Faith in Focus

The Power of the Pulpit



One of the hallmarks of the reformed tradition has been its emphasis on biblical preaching. It is no coincidence that many of the great preachers of the past were men who held to reformed theology. Men like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Latimer, the Puritans, Whitfield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Ryle, Lloyd-Jones and many others. No matter what century or country you look at, reformed theological convictions have invariably produced robust, powerful, and effective biblical preaching.

At a time when preaching is scarcely a talking point in our land, we do well to ask, what is it about the reformed faith that has produced power in the pulpit? A few emphases stand out.

Firstly, the reformers and their successors had absolute confidence in the Word of God. One of the catch-cry's of the reformation was "sola scriptura" - Scripture alone. The Bible was held to be the sole basis of authority in the church. It was to tower above the traditions of the church and the opinions of men. It was viewed as complete and sufficient in itself, not needing to be supplemented by new revelations or secular learning. It was the book for every person, produced in the language of the common people, regarded as understandable in its basic message by ordinary people. It was regarded as absolutely essential - the only means by which we come to a true knowledge of God and the way of salvation (Rom 10:14-15). Such confidence in and commitment to God's Word is essential if preaching is to have boldness and a sense of urgency.

Secondly, then, these convictions have shaped the reformed view of the nature of preaching. The task of the preacher is not simply to share a few ideas, address contemporary topics, give a motivational talk, recount some personal experiences, or even give a running commentary on a few verses. The preacher is called to proclaim with authority the whole truth of God's Word and apply it pointedly to people's hearts and lives. Preaching ought to be expository, opening and expounding God's Word. It ought to be doctrinal, not shying away from truths that may offend or be hard to grasp. It ought to be earnest and urgent, addressing the heart and conscience. Such preaching focuses on the great themes of God's Word - God's holiness, sovereignty, power and faithfulness, salvation by grace, the atonement, regeneration, justification by faith, and sanctification. These great themes make for great preaching.

That view of preaching has led to a third distinctive: in the reformed tradition preaching has always been central in worship. It is common today to find preaching competing for a place in worship alongside dance, drama, puppets, personal testimonies and the like. Music and singing are regarded as the heart of worship. But the reformers, while never considering other biblical aspects of worship mere preliminaries, did give pride of place to the preaching of God's Word. It is as we come under his Word, receiving it not as the word of man but as it actually is, the Word of God, that our reverence, humility, submission, faith, and openness to God is shown most clearly. This is the climax of worship. Therefore it is also the pastor's central calling. The preacher must be prepared to shun other agendas: he cannot be church administrator, professional counsellor and public relations manager as well. He must give himself to preaching and prayer above all else (Acts 6:4).

These have been fundamental convictions in the reformed tradition. They have produced preachers and preaching of note. God has been pleased to honour such preaching in which he receives all the glory, and his people are strengthened in the faith. Surely, then, if such convictions were recovered in the church today we would see greater power in the pulpits of our land. Perhaps we would see the beginning of the reformation and revival that so many of us long for.

Rev. M. Capill (Bucklands Beach)

Back to the Article Index


Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised April 1998 / Copyright 1998