One Thing Is Necessary
- Wednesday, February 02, 2011
The same is true of baptism or the Lord's Supper. Unless these pictures or symbols are explained, a person cannot know what they mean. Words must accompany them in order to give them meaning.
"One thing is necessary," Jesus said to Martha as she bustled away serving the party, unlike Mary "who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching" (Luke 10:39, 41). Jesus' rebuke of Martha catches us off guard, because it seems obvious that acts of service are better than words. Actions speak louder than words, we say. And talk is cheap. Yes, but Christianity begins not with what we do, but with the announcement of what God has done. Furthermore, it's only words that can challenge our self-rule. Melodies or visual images can inspire, encourage, or grieve. But only words can command us to surrender control of our lives and yield them to Christ. We'll discuss this idea further in subsequent chapters.
One thing is necessary in our churches—hearing God's Word through preaching, reading, singing, and praying.
What about the power of sight? What about the fact that people today have been conditioned by an image-driven marketplace?
There's nothing new here. People have always been driven by sight. The Israelites felt fear at the sight of Goliath. The Lover feels attraction at the sight of his Beloved in the Song of Songs. The temple was decorated with bronze pomegranates and gold flowers. And the apostle John warns his readers about "the desire of the eyes." Sight moves people. It draws them and repulses them. It's how God created us.
At the same time, we live in the "age of the ear," as my friend Mark Dever calls it, an age which extends from Adam and Eve's eviction from the Garden to Christ's final return. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God withdrew himself from the sight of all humanity. He forbade his people from making any representation of him. And he permitted his favored prophet, Moses, only to see his back. Christ did appear among men, but even here the only physical description we get comes from one Old Testament prophet's characterization of what Jesus didn't look like: he had no majesty or beauty that we should desire to look at him (Is. 53:2). The Gospels themselves give us nothing of what Jesus looked like. Apparently the Bible doesn't want us to focus on the sight of Jesus. One day, of course, this will all change. The Lord himself will descend from heaven, his people will be caught up with him, and we will "see him as he is" (1 John 3:2; 1 Thess. 4:16). Yet until that day, we cannot see God, we can only hear from him, his prophets, and his apostles. We come to know him not through sight but through sound, the sound of his Word read and taught.
I'm glad that we Christians affirm the authority of God's Word in our theology books. But now we need to fight for faith in his Word, particularly in how we approach what's central in our churches. Church leaders need to fight for faith in his Word. Christians need to fight for such faith. It's all too easy to put our faith in the things which more visibly and immediately draw people.
At the same time, a loss of confidence in God's Word is not the only error to avoid. If we shift our gaze to the more doctrinally selective churches, particularly of the Reformed variety, we will hear strong affirmations of the "ministry of the Word" and "building the church on the Word." And typically these phrases refer to the teaching ministry of the Sunday morning pulpit. The problem here, however, is that God's Word is not always massaged throughout the life of the congregation, like yeast through dough. People show up on Sunday for the sermon, and often do little more. The ministry of the Word stops at noon.
This book, however, hopes to illustrate that the "ministry of the Word" indeed begins in the pulpit, but then it must continue through the life of the church as members echo God's Word back and forth to one another. The word reverberates, as in an echo chamber. In a real echo chamber, sound reverberates off walls. In the church, it's the hearts of people that both absorb and project the sounds of his effectual Word.
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