Should Ministers Preach Christ in Every Sermon?
Should a minister preach Christ and the Gospel in every sermon? Or the question may be asked, “Does God expect a minister to preach Christ from every text of scripture? The first question can be answered quite easily: If we want people to be saved we should! The second needs to be more carefully addressed. I have recently heard several ministers express that it is sufficient to mention the Person and work of Christ in the liturgy–whether it be song, or scripture reading or the assurance of pardon–but not in every sermon. Which begs the question, “Why do we need to mention Him in the liturgy at all?” If it is a matter of indicative and imperative, let us not forget that the apostles couch every imperative in the indicative in their letters. Sure, someone may be able to pull three verses in a row that do not explicitly mention Jesus, but look at the context properly and you will find that even James couches it in the Gospel (e.g. “Do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality”). If we are committed to preaching doctrines remember that the apostle Paul, the most doctrinal of all the New Testament writers, said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Paul was committed to preaching the Person (Jesus Christ) and the work (Him crucified) of Christ to the church. Was this hyperbole, as some suggest.? Only in so far as Paul was intimating that every other doctrine must be understood in light of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
When he wrote to the Romans who had heard and accepted the Gospel Paul explained that he longed to come and preach the Gospel to them! Paul reminded the Colossians that the Gospel had continued to bring forth fruit in them since the day they first “heard and knew the grace of God in truth.” Believers need the Gospel continually preached to them for pardon and power. Do we preach the precious imperatives of the Gospel to our people? Hopefully not without the message of the cross coming along side them. It is the power of God, and the word of pardon for Christians when they fail to keep those imperatives in their daily lives.
Ministers are often zealous to move on to “bigger and better things,” like Sabbath Day observance, family worship, godly marriage, faithful parenting and a Christian response to suffering. Jesus and the Apostles were concerned with these things as well. Jesus said that He was “the Lord of the Sabbath.” He is the one who gives rest to the soul.Â Paul told the Ephesians that husbands were to love their wives as Christ loved the church. When he dealt with a Christian’s response to suffering, Peter explained that believers are to have, “a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:16-18). Do we want to preach holiness and Christian living? Paul tells Titus, “The grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this generation.” There is no imperative that does not flow from and operate within the confines of the indicative.
Someone might object that Jesus frequently gave commands without giving the Gospel. This is to read the Bible atomistically, forgetting that Jesus is the Gospel. He was heading Calvary the entire time He was on earth. Everything He said must be understood in light of what He came to do.
The real breaking point for many ministers is the Old Testament. I have often heard men argue a position against preaching Christ in every sermon from the standpoint of preaching through a book of the Old Testament. The fear of redundancy is the central reason behind their rejection of a robust biblical-theological approach. But consider preaching the first five chapters of Romans. Is there a risk of redundancy? Would it be possible to preach any text in Romans 1-5Â without mentioning justification by faith alone? I don’t see any way around it. The minister must work diligently to make the old truths fresh in each sermon. The same is true with a book like Judges or Ezra. A Vossian approach keeps the text in the larger context of the canon. The first rule of hermenuetics is “context, context, context.” We must always study the text in the immediate context of the chapter, the larger context of the book, and the largest context of the canon. When a minister refers to a certain book of the OT in order to prove that he does not need to preach Christ in every sermon, he is inevitably denying the inspired hermeneutic of the Apostles. Every time the apostles appealed to a portion of Scripture from the Old Testament, it was understood spiritually with reference to Christ and/or His government of the New Testament church, and there is no government without the Gospel. The Apostles set the authoritative example of hermeneutics. It may not be easy to follow their precise pattern at times, but this does not change the fact that their pattern of interpreting the OT was a pattern of Christocentricity. They were not, in one sense, revolutionaries, when it came to biblical interpretation. They were giving the intended meaning–a meaning that focused on the redemption that we have in Christ.
Finally, some have raised the issue of Theocentricity. Do we need to be Theocentric? Absolutely. The Apostles were as Theocentric as they were Christocentric. But Theocentricity without Christocentricity equals judgment. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” “There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” Jesus must be preached so that He may “in all things have the preeminence.” He is the center of God’s redemptive revelation, because He is the God-Man. He is the ladder that Jacob saw reaching up into heaven. He is the Angel of the LORD who appeared to His people throughout the Old Testament era. He is the One in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. He was sitting on the throne of God in Ezekie’s vision and Isaiah’s calling. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the firstborn over all creation. He is the Word of God. He saw Satan fall from Heaven like lightning. He is the One sitting on the throne of God at present. He is, even now, being crowned with praises:
You are worthy…
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.
Very articulate, Nick. I don’t expect anyone would argue with your conclusion or points (at least no one Reformed and redeemed!). I guess my worries come down to practice. As Dr. Truemann has been arguing over at Ref21, a lot of pastors cop out and bolt “straight to Bethlehem”. The goal of exegeting a text in a sermon isn’t always supposed to be “in what way is this text talking about the crucifixion?” I hear those sermons and I cringe at the violence done to the text of Scripture. Luke 24 has become a sledge hammer (instead of a lens) in the hands of many “redemptive-historical” guys. A text is about what it’s about, and Jesus is over all.
Good post. Context is everything, and not just the narrow, immediate context, but the redemptive historical context. Preaching Christ is his person and work, it is his three offices, it is his death and resurrection and heavenly mediation. I agree with Rob that going straight to Bethlehem or straight to the cross is not always what an individual text might be arguing. But is Christ throughout the Scripture – well he certainly thought so (Lk 24:27).
I think we need to be nuanced about what redemptive historical preaching is mind you – if preaching is done properly it is by nature redemptive historical. One can no more preach at text without acknowledging its redemptive context as one can the immediate context. That is not to say we play “where’s Jesus?” with the text, or as many play “where’s the crucifixion” with the text. But Christ is the centre of our preaching – Christ as he reveals the Triune God to us and unites us to the Triune God in his person and work.
I agree that ministers can err on the side of preaching Christ to the exclusion of preaching the text, but am not sure this is the great problem in preaching today. I even think the extreme RH preaching is a very, very small pocket of the PCA and OPC. I am of the opinion that the cross ought to be preached every sermon, since the blood of Christ is what cleanses us from all sin. But, the minister must wrestle with the text and do it in a way that is pleasing to the Holy Spirit. I agree with Dabney here: we must not put into the mouth of the Spirit words He did not speak. That being said, the Spirit glorifies Christ, so it seems that each and every portion of Scripture should lead us to Him in one or more aspects of His Person and work.
The argument for Christ-centered preaching in every message is very clear and I cannot argue with it at all. But I have some terrible difficulty understanding how this is done. If one is to apply the expositional method of preaching then how can he find Christ and the gospel in every section that he preaches. Is it even possible? If so Can someone please give me a simple model of an outline or an example of an expository sermon that clearly represents?
It seems as though one MUST have an extensive bible college and seminary education in order to fulfill such a task. And even so, I still cant see how this can work. One would essentially have to inject the gospel into the text in an allegorical or eisogetical manner. And I have been taught that that is an absolute No No!
So please can some one explain this more clearly giving examples?
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon, it is a difficult task indeed, but the Lord never promised that constructing messages would be easy! I think that reading the books I recommended elsewhere on the blog (i.e those by Geerhardus Vos, Edmund Clowney, Dennis Johnson, etc.) will certainly help. Understanding Redemptive History and Biblical Theology is the key. I would recommend listening to sermons that Sinclair Ferguson has preached on Old Testament passages. I think he exemplifies a healthy Christo-centricity. Hope this helps.
Hey guys–one quick anecdote and one recommendation. It is said that C. H. Spurgeon often chided his students, “Preach Christ or go home!” Of course, I never heard him say this, but it rings as a clarion call in my head whenever I’m preparing a sermon. I would highly recommend Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching, a required text at many seminaries–for good reason. There you go–Godspeed!
yeah this is very right i believe Christ should apear in every line, though many have failed and have replaced Jesus with themselves. Infact this is an encouragement even as i write my paper ” preachers grand theme Jesus Christ” God bless you.
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