Apr 28, 2010 • By David Murray • 3 Comments The most obvious reason is biblical warrant. The Old Testament prophets were passionate pleaders for the souls of their fellow men and women. Deuteronomy reads like an Old Testament evangelistic tract, as Moses expostulates with Israel and beseeches them to embrace the God of Genesis to Numbers. Study the weeping reasonings of Jeremiah and the powerful pictorial pleas of Hosea. Even apocalyptic and enigmatic Ezekiel contains the most beautiful calls to Israel to turn from their evil ways and live. In encounter after encounter, in public and in private, Jesus exhorted souls to seek salvation. The Acts of the Apostles show us Peter and Paul pleading with individuals, groups, congregations, and public gatherings. “Teacher” Paul cannot resist tearful expressions of angst and desire in Romans 9-11, that most doctrinal of letters. Then we could turn from the Bible to church history and consider the regular evangelistic sermons of Bunyan, Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, etc. But I’d especially like to argue for evangelistic preaching by considering the effect of its absence Preaching becomes lecturely and academic
When sermons are almost exclusively aimed at teaching Christians, and rarely aimed at the unconverted, preaching begins to sound more like cold, objective, academic lecturing.
But, when a preacher has caught a glimpse of hell, when he really grasps the terrible spiritual predicament of the lost in his congregation, and when he is gripped by the urgency of the Gospel in the looming shadow of judgment and eternity, his preaching is transformed into present tense, personal, passionate preaching of the truth. The lecture hall is left behind as we enter the presence of God. The lectern becomes a pulpit. The “professor” becomes a preacher.
Christians become forgetful, proud, inward-looking, and prayerless
It’s not just the unconverted that are damaged by the lack of evangelistic preaching; Christians are too. As Dave Thomas commented yesterday, Christians also need to hear evangelistic preaching. Why? Well, in the absence of it, Christians forget. We forget the pit we were dug out of, we forget the debt we were in, and we forget the remarkable work of God in our life. In the absence of evangelistic preaching, the memory of saving grace fades, weakens, and disappears. In its place comes proud self-confidence and self-focus, which quickly drains prayerful concern for the souls of others. As the Gospel no longer grips our own soul, we have little motivation or desire to tell others.
But, if the Gospel is regularly preached to Christians, then they are re-humbled, re-convicted, and re-minded of what they have been saved from. They re-repent, re-believe, and re-kindle their first love. The contagious Gospel passion in the preacher infects the hearers, and the hearers become enthusiastic carriers, as they go out into the world with a renewed and prayerful vision and mission for the lost and the perishing all around them.
Christians do not bring friends to church
One of the reasons why Christians seem to have stopped bringing friends to church is that most preaching is directed largely towards already well-taught Christians. Many Christians feel that if they take a friend to church, the message will go “way over their heads.” Many of us have taken someone to church, and to our disappointment and embarrassment, there was little or nothing that our guest could understand or relate to.
But, if Christians know that, say, every Sunday morning, or every second Sunday night, their pastor will preach “simple” evangelistic sermons suited to the special needs of the unsaved, or even the unchurched, then they will be much more motivated to invite their friends, family, neighbors etc.
Children growing up in the church assume they are saved
The absence of regular evangelistic preaching often means that children grow up in churches hearing teaching and doctrine addressed to Christians. Without being continually reminded that they must be born again, they presume they are “just like the other Christians” and so never seek regeneration or saving faith.
But, if they often hear of their vile natural condition, their perilous spiritual state, their need for personal regeneration and conversion, the insufficiency of their own worth, words and works, then they will much more earnestly seek the Savior. In the church of my childhood, I was reminded every Sunday night, in no uncertain terms, that I was not a Christian and that I needed to seek the Savior. It was not comfortable or pleasant. It ruined many a Sunday night sleep. But I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I went to judgment in the same condition I was born in, I was going to hell…forever. I also knew, although I wished I didn’t, that Christ was calling me to turn, turn, why will you die!
Lost souls go to hell
I’m not saying that lost souls can’t be converted through teaching sermons. Of course they can, and of course they are. But evangelistic preaching is especially blessed to the conversion of souls. If you were to take a survey of the whole world, I’m sure that the vast majority of true Christians will say that it was an evangelistic sermon, a sermon specially directed to appeal to lost, perishing sinners that God used to turn them from their idols to Himself.
Who knows what a revival of preaching, evangelism, mission and worship might result from a widespread return to evangelistic preaching in the reformed church!
Tomorrow, I will survey the range of evangelistic sermons.
About David Murray
- Follower of Christ
- Preacher of the Gospel
- Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
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