Thursday, September 02, 2010

How To Slit a Sermon's Throat

CJ Bowen
Greyfriars Hall
The Reformed Pastor, Chapter 1

Baxter's message rings out again and again – the preaching of the word depends on the holiness of the minister for its strength. A preacher must first allow himself to be captivated by his text, overcome by the gospel he preaches, before he can even think about having a meaningful ministry. (Not to slight the Spirit's ministry overcoming the sinfulness of preachers, and causing the true Word to shine through brittle crazy glass.) A genuine, honest man will bear more gospel fruit that the most silver-tongued of hypocrites, for, as Baxter memorably puts it, “One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon.”

This is why the pastor needs spiritual formation just as much as he needs spiritual information. It is no injustice to evaluate the personal life of the leaders of the Church, as well as the doctrinal content of their messages. Baxter is highlighting the organic connection of doctrine and life, and exhorting pastors to watch both very carefully.

The underlying assumption of Baxter's call is that the preacher should be very concerned with his own reputation and the fruit his ministry is bearing. Now, it seems very pious to assert just the opposite, that the preacher should take no thought to how he is perceived, and “trust God” with the fruitfulness of his ministry. But Baxter is focusing on the pastor as a servant, an ambassador, one who acts on behalf of Christ. Because the preacher is called to show Christ, his reputation is tied to that of Christ. He guards his behavior not to feed his own pride, but to show forth Christ. Fruitfulness in ministry, then, is not a barometer of personal success, but a reflection of whether or not Christ is being set forth clearly.

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