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John Stott Explains Why Acceptable Worship Is Impossible Without Preaching

John Stott

Quoting John Stott:

The ‘message’ is God’s own Word. For the people have not gathered to hear a human being, but to meet with God. They desire like Mary of Bethany to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching. They are spiritually hungry. The bread they desire is the Word of God.

What, then, are the code and channel of communication? Obviously the code is words and the channel speech. Yet the communication is to be understood neither in physical terms (from pulpit to pew), nor even in human terms (one mouth speaking, many ears listening), but in divine terms (God speaking through his minister to his people).

It is this total context which makes preaching unique. For here are God’s people assembled in God’s presence to hear God’s Word from God’s minister.

That is what I mean when I claim that, even in this age that is saturated with the most elaborate media of communication, preaching remains sui generis. No film or play, no drama or dialogue, no seminar or lecture, no Sunday School or discussion group has all these elements in combination. What is unique is not an ideal or an atmosphere, but a reality. The living God is present, according to his covenant pledge, in the midst of his worshipping people, and has promised to make himself known to them through his Word and sacrament. Nothing could ever replace this.

Although in the rather flowery language of a century ago, Matthew Simpson gave an admirable summary of the uniqueness of the sermon event. He wrote of the preacher:

His throne is the pulpit; he stands in Christ’s stead; his message is the word of God; around him are immortal souls; the Savior, unseen, is beside him; the Holy Spirit broods over the congregation; angels gaze upon the scene, and heaven and hell await the issue. What associations and what vast responsibility!

Thus Word and worship belong indissolubly to each other. All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God, because it is the adoration of his Name. Therefore acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. For preaching is making known the Name of the Lord, and worship is praising the name of the Lord made known. Far from being an alien intrusion into worship, the reading and preaching of the Word are actually indispensable to it. The two cannot be divorced. Indeed, it is their unnatural divorce which accounts for the low level of so much contemporary worship. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor, and our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the Word of God is expounded in its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe and joyful wonder before his throne. It is preaching which accomplishes this, the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable. (Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, Eerdmans, 1982, p. 81-82)

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