Lloyd-Jones on the Primacy of Preaching

Let's survey Lloyd-Jones's answers to the objections in his day to the importance of preaching.

The Doctor points out how in Acts 6 the church faced a crisis over the support of widows in the early church. The ministry of mercy to the needs of the poor in their community was quite important and necessary. But notice why the apostles put some new leaders over it. They did it so they could devote themselves to "prayer and the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:4). That was the primary thing, and that was what the apostles, the main leaders of the church, had to give themselves to. The Doctor points to Jesus' own ministry, especially to places where, under pressure to do more miracles, he says that what he came primarily to do was preach (e.g. Mark 1:38). Jesus' miracles were wonderful—they helped people with disease and suffering—yet what reconciled people to God was belief in the message and work of Jesus.

The Doctor argues this forcibly. It is good for the church to help people with their suffering and need—through social service and counseling—but the one thing that the church can do in the world that is unique is to reconcile people to God through the gospel. That takes words, a message, explanation, exhortation, not just compassionate deeds.  He points out that in the UK it was after times of revival, when millions of people became Christians through the gospel, that hospitals, labor unions, and all sorts of social legislation arose. The church's primary duty is to preach the message of grace that motivates and empowers people to be salt and light in the world.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones effectively dismantles the idea that watching a video or listening to an audio of a sermon is as good as coming physically into an assembly and listening to a sermon with a body of people. It is obviously a good thing if a person who never hears or reads the Bible listens to the recording of a good gospel message and is helped by it. But the Doctor argues that people experience the sermon in a radically different way if they hear it together with a body of listeners and if they see the preacher. Watching on a screen or listening as you walk detaches you and the sermon becomes mere information, not a whole experience. There is a power and impact that the media cannot convey.

The Doctor takes on the idea that preaching should not be about "truth propositions" of Biblical doctrine but rather should describe practically how to live as a Christ-follower in the world. The trouble is, he says, that may mean you are preaching morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis—and that simply will not work. If you tell someone to "live a life of service to others in accordance with the values of the kingdom of God" that will not change them in the core. Hearing a message like that will not lead them to weep and cry, "my chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee." The life-transforming, paradigm-shifting message of the gospel requires lots of teaching about the nature of sin as well as the character of Christ's redemption and the difference between grace and works and the nature of faith. All of these things are "truth propositions."

He also makes the case that, paradoxically, the preacher has greater credibility if he does notpreach mainly out of his own experience, but shows that the message has come out of the Word itself. Instead of saying, "here's my experience, and this is how the Bible played a role in it," the preacher should say, "this is what the Bible says, and it actually contradicts my desires and intuitions, but I'm showing it to you because this message is from God, not from me."

The Doctor's basic case has been made. Preaching must convey the truths of the gospel as the basis for all Christian practice. It must arise out of the Biblical text to show that the message is from God. It should be heard in person in an assembled community. And preaching "sets up" everything else—it creates regenerated agents of justice in the world, it provides the material with which Christians counsel and disciple one another and which equips believers to share their faith with others. 

But Lloyd-Jones has one more objection to tackle, and it is the biggest one. It is a pragmatic one and it goes like this: "nowadays, people simply won't come to hear preaching." We'll look at his answer in the next post.