THEN THE 12 SUMMONED THE MULTITUDE OF THE DISCIPLES AND SAID “IT IS NOT DESIRABLE THAT WE SHOULD LEAVE THE WORD OF GOD AND SERVE TABLES." (Acts 6:2)
If anything seems to characterize the age in which we are living in America, it is the word CONFUSION. There seems to be many differing thoughts and ideas on what it is that we are supposed to be doing in a church. Confusion also seems to be reigning in various and sundry places around the world; in Hong Kong, in the Middle East, in Europe, and in England there is confusion politically and confusion in the churches. In America, in many cases the confusion is also in both the political arena and in the churches. The question of whether to kill babies in their mothers womb, called abortion, reigns both politically and in our churches. The question of whether it is good to allow same-sex marriages or not, reigns both in the political arena and in our churches. The question of social justice and redistribution of wealth reigns both in the political arena and in many of our churches. The question of what to do with people who want to enter the United States illegally reigns both politically and in our churches. Laws have begun to mean nothing. There is the assertion both politically and in many of our churches that we must have sanctuary cities; we must attempt to meet with and understand those who come to our country from other nations, including, religious differences. We must spend billions on welfare for non-citizens, which is being spent politically in California and supported by many churches. We seemingly have become a nation where every person is doing that which seems good in his or her own eyes.
In the church, philanthropy, entertainment, and music are all competing with the preaching of the word of God. From Acts Chapter 6, ( verse 2 quoted above) we see that the Apostles stated clearly that “it is not desirable that we should leave the [preaching] of the word of God and serve tables." (Acts 6:2) There are even those who actually are advocating that the purpose of the church is for music, for the arts, and for social events, and we need to have less preaching and less evangelizing and more efforts to solve one's insomnia, headaches, problems, difficulties in one's marriage, difficulties in one's business, and a conscious designing of the service rather than for worship by the saints to be a service to attract pagans.
The great expository preacher, Martyn Lloyd- Jones, clearly stated in a sermon preached in 1959, that the first priority is God and His Word. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. Man, however, is dead and a man needs to be made alive. It is God who makes men live. In Ephesians chapter 2 we see that all men apart from the Lord Jesus Christ are in fact dead. Dead men don't think; they don't walk; they don't sing; and, they need to be made alive. In the second chapter of Ephesians we are told in God's Holy Word that it is God who makes men alive because of His great love wherewith He loved us. It is God who creates and it is God who causes men to be born-again.
It is God's Word that tells us what we need. True, there are many, particularly in this day and age, who do not agree but whether they agree or not, God's Word tells us what we need. Every person born into the world must be born-again or he will not see the kingdom of heaven! Every person born into the world needs to know the Holy Scriptures which are able to make us wise unto salvation, to make us alive in the Lord Jesus Christ!
As the Apostles declared in the first century, which we see stated in the sixth chapter of Acts," it is not desirable that we should leave the word of God to serve tables". The only thing that will roll back the confusion, not only in this country but around the world, is the Holy Word of the living God. Abortion is murder. Same-sex “marriage" is sodomy. They and many other things are sins as described by the Word of God. Mankind needs to know and understand that there is an end of time. God has declared that time will end at precisely His appointed time. The things that are in the world, that are seen, are temporal, therefore, it is not more of the world that we need in the church but less. We need to love NOT the world neither the things of the world for all that is of the world is not of the Father. Every human being will stand before God to give an account of their deeds done in the body, and science has nothing to do with that. The Holy Scripture is all that can help any person with the real problem that they have, which is sin and the need to be born-again!
It is clear, therefore, that what is needed now is the exact same thing as the Apostles stated in the first century in Acts Chapter 6. The Word of God needs to be preached in the churches! There needs to be a priority given to the preaching of the Holy Truth of God and the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). We need to repent and return to the preaching of God's Holy Word having preeminence and priority. Romans Chapter one, verse 18 - 32 tells us that the wrath of God is already revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. In 1959, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons on revival in commemoration of the great revival in America of 1857, and the great revival in Wales in 1859. We need revival in America and around the world. We need to return to the preaching of God's Word. In 1969, Dr. Lloyd-Jones gave a series of lectures at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is my hope and earnest desire that a few excerpts from those lectures will help us to understand what needs to be done to eliminate confusion and to return to the primacy of preaching.
I. THE NEED FOR PREACHING
As we have already seen, the Apostles in the first century declared to the church in the sixth chapter of Acts that the most important task that they had was to preach the Word of God. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1969, took that position when he declared, “the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.… the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also." (Martyn Lloyd -Jones, Preaching and Preachers, page 9)
Surely the confusion that seems to be reigning in American churches, and, indeed, around the world in both the political arena as well as in churches, needs correction. The Word of God is the only means of correcting these errors. Even the church in Western civilization is itself being questioned. Dr. Lloyd-Jones, in his book Preaching and Preachers, addressed the question of why preaching had fallen from the position of esteem in the church. Some of the reasons that he mentioned were the fact that society was “more cultured and educated" and the church had to compete with many different forms of entertainment, including radio, television, magazines, knowledge and other information concerning the “truth” coming directly into the home.
However, in Preaching and Preachers ,(p 13), Martyn Llyod-Jones also stated that there were “certain attitudes and reasons in theChurch herself which account for the decline in the place of preaching.” In the first position he attributed “the loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures, and diminution in the belief of the Truth.” Dr. Lloyd-Jones thought that this was the main factor. So it was that Dr. Lloyd- Jones put in the first position the failure to believe in the authority of the Holy Scriptures and the diminishment in the belief of the truth as the decline of preaching in the church. It is the challenge to the authority of God's Word and the failure to believe the truth that caused Adam and Eve to stumble and sin against God in the garden. The fall of man, Adam, was directly related to believing the word of the serpent instead of believing the truth of the Word of God.
The failure to believe in the inerrant Word of God and the infallibility of God's Word began the decline. As the decline grew, sermons, according to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, “were replaced by ethical addresses and homilies, and moral uplift and socio–political talk, and it is not surprising that preaching declined.” (Preaching and Preachers, p13)
In the second place, Dr. Lloyd-Jones attributes the rise of what he called “the great pulpiteers". The pulpiteers in both England and the USA were typified as being great “showmen”. They had control over the congregation. These pulpiteers, according to Lloyd-Jones, “began to pay more attention to form rather than substance." The “oratory and eloquence became things in and of themselves, and ultimately preaching became a form of entertainment!” They paid a passing respect to the truth but the great thing was the form and the entertainment. Dr. Lloyd-Jones stated that at that time (1969) this “property of popular preaching” had “brought true preaching into disrepute because of a lack of substance and too much attention being paid to the form and to the presentation… which degenerated ultimately into what he described as “showmanship."” ( Preaching and Preachers, page 15)
Of course, these things can be overcome by diligent prayer and fasting and seeking the Lord Jesus Christ's face. We need to be praying for revival in the church of the living God. Knocking, seeking, and asking in the name of Jesus that He would bring about great revival in His church.
At the same time as preaching has declined, there has been an increase in the formal element among many, according to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, toward more and more involvement in the church service by the people, “and so they have introduced “responsive reading" and more and more music and singing and chanting” (Preaching and Preachers, p16).
Dr. Lloyd-Jones stated that “still worse has been the increase in the element of entertainment in public worship – the use of films and the introduction of more and more singing; the reading of the Word and prayer has been shortened drastically, but more and more time given to singing. You have a song leader as a new kind of official in the church, and he conducts the singing and is supposed to produce the atmosphere. But he often takes so much time in producing the atmosphere that there is no time for preaching in the atmosphere!" (Preaching and Preachers ,page 17)
In a sermon preached in 1959, during the celebration of the Welsh revival of 1859, Dr. Lloyd-Jones lamented the fact that he himself had recently taken part in a conference/service where the singing took 40 minutes and left little time for the preaching of the word. Thus, we see, the fact of more and more “entertainment" type devices being used in order to create the right “atmosphere", thus, bringing about the corresponding decline in the preaching of God's Holy Word.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones also pointed out that even certain preachers in the church were adopting various and sundry means of entertainment in order to attract church attendance. Church attendance had declined particularly in Britain at that time, which Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “even the preachers were saying the decline in church attendance was not surprising because, while the preachers preach the Bible and Christian doctrines they have no right to expect any other result [other than declining church attendance]. Because, “the people, they say, are not interested; the people are interested in politics, they are interested in social conditions, they are interested in the various injustices from which people suffer in various parts of the world, and in war and peace." (Preaching and Preachers, page 19)
Thus, Dr. Lloyd-Jones, took great issue with these propositions stating that “the primary task of the church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the word of God." (Preaching Preachers,page 19).
III. THE REASON TO PREACH GOD’S WORD
The Lord Jesus Christ stated to ALL the following:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28 – 30)
It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who told Nicodemus that he must be born-again. Lloyd-Jones starts with the Lord Himself and he points out in Preaching and Preachers (page 20) that while “our Lord performed miracles, [but].... the miracles were not His primary work, they were secondary.” In the gospel of John, they are referred to as “signs". He says the Lord Jesus “did not come into the world to heal the sick, and the lame, and the blind, or to quell storms on the sea. He could do such things and did so frequently; but these are all secondary, they are not primary. What was His primary object? The very terms he uses answers the question. He says He is ‘The light of the world’. He says, ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’". (Preaching and Preachers, p20)
Dr. Lloyd-Jones said in Preaching and Preachers (page 21) “He [Jesus] made it clear that He had not come into the world [to perform miracles]. He says, “It is not that these things do not need to be done; they do need to be done; justice and fair play and righteousness have their place; but He had not come to do these things. He said in effect, ‘I have not left heaven and come on earth in order to do something like that, that is not my primary task.’” He is “the light of the world" – this is the primary thing. I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man, comes unto the Father but by Me". (John 14:6) These other things are secondary. They should be secondary in the church. The primary matter – that which matters most – the preaching of the Word of God!
In the 6th chapter of Acts, (set out above) we see this statement “it is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables". In the King James, it states “it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables." In his exposition on this passage of scripture, we are told what Martyn Lloyd-Jones says about this passage of scripture. He states, “here we are told that a great crisis arose in the life of the early church. I know of nothing that speaks more directly upon the present state and condition of the church, and what is her primary task, than this 6th chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The essential message is in the first two verses, ‘And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily administration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, ‘It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables’." (Preaching and Preachers, page 23)
So what was the church to do? That was a social problem in the church in the first century. It may also have been partly a political problem according to Lloyd-Jones, but certainly an urgent social problem. The Apostles, however, under “the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching they had already received, and the commission they had received from their master, saw the danger and they said, “it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables." In other words, the Apostles were telling the church and today's church that “We shall be failing in our commission if we do this. We are here to preach this Word, this is the first thing. ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word’." (Preaching and Preachers, page 23)
What must we do in order to have the dawn of a reformation or a revival? Again, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that “church history confirms that we must reverse the decline in the primacy of preaching. It is renewed preaching that always heralds the dawn of a reformation or a revival. Not only, said Llyod-Jones, a new interest in preaching, but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the church." “As that was true in the beginning as described in the Book of Acts, it was also after the Protestant Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Latimer, Ridley – all these men were great preachers. In the 17th century you see exactly the same thing – the great Puritan preachers and others and in the 18th century, Jonathan Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley's, Rowlands and Harris were all great preachers. It was an era of great preaching. Whenever you get reformation and revival this is always and inevitably the result." (Preaching and Preachers, page 25)
Do you earnestly and fervently desire to see reformation and revival in the church? Do you earnestly and fervently desire to see reformation and revival in your own life? We need to commit ourselves to prayer and fasting and seeking the Lord's face that He would bring about a return to the preaching of God's Holy Word, His Holy Truth and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ! This is the primary task of the church according to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, …. “that preaching is the primary task of the Church.… based in that way on the evidence of the Scriptures, and the supporting and confirming evidence of the history of the church." (Preaching and Preachers, page 25)
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones stated that “the business of the church and of preaching is not to present us with new and interesting ideas. It is rather to go on reminding us of certain fundamental and eternal truths”. Preach the Word in season and out. Preach the Holy Truth of God's eternal Word and earnestly contend for the faith delivered once to the saints.
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
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