After the nice look at the praise time we get the dry blessing of the looking at the preaching. The points of impact on this are far more obvious and destructive. So while remembering that existentialism places the importance on the experience and not the essence, lets take a look at the preaching of God's word.
What is the purpose of preaching? While many people might give you a similar answer, the honest probing of the answers would soon reveal that there is more divergence than typically assumed. Lets understand a couple things, evangelism can happen within preaching but it is not in fact preaching. Teaching can happened within preaching but it is not in fact preaching. Calling for a response should happen but it is not the gospel. In fact it often is hurtful to the gospel. So what Bible reference would be used to describe the purpose of preaching?
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. - Ephesians 4:11-16
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.- 1 Timothy 6:3-4
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete , equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. - 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. - Titus 1:9
More could be quoted but this will have to suffice. What must the essence of preaching be? That which proclaims Christ and that admonishes us to look like Christ. And when we don't look like Christ our preaching should do one of two things it should proclaim that Christ came because of our sinfulness or prompt us to look like Him. In short, I would say alongside John Piper that preaching (and all worship) must magnify Christ.
Which Sunday should this occur on? Better asked, which Sunday should this not occur on? Which Sunday do you want to come away looking less like Christ? Practical reality check...how many of us would work out if we knew there would be no change? Few I suspect. Why? Because the experience of working is not usually one people find as pleasurable. And we would refrain from doing it if there were going to be no benefits. How many individuals would eat more of if they knew there would be no affect on their weight? I suspect many. Why? Because the experience is one people find pleasure. And without "consequences" the activity become even more pleasurable. Now back to reality, when people cease to be concerned with the essence of preaching they will resort to finding a profitable experience. And this profitable experience will always be painless and consequence free. Surprisingly this profitable experience can come in the form of Godly and unGodly teaching. Because the point is not what is being taught but the work wrought in the hearer. This creates a problem.
Can these two purpose co-exists? Can the person who is seeking a good experience every Sunday continue to listen to a Pastor who is proclaiming in his sermon the true essence of preaching? For a time certainly. But eventually the essence will upset the experience and there is a falling out. And so what would we expect to see? The most popular churches will typically contain the weakest Jesus Christ. The weakest Jesus does not require disciples and without disciples the church dies. And without disciples the world will not be change. What do we see in America? We actually are seeing the middle and end of this glorious rejection.
The mainline liberal churches are losing members at an alarming rate. When the product isn't satisfying there is no reason to be a part of the fan club. And the nation is now full of "ex-Christians now atheists" who wouldn't be able to identify Jesus on a page full of Waldo's. The conservative church denominations are slowly growing more liberal and the weakest pulpits have the majority portion. Eventually too that generation will die off and their children will reject the weak Jesus Christ and weak gospel that is being proclaimed.
And the faithful church? It must remain faithful. The faithful preacher? Must remain faithful. The Bible's teaching is clear on what preaching should be. Why worry about what the future holds? We must be concerned with essence and not experience.
Does this mean that pastors should make their sermons as boring and dull as possible? Goodness no. But should their goal be a pleasurable experience? All the more no. The purpose of the sermon preparation each week must be to lead the church in looking like Christ and in these confrontations experience Christ so that we can grow to be more like Him.
In conclusion to the discussion of preaching and praise it should be obvious that many churches on many weeks are failing to achieve this goal. There are some churches that are fortunate to be not be in such a position but what about their congregants? Are they aware that the essence and not experience is most important? Or in even the conservative churches is there a deeper more dangerous root of existentialism growing that threatens to outlive the faithful preachers?
Thanks goodness the flower falls but God's word endures.
Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.