Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Pulpit Priority

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 4, 2013 at 8:22 am

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Calvin believed that biblical preaching must occupy the chief place in the worship service. What God has to say to man is infinitely more important than what man has to say to God. If the congregation is to worship properly, if believers are to be edified, if the lost are to be converted, God’s Word must be exposited. Nothing must crowd the Scriptures out of the chief place in the public gathering.

The primacy of biblical preaching in Calvin’s thought was undeniable: “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”22 On the other hand, “An assembly in which the preaching of heavenly doctrine is not heard does not deserve to be reckoned a church.”23 In short, Calvin held that Bible exposition should occupy the primary place in the worship service, meaning that preaching is the primary role of the minister.[1]


22 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. II, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960), 1,023.

23 Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. 3, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979 reprint), 213.

[1] Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 30.

  1. Very true, and this priority is expressly noted in our Confession – Chapter XIV, Paragraph 1:

    The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.

    Given the confessional recognition of preaching as the primary means of grace, could we not say that if ever one of our churches begins to downgrade preaching – replacing the preaching of the word with other “ministries” – that it is at least on the road to becoming a post-confessional church?

  2. Corporate worship is only one facet of “church ministry.” To argue for the primacy of preaching in corporate worship is one thing. (Even here, I’d prefer to argue for the primacy of the Word, which would include preaching, singing, reading, etc.) But beyond corporate worship, the Spirit administers grace through the Word apart from actual sermons, as, for example, in the case of personal Bible reading and study, family worship, good Christian literature, exhortations from other believers, etc. For this reason, I would interpret the phrase “ministry of the Word” more inclusively and not limit it to Sunday sermons.

  3. It’s one thing to argue for the primacy of preaching in corporate worship. Even here I’d prefer to argue for the primacy of the Word since the public reading of Scripture and singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are also ordinary means by which the Word is communicated. But corporate worship is not the only context in which “the ministry of the Word” occurs. Outside corporate worship the believer is exposed to the Word through personal Bible reading and study, family worship, reading good Christian literature, etc., as well as other non-corporate worship church ministries such as Sunday School, Bible studies, personal discipleship, etc. These too–in addition to the Sunday sermon–are ways in which the Spirit through the Word “ordinarily” conveys grace to God’s people.

  4. I didn’t mean to post twice. But I had thought my first comment was lost, so I reposted.

  5. Ricardo DeGibraltar, Steve Lawson (above) said, “Calvin believed that biblical preaching must occupy the chief place in the worship service” and “The primacy of biblical preaching in Calvin’s thought was undeniable” and “In short, Calvin held that Bible exposition should occupy the primary place in the worship service, meaning that preaching is the primary role of the minister.” All the post seems to be claiming is that Calvin viewed biblical preaching as having the chief place in *public* worship (not the only) and that the minister’s (i.e., the preacher’s) primary (not only) role is preaching. Do you disagree with that? I think it is pretty standard among Calvin scholars that this, in fact, was his position.

    In your first comment you say, “Corporate worship is only one facet of “church ministry.”” I am not sure Lawson or Calvin would disagree or how your comment is related to Lawson’s claim. He is talking about “one facet” not denying others. Then you say, “To argue for the primacy of preaching in corporate worship is one thing.” I think the post is a claim that this was Calvin’s view. I’ll assume Lawson holds that view as well. I think they are right. It is the one thing the post is claiming. Then you say, “Even here, I’d prefer to argue for the primacy of the Word, which would include preaching, singing, reading, etc.)” Lawson’s first sentence is as follows: “Calvin believed that biblical preaching must occupy the chief place in the worship service.” This does not deny a place for singing or reading, just the chief place. I don’t think you would say, “Singing the Bible must occupy the chief place in the worship service” or “Reading the Bible must occupy the chief place in the worship service,” would you? I think Lawson’s words are clear and correct. Then you say things (in the two longer comments) about the Word as a means of grace outside of the public worship service of the church. Again, I do not think Calvin/Lawson would disagree that the Word as a means of grace outside of the public worship of the church is blessed by God to the well-being of souls.

    When I read the post, I immediately agreed with it. I think Lawson is right about Calvin and I think Calvin is right. The way you appear to be reading it (I could be wrong) is in a “ya, but…” kind of manner. It’s a single post of a quote from a book. It was not intended to say everything (or even two things) about the Word. Its intent, so it seems to me, was to expose readers to Calvin’s view on one issue concerning the public ministry of preaching the Word in the worship service of the church, which is probably Lawson’s view and whoever posted it.

    Having said all of that, your comments appear to me to be off-topic. I could be wrong. I have been before and surely will be in the future. Press on!

  6. Dr Barcellos, thanks for your correction. Actually, my remarks were more of a response to Pastor Chantry’s comments on the 1689. I should have been more clear.

  7. If Calvin is right, and I too believe that he was, then to replace the preaching of the Word with something else is a weighty decision. My comment was not about churches that do other things beside the preaching of the Word; I am unaware of any church that does nothing else at all besides preach! My comment was on what happens when a church gives less and less weight to preaching (which is the activity called “the ministry of the Word” in Reformed discussion).

    It is all-too-common to see churches which once made preaching the central element of worship – and therefore of church life – begin to give less and less time to preaching in order to move in new, innovative directions. This even happens in churches which profess adherence to our confession.

    My contention is twofold: First, to intentionally downgrade the preaching of the Word to make way for other ministries is to implicitly deny the confessional teaching on the means of grace. Second, I would be hard-pressed to think of any other area in which a denial of the confessional teaching will so quickly transform the ethos of a church. That is why I think of such congregations as “post-confessional.”

  8. Pastor Chantry,

    My point is that we shouldn’t limit “the ministry of the Word” whether in corporate worship or without the corporate worship to sermons preached by pastors. The proclamation, exposition, and application of Scripture is the primary means of grace. And we might say that in the context of a corporate worship service, “the ministry of the Word” largely happens through the medium of the pastor’s sermon. Nevertheless, “the ministry of the Word” is, or at least should be, a category that’s more inclusive than the sermon.

    This point has been highlighted by Dr Gonzalez, a professor of Reform Baptist Seminary, in a series of posts on the 1689 Confession. In one post, he argues that limiting the phrase “the ministry of the Word” to sermons preached in corporate worship leaves the Confession without a sufficient affirmation of the church’s evangelistic and missionary task (click here). In another post, he points out that there are other word-based ministries performed by the saints that should be considered part of the “ordinary means of grace” (click here). I don’t think his point is to downgrade preaching but to “upgrade” other word-based ministries that the church (its pastor and its members) perform.

    Cordially

  9. If you want to redefine what “ministry of the word” meant at the time the confession was written, I suppose you could do so, but it would be a mistake to read that understanding back into the confession.

    I find Dr. Gonzalez’ arguments unconvincing and his attempt to define his theology as an “update” of the confession unhelpful.

  10. tjchantry asked, “Given the confessional recognition of preaching as the primary means of grace, could we not say that if ever one of our churches begins to downgrade preaching – replacing the preaching of the word with other “ministries” – that it is at least on the road to becoming a post-confessional church?”

    It sure seems so to me.

  11. I agree with RB and TC.

    Jim Butler

  12. I think, I could be wrong, that “ministry of the Word” in the context of the Confession refers to preaching the Word in the context of public, church worship services. This in no way denies other spheres in which the Word is blessed by God as a means of grace to souls. I think it is important to remember that the confession is a churchly document. With this in mind, I think the intent of the document is, therefore, limited. The authors and signatories surely believed the Word was blessed by God as a means of grace outside of the Sunday sermon. They wrote and published books on the Bible for the well-being of souls. They did not state all the ways God’s Word can be a means of grace to souls, just the most important way in relation to the church.

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