and comfort. But always there must be calls for growth and growth never happens in the Christian life without removing what is holding us back: sin. There always must be the balance of law and gospel. The one can never exist without the other. We always need the strict preaching of the law, to understand the cross.

What I was addressing in my last post, was what I regard as a lack of harsh preaching against sin in the PRC, not saying that the preaching always needs to be harsh.

Is evangelical preaching beneficial and useful for a well-established congregation?

This is an important question. Many churches in the PRC have been there for many years. Many of the members are very well-versed in the doctrines of the Christian church. This is certainly something that the PRC should be praised for. I am very grateful for the doctrinal training I received in the PRC. I have been greatly benefited by the many hours of catechism instruction I received. This is one great beauty of the Reformed tradition: children brought up in sound, Biblical doctrinal and history.

I argue that evangelical preaching is very useful for well-established churches. It prevents complacency, dead orthodoxy, and reminds the congregation to be about the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. It encourages the members to be spreading the gospel in their own individual lives, boldly speaking of their salvation, and praying for the growth of the church.

Evangelical preaching is also very important for the members of the church, not just for the lost. It is a constant reminder to Christians of their wondrous salvation. It is a constant, beautiful look at God’s amazing grace in saving us wretched sinners! In being reminded of God’s great wrath against sin and being pointed to the substitutionary atonement of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we are brought to ever greater revelations of God’s attributes. I can speak from my own personal experience. It brings me great joy to hear of my wondrous salvation week by week. It does not get boring or dull. It is beautiful to hear!

The truth also is that we as Christians are foolish. We need the constant reminder of the gospel. If we understood the gospel in its full beauty we would have much fewer problems in our daily walk of sanctification. If we understood the beauty of the Son of God, who humiliated himself to the point of death and the sufferings of hell for us, we would be more conscious of our sins. We would be less inclined to abuse the cross of Christ with our sins. If we understood the beauty of the fact that our heavenly Father crushed His very own eternal Son for our salvation, while we yet hated God, we would be inspired to countless ages of piety.

We need to be ever reminded about the gospel!

And this will further drive us to study doctrine in ever increasing depth. If there is a problem among our young people, particularly in daily personal devotions and an interest in reading doctrine and doctrinal literature, perhaps they need to be reminded of the beauty of the gospel. The more we understand the beauty of the gospel, the more we will want to know more about it, and about the God who has saved us.

A church and not just its pastor should be evangelical. 

This is an important point. I found personal evangelism was never ever really spoken of in the PRC. If it was, it was perhaps in a brief lecture, but nothing generally came out of it. Often the idea was that you let your life, your work ethic, your behaviour and morality do the preaching for you. The only problem with that is that your morality can never tell somebody about the gospel. Your morality, which may exist in the Muslim as well as the Christian, can never speak of Jesus Christ.

An extremely important way in which the whole church can be evangelical is through prayer. The individual members of the church should be in constant prayer regarding the ministry of the church. Prayers should be continually offered up that the white horse of the gospel would ride triumphantly throughout the world. That the gospel would more and more be preached to the lost. We should be on our knees praying that gospel preaching would be effectual in the salvation of many, so that many more may praise God with lips of adoration!

I must say that members in the PRC, myself included, were often hesitant to talk to visitors to the church. There simply is no training or discipleship in how to deal with visitors. The congregation is not trained in how to share their faith. One of the seminary professors did come to the church to give some lectures on evangelism and made some good points, also telling us that to grow in our evangelism we need to be discipled in it. He even said he would be willing to come back in a couple months to help us in that. But nothing ever came of it (and here I condemn myself, as much as any other), leaving me to ponder what good was it? What good are words, if they lead to no action? The church needs discipleship in the area of evangelism!

The task of talking to visitors should not just be left to the pastor, elders, or members of the evangelism committee. It is very sad if it is. We as Christians should be overjoyed to be able to tell somebody about Jesus Christ! We should always be ready to give an answer, not just on the finer points of doctrine, but on the basic principles of Christianity.

Why does this reluctance exist? Have we forgotten the importance of the foundational principles of our faith? Have we forgotten the importance of sharing the faith? 

 

 

 

Why I left the Protestant Reformed Church (1)

I left the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA) back in June 2016. Up till then I had spent all of my life (21 years) in the PRC and had grown up under the preaching and catechism. I read RFPA books and was an active member in my congregation. I played organ on Sundays, served on the Evangelism Committee and Young Adults Society, and participated in several young adult retreats. I even wrote the occasional article for the Beacon Lights. I was also actively working towards becoming a minister. It was my sincere intention from my early teen years to enter the PRC seminary.

Why then did I leave?

My primary reason for leaving was due to the preaching in the PRC. As I listened to other sermons, preached by men outside of the PRC, I began to notice startling differences in the preaching. I began to notice I was spiritually fed a lot more by sermons from outside of the PR than from my very own pastor. This prompted me to begin studying the issue of preaching and as I discussed it with my pastor and consistory, my concern only grew. These concerns were only aggravated by various developments with the PR seminary. I eventually felt I could no longer, in good conscience, be a member of the PRC, for my convictions left me in constant conflict regarding the preaching.

Upon leaving the PRC I joined the Reformed Presbyterian Churches of North America (RPCNA). Since I left, I have had plenty of time to contemplate and ponder my reasons for leaving. I have also had numerous people ask me my reasons for leaving. So I thought I would set these reasons down in a couple of blogs posts.

It is not my intention in writing these reasons to be a John Engelsma, distorting the truth, slandering the PRC, angry and vengeful with respect to the PRC. It is my prayer to present my reasons humbly, meekly, truthfully, honestly, and in a manner glorifying to God. I hope to encourage a discussion, among those in the PRC and outside of it, of what I see to be various weaknesses and errors in the PRC. It is my ardent prayer to see revival and reform in the PRC and so I write these things in a spirit of love. I want this to be an honourable and beneficial discussion from God-fearing men and women.

I also understand that what I write may not be indicative of the PRC as a whole. What I relate in these blog posts come from my own personal experience. I certainly cannot speak for the practice of every single PR church. Nor will I be mentioning any names in my discussions. My reasons for leaving have to do with doctrinal concerns, not personal concerns and conflicts.

Finally, I write these posts hesitantly. I have never preached a sermon in my life, though it certainly is my desire to one day do so. I then write as a man who has simply studied the issue of preaching and not practiced it. So I approach the topic humbly knowing that I as a sinful man, am easily prone to error. May my arguments ever be validated by the Scriptures.

If you disagree with anything I write, if you think I am wrong, misrepresented a particular issue, have a question for me, or even have similar concerns that I do, I would like to hear from you. Feel free to send me an email at stephenmulder14@gmail.com.

One of the first subjects I wish to deal with is:

The Preaching in the PRC does not tend to be Evangelical

A good majority of the preaching I encountered in the PRC (there are exceptions) was not primarily interested in winning converts to the Christian faith by preaching to the lost, but more interested in stating and defending a particular doctrinal position. (To be clear: I am not saying that all the preaching is polemical, what I am saying here is that when the preaching is directed to others outside the PRC, it is more often than not, regarding doctrinal errors of other churches. It is not directed to those completely outside of a church.) Thus, the preaching was more interested in preaching against the errors of Baptists, the issue of common grace, divorce and remarriage, the covenantal errors of the Canadian Reformed Church, the free offer, the Roman Catholic Church, etc. than in preaching to those outside any visible church, or to even hypocrites and tares inside the visible church. I tended to find that various ministers would get more excited preaching against other churches, than in preaching the gospel. In this sense, the PRC practices limited evangelism. It emphasizes a ministry to other Christian denominations, to those already Christians, not to those without Christ.

If you disagree, consider these questions:

If the PRC is truly evangelical in its mission to bring the lost to a knowledge of Christ, how come its evangelism committees have evangelism lectures instead of evangelism sermons? How come the topics of those evangelism lectures are very often not on the subject of the gospel, but on some other doctrinal issue that would really only be of interest to other Christians? How come the majority of pamphlets produced in the PRC are on deep theological issues and very little on the basic gospel of Jesus Christ? Further, how often are prayers offered up to God for the conversion of souls?

I believe this practice of limited evangelism is wrong. The primary job of the church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. The church is to be evangelical to everybody. This is the consistent example of the preaching in the NT and it is the command of Christ. In Matthew 28:19, Christ gives the great commission in which he commands his disciples to go out into all nations preaching the gospel. They were commanded to make disciples of all tongues, tribes, and nations.

How did they do this?  

In Acts 2:14 – 40 Peter preaches immediately after Pentecost to a massive crowd. He soundly condemned the Jews for their sins, demonstrated that Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of OT prophecy, and called them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. In Acts 3 we see Peter doing much the same thing, pointing out the sins of the Jews, calling them to repentance and belief in the name of Jesus Christ. In Acts 6, we read of Stephen rising up at his trial, condemning the Jews for killing the prophets, for resisting the Holy Spirit, and he proclaimed that Jesus Christ is God. In Acts 13 we read of Paul’s sermon in Antioch. Here Paul expounds the OT in light of Jesus Christ. He preached salvation alone in Jesus Christ, condemning sin and the despisers. There are thus three common themes: condemning of sin, calling for repentance, and pointing to Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. This is at the heart of all evangelical preaching.

And this pattern continues throughout the book of Acts. The primary task of the church is to be evangelical, not to wallow in an attitude of contentment with regard to the salvation of others. The church is to be going out preaching to the lost (inside and outside the church), with its members being used by God as instruments in the salvation of others.

An Important Aspect of Evangelical Preaching is a Bold Preaching against Sin: Your Church must be Harshly Preaching against Sin

Let me ask you these questions:

How often does the preaching you hear convict you of sin? What was the last time you mourned over sin because of a sermon you heard? What was the last time you physically wept over your sin?

I ask these questions with grave seriousness. And I ask it not only out of a concern for those visiting your church, but also out of concern for you as a member of a church. It is the calling of your pastor to convict you of sin so that you grow in holiness. Your pastor should not let you be content with where you are spiritually. Your pastor should be urging you on to greater and greater holiness. If you have never felt convicted of sin by the preaching of your pastor, you ought to examine your own heart. You ought to examine the preaching itself, to see if it truly comes down hard on sin.This is an important test for how evangelical your church truly is.

If it is evangelical, it will preach harshly against sin. It will not just speak of sin as something outside in the world, but it will speak of sin as something very really inside the congregation and inside the hearts of its members. During my time in the PRC, I often found that sin was generalized and never made personal. Yes, sin was mentioned in the preaching, but it was never really something that I had to be concerned about. Much of the preaching never dug deep into my heart. It never applied the surgeon’s scalpel to my heart, causing pain, sorrow, healing, and growth. It never showed the grossness of sin. Serious sins were something out in the world, something that somebody else was doing, not myself. Sinners were the drunks, the adulterers, the hypocrites, and the homosexuals. Sin was not my own personal pride, my own personal lust, my own personal hatred or coldness towards my brother, my own covetousness.

In the harsh preaching against sin, there will be conviction of sin, there will be men and women left angry or completely destitute by the preaching. The world must be brought to a realization of their sins by the preaching. It is only when men have a knowledge of their total depravity that they will see the need for a Saviour. It is only when they see their own nakedness and false righteousness that they will cry out to God “save me!” Look at Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Peter pulled no punches. He told them directly that they had murdered the Son of God: Jesus Christ. He told them that the man they had killed was now sitting in heaven, making his enemies his footstool. By the work of the Holy Spirit and the mercy of God in these men’s hearts, it left them convicted. They cried out “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter brings them the wondrous news of the gospel.

Again I state, it was often my experience in the PRC that the true seriousness of sin was never brought out in the preaching. The hearer was never brought to the position of utter destitution in the face of God. The supreme holiness of God was not brought out. His utter and dreadful wrath against sin often failed to be expressed. The preaching was not such that it made men quake in their dress shoes. This is in part due to the fact that people were told that the very fact that they worried about their salvation, was evidence that they were one of the elect. After all, the reprobate never have that concern. Thus, they were given an easy, but a false comfort! However, our comfort in our salvation is never, ever found in something that we do, especially something as trivial as being worried about our state of salvation. If the reprobate were never concerned about their eternal state we wouldn’t see them flocking to other religions. We would never ever see them trying to be good, trying to merit favour with God, trying not to incur His wrath. Our assurance of our salvation must always rest upon the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, not our doubts and fears of our eternal state.

One need only look in the Bible to see the importance of strong preaching against sin. Prophets throughout the Old Testament called Israel to repent, they reminded Israel that God was angry at them for their sin. Isaiah goes so far as to call Israel (which was the visible church at the time) Sodom and Gomorrah in Isaiah 1. The apostles in the New Testament did likewise. Paul addresses the church in Galatians as being fools. Christ, through the apostle John, warns the church of Pergamos that unless they repent of their fornication God will punish them (Revelations 2:16). Paul orders Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1 – 2 to reprove and rebuke sin: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Furthermore, Paul states in Acts 20:21 that he in his ministry was, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Confessional Evidence for Strong Preaching Against Sin 

The importance of preaching intensely against sin is brought out in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 31:

  • “Thus: when according to the command of Christ it is declared and publicly testified to all and every believer [through the true preaching of the gospel], that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ’s merits; and on the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath of God and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted; according to which testimony of the gospel God will judge them, both in this and in the life to come.” (Emphasis Mine)

Further, Daniel Hyde in his commentary on the Belgic Confession called With Heart and Mind, argues that the Reformers understood “justification to be purely preached when the Word was “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15) into its two parts: law and gospel. The law was preached in all its terror (emphasis mine), while the gospel was preached in all its comfort.”

The importance of such preaching is also expressed in the Form for the Ordination (Or Installation) of Ministers of God’s Word where it states that “they [i.e. ministers] faithfully explain to their flock the Word of the Lord . . . and apply the same as well in general as in particular to the edification of the hearers instructing, admonishing, comforting and reproving . . . preaching repentance towards God and reconciliation with Him through faith in Christ [emphasis mine].”

Lazy Consciences and Comfortable Average Lives

What was the last time you heard a sermon in which you were told that if you do not repent of a particular sin, you will face the wrath and judgment of God? What was the last time after hearing such, you felt the absolute need for a saviour? Such that you yearned for the preacher to bring the message of the gospel? Such that you felt that you could not leave church in any satisfied state, unless you heard the gospel and were brought to a revelation of Jesus Christ?

The truth is we all have lazy consciences. We can hear a sermon on the subject of a particular sin, but if its seriousness is not shown, if the wrath of God against it is not preached, if the holiness of God is not preached, we can leave the pew as comfortably as we entered it. We can toss off a particular sermon on sin because it did not prick our conscience. We can leave church after a sermon, comforted in the fact that we belong to a church. After all we have a pretty happy and content life. Things are going well for us. We attend church twice a Sunday, attend church functions during the week and because of that everything must be just fine with our eternal state. We are living the average Christian life. We may have our secret pet sins, but they are nothing that serious.

Don’t you want to live more than the average Christian life? Don’t you want to grow in your personal relationship with your Saviour, with the Triune God?

In order to do so, we need evangelical preaching. We need harsh preaching against sin. The tares inside the church, the unsaved visiting on a Sunday morning, the covenant children walking in rebellion or complacency, and the hypocritical adults all need strong, evangelical, preaching against sin. Preaching that convicts. Strong preaching against sin brings those elect sinners who are not yet saved, to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. Indeed, proper preaching against sin ought to be applicable to both the elect who are saved now, and those who have yet to repent. It is applicable to the elect who have knowledge of their salvation as it brings them to a greater understanding of the wondrous beauty that is theirs in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also presses them on to live a more and more sanctified life out of thanksgiving to God. It further grants them comfort knowing that no matter how great their sin, they have been forgiven by their Redeemer: the Lord Jesus Christ. After all the purpose of the law, as Paul states in Romans, is so that we might know sin and that having that knowledge of sin, we might be driven to the cross of Christ.

As Luther states in On the Freedom of a Christian,

“For not one word of God only, but both should be preached; new and old things should be brought out of the treasury, as well the voice of the law, as the word of grace. The voice of the law should be brought forward, that men may be terrified and brought to a knowledge of their sins, and thence be converted to penitence and to a better manner of life. But we must not stop here; that would be to wound only and not to bind up, to strike and not to heal, to kill and not to make alive, to bring down to hell and not to bring back, to humble and not to exalt. Therefore the word of grace, and of the promised remission of sin, must also be preached in order to teach and set up faith; since, without that word, contrition, penitence, and all other duties, are performed and taught.”