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.