Call to Preach

The notion of preacher often invokes images of days gone by. Wesley, Finney and Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, are characters from a bygone era, doing something that fitted that generation, but which we do not see as so relevant today.

The idea of a preacher standing in an open field or marketplace, with thousands of people listening and being transformed by the message, as revival fire sweeps a nation, is not something we think of in today’s western church.

Of course we have preachers today. Christian TV channels are crammed with fancy speakers, each with their own style and emphasis. We also have some exemplary preachers in our modern world.

However, the value of a preacher is not so well recognised today as it was in previous generations. Yet I believe we are approaching a revival of Preaching and Preachers, because the day of Preachers has not passed.

The Place of Preaching

The New Testament church was built on preaching.  Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to preach.

“And he (Jesus) said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone.” Mark 16:15

“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:47

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” 1Corinthians 1:17

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” 2Timothy 4:2

The Apostle Paul recognised that God has given a special place to preaching as a tool to bring transformation.

“God, in His wisdom, determined that people would not find or know God by pursuing human wisdom, but God would use the ‘foolishness of preaching’ to save those people who believe.”

1Corinthians 1:21 (paraphrased)

Proclaiming the Truth

Preaching does not need a crowd or a pulpit.  What we call witnessing is the same a preaching.  Telling the truth of the gospel to a person is preaching.  We see this where what was said privately to one person is still said to be “preached” to them.

When God gave promise to Abraham, privately, God was preaching to him.

“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached the gospel to Abraham in time past, saying, In you all nations will be blessed.” Galatians 3:8

When Phillip the Evangelist had a private session with the Ethiopian eunuch he “preached” to him, even though we would call it explaining the gospel, or witnessing.

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” Acts 8:35

Every time you proclaim the truth, to thousands, or privately and quietly to one person, you are preaching. And preaching is what we are called to do.

The Power of Preaching

We see in the New Testament that by Christians simply going out and telling others about Christ multitudes of lives and even whole cultures were transformed.  The Apostle Paul, one of the most active preachers, was hated by the Jewish religious leaders because he turned so many to Christ.  Even those who made idols to a heathen goddess in Ephesus attacked Paul because he was destroying their business.

The simple process of talking to people, individually and in groups, about the gospel released tremendous transforming power, called “Salvation”.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (non-Jew).” Romans 1:16

Historic Role of Preaching

World history reveals that preaching is so significant that those who preach actually direct society.

The English king Charles 1 wrote about preaching back in 1646, recognising the influence held by the preachers from the pulpits.  He said, “people are governed by pulpits more than the sword in times of peace.”

For centuries English culture was shaped by the simple process of men standing up to preach the truth from God’s word.

A similar testimony comes from Herman Melville’s 1850 novel, Moby Dick, in chapter 8, titled The Pulpit.

“…the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”

Too Many Voices

The significant place of the pulpit, celebrated for centuries, has now declined.  This is due in large part to the abandonment of Christianity and the decline in church attendance, where most people get to hear preaching.

Another influence is the sheer abundance of voices clamouring for our attention.  The influence of the Christian pulpit has been replaced with other voices that are not sympathetic to Bible truth.

Secular education provides a pulpit for every teacher to preach the approved social values into the hearts and minds of their captive congregation.  The press and printed material also preach the populist message.  Radio and television, songs and movies all capture our attention and preach their preferred values into our culture.

Instead of Bible truth and the gospel bringing transforming power into society and steering us to godly living and the blessings of Almighty God, we are now turned every which way, and left to languish in our confusion and defeat, without godly direction and God’s power.

Popular media has become the pulpit of modern day culture.

Preachers as Kingdom Technology

We now need a fresh release of preachers into our culture.  This is the main technology used in history to expand God’s kingdom, and it is still the principal Kingdom technology today.

The New Testament church thrived where ever preaching took place.  When the Jerusalem church was persecuted and believers were dispersed to other cities and nations the church grew wonderfully.

As Paul and others took the gospel to places, the church grew in those new locations.  History reveals that the Ethiopian eunuch, taking back what he learned from Phillip, prompted the growth of the church there.  And people in southern India can trace their church connection back to the arrival of the disciple Thomas almost two millennia ago.

John Wycliffe, a professor at Oxford, was the first to translate the Bible into English, way back in 1380.  But what gave his translation and life greater impact were the many people who read his translation and preached from it across the English countryside.  These Lollards opened the word of God to their generation.

Almost four centuries after Wycliffe, John and Charles Wesley, also based at Oxford, instigated a preaching program which came to be known as Methodism.  The heart of this movement was the circuit riding preacher.  These men were expected to preach multiple times on a Sunday, walking or riding on horseback around their circuit.

The great Wesleyan revival started the 1700’s continued long past the deaths of these men of God, because of the preaching system (method) they created.  At its heart, apart from the message of personal encounter with God and the truth of God’s word, the Methodist revival was based on preaching.

Preaching Through Opposition

Preachers are not usually welcome in a society that needs God.  Paul was opposed across the many nations and cities to which he took the gospel.  Revivalists through history have been at times violently opposed by angry audiences.

While we expect Christian preachers to be opposed in heathen lands, note that John Wesley was driven from many places when he started preaching in Christian England.  His Methodist preachers had to face rocks, roof tiles and mud, among other abuses.

Today’s new generation of preachers will also face opposition and trials.  While many will gain prominence and have popular ministries, others will have to struggle through opposition.

Releasing Preachers

In every generation and in every culture there is always primary place for preachers, great and small.  Each nation and culture needs more preachers, from those who quietly inform their small circle of friends, to those who draw vast crowds in stadiums, halls and fields.

I have always delighted in the role of preacher, but am all the more convinced today than ever that God is seeking a new generation of labourers in the harvest field, who preach the good news of Jesus Christ into their culture, whether the hearers are resistant or not.

John Wycliffe Gives England the Bible

John Wycliffe died on December 31, 1384.

He was born of sturdy Saxon stock in Ipreswell, Yorkshire, England, somewhere around the year 1320 (the date range is from 1320-1330, but 1324 is the date often chosen). It was in an age of spiritual darkness – and 200 years before Luther would shake the church with his reforms.

But Wycliffe saw the apostasy into which the Church of Rome had fallen. “The Church,” he said, “should return to the poverty and simplicity of apostolic times.” The Pope he called “the Anti-Christ, the proud, worldly priest of Rome!” (Church in History, by B. Kuiper, page 143).

He occupies a distinguished place in the history of the Christian Church, first as a scholar and champion of theological reform, but primarily for his translation of the Scripture into the English language. His followers, known as the Lollards, went out two by two, covering England with Protestant teaching. Many of them met fiery deaths.

Wycliffe was a scholar and theologian with a teaching position at Oxford, from which he was ultimately expelled. His Lollardy movement, sending itinerant preachers across the countryside, was also ultimately stamped out.

From his position at Oxford, Wycliffe first saw himself as a reformer, expecting to encourage the church back to its Biblical simplicity. He was first concerned that ecclesiastical leaders (popes, cardinals, church councils, etc) exerted authority over kings and civil governments. He saw this as abuse of power and argued that civil government should be performed by God’s appointed civil leaders in accordance with Biblical instructions. At the time Popes were dictating to kings how they should prosecute people who the church disapproved of.

Wycliffe also opposed the holding of lordly positions by church leaders and the holding of property by church organisations, such as monastic orders. He believed that Christianity was most pure when its servants were poor and simple, not living luxuriously or holding large properties.

He asserted that Christ was the head of the Church and that people did not need a pope or papal appointee to administer their faith. He declared that “Our Pope is Christ”.

He feared that some people appointed as popes and cardinals were not even true members of the Church of Jesus Christ. He had high hopes for Pope Urban VI as a “true” pope, but was ultimately disappointed in him.

As the Church of Rome grew in opposition to him, Wycliffe hardened his position on the Pope and the organised church, ultimately identifying the Pope as the Anti-Christ.

He was motivated to create an English Bible for the common people by his belief that they could establish a strong personal faith through nothing more than the Word of God. His army of Lollard priests fulfilled his vision of poor men whose only interest was the truth delivered to people’s hearts. Thus these Wycliffeites were called “Bible men”.

Wycliffe’s position was complicated by the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, for which he was blamed. This was an uprising against the oppressive nobility, particularly the ecclesiastical nobility. On November 18, 1382 Wycliffe was called to defend himself, but he was weakened by the first of several strokes, which ultimately claimed his life.

Note that Wycliffe’s translation was hand-written. Assistants and the Lollards copied his translation by hand. Thus hundreds of copies of the scripture were made. 150 manuscripts or fragments remain from Wycliffe’s landmark work.

Note also that Wycliffe had to work from the Latin Vulgate version, since that was the only version available to him. So he translated the English from Latin.

Schaff comments: “It becomes evident that in almost every doctrinal particular did this man anticipate the reformers.” History refers to him as the “Morning Star of the Reformation”.

On December 28, 1384 Wycliffe suffered another stroke and died on the last day of the year, 1384. He was buried in the church graveyard at Lutterworth.

Thirty years after his death, May 4, 1415, the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic, decreeing that his books be burned and his remains be exhumed. In 1428 his body was exhumed and burnt, and the ashes thrown into the nearby Swift River.

This act of desecration, as viewed by the Roman Catholic Church who instigated it, is seen in a different light by many Protestants. To them it was prophetic. For as the river took Wycliffe’s ashes to the sea, so his message spread from shore to shore until the Protestant Faith was firmly established around the world.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com