News & Commentary World

A New Year Inaugurated With Preaching

"The New Year was inaugurated with preaching, but for many in the church, preaching is: dull, antiquated, and obsolete."

January 1st, 2023, fell on a Sunday. Better said, it fell on the Lord’s Day, the first day in the 7-day week. Christians worship God on the first day of the week in light of Christ’s resurrection (Mark 16:9, Acts 20:7, Rev. 1:10). The first day of the year falling on a Lord’s Day should be counted as a blessing because God’s people could gather publicly to worship their Savior, and bring in the new year with worship. There is also preaching when the church gathers together as part of worship. The New Year was inaugurated with preaching, but for many in the church, preaching is: dull, antiquated, and obsolete. 

Preaching in the 21st century has fallen on hard times. Many question the validity of preaching as a cornerstone of worship. With the advent of modern technology, is preaching still the best way to communicate the message of the Gospel, many inquire. Is preaching really the best way to engage with the younger crowd? These questions persist in the church, and these inquiries underscore a devalued view of preaching. They have robbed it of its glory and have reduced it to a lecture styled on a Tedtalk. Intended not to convict, convert, or edify but rather to impart information and affirmation. Preaching has become in the 21st century Bible lectures with tidbits of encouragement. To even question the relevance of preaching betrays that blessed “sacred rhetoric” has already lost its vital place among much of the visible church. Many Christians sadly do not get much out of preaching. 

Criticism of preaching, though, is nothing new same as questioning its importance. In the Apostolic era, people stumbled at preaching. The preaching of the early church by some was viewed undoubtedly as foolish. Paul described all of this in 1st Corinthians 1. Beginning in verse 18, Paul explains that to those who are “perishing,” the preaching of the cross is foolish. Yet, to those who are saved, it is the power of God to salvation. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul went on in verse 23 to tell us that preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Criticism of preaching is nothing new, and this must be understood. The same criticism against preaching in the 21st century was laid in the 1st- namely, preaching was “foolish.” 

Paul, though says something else rather profound about preaching and essential to remember. In 1st Corinthians 1:21, Paul wrote that it “pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Preaching, as foolish as it may appear- as out of vogue, as old-fashioned, as unable to communicate with the modern man as it may seem- is God’s method. Herein lies something that must be understood in the 21st century. Preaching is not done because of tradition, preaching is not unnecessary, and preaching is not obsolete. Preaching is rather commanded by God as a means of saving sinners. Preaching is a means God uses to build up his people in grace and holiness. Though it may seem foolish, preaching of the cross of Christ is actually God’s Ordained means, and it is commanded in the Scriptures. 

The Apostle Paul deals with preaching in Romans chapter 10, where he again affirms its import to the church and the spread of the Gospel. In verse 13, Paul said that men who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. In Romans 10:14-15, Paul says that the Gospel message is spread by preaching and that unless Christ is preached, men will not call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. The Apostle Paul here again, under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit, demonstrates the vitality of preaching. For Paul and the Holy Spirit preaching is how the message of Christ’s salvation is to be broadcast to sinners. 

The Second Helvetic Confession, a Reformation-era confession written by Heinrich Bullinger, gave a proper understanding of preaching by stating: 

“THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.”- Second Helvetic Confession Chapter 1 “Of The Holy Scripture Being The True Word of God”. 

Virginian Presbyterian Theologian Robert Lewis Dabney perhaps said it best when he described the prominence of preaching in Protestant churches in his book on the subject of preaching: 

 “You are aware, young gentlemen, that, during the ‘Dark Ages,’ the disgraceful incompetency of the clergy resulted, first, in the introduction of forms of prayer, and, second, in the customary disuse of the divinely-appointed ordinance of preaching. The Reformation reversed all this. It has become the characteristic of the Popish religion that it makes the liturgical service nearly the whole of public worship, and of the Reformed that it makes the sermon the prominent part. This difference is imprinted upon the very speech of the people. The Papist says: ‘I go to mass;’ the Protestant, ‘I go to preaching.'”

Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric: A Course of Lectures on Preaching (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1870), 345. 

Given that the first day of the year was a Lord’s Day and preaching was heard, perhaps 2023 should be a year of recovery – a recovery of the rightful and honored place of preaching. Recovery of its vitality. A recovery of seeing it as not something “we have to do” or something old-fashioned but rather something that God has prescribed for converting sinners and building up His people in knowledge and grace.

For those who struggle with preaching, perhaps their New Year’s Resolution should be to pray for God to make them see the value of preaching and that they would profit from it. For preachers (this is my resolution) to realize how vital preaching is and to pray for unction in preaching and God’s Blessing upon His preached Word. In 2023 may the church see the value of the preached Word of God as His Ordained means of calling sinners to repentance and growing His people in the knowledge of Christ.