Confessions Give Biblical Concentration to Preaching

Confessions Give Biblical Concentration to Preaching

Confessions help focus our attention on central issues of faith and avoid personal idiosyncrasies in doctrine and emphasis as well as dodge the fallacy of giving too little attention to important doctrines. When a pastor becomes familiar with a well-arranged and clearly expressed confession of faith, he will have a touchstone by which to examine the direction of his preaching. Even when doing exposition through books of the Bible, one book at a time, familiarity with a confession can open one’s spiritual eyes to see how doctrinal truths pepper the text of Scripture. On a periodic basis, a minister of the gospel might find it advantageous to review his sermon content and compare it with the chapters of a comprehensive confession of faith. In reviewing each sermon, he could ask, “Did I make any emphasis on the word of God, its inspiration, its status as a special revelation from God, its consequent infallibility and inerrancy, and its Christ-centered organization?” He might also ask, “Did I say anything about God as Trinity or seek to explore anything about the relative personal distinctions in the Trinity?” He might want to determine if he has emphasized the reality of a space-time fall of man in Adam and the covenantal and natural relations that all humanity has with him in his sin and corruption. Certainly, in such an investigation, the gospel preacher should find it easy to discover points in his preaching where he has explained justification by faith with a clear exposition of imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement. Has there been any emphasis on the doctrines of grace? Do any sermons give a clear discussion of the doctrines of election and the necessity of effectual calling? These doctrines are at the heart of God’s saving work toward man and should not be avoided. Comparing preaching with the confession will help keep the pulpit consistent with the full structure of biblical truth. This kind of checkup can be useful in verse-by-verse and book-by-book expository preaching to make sure that the doctrinal significance of each pericope is being expressed. We seek to express the unity of revelation and avoid fragmentation.

To ignore this kind of content check-up creates a tendency to idiosyncratic preaching. One can easily gravitate toward a constant diet of giving advice from Scripture in practical living. There is much need for that and much biblical reason to do it, but practice unrelated to its foundation of truth becomes a sinkhole of frustration. It can create a delusion that God’s purpose can be reduced to his desire for our temporal happiness and success. One can find himself without resources of truth and reasons for trust if providence thrusts him into great difficulties and the sovereign providence of God in testing his people has not been fully digested. Paul based his call for self-effacing service on deep Christology (Philippians 2:1-8). The preacher who wants to call for humility and self-giving in service to others must dwell to some extent on the pre-incarnate glory of Christ and his status as the eternally beloved Son of God. He must give some instruction in the nature of the incarnation and the voluntary hiding of his divine glory and power for the sake of his being rejected of men and finally crucified. In Colossians 3:12-16, Paul gives a set of six practical admonitions and bases each one on a doctrinal foundation. If a preacher chooses that text, he should review the confessional explanation of the corresponding doctrines: (1) patience based on election, (2) forgiveness of one another based on God’s extravagant provision for forgiveness, (3) love for one another based on the unifying aspect of love in the Trinity, (4) peace in the body of Christ based on the reconciling work of Christ, (5) corporate worship governed by the word of Christ, and (6) gratitude based on the “name of Christ,” that is, his perfect work of redemption that brings honor and glory to God.

When the doctrinal component of a sermonic text is being set forth, the citation of an article of a confession of faith will help cement the truth in the mind as a part of the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Use the confessional history of the church to give balance, profundity, and God-centeredness to preaching.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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