Ferguson’s Ten Commandments (pt 2)September 4, 2007
Carrying on the theme of 10 commandments, we return today to Sinclair Ferguson’s Ten Commandments for preachers. Two weeks ago we covered the first pair: know your bible better and be a man of prayer. Today we are reminded “Don’t lose sight of Christ” and “Be deeply Trinitarian.”
3. Don’t Lose Sight of Christ. Me? Yes, me. This is an important principle in too many dimensions fully to expound here. One must suffice. Know, and therefore preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). That is a text far easier to preach as the first sermon in a ministry than it is to preach as the final sermon.
What do I mean? Perhaps the point can be put sharply, even provocatively in this way: Systematic Exposition did not die on the Cross for us; nor did Biblical Theology, nor even Systematic Theology or Hermeneutics, or whatever else we deem important as those who handle the exposition of Scripture. I have heard all of these in preaching . . . without a center in the person of the Lord Jesus.
Paradoxically not even the systematic preaching through one of the Gospels guarantees Christ-crucified centered preaching. Too often preaching on the Gospels takes what I whimsically think of as the “Find Waldo Approach.” The underlying question in the sermon is “Where are you to be found in this story?” (are you Martha or Mary, James and John, Peter, the grateful leper . . .?). The question “Where, Who and What is Jesus in this story? Tends to be marginalized.
The truth is it is far easier to preach about Mary, Martha, James, John, or Peter than it is about Christ. It is far easier to preach even about the darkness of sin and the human heart than to preach Christ. Plus my bookshelves are groaning with literature on Mary, Martha . . . the good life, the family life, the Spirit-filled life, the parenting life, the damaged self life . . . but most of us have only a few inches of shelf space on the person and work of Christ himself.
Am I absolutely at my best when talking about him, or about us?
4. Be deeply Trinitarian. Surely we are? At least in some of our churches not a Lord’s Day passes without the congregation confessing one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But as is commonly recognized Western Christianity has often had a special tendency to either an explicit or a pragmatic Unitarianism, be it of the Father (Liberalism, for all practical purposes), the Son (Evangelicalism, perhaps not least in its reactions against Liberalism), or the Spirit (Charismaticism with its reaction to both of the previous).
This is, doubtless, a caricature. But my concern here arises from a sense that Bible-believing preachers (as well as others) continue to think of the Trinity as the most speculative and therefore the least practical of all doctrines. After all, what can you “do” as a result of hearing preaching that emphasizes God as Trinity? Well, at least inwardly if not outwardly, fall down in prostrate worship that the God whose being is so ineffable, so incomprehensible to my mental math, seeks fellowship with us!
I sometimes wonder if it is failure here that has led to churches actually to believe it when they are told by “church analysts” and the like that “the thing your church does best is worship . . . small groups, well you need to work on that . . ..” Doesn’t that verge on blasphemy? (Verge on it? There is surely only One who can assess the quality of our worship. This approach confuses aesthetics with adoration).
John’s Gospel suggests to us that one of the deepest burdens on our Lord’s heart during his last hours with his disciples was to help them understand that God’s being as Trinity is the heart of what makes the gospel both possible and actual, and that it is knowing him as such that forms the very lifeblood of the life of faith (cf. John chapter 13-17). Read Paul with this in mind and it becomes obvious how profoundly woven into the warp and woof of his gospel his understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is.
Our people need to know that, through the Spirit, their fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Would they know that from my preaching?