Sunday, November 3, 2013

Some Thoughts on Historical Redemptive Preaching on All Saints Sunday

It is sad that the phrase "Reformed fad" even exists, but alas, we're all simply human.  Over the years, there have been several kurfluffles in our circles over HR preaching and my thoughts returned to the subject this week as I prepared a sermon for All Saints Sunday.  Here is an excerpt from a response letter I had to write on the subject a few years ago:

Jesus told the Pharisees that the O.T. Scriptures speak of Him [Jn 5.39] then further revealed Himself to the Apostles from the words of Moses and the Prophets as He walked with two of them on the road to Emmaus [Lk 24.27].  Christ can and should be found ALL THROUGH the O.T. … the animal slain in Eden to provide a bloody skin to cover the shame of a disobedient Adam and Eve; the institution of meat-eating so that, through the death of an animal, Noah and his family could live by eating of them; the Paschal lamb; the Rock and Manna in the Wilderness; Esther’s risking her life to redeem her people; Mt Moriah; the Scarlet thread hung out by Rahab in Jericho; the least of the tribe [Gideon] or least of the family [David] being the chosen one and deliverer; God’s use of the most humble and unexpected weapon to defeat His enemy in the most unexpected way with every one of the Judges especially Samson who spread wide his arms and brought divine judgment upon himself in death to deliver God's people; God’s sending a promised child via unusual conception circumstances; Jonah being three days in the belly of the sea creature; just to name a few…

Concretely, one of the best ways to maintain a redemptive focus in a church is to end every week’s service with communion.
Regardless of what the particular content of that week’s sermon may have been, everyone’s thoughts and affections are finally centered upon the person and work of Christ. But I would want to caution and clarify that I do NOT believe in ‘Redemptive Historical Preaching’ if by that you mean this as a kind of exclusive and mandatory template to which every sermon must always rigidly conform, because #1 - I believe that this demand would be unscriptural, and #2 – I believe that this demand could potentially result in a failure to guard against the opposite error: preaching belief without repentance or faith without works; in other words: the false gospel of easy-believism.

Scripture says that the stories of the O.T. were “written to be our examples, with the intent that we should not lust after evil things like many of them did… they were written for our admonition.” [1 Cor 10.6,10]. Even the uber-familiar 2 Tim 3.16-17 teaches that as much Scripture as is inspired is “good for reproving someone’s sin, correcting/warning him, and training him how to live righteously so that the man of God may be perfected/made completely ready to perform every good work”. The author [Paul?] of the letter to the Hebrews, concludes his ‘hall of faith’, by saying: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that is set before us … looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… [12.1-2]. His conclusion is both practical/moral and Christological. So no Christian should object to my sermon if it follows this pattern. I’m just doing what the Holy Spirit taught me to do in His Word.

While moralism is a danger, so is easy-believism – in fact, I’d say that lawlessness is much more prevalent among evangelicals. U.S. Christians today are antinomian to the core … cheap grace flows as high as the horse’s bridle, and we need regular, heavy doses of the Scriptural truth that it is not those who “say ‘Lord, Lord’, but those who do the will of the Father” who are truly His [Mat 7.21; Jam 2.14].

BOTTOM LINE: Scripture points us to Christ, not only in faith but also in practice [living]. If we’re talking about a sermon where the stories of the O.T. are used to point people both to Christ AND holy living, I would say … yes, that’s exactly right. BUT if we’re critical of sermons because they include practical applications aimed at producing a change in the conduct of the hearer toward holiness, I would say – NO – that is an imbalanced over-reaction, as demonstrated by the words of Scripture itself as well as the example of Church History down to the present.

Great example of a balanced O.T. exegesis: Paul in 1 Cor 10, on Israel in the Wilderness starts by saying: "the rock was Christ [4]" and then goes on to say: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did [6]... therefore:

do not be idolaters [7]...
commit sexual immorality [8] ...
test Christ [9] ...
or grumble [10] ...
"These things happened to them as [i]examples and were written down as warnings for us[11] ..."

Now, we can all agree [with the Holy Spirit] that - in addition to revealing Christ - these were examples and were written down as warnings for us... right?

One final comment.  The fact of the matter is that I have to admit the kernel of truth here too: I don't think we [I] often do enough of a job at pointing to Christ either.  I recently preached from Luke 7 where Jesus is gripped by compassion and for that reason alone - no faith on the part of the suffering; no worthiness on the part of the requester; nothing but His own sense of gut-wrenching tender mercy - He raise the widow's only son back from death outside the gates of Nain.
Now, in a year or two, no one will be able to tell you what the three points of my outline were.  Nor will they be able to tell you the three practical applications that I ended with - even though they were alliterated.  They might not be able to tell you who was preaching the sermon or where they heard it.  But if I did my job, they will remember that Jesus is the Risen Lord Who looked upon the suffering widow and felt compassion like a punch in the stomach ... and they should be compassionate, rather than callous toward the genuinely needy they encounter, even if it would be easier, cooler, or more beneficial to ignore them.
God gave us most of His word in stories.  And the point of those stories isn't always to rush through in order to get to the doctrinal or didactic sections ... it is to see Christ - to truly encounter Him in the Word and be transformed by that encounter.