What does “Christ-centered” preaching mean?

What does “Christ-centered” preaching mean? Well, unfortunately it has become more of a slogan than a carefully defined methodology. There are some who have thought through it carefully, but there is no unified vision for what this looks like. I’d like to suggest a working definition of what Christ-centered preaching should look like practically: 

Preachers must proclaim the “whole counsel of God” in such a way that Christ is never detached from the implications of a passage nor inserted artificially into the authorial intent of a passage.

I’m nobody and I don’t think for a minute that I am in a position to define anything. However, I believe that if more preachers would devote themselves to this methodology (whatever slogan you want to attach to it), they would be more be more useful for the salvation of the lost and the sanctification of believers. At the very least it would be helpful if someone could clarify what we all mean when we talk about “Christ-centered” preaching, because in my experience almost everyone has a different idea of what that should look like in practice. 

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A wrong view of the Lord’s Table is a pathway to a wrong view of the Gospel.

This Sunday at GccWilm we will be studying the Lord’s Table from Mark 14. This is one of the most important practices of the church, but it is often misunderstood and misapplied. If you wonder how important it can be, J.C. Ryle explains importance of an accurate view of the Lord’s Table:

Whatever men please to think or say, the Romish doctrine of the real presence, if pursued to its legitimate consequences, obscures every leading doctrine of the Gospel, and damages and interferes with the whole system of Christ’s truth.” 

He goes on to show that if you believe the elements of the Lord’s Table become the actual body of Christ to be re-sacrificed 

you spoil the blessed doctrine of Christ’s finished work when He died on the cross. A sacrifice that needs to be repeated is not a perfect complete thing. You spoil the priestly office of Christ. If there are priests that can offer an acceptable sacrifice of God besides Him, the great High Priest is robbed of His glory. You spoil the Scriptural doctrine of the Christian ministry. You exalt sinful men into the position of mediators between God and man. You give to the sacramental elements of bread and wine an honor and veneration they were never meant to receive, and produce an idolatry to be abhorred of faithful Christians. Last, but not least, you overthrow the true doctrine of Christ’s human nature. If the body born of the Virgin Mary can be in more places than one at at the same time, it is not a body like our own, and Jesus was not “the second Adam” in the truth of our nature.”  (Five English Reformers, 26-27).

As Ryle demonstrates this is a pivotal issue to understand. That is why this Sunday we are going to dive deep into Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s Table. 

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Sermon’s on the Mission of Our Church

Here are 5 Sermons that I preached when I first arrived in DE that continue to be formative for my thinking and our church:

Part 1: http://gccwilm.org/site/file.asp?sec_id=180009456&file_id=180110027&table=file_downloads
Part 2: http://gccwilm.org/site/file.asp?sec_id=180009456&file_id=180111429&table=file_downloads
Part 3: http://gccwilm.org/site/file.asp?sec_id=180009456&file_id=180112201&table=file_downloads
Part 4: http://gccwilm.org/site/file.asp?sec_id=180009456&file_id=180112903&table=file_downloads
Part 5: http://gccwilm.org/site/file.asp?sec_id=180009456&file_id=180113554&table=file_downloads

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What is Expository Preaching?

Definition #1:

Expository preaching proclaims the substance, the significance and the stipulations of the truth God has spoken to his people in the bible.

Glossary of Terms
substance = the meaning intended by the author as reflected by the words of the text
significance = contemporized expression of the text’s truth claim found in the authorial intent
stipulations = response or reactions required by text

 

Or, to put it another way. . .

Definition #2:

Expository preaching examines the truth God has spoken in the bible and proclaims “Here is what it says, here is what it means, and here is what it requires.”

Glossary of Terms
what it says = the meaning intended by the author as reflected by the words of the text
what it means = contemporized expression of the text’s truth claim found in the authorial intent
what it requires = response or reactions required by text

 

Biblical Pattern:

This is the pattern set for public ministry of the word by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:13:

Until I come devote, yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy includes declarations of what the text says (reading), what the text means (teaching), and what the text requires (exhortation). Each of these elements is necessary for a sermon to truly be expository.

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One Reason You May Be Struggling with Evangelism

John MacArthur identifies a common reason why Christians struggle to share their faith: 

One reason some of us have difficulty proclaiming the gospel is that we don’t know many non-Christians. Our world has narrowed; the longer we’ve been Christians, the fewer non-Christians we know. Work hard to keep that from happening to you. 

John MacArthur, The Master’s Plan for the Church, 63

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Examining Motives for Evangelism

Unfortunately, we have a nasty habit of taking a good thing and making it bad through evil motives. The perfect illustration of this is the Temple practices of Jesus’ day.  Temple worship and sacrifices were a good thing.  However, through selfish motives the leaders of Jesus’ day turned those “good things” into deplorable things. Or what about the Pharisee in Luk3 18:11 who prayed and thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.  He took a righteous act and turned it into sin because he was using his prayers to glorify himself not to glorify God. The challenge for us now, is how we avoid doing this same thing with evangelism.

There are all kinds of sinful motives for evangelism.

At one point in my life I had a Christian leader, who will remain nameless, provide us with a log book to record how many times everyone had shared the gospel with someone.  Without surprise it quickly became a competition for some individuals, and other individuals simply lied about how many people they had evangelized.  Why? Because they were motivated by pride. Pride is a wicked motivation.  When we evangelize out of pride we are no longer working to build God’s kingdom.  Instead, when we are motivated by pride, we are really working to build our own kingdom.  Really pride is as the heart of all sinful motives for evangelism, but there are several common manifestations of “evangelistic pride” that are quite common.

There is the “I’m going to grow my church through evangelism” form of evangelistic pride.  It is a good—make that great—thing to grow a church through evangelism. However, if you are sharing the gospel with someone PRIMARILY to fill seats in your building, then your motivations are driven by pride.

There is also the “I’m going to make you see how right I am” form of evangelistic pride.  We’ve all seen, and been guilty of this one before.  This is when evangelism is no longer communication with a view toward conversion.  Instead, it becomes communication with a view toward proving that you are right.  Do you see how the motive behind it makes all the difference?  In evangelism we are seeking to win people NOT arguments.  When we allow pride to sneak into our heart evangelism can quickly become nothing more than a opportunity for you to prove that not only are you right, but you are also a better person than the one you are evangelizing.  This certainly shouldn’t be the attitude of a steward who is taking care of something that was entrusted to him and it’s not the attitude of someone who understands grace.

Another common manifestation of evangelistic pride is the mentality that the “fruit of the Spirit is evangelism… just evangelism.”  This is when an individual allows his heart for evangelism and his giftedness in that area to become a source of pride.  No longer is evangelism a ministry that they excel in, instead it has become the reason why they are more serious Christians than most people—at least in their minds. If other church members are not “doing evangelism” in the same way and with the same frequency it must be because they are immature Christian.  There are several problems with this view of evangelism.

  • First, the bible never evaluates our spiritual growth based on how frequently we “do evangelism.” The bible simply commands that we do it.
  • Second, the bible clearly teaches that each believer is gifted in a different way.  This does not mean that someone with the gifts of service is off the hook with respect to evangelism. But it does mean that believers are going to live out this command in different ways according to their giftedness.
  • Third, Paul is very clear on what the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life looks like (Gal 5:22-23).  So it is not a matter of how often you evangelize or what method of evangelism you use.  The real question is, are you submitting to the Spirit as he sanctifies you? If so, then your faithfulness in evangelism will be part of that.

In the end, the real problem with this attitude of evangelism is that is has the wrong motivation, pride.

So what are the right motivations for evangelism?

To answer this question we need to look no further than Mark 12:30-31:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Here we see not only the right motivations behind evangelism, but also the right motivations behind all of life: Love God and Love others.  We should do the work of evangelism because we love God and because we love other people.

Pure Evangelism reveals a heart that loves God in several ways:

  • If you love God you will love His word (Ps 119:41-42)
  • If you love God you will obey His command to evangelize (1 John 5:3)
  • If you love God you will love God’s people, and want to see more of them (1 Thess 4:9)
  • If you love God you will love to tell the world about the glorious deeds God has done (Psalm 96:1-3).
  • If you love God you will love the glory He receives when a soul is saved (Lk 15:10)
  • And certainly we could think of more…

Pure Evangelism reveals a heart that loves others as well:

  • If you love others you will want Christian fellowship with them (1 Jn 1:3)
  • If you love others you will agonize over their salvation (Rom 9:1-3)
  • If you love others you will want to do good to them (Gal 6:10)
  • If you love others you will treat them as you treat yourselves. (Mark 12:31)
  • If you love others you will speak the truth to them. (Eph 4:15)

It is easy to be motivated by fear and not share the gospel with someone.  But, if we truly love someone we will share the gospel with them.

 

[this is an updated version of a post originally posted 02/29/12]

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Piper on Gratitude as a Motivation for Obedience

Much is being made of the motivation for sanctification.  The way some people talk, you would think that gratitude was the only motivation for progress in sanctification. Thus, to talk about Christian duty or Christian ability is deemed “burdensome.” I have written elsewhere on some problems with this paradigm and received some negative feedback. One of the criticism that I received insinuated that my thoughts were radically divergent from Reformed thinking. My first thought was to reference the numerous quotes from Calvin in my post. However, I quickly remembered that many of the “resurgent” Calvinist (Re-Calvinist? I should start a conference with that title) have not bothered to read much of Calvin. So, for the benefit of my Re-Calvinists brothers (and that is what we are), let me quote from the ultimate Re-Calvinst authority, John Piper. Here is what he says:

Have you ever tried to find a Biblical text where gratitude or thankfulness is the explicit motive for obedience to God? Stories like the sinful woman (in Luke 7:36-50) and the unforgiving servant (in Matt. 18:23-35) come to mind, but neither speaks explicitly of gratitude as a motive.

Why is this explicit motive for obedience–which in contemporary Christianity is probably the most commonly used motive for obedience to God–(almost?) totally lacking in the Bible? Could it be that a gratitude ethic so easily slips over into a debtor’s ethic that God chose to protect His people form this deadly motivation by not including gratitude as an explicit motive for obedience?

Instead He lures us into obedience with irresistibly desirable promises of enablement (Jer 31:22; Ezek 36:27; Matt 19:26; Rom 6:14; 1 Cor 1:8-9; Gal 5:22; Phil 2:13; 4:13; 1 these 3:12; Heb 13:21) and divine reward (Luke 9:24; 10:28; 12:33; 16:9, 25; 10:35-36; Heb 11:24-26; 12:2; 13:5-6).

God takes pains to motivate us by reminding us that He is now and always will be working for those who follow Him in the obedience of faith. He never stops and waits for us to work for Him “out of gratitude.” He guards us from the mindset of a debtor by reminding us that all our Christian labor for Him is a gift from Him (Rom 11:35-36, 15:18) and therefore cannot be conceived as payment of a debt. In fact the astonishing thing is that every good deed we do in dependence on Him to “pay Him back” does just the opposite; it puts us ever deeper in debt to His grace.  “I labored eve more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10 NASB). Let us teach people that is exactly where God wants us to be through all eternity, going ever deeper in debt to grace.

Should we stop preaching gratitude as a motivation? I leave that for you to answer. But if we go on urging people to obey “out of gratitude,” we should at least show them the lurking dangers, and describe how gratitude can motivate obedience without succumbing to a debtor’s mentality.  (Brothers, We are Not Professionals, 34-35, bold emphasis added)

Let me make 4 observations:

1. I think that Piper is overstating his case on gratitude as a motivator for obedience. Gratitude is a legitimate motivator.

2. I agree when Piper says that ability & reward are legitimate motivations in the Christian life.  Paul consistently provides the indicative before the imperatives not only to show us that it was done for us, but also to show us that it was done in us and we now have the ability to obey.

3. Piper’s warning should be at least considered by those promoting the so-called “free grace” paradigm of sanctification. If you are not careful, the very thing that you are guarding against now (i.e. the motivation of paying God back) may be the very place people go with your paradigm.

4. See, I’m not a legalizing neo-nomian… unless, of course, that’s what you consider Piper to be.

 

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