Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Yeast of the Pharisees: Spiritual Abuse by Pastors and Counselors

By Edward J. Cumella, Ph. D.

Spiritual abuse began in the Garden of Eden: Satan manipulated God’s words and convinced our earliest parents to follow him instead of God. This event epitomizes all spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse occurs across denominations, in non-denominational churches, and across faiths—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, et al. It usually has little to do with the theologies of major religious groups and more to do with the personality of individual leaders. Spiritual leaders with personality pathology—especially narcissistic, antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, borderline, and histrionic traits—may become spiritually abusive. Because of emotional, relational, and cognitive problems characterizing these personalities, the Bible, theology, and church relationships can be distorted by such leaders to the point of serious harm.

Christians believe that human beings have a spirit that connects us to God. As such, spiritual abuse consists of actions that distort or sever our relationship with God. Since identity derives from knowing who we are in relation to God, spiritual abuse harms self-concept and self-worth. Spiritual abuse also causes mental and emotional distress, and is therefore a form of mental/emotional abuse. In extreme cases, it includes physical and sexual abuse justified by the abuser as God’s will through the twisting of scriptures.

Spiritual abuse has debilitating effects and is thus a legitimate focus in counseling or pastoral care. Depending on its manifestation, spiritual abuse may involve actions—such as severe mental/emotional abuse or physical/sexual abuse of children—that professionals are legally required to report to state child protection agencies. When perpetrators of spiritual abuse are licensed or certified counselors/pastors, ethics compel reporting the perpetrator’s behavior to licensing boards or church/denominational oversight authorities.

Spiritual abuse is usually more severe in church than in counseling settings. Pastors are often accorded great respect and authority in critical life domains— marriage, sexuality, relationships, and finances. They lead communities that exert social pressures and offer belonging and fellowship. Abuse in these contexts affects most aspects of life.

Spiritual abuse occurs on a continuum. Some churches are virtually free of it; others are occasionally and mildly abusive; still others abuse frequently and with great intensity. Experiences of spiritual abuse are also unique to the individual. Some—such as those inclined to perfectionism, obsessions, anxiety, or self-derision—are more likely to hear messages as inflexible rules or condemnations. Others in the same environment and exposed to the same messages might not experience trauma.

Spiritual abuse can arise in counseling offices, but is usually less severe than in churches, for several reasons. Counselors are rigorously trained to be person-centered, to listen, and to respect the beliefs and choices of their clients. Counselors are less commonly accorded the same authority as pastors, nor is counseling typically imbued with the authority of God. Counseling is temporary; counseling is commonly and easily terminated. But church membership can be seen as a lifetime commitment. Leaving counseling does not mean separation from family and friends, but leaving one’s church may.

Scripture addresses spiritual abuse best through Christ’s scathing words to the Pharisees (Matthew 23), who are perfect examples of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse has 12 features:

Authoritarianism. Rather than modeling and teaching obedience to God, abusive leaders expect believers to obey them. Councils of elders, deacons, etc., are expected to rubber stamp leaders’ intentions rather than provide accountability.

Coercion. Rather than respecting freedom and conscience, as God does, and offering messages that persuade based on scriptural integrity and reason, abusive leaders use strong-arm tactics to coerce believers into overruling better judgment and following their demands.

Intimidation. Rather than building up the Body in the bonds of love, abusive leaders use threats of punishment, excommunication, and condemnation to force people into submission and continued church membership.

Terrorism. Rather than inviting people to follow Christ with the Gospel of love and forgiveness, abusive leaders intensify believers’ fear, shame, and false guilt, teaching that problems in believers’ lives are due to the believers’ personal sins.

Condemnation. Rather than refraining from judgment lest they be judged, an abusive leader liberally condemns those who leave his church, outsiders, and those whom he defines as sinners. The message is that believers will join the ranks of the condemned should they deviate from the leader’s teachings or leave his church/denomination. Individual members become the scapegoat when something goes awry in the congregation.

Classism. Christ was no respecter of persons. Abusive leaders are preoccupied with power, promoting church hierarchy, referring to and treating people according to their titles and roles. Those lower on the hierarchy are taught that their needs don’t matter.

Conformity. Abusive leaders have the greatest hold over inexperienced, naïve, and dependent individuals who are seeking a strong leader. These individuals suppress their objections to the leaders’ teachings for fear of being shamed or ostracized. Hence, abusive churches often appear unified, but beneath the surface there is discontent, anguish, whispers, rumors, secrets, and a desire among many to leave.

Manipulation. Rather than taking scripture in context, interpreting the Bible with the Bible and according to long-held Christian beliefs, abusive leaders twist scripture to convey their personal opinion rather than God’s intent.

Irrationality. Because scripture is manipulated, one interpretation may contradict another. Interpretations may contradict reason and obvious reality. This requires suspension of critical thinking. Some abusive leaders claim to receive direct messages from God about their church or individual members, but these messages typically deviate from Scripture and reality.

Legalism. Rather than treating others with love, grace, and forgiveness, as Christ commanded, abusive leaders offer little grace. They communicate instead that one’s worth and the amount of love one deserves depend on performance and status in their church. Abusive leaders expect believers to make heroic financial, time, and emotional sacrifices for their church and its members.

Isolation. Rather than respecting family ties, community obligations, and friendships, abusive leaders are concerned that such influences will interfere with their control over  believers, so they encourage isolation from family, friends, and the outside world, and wage war against the outside world as a sewer of sin devoid of anything redeeming.

Elitism. Rather than modeling and encouraging humility, abusive leaders beam with false pride and teach the same to believers. An attitude arises of, “We’re it! We’re special! Everyone else is condemned!,” partially compensating for the shame and worthlessness that believers feel because of other experiences in the abusive church. The leader instills that believers must protect the church’s image at any cost.

Ensnarement. Rather than promoting maturity among believers, abusive leaders inevitably promote self-doubt, guilt, and identity confusion, since believers struggle with the contradiction between what their conscience and reason tell them and what they are being taught. This ambivalence, coupled with fear of condemnation and loss of direction and fellowship, make it difficult and painful for believers to leave abusive churches.

Think about a cult, for at its most severe, a spiritually abusive church is a cult. It has so diverged from solid Biblical teaching and grown so warped in the authoritarian rule of one man, that it has become a place of idolatry where God is no longer worshipped. “Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough… Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…” (Galatians 5:7-10, Matthew 16:6).

Assessing Religious Abuse
Assessment is simpler when clients already define their religious experiences as abusive. When clients do not recognize their possibly abusive experiences, cautions apply:

Respect adult clients’ religious choices. Labeling religious experiences as abusive may interfere with religious autonomy. However, therapist authenticity, integrity, and responsibility require that possible religious abuse be addressed openly. It may be useful to assist clients in articulating the issues to arrive at their own conclusions about abuse. Remember, not everyone experiences the same events in the same manner; seemingly harsh religious experiences may not traumatize everyone.

Regarding children, utilize an objective standard of abuse. Most authorities agree that religious abuse has definitively occurred when the experience has led to serious and diagnosable behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. Short of this, it is inadvisable to use the word “abuse” to describe religious experiences.

A psychometrically valid and reliable questionnaire may be useful in this assessment, such as the Remuda Spiritual Assessment Questionnaire (www.remudaranch.com), which contains a factor score measuring spiritual abuse. It is short, easy to use, with either paper and pencil or computerized administration, and free of charge to healthcare professionals.

Treating Religious Abuse
It is not possible in this overview to detail treatment for spiritual abuse. Detailed treatment resources appear in the bibliography. However, there are some basics. Common issues arising among clients in recovery from spiritual abuse include betrayal of trust, learning anew whom to trust, fallout with and forgiveness of God and family, grief over lost years, and understanding grace and God’s loving nature. Those who have experienced spiritual abuse often evidence the following additional difficulties:

• Feelings of worthlessness as opposed to dignity and self-respect
• Efforts at control as opposed to an ability to surrender trustingly to God
• Shame vs. self-acceptance
• Guilt about vs. recognition that past sins have been forgiven
• Anxiety about performance and punishment vs. peace
• Moral rigidity vs. grace and unconditional love
• Isolation and secrecy vs. a sense of belonging and ability to be authentic with others
• Addictions/compulsions vs. healthy boundaries and coping skills
• Confusion vs. clear understanding of the Gospel and nature of God
• Hopelessness vs. a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction
Regardless of spiritual abuse history, spiritual interventions are contraindicated when clients don’t want them, are psychotic or delusional. If spiritual interventions are warranted, inform clients at treatment inception that you may use spiritual interventions and obtain informed consent. Spiritual interventions are most effective once trusting therapeutic relationships have developed. However, Christian counselors should express a commonly understood Gospel truth, including Christ’s atoning sacrifice, forgiveness rather than punishment, and God’s unconditional, unmerited grace and love rather than legalism, performance, or the need for perfection.

Primary spiritual interventions include:  teaching spiritual concepts; bibliotherapy; prayer; spiritual imagery and meditation; forgiveness; counsel from pastors or spiritual directors; encouraging involvement in a healthy faith community; cognitive restructuring focusing on the nature of God; a mature understanding of suffering, self-hatred and perfectionism as obstacles to receiving God’s love; and an application of clients’ values to their own lives to reduce cognitive dissonance. Self-help groups, such as Christian Recovery International, may be recommended.

It may be necessary to guide clients toward finding a healthy faith community. The four F’s suggest that healthy faith communities offer:

• Food: sound Biblical messages promoting personal growth and maturity
• Fellowship: supportive relationships
• Fit: commonality with other members
• Fruit: service to community and one another
It is a sad commentary about the modern church that abusive Christian leaders are so pervasive that we must write articles like this and give them prominence in order to warn the faithful. Yet it is also true that perverted pastors, false prophets, and evil leaders have always existed in the history of Israel and the Church. And most importantly, if we cling to God and stay vigilant, He promises to make the way straight for us.

(Originally Published in Christian Counseling Today 2005 Vol. 13 No. 1:35)
Edward J. Cumella, Ph.D., a Licensed Psychologist, is Director of Research and Education at Remuda Ranch Programs for Anorexia and Bulimia, Inc., the nation’s largest inpatient eating disorder facility. He presents frequently at national and international conferences and has published at least 50 papers on mental health topics, including spiritual abuse.

References
Arterburn, S., Felton, J. (1993). Faith That Hurts/Faith That Heals. (Reissue ed). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Arterburn, S., Felton, J. (2001). Toxic Faith. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press.
Bawer, B. (1998). Stealing Jesus. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Blue, K. (1993). Healing Spiritual Abuse. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Chrnalogar, M. A., Howey, P. M., Martin, S. D. (2000). Twisted Scriptures. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Enroth, R. M. (1992). Churches that Abuse. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Enroth, R. M. (1994). Recovering from Churches that Abuse. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Johnson, D., VanVonderen, J. (1991). The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
VanVonderen, J. (1989). Tired of Trying to Measure Up. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
VanVonderen, J. (1995). When God’s People Let You Down/How to Rise Above Hurts That Often Occur. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

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What Does God Require to Hear His Word?

To ask the question, “What does God require to hear his Word?” probably seems more than a little odd. Perhaps that is because many (most?) people expect the burden for what happens during the declaration of God’s Word to be squarely placed upon the shoulders of the one delivering the Word.  However, when we study God’s Word we find that the primary responsibility is placed heavily upon the one receiving or hearing the Word.

Now, that certainly flies in the face of popular notions about preaching, yet it is what God says.  In the Bible there is clearly more emphasis upon truly hearing what God is saying during the preaching moment than upon how the preacher preaches. That’s not to say the preacher is relieved of any responsibility in the matter.  He is required to be faithful to the text, and it would profit the deliverer and the recipients of God’s Word if he works at communicating well.

Below is a commentary on the question and answer asked by those who put together a solid commentary and teaching tool, the Westminster Catechism.  I am unable to find the original author for this, but the material is no less useful.

Catechism #160.      Q. What is required of those that hear the word preached?

A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God: mediate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

* Prov. 8:34; I Peter 2:1-2; Luke 8:18; Ps. 119:18; Eph. 6:18-19.  We are to attend upon the preached gospel with diligence, preparation, and prayer.

* Acts 17:11.  The preached message to be tested by the Scriptures.

* Heb. 4:2; 2 Thess. 2:10; James 1:21; Acts 17:11.  Hearers of the preached Word are to receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind.

*  I Thess. 2:13.  The truth is to be received, not as a mere matter of human opinion, but as the Word of God, having divine authority.

* Luke 9:44; Heb. 2:1; Luke 24:14; Deut. 6:6-7; Mal 3:16.  Hearers of the preached Word are to meditate and confer concerning it.

*  Prov. 2:1; Ps. 119:11.  The Word to be hidden in the heart.

* Luke 8:15; James 1:25.  The Word to be fruitful in the life.

Commentary

1. What is our first duty in connection with the preached gospel?

Our first duty in connection with the preached gospel is to hear it.  This implies regular attendance upon the ordinances of divine worship.  In an age when iniquity abounds, and the love of many has waxed cold, there are many church members who attend the services of their church only occasionally.  Some think that if they attend half of the regular services of their own church they have done very well.  We should conscientiously attend all the regular public preaching services of our own church unless prevented by circumstances beyond our control.  “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb. 10:25).

2. Does regular church attendance fulfill our duty in connection with the preached gospel?

Certainly not.  Regular church attendance is only the first step.  The catechism not only affirms that we must “attend upon” the preached Word, but goes on to state how we must attend upon it.  This answer of the catechism sets forth a very high ideal for Christian people’s response to the preached Word, but it is eminently scriptural ideal.  We should certainly avoid the mistaken idea that occupying a seat in the house of worship on the Sabbath day fulfills our duty or even confers a favor on God.  It is possible to attend church services regularly and yet get no benefits whatever, because we do not pay attention to the service or take the message seriously.

3. What are some of the practices that we should avoid during our church services?

We should avoid coming late, sleeping, talking or whispering unnecessarily, reading books or papers that have nothing to do with the service, thinking over our worldly affairs and planning our business for the following week, and all other conduct which will distract ourselves of others from paying reverent attention to the service.

4. What is the remedy for habitual sleeping during church services?

Sleeping during church services is sometimes blamed on the preacher, but where one or two members fall asleep and all the rest have not difficulty in staying awake it is probably not the preacher’s fault.  Sleepiness during church services may be caused by poor ventilation of the building.  Janitors often fail to realize this; it should be tactfully explained to them that fresh air is necessary for mental alertness, and a building which has been closed for several days needs to be thoroughly aired out before the service begins.  In other cases sleeping in church may be caused by keeping late hours on Saturday evening – something which every conscientious Christian will try to avoid.  In some cases it may really be the minister’s fault; he should try to make his sermons interesting and to deliver them in an effective manner so as to hold the congregation’s attention.

5. What kind of preparation should we make to hear the Word preached?

We should take care of our ordinary business, except for real works of necessity, on Saturday, so that our minds will be free to think about God and his Word on the Sabbath day.  We should endeavor to dismiss all worldly business and pleasures from our thoughts so that we will be receptive to God’s Word.  We should conscientiously avoid reading “Sunday” newspapers and listening to secular radio broadcasts on the Lord’s Day.  No minister can preach effectively if the people come to church with their minds full of thoughts about movies, radio, baseball, politics, business, and other worldly affairs.  Nor can the people pay attention to the preaching of the Word if their minds are occupied with picnics, auto trips, or other recreations planned for the Sabbath afternoon or evening.  The Lord’s Day should be entirely consecrated to the service of God, if we are really to honor God and get blessing from his Word.

6. What should we pray for in connection with the preaching of the Word?

We should pray that the Holy Spirit would bestow spiritual gifts upon the minister, so that he may expound the Scriptures truly and effectively.  We should also pray that we and others may be given the grace of the Spirit to receive the Word, that the Holy Spirit will accompany and follow the preaching with his gracious working, so that sinners will be converted to Christ and the saints built up in their Christian faith and experience.

7. Is it the duty of Christian people to believe and accept whatever their minister preaches?

Certainly not.  They are to “examine what they hear by the Scriptures”; that is, they are to test and judge the content of the message by the Word of God which is the infallible rule of faith and life.  No real minister of Christ will want his hearers to accept anything just because he says it is true; he will want them to accept the truth because God says it is true; he will want them to accept the truth because God says it is true, and because they find that it is taught in God’s Word.  The minister in not only to preach the truths of  God’s Word, but to show the people where and how God’s Word teaches those truths.  The people are to believe the truth, not on their minister’s authority, but on the authority of God speaking in his Word.

8. What attitude should we have to the truth of God as it is preached to us?

We should “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God.”  That is, we should have a receptive attitude toward the truth, not an attitude of stubborn resistance to it.  Such a receptive attitude can exist only by the special work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart and mind.  By nature we all have a stubborn, perverse prejudice against the truth and a tendency to resist and argue against the truth.  Many can testify that when they were really converted to Christ, their opposition to the truth of God ceased, and they became meek and receptive in their attitude.  Sometime professing Christians manifest a spirit of violent rebellion against such doctrines as original sin, total depravity and inability, predestination, and eternal punishment.  The fact that these doctrines are taught very plainly in the Bible, which they usually do not attempt to deny, seems to carry no weight with such objectors, but rather to increase their opposition.  With respect to the doctrines mentioned above, and all other doctrines, the only question that really matters is are these doctrines scriptural?  If they are taught in God’s Word, that should settle that matter for every Christian believer.  Whether we like these doctrines or not is irrelevant.  We are to receive the truths of God’s Word with “readiness of mind,” on God’s authority, whether we like them or not.

9. Why should we mediate and confer concerning the preached Word?

We should mediate on it because only by spending time in serious thinking can we really grasp the truth in its relation to our own lives and problems.  We should confer concerning it with our fellow Christians because this will tend greatly to increase the effectiveness of the message.  Conversation on divine truth among Christian people is greatly neglected in the present day.  We are so busy with a multitude of interests and activities that we seem to have little opportunity for fellowship and conference with other Christians.  A person who likes to talk about religion today is likely to be regarded as something of a “crank” or fanatic.  Of course those who feel they must always be talking about religion and nothing else will come to be regarded as a nuisance and will bring reproach on the church.  “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1).  To confer concerning divine truth seasonably and profitably is an art that should be cultivated by the Lord’s children.

10.  Why must we hide the Word of God in our hearts?

To hide the Word in our hearts means more than merely memorizing portions of Scripture, although that is a very profitable pursuit.  It means to retain the truth in our mind and keep on thinking it over and reflecting on its relation to every sphere of our life.  This is the opposite of the “in one ear and out the other” manner of receiving the truth of God.  If we really believe the truth, it will remain in our hearts and we will reap benefits at future times as well as right away.

11. Why must we bring forth the fruit of the Word of God in our lives?

Because the Word of God is an intensely practical message.  We should beware of being like the character named “Talkative” in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, who had the Bible and Christian doctrine at the tip of his tongue and could speak fluently on all religious subjects, but was a complete stranger to the power of godliness in his own personal and family life.  “By their fruits ye shall know them.”  The Word of God is a message of salvation, godly living, and Christian self-denial or being crucified with Christ.  If a person is a stranger to these experiences, he is not bringing forth the fruit of the Word of God in his life, and his habitual hearing of the preached gospel will only add to his condemnation at the Judgment Day.

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How You Can Pray for Power Preaching

These suggestions are taken from Dr. Dave Eby’s  Power Preaching for Church Growth

Pray to God for your preacher and his preaching in these specific ways:

  1. Help him to realize his absolute dependence on You, that apart from You he can do nothing (John 15:5);
  2. Help him to pray for his preaching continually and depend on Your Spirit for power;
  3. Anoint him and fill him with your Spirit for preaching.  Bring him under complete submission to you;
  4. Enable him to preach the Word with accuracy, clarity, boldness and love;
  5. Anoint the ears of listeners to be humble, hungry hearers of the Word;
  6. Bring conviction of sins and true conversion by the preached Word to unbelievers;
  7. Bring conviction of sin, on-going repentance, edification, encouragement and growth/sanctification to believers.

You could also take the words of the Larger Catechism Question 159 and pray:

Lord, help our preacher to preach sound doctrine

  1. diligently
  2. plainly
  3. in the power of the Spirit
  4. faithfully
  5. wisely
  6. zealously, with fervent love to God and His people
  7. sincerely, aiming at God’s glory, and the conversion, edification and salvation of all who listen to the Word.

Finally, remember that power preaching is what our church needs, as well as all the churches in our presbytery and in our county and beyond this to our state, nation, and all over the world.  Pray for God to raise up power preaching and power preachers.  You can be used by God to promote the powerful preaching of His Word.

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The Listener’s Responsibility in Preaching

If a believer…is inclined to conclude that his pastor does not preach, let him know that he, a believer, and the Church with him bear more responsibility for it than the pastor himself. We have not spoken of the Spirit whom the preacher alone is to receive, but of the Spirit of the Church, whom the Church, i.e., each believer, entreats and from whom he simply receives his share. The lot of a people of God is to hear the preaching of the Word, which people he wishes to bless by hearing and answering their prayers… Does such a people exist in each of our churches? Who would dare presume as much? How is the worship hour prepared for and celebrated? In what atmosphere? It is especially disturbing how few believers pray seriously for these things and how great a number overlook this indispensable element. Even in the sanctuary, relatively few invoke the Spirit with perseverance and with definite aims in mind. Some apparently think triflingly of it, since they arrive late. Practically nowhere are there meetings of prayer before the worship hour. Such negligence tends to dispel the Spirit and contributes to rendering the preaching ineffective for a number of hearers, simultaneously depriving the preacher of his most substantial support. When, then, will the believers en masse understand that they are primarily responsible for the preaching which they hear, yes, more than their preachers? If every pastor knew and felt that the congregation was praying and that each member had prayed, that the congregation was supporting him, interceding for him, that each member had benevolent feelings for the man whom God had given to instruct in salvation, that each one loved him in God, what preacher would not feel himself a new man? And whose preaching would not be transformed. Once again, preaching the word is a function and activity of the Church, not the function and specialty of a man. Before judging anyone, the believers should know that if they do not prepare for the preaching as we have just indicated they will receive very little, perhaps nothing.

From Pierre Ch. Marcel. The Relevance of Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1963), pp. 101-102.

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BOOK: Spirit-Empowered Preaching

In my opinion, one book any serious preacher ought to read and keep on his shelf is  Spirit Empowered Preaching (Involving the Holy Spirit in Your Ministry) by Arturo G. Azurdia III.  Read some portions of the book and see for yourself:

In the final analysis, we take up our privilege as proclaimers of the gospel, not because we are more intelligent or creative than the world, nor because our powers of rhetorical and logistical techniques are greater than those of other religious spokesmen.  None of these powers will ever serve to win one person to Jesus Christ.  We must never forget that the Christian Church always advances from a position of human weakness, not human strength (a point we will seek to develop in a later chapter.)  Instead we step out to accomplish the greater works because the Spirit of God, on the merits of our Savior’s death, had been given to us. P. 27

I believe that the greatest impediment to the advancement of the gospel in our time is the attempt of the church of Jesus Christ to do the work of God apart from the truth and the power of the Spirit of God.  Like the disciples of old, we are powerless, in and of ourselves, to accomplish the ‘greater works’.  The declaration of Jesus remains true to this day: ‘apart from Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). P. 29

The old Puritan Matthew Henry captures this emphasis: “To be led into a truth is more than barely to know it; it is to be intimately and experimentally acquainted with it; to be piously and strongly affected with it; not only to have the notion of it in our heads, but the relish and savour and power of it in our hearts.” P. 36

John Owen exhorts: “It is not to learn the form of the doctrine of godliness, but to get the power of it implanted in our souls.  And this is an eminent means of our making a progress in the knowledge of the truth.  To seek after mere notions of truth, without an endeavor after an experience of its power in our hearts, is not the way to increase our understanding in spiritual things.  He alone is in a posture to learn from God who sincerely gives up his mind, conscience, and affections to the power and rule of what is revealed unto him.  Men may have in their study of the scripture other ends also, as the profit and edification of others; but if this conforming of their own souls unto the power of the word be not fixed in the first place in their minds, they do not strive lawfully nor will be crowned.” P. 38

Over a three year period an aspiring preacher is equipped to diagram Greek sentences, parse Hebrew verbs, quote Calvin, Luther, and Hodge verbatim.  What is disconcerting about this, (and this from a person committed to the development of all of these skills!), is that it is possible inadvertently to convey the impression that the key to understanding the mind of God is found in the acquisition of an arsenal of highly technical and scientific skills.  Over time men may come to regard the scriptures the way a biology student regards his proverbial frog; as a thing to dissect, rather than a source from which to hear God’s voice.  Rarely are seminarians taught to pray and fast and weep for the subjective and internal illumination of the Holy Spirit in correspondence with their diligent efforts in the sacred text. P. 39

At this vital point, three essential principles of apostolic ministry converge: the message, method, and means for ministry ordained by Jesus Christ.  The divine message? Jesus Christ.  The divine method? Authoritative proclamation.  The divine means? The power of the Spirit of God.  This, then summarizes that to which I am referring as ‘the vitality of the Spirit.’  In a single statement, the vitality of the Spirit is His effectual work of glorifying Jesus Christ through fallible men who faithfully proclaim the Christocentric scriptures.  This is ministry distinctive to the new covenant people of God: Christ is our message, preaching Christ from all of the scriptures is our method, and the attending power of the purchased Spirit of God is our means. P. 63

Summarized, we defined it as follows: the vitality of the Spirit is His effectual work of glorifying Jesus Christ through fallible men who faithfully proclaim the Christocentric scriptures. P. 67

How is it, then, that for eighteen months Paul preached nothing except ‘…Jesus Christ, and Him crucified?’  Consider the breadth of content contained in this phrase.  The name ‘Jesus’ carries implications related to His personhood; including, it would seem, the mysteries attached to the incarnation.  The title ‘Christ’ recognizes His office as Messianic King; addressing, among other things, the fulfillment of several Old Testament promises.  The perfect participle ‘crucified’ has reference to His redemptive accomplishments and their attendant consequences.  May I suggest that eighteen months is not time enough to plumb the depths of the person, office, and work of the Son of God?  Eighteen years would prove insufficient for the task. P. 75

If the aim of Christian preaching is more than intellectual enlightenment and moral reformation, but is, instead, the thorough-going transformation of people dead in trespasses and sins, then Christian preachers must rest their dependence solely upon the Spirit of the living God because such a transformation requires a power of an altogether supernatural kind.  Stated simply, the power of the Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of gospel preaching, the one thing without which nothing else matters. P. 100

What is this ‘Spirit-filling’?  An examination of these eight passages reveal it to be an instantaneous, sudden, and sovereign operation of the Spirit of God coming upon a man so that his proclamation of Jesus Christ might be attended by holy power.    P. 109

The Spirit, by the means of His power, through the words of a preacher, establishes, verifies, and confirms the gospel in the heart of a man so that he must respond to the truth he hears. Pp. 109-110

The true gospel preacher lives with a nagging frustration; a vulnerability that haunts him daily.  To be sure, there are moments when other concerns occupy his attention.  Sooner or later, however, his mind inevitably returns to an annoying recognition: he is possessed by a desire to accomplish an objective that he will never be able to accomplish if left to himself.  At times, the awareness of this dilemma is overwhelming.  He is thoroughly acquainted with the cry of Isaiah the prophet: “Who has believed our message?’ (Isa. 53:1).  Certain Sundays leave him with a forced conclusion to this question left intentionally unanswered: ‘It seems that no one has.”  The cause of his anguish is not just that his ego has been bruised (though most assuredly, this accounts for some of it!); rather, the recognition that he has fallen short of the aim placed within his heart by God Himself.  For this reason, many Christian preachers have sought to redefine the aim of Christian preaching. P. 117

The conclusion must be obvious.  If, for the effectual heralding of the word of God, such an endowment of power proved necessary for the prophets of the Old Testament, the apostles and other Christians of the New Testament, and even the incarnate Son of God Himself, how much more will such power be necessary for contemporary preachers of the gospel? P. 119

Why should Christian preachers intentionally renounce all forms of human communication that can be subsumed under the headings of ‘cleverness of speech, superiority of speech, wisdom, persuasive words of wisdom’ (I Cor. 1:17; 2:1, 4)?  Why should these ‘trans-generational’ approaches be set aside in lieu of the ‘demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (I Cor. 2:4), especially when one considers the responses they often arouse?  Stated simply, the aim of Christian preaching determines the means we employ.  Paul informs the Corinthians that the nature of his objective established the indispensability of the appointed means:

“And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but  in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the  wisdom of men, but on the power of God (I Cor. 2:4-5).” P. 120

When the Holy Spirit powerfully attends the preaching of the word of God there is an ease of speaking, a holy authority, an other-worldly kind of courage that can compel an ordinary man to invade the domain of darkness and demand the deliverance of people enslaved to that realm.  Lloyd-Jones says:

“I like to put it like this – and I know of nothing on earth that is comparable to this feeling – that when this happens you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching, you are looking on.  You are looking on at yourself in amazement as this is  happening.  It is not your effort; your are just the instrument, the channel, the vehicle: and the Spirit is using you, and you are looking on in great enjoyment and astonishment.  There is nothing that is in any way comparable to this.” P. 125-126

Recall to mind a text to which we have already given some consideration: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also: and greater works than these shall he do…’ (John 14:12a).  This is the aspiration of the Christian preacher: to be useful unto the end of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ (i.e. ‘the greater works’).  However, when the exhilaration of the assignment fades in the light of the growing awareness of human limitation it must be asked: on what basis will the messengers of Jesus Christ accomplish the greater works?  As has already been seen, Jesus answers this question: ‘…greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father’ (John 14:12b).  On the basis of His redemptive accomplishments, namely, His death and resurrection/ascension, the Holy Spirit will be given to Christians, which, among other things, will result in the realization of the greater works (cf. John 16:7-11).   P. 135-136

What is the forthcoming implication concerning the congregation’s relationship to the preaching of the word?  One predominant sensation should characterize God’s people: active expectation.  It is not enough for the congregation to possess a proper view of inspiration.  They must gather on the Lord’s Day expecting to hear the voice of God through the proclamation of the scriptures.  They must bring an eagerness to hear, a readiness to submit, a predetermination to obey.   P. 158

To the contrary, it is painfully difficult to preach in settings where a lack of expectation is evident among the congregation.  An absence of response predominates: no smile, no tear, no nod of affirmation.  The coldness is felt.  The white walls seem glacier-like.  There is no hunger.  There is no longing.  There is no expectation.  In such settings the word of God will find little, if any, welcome.  God’s Spirit is quenched in the iciness of the heart.  Packer’s ominous conclusion is as follows:

“It should be noted…that while one may effectively put out a fire by dousing it, one  cannot make it burn again simply by stopping pouring water; it has to be lighted  afresh.  Similarly, when the Spirit has been quenched, it is beyond our power to undo  the damage we have done; we can only cry to God in penitence, asking that he will  revive his work.”  P. 160

More particularly, the congregation’s first responsibility for preaching was set forth in the following terms: the congregation must consciously refrain from any kind of attitude or activity that might contribute to a withholding of the effects of the Holy Spirit.  As a person, the Holy Spirit can be grieved by sin, and such grieving can lead to a withdrawal of His influences.  Moreover, it is possible for the Spirit and His ministry to be quenched.   P. 167

During the Great Awakening it was the practice of a Welsh pastor to teach the following prayer to new converts: ‘Unless I have the power of heaven in the Word of Life I shall die.” P. 170

Moreover, local congregations need to give serious consideration to prayer meetings that are altogether devoted to this concern.  Marcel is particularly pointed here:

“If a believer…is inclined to conclude that his pastor does not preach, let him know that he, a believer, and the Church with him bear more responsibility for it than the pastor himself.  We have not spoken of the Spirit whom the preacher alone is to receive,  but of the Spirit of the Church, whom the Church, i.e., each believer, entreats and from whom he simply receives his share.  The lot of a people of God is to hear the preaching  of the word, which people he wishes to bless by hearing and answering their prayers…   P. 171

Dutch pastors often recite a familiar saying to their congregations.  Though it defies exact translation into English, it can be summarized as follows: ‘If you pray me full, I’ll preach you full.” P. 172

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Elders – We are Servants First and Foremost

“Servant,” and not “pastor” is the most important and prominent, biblical term for any Christian believer in church leadership!  Surprising?  It was to me.  Like most church people I had accepted the common belief that a lead elder in the local church is properly called “pastor” because the idea of pastor (or shepherd) is the key to understanding the role and title of that church office. Yet, it is not.

In the New Testament, perhaps the most descriptive word that illustrates what it means to be an elder as a spiritual leader in Christ’s Church is that of “shepherd” or “pastor.”  Indeed, that is the term and the paradigm for true biblical leadership.

However, the overarching model in Scripture for a pastor, which ties all other roles and duties together is that of servant, just like Jesus the grand Servant.  Christ declared that anyone who desired to be great in his kingdom must be a servant, just as he had come not to be served but to serve, even to the point of sacrificial death (Matt. 20:26-28).  That was God’s mission for him – the eternal Son of God came to be a man, and in a radical reversal of human proclivities became a lowly slave in order to accomplish the high purposes of God (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 12:1-2).  He was and is the perfect prophet, priest and king, the wonderful shepherd, teacher, healer, and savior; but he executed all those roles through God-ordained, God-directed service.  Jesus was and is the consummate humble servant (Isa. 49:5; Luke 22:27; Heb. 3:1-6), the One who was self-sacrificing (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).

Jesus made it clear that the manner in which his disciples were to function, rule, lead, and shepherd the citizens of God’s kingdom was in the form of a willing servant and a humble slave.  That was the object lesson the Master taught in Luke 22 when he said that while he sat as the premier one at the table he really sat as servant.  Then, when he wanted to summarily demonstrate what he had been teaching all the while about the nature of his disciples’ role and position in the Kingdom, he dressed down and acted just like a common slave washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).  This living parable was punctuated by Christ’s own teaching:  “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13 ESV).  In other words, they were right to address and treat him as dignified royalty. Yet though this King of kings and Lord of Lords had every right to claim his place and title he does something dramatically profound, once again a reversal to humanity’s sinful nature – he declares himself an honorable servant: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14)!  And should his disciples be as dense as many of us, he explains exactly why he said and did what he said and did: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15-17).  Christ’s people are servants, and leaders in Christ’s church are servants of servants.  A major reversal from the natural world!  That’s the nature of Christ’s kingdom and Church.

To understand how radical and also how degrading was Christ’s self-imposed position and the place of his disciples we must understand the nature of the ancient slave.

There were several Greek terms for servant or slave.[1] The first and more common word was doulos that identified the person as being on the opposite side of the class spectrum of freeman or citizen master-owner.  A doulos-slave was owned either by the government or by a personal master.  The public doulos-servant had no rights, but could control a city’s treasury and, as such, wield considerable influence.  The doulos-slave owned by a personal master was the more common type of servant.  As a non-person he or she had absolutely no rights: no right to marriage, to children, or to protection as a person, but merely protection as the master’s property.  The slave existed for the master’s purposes.  The will and desires of the master were to be obeyed and fulfilled.  Anything the master wanted of the slave he got – anything![2]

The Romans had over a dozen different terms that defined the nature of the slave’s duties: a cook, farmer, footman, gardener, messenger, prostitute, steward, storekeeper, etc.  In other words there could be specialist slaves and those might include the role of teacher or physician.  A doulos-slave could be given the responsibility to oversee the finances and run the household, in which case he was a household steward who had control over the master’s other slaves (Matt. 8:9).

There was also the pais or paidos, which described someone of a child’s status (Matt. 2:16; Luke 8:51).  When these terms referenced an adult it was to identify a servant or slave who would most likely always remain in that status of a “boy” unless some gracious circumstance emancipated him and brought him to the legal status of a man.

Another type of servant was a diakonos who rendered service, help or aid to another, many times voluntarily.  Usually the tasks were of a necessary, but mundane or menial nature.  The very term itself did not necessarily mean he or she was a slave; but he or she served or ministered in some capacity.  The individual could be a waiter at a special function or a household servant.  The diakonos-servant may or may not have been paid.   Those godly men specially gifted and filled with the Spirit of God whom God called to serve alongside the apostles in order for the apostles to dedicate themselves to the tasks God had ordained for them were called deacons (diakonos) (Acts 6).

One other Greek term the Bible uses is the huperetes-servant.  This was an assistant or helper who was given the task of carrying out the expressed will and explicit orders of another.  He could be a court officer (Matt. 5:25), an officer in the Jewish Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:58), a king’s attendant (John 18:36) or an attendant in a synagogue (Luke 4:20).

Of all those above the most contemptible, despicable position of that day was that of a doulos-slave.  Yet, it is that very classification Jesus, Lord of the universe, took upon himself (Phil. 2:6-8).  Jesus was God’s master servant who came to serve and not be served (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27).  He is the glorified paida-servant of God (Acts 3:13; 3:26; 4:27, 30).  Jesus fulfilled the model of God’s Old Testament doulos-slaves Moses (Deut. 34:5; Ps. 105:26; Mal. 4:4; Rev. 15:3), Joshua (Josh. 24:29) and King David (2 Sam. 3:18; Ps. 78:70; Luke1:69; Acts 4:25).  Jesus came not only as God’s slave but came to be a diakonos-servant to Israel (Rom. 15:8).  Like a perfect slave, Jesus put his life subordinate to the cause of the Father’s will.

As the steward-slave, Jesus was and is the overseer of God’s other servants or slaves. He told the disciples that if anyone would serve him that person must follow him, and wherever Jesus would go his servant would also be there.  Not only that, those who serve the Christ-Servant will be honored by the Master-Father (John 12:24-26).  Later, Jesus identified another position his disciples have – they would also be his friends (John 15:15-27).  His point was not that they were emancipated from serving their Father-God, or Christ, or one another, but that they were now privy to understand the will of the Master in some ways similar to Jesus.  But the specific will they were to understand was the inevitability of being persecuted and suffering just like their fellow doulos-servant Jesus (John 15:20) would be.  All true disciples of Jesus Christ are doulos-slaves of their Master.  And therefore all disciples hold that same level status with all the other doulos-slaves of God.

Jesus, the master servant, orders his subordinate servants to minister just like him (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20).  That means Christ’s disciples, who would be given the Holy Spirit, would be empowered as apostles to lay the foundation for the New Testament people of God. Being ministering servants they had Christ’s delegated mandate and authority, and indeed were to administer their positions first and foremost as servants to the Lord (1 Cor. 4:1-2; Tit. 1:7).  After Christ’s death and resurrection this rag tag group of class-inferior men was elevated to a remarkably high and lofty position in the eternal body of Christ. Nevertheless, they and all those who immediately followed in their footsteps had the mind of Christ in them.  That is, since Jesus set aside his rightful place as God and lived for others as the Servant of servants (Phil. 2:3-7) they did too.  If he did, and they did, so should we.

In the New Testament the term that most frequently classifies one in the role of oversight and administrative rule in church government, is not “pastor.”  For that noun is used only once, in Ephesians 4:11 and the verbal form “to shepherd” is used in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2.  The overwhelmingly most popular terms for this role are the doulos-slave or diakonos-servant.  The person in this position is a serving minister.  However, the challenge we have today is the word minister tends to pack baggage that escapes the lowly, humble service role of a slave.  Perhaps the pastor should be labeled slave or steward-slave?  Yet again, he is a slave to Christ and of God, who sacrificially serves others (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).  Other slave-disciples are not masters, even over the specially called and ordained minister, the supervisory servant of God’s household.

The identities given to the apostles, elders and pastors in the New Testament fully illustrate this.  They are all classified as doulos-slaves or diakonos-servants that do specific ministries (Acts 6:4; 2 Cor. 3:3).  Peter, James, John, and Jude are doulos-slaves of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1; James 1:1; Rev. 1:1; Jude 1:1).  Paul uses doulos-slave and diakonos-servant at least as often as the title apostle.  This is because more than anything else he is called to serve God, the saints (Rom. 15:25; 2 Cor. 8:19), and even Gentile unbelievers.   He is a doulos-slave  (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10, Phil. 1:1; Ti. 1:1) and a diakonos-servant (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25).  At his conversion, God abruptly called and appointed Paul to be God’s huperete-servant (attendant, assistant who carries out the explicit orders of his master) of the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-18).   Paul identifies what he does service or ministry (Acts 20:24, Rom. 11:13, 2 Cor. 3:1-6; 4:1-2, and 1 Tim. 1:12).  Luke later says that he received his information for the Gospel record he wrote from the eyewitnesses and huperete-servants of God’s Word (Luke 1:1-2).

These apostles were not the only slaves or servants.  Paul’s young protégé and fellow servant Mark, author of the Gospel, was useful for diakonos-service (2 Tim. 4:11), as was Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:5).  Phoebe, a godly woman and friend of Paul’s was a kind of servant (Rom. 16:1-2).  Other men, often recognized as church planters or pastors were diakonos-servants, commonly translated ministers: Archippus (Col. 4:17), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), and Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7).

The ways in which God’s slaves or servants minister vary.  They are to serve as slaves to God (2 Cor. 6:4; Tit. 1:1, 7) and of Christ (Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24).  These ministers must understand along with others that their lives and ministries are living sacrifices to God (2 Sam. 24:24; Acts 20:24; 21:13; Phil 2:7; 3;7-8; 2 Tim. 4:6).  Through love they serve one another like a doulos-slave (Gal. 5:13), using whatever gift(s) God gives in order to doulos-serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10).  The Corinthian church, fellow-saints and servants with Paul, did this when they ministered to the saints in Jerusalem through their financial gifts (2 Cor. 9:1, 2, 11, 12).

All believers in Christ are equal as humble slaves (Acts 2:18; 1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6; Col. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:24).  They are called to do God’s bidding, serve Christ, and minister to one another.  Yet, as we have seen, some of these slaves have been called, gifted, trained and ordained to be steward-slaves in a special office ordained by Christ (2 Cor. 3:9; 4:6; Eph. 4:11ff).  These stewards administrate and oversee God’s household by means of God’s Word through love (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 6:34; Acts 20:20; 1 Cor. 12:28, 31; Col. 1:28; 1 Tim. 1:3; 3:2, 16; 4:11-12; 6:2-5; Jas. 3:1 Rev. 7:17). Additionally, they serve in the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).  Performing service in Christ for God’s people (2 Cor. 4:5) ministers are to do so with diligence (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15).

These special types of servants, placed in their respective roles and particular office, are answerable to God.  They are to live for Christ, never to be ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:8-11; 2:11-13), always to be focused on Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim. 2:8-13) and always ready to suffer for Christ (Luke 21:19; 2 Tim. 2:3-7; 3:10-12).

Therefore, the ministering elders are called to train and discipline their lives for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-11) so as to become and serve more and more like Jesus Christ the perfect servant (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20; 2 Cor. 3:10; 1 Tim. 4:14-15; 6:11; Tit. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:4).  After all, the pastor or elder is to  model Christ (2 Cor. 12:18; 1 Thess. 2:10-12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).  The ministering elders are also to put to use the good gift(s) the Lord has placed upon them.  What’s more, they are called upon to fan the flame or rekindle the gift(s) of God in their lives (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).

Further, these ministers are to serve God’s people as Christ’s stewards, meaning their priority is to serve the Lord before serving others (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24), and to serve the Lord by serving others. Biblically, ministers are not cater to, aim to please, or fear people (Gal. 1:10; Deut. 10:12; Eccl. 12:13; Ps. 118:6; Isa. 12:2; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17).  No judgment is to be leveled against them by fellow servants of Christ based upon the personal preferences or desires they might have (Matt. 20:20-28; Rom. 14:1-4).  As Bob Schaper, a seminary professor, often told his students, “I am your servant, but you are not my master.”

While the slave or steward is the all-encompassing paradigm for those who have been gifted, called, tested and ordained to the office of ruling or teaching elder they minister primarily through God’s Word (Mk. 6:34b; Jn. 21:15ff; Col. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1ff; Jas. 3:1) and through the various roles identified by God in his Word.  The roles include serving as a shepherd (Jer. 3:15; John 21:15ff; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:12), a professor-teacher, a preacher, parent, a peacemaker, a mentor and model, and as an evangelist.  The servant-minister is also described in roles as an athlete (1 Cor. 9:24-25; Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1), a craftsman-worker (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Tim. 5:18), a farmer (2 Tim. 2:6), messenger (2 Cor. 8:23), a soldier (Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:3-4), a steward (1 Tim. 4:12; Ti. 2), and a good worker (2 Cor. 6:1; Phil. 2:25).

Since “servant,” and not “pastor” is the most important and prominent, biblical term for a Christian believer in church leadership it would do all of us well to take that to heart.  How should those of us who are ruling and teaching elders think about our roles?  Like servants of Christ. How should those of us who are ruling and teaching elders function in our roles?  Like servants of Christ.

Dr. D. Thomas Owsley

(Adapted from Chapter 8 of my book, The Perfect Pastor? FL: Xulon Press, pp. 131-135.)


[1] Bauer, 1979; BibleWorks 5, 2002; Brown, 1979

[2] BibleWorks, 2002; Cowell, 1980, pp. 95-107; Davis, 1912, pp. 90-97; Frame, 2006; Gill, 2006; Glancy, 2006; Stark, 2003, pp. 295-300.

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BOOK: The Supremacy of God in Preaching

I appreciate John Piper. I especially appreciate his emphasis upon the glory and centrality of God in life.  This emphasis is no less true when it comes to worship and preaching, hence my admiration of his superb book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990).  In a day when there is much confusion about the purpose, role and method of preaching, Piper provides for us what God thinks about preaching and helps those of us called and commissioned to preach to do so with God and Christ at the forefront of the task.  He does so by allowing us to profit from the insights and works of Jonathan Edwards, that superior preacher who also had at the center of his life and ministry the glory of God.  Here are things from this worthy book that were particularly noteworthy:


It is not the job of the Christian preacher to give people moral or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world; someone else can do that. But most of our people have no one in the world to tell the, week in and week out, about the supreme beauty and majesty of God. And so many of them are tragically starved for the God-centered vision of that great preacher Jonathan Edwards.  P. 12

Dr. Ockenga never knew what his preaching did in my life, and you can mark it down that if you are a preacher God will hide from you much of the fruit he cause in your ministry. You will  see enough to be assured of his blessing, but not so much as to think you could live without it. For God aims to exalt himself, not the preacher. That brings us to the main theme: The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Its outline is intentionally Trinitarian:

The Goal of Preaching: the Glory of God

The Ground of Preaching: The Cross of Christ

The Gift of Preaching: the Power of the Holy Spirit      p. 19

So Mather is absolutely right: The grand design of the Christian preacher is to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men. p. 24

The implication for preaching is plain: When God sends his emissaries to declare, “Your God reigns!” his aim is not to constrain man’s submission by an act of raw authority; his aim is to ravish our affections with irresistible displays of glory. The only submission that fully reflects the worth and glory of the King is glad submission. Begrudging submission berates the King. No gladness in the subject, no glory to the King. P. 25

In one ordination sermon in 1744 he said, “If a minister has light without heat, and entertains his (hearers) with learned discourses, without a savour of the power of godliness, or any appearance of fervency of spirit, and zeal for God and the good of souls, he may gratify itching ears, and fill the heads of his people with empty notions, but it will not be very likely to teach their hearts, or save their souls. P. 48

Intensity of feeling, the weight of argument, a deep and pervading solemnity of mind, a savor of the power of godliness, fervency of spirit, zeal for God – these are the arks of the “gravity of preaching.” If there is one thing we can learn from Edwards, it is to take our calling seriously, not to trifle with the Word of God and the act of preaching. p. 50

I want to give as strong a conviction as words can convey that the work of preaching is to be done in “blood-earnestness.” We are in no danger of mechanical imitation of Edwards and Chalmers and their Puritan fathers. We have fallen so far from their conception of preaching that we couldn’t imitate it if we tried. I say “fallen” because, whether a manuscript should be read or whether a sermon should be two hours long, and its sentences complex and stories few, the fact is that the glory of these preachers was their earnestness – an earnestness that might be called gravity. Most people today have so little experience of deep, earnest, reverent, powerful encounters with God in preaching that the only associations that come to mind when the notion is mentioned are that the preacher is morose or boring or dismal or sullen or gloomy or surly or unfriendly. P. 51

Make God Supreme

The essence of Edwards’s preaching might be found in ten characteristics, which are so valuable for our own day that they will be presented as relevant challenges, and not just as facts about Edwards… p. 81

Stir up Holy Affections

Enlighten the Mind

Saturate with Scripture

Employ Analogies and Images

Use Threat and Warning

Plead for a Response

When we preach, to be sure, it is God who affects the results for which we long. But that does not rule out earnest appeals for our people to respond. For as Edwards explains, ‘We are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some, and we do the rest. But God  does all, and we do all. God produces all, and we act all. For that is what he produces,  viz. our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper    actors. We are, in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active.’

In the Scriptures the same things are represented as from God and from us. God is said  to convert (2 Tim. 2;25), and men are said to convert and turn (Acts 2:38). God made a  new heart (Ezek. 36;26), and we are commanded to make us a new heart (Deut. 30:6),   and we are commanded to circumcise our own hearts (Deut. 10:16)…These things are  agreeable to that text, “God worketh in you both to will and to do (Phil 2:13). pp. 94-95

Probe the Workings of the Heart

Powerful preaching is like surgery. Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it locates, lances, and removes the infection of sin. P. 95

Yield to the Holy Spirit in Prayer

Be Broken and Tenderhearted

Be Intense

Compelling preaching gives the impression that something very great is t stake. With Edwards’s view of the reality of heaven and hell and the necessity of persevering in a life of holy affections and godliness, eternity was at stake every Sunday. This sets him apart from the average preacher today. Our emotional rejection of hell, and our facile view of conversion and the abundant false security we purvey have created an atmosphere in which the great biblical intensity of preaching is almost impossible. P. 103

People are starving for the grandeur of God, and the vast majority do not know it. Those who do say, “O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is” (Ps. 63:1). But most do not discern that they were made to thrill at the panorama of God’s power and glory. They seek to fill the void in other ways. And even those who go to church – how many of them can say when they leave, “I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory” (Ps. 63:20)? P. 107

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