Why Should Sermons Be "Christ-Centered"?

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alwaysreforming

Puritan Board Sophomore
Why Should Sermons Be \"Christ-Centered\"?

Hello All:

Believe it or not, I have evangellyfish friends who do not understand and even argue with the fact that sermons/preaching should be Christ-centered. I'd like to put together some sort of email explaining why this is so, and I'm looking for a little fodder... (I'm more of a "cut and paste" kind of a guy, rather than a "writer".)

The two most common objections I get are that:
1. The Gospel is great for "getting saved" but once a person is saved there is no further need for it.

2. We need to hear "teachings" instead... stuff to make us better equipped to live the Christian life... like not gossiping, witnessing more, etc...

So, what's in it for the Christian to hear about Christ and His saving work every week?

How does hearing about Jesus cause a change in our hearts and empower us for service?
(I'm not very comfortable using the Scripture about the valley of dry bones... it seems like the White Horse Inn guys take that out of context (to some extent) when they use that as a proof text)

Any help would be appreciated on the above, or anything else you may think relevant to provide. Thanks!
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
From William Cunningham's sermon on Apostolic Preaching:

http://www.pap.com.au/cunningham/wc_ser08.htm

It is only in the Cross of Christ that we have a right view of the law of God as holy, and just, and good, and of the heinousness of sin as a transgression of it; of the character of God as holy and just, and yet merciful and gracious; of His will and purpose in regard to mankind, and of the everlasting destinies of the human race. It is only in the doctrine of Christ Crucified – when understood and believed – that we find those practical principles which produce that Godliness, which has the promise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come. It is only through the contemplation of the Cross that we acquire the character, and are made meet for the inheritance of heaven. It is only by looking unto Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our faith, that we can ever be enabled to run with patience and perseverance the race that is set before us; to discharge all the duties which God has required of us.

While, therefore, it is the duty of all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, to be careful and diligent in following out the great doctrine of the Cross to all its legitimate Scriptural applications – as regulating their opinions, their affections, and actions – we must be very careful never to lose sight in any measure of the great principle on which all these applications are founded. While we are endeavouring to extend and multiply the streams, we must beware of cutting off their connection with the fountain from which they are to be supplied. If we do not rigidly and carefully examine all our religious opinions in the light of the Cross of Christ, and habitually derive all our practical principles of action from the immediate contemplation of it, we shall be in great danger of falling away either from the purity and soundness of the Christian faith, or from the strictness and the holiness of Christian principles and Christian conduct

See, then, that you direct your principal attention to that which lies at the foundation of the Christian scheme, which was the chief subject of the preaching of the apostles – the great source from which these principles ought to be derived – that should every day regulate the tenor of your conduct and conversation. Fix your most eager and constant attention upon the Cross of Christ, and look to it habitually as the source of all your hopes, and as the animating principle and motive of all your actions. Bear about with you at all times the dying of the Lord Jesus; act under its influence, and submit yourselves to all those feelings and impressions which the contemplation of it is fitted to produce: that the lives which you lead in the flesh may be by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave Himself for us; that, "when He who is our life shall appear, we also may appear with Him in glory."
 

Peter

Puritan Board Junior
Sermons should be Christ centered because scripture is Christ centered. Gen 3:15; Gen 49:8,9,10; Deut 18:18; Psalm 16:10; Psalm 90:1; Isa 7:14; Isa 9:6; Isa 63:1-3; Dan 9:24-26; Micah 5:2; Zech 9:9; Mal 3:1; Luke 24:44; John 12:16; Acts 10:43; Romans 1:1,2

to answer the objections directly:

1. Not everyone in church is saved. The kingdom of God is like a wheat field with tares or a fishing net with good fish and bad fish.
ii. teaching the gospel of free grace will prepare Christians for a life of obedience as the reasonable service to the glorious God who bought us for the price of his own Son.
iii. teaching about salvation to Christians will help them know clearly and firmly that they are indeed Christians.

I John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

2. Even when we hear the "teachings" of scripture about our duties it must be grounded in Christ. For this remember:
i. All of Scripture is the word of Christ. He is our prophet Deut 18:18, and his Spirit inspired Moses, the prophets and the Apostles.
ii. Only by the strength of Christ can we preform our duty. He is the vine we are the branches, without him we can do nothing. John 15:5
iii. Only when the 'iniquity of our holy things' are covered with the merits of Christ are they acceptable to God. And despite our failings we are accepted by God only through Him.
 

Larry Hughes

Puritan Board Sophomore
Christopher,

Both of the above are wonderful reasons. In short though they, the anti-Christ centered folk, have entirely forgotten the real essence of simultaneously sinner and saint. Or if they do affirm it they affirm it incorrectly as a 50/50 mixture rather than 100%/100% mixture. That is 100% sinner, thus I must be humbled by this, and 100% saved by grace, thus I must be humbled by this. Humility, that is true humility not contrived humility, if you break down the holy Law is the very heart of the holy Law and the very essence of the Cross of Christ. Christ crucified shows the reality of the holy Law and the reality of grace.

Another reason is that we are law driven, merit driven as to our natural fallen intrinsic nature. We always seek a "law" to "do" for God. The Gospel, Good News, which news by its very nature is outside of us is unnatural.

What such folks don't realize is that their "hearing teachings to be equipped" is a not so veiled disdain for the real scandal of the Cross of Christ.

How does hearing about Jesus cause a change in our hearts and empower us for service?

NUMEROUS ways: It changes our deceived fallen hearts that we can please God in some way apart from the Cross. It removes the fallen idea of enumerated works and literally opens up a plethora of good works beforehand un-seen by the legal eye. The legal eye in us narrows and narrows and narrows, and enumerates, "what is a good work". Proving its Working its way to heaven nature. The Gospel literally frees us from such monkery and church yard piety. The very medevil definition of monkery was devoting works "over here in the church alone" as good works and so called normal life became secular. At length the legal nature of the Roman church narrowed in on what was good works to be praying, indulgences, pilgrimages and so forth. And feeding ones children, caring for the home, the wife, your job was worldliness and secular. But the Law SURE doesn't consider these things secular, in fact pre-supposes all of them! The Gospel frees a man from the church yard piety to truly love his neighbor, his family outward and by his job. Thus a Christian policeman doing his duty and vocation by God and trusting in Christ alone, reinforced by the continued centrality of Christ in preaching, glorifies God and does His Law joyful and rightly - while the modern day monk who vainly thinks his evangelism places him "higher up the works and piety chart" is deeply deceived. The very fact that the later measures his work condemns him for that "measuring of it" is denying Christ altogether. While the police man thinks little of his good works of loving his neighbor through his vocation PROVES his faith - he is resting solely in Christ and thus he can freely work. There is the empowerment of the Gospel. What they view as power by "instruction" is really no power at all but death in seeking for themselves, the very essence of sin against the holy Law!

Blessings,

Ldh

[Edited on 10-2-2006 by Larry Hughes]
 

turmeric

Megerator
I think a lot of evangelicals don't like this idea because they don't know how it works. They think we're talking about an altar-call every week! (Every head bowed, every eye closed, yes, I see that hand, which is miraculous since I'm on the Internet!)

Maybe you need to explain that this isn't what we're talking about, but more of a restatement of redemptive history. They still might object, sometimes it doesn't feel like enough to me, either.
 

InwooJLee

Puritan Board Freshman
The two most common objections I get are that:
1. The Gospel is great for "getting saved" but once a person is saved there is no further need for it.

2. We need to hear "teachings" instead... stuff to make us better equipped to live the Christian life... like not gossiping, witnessing more, etc...

This reminds me of a Michael Horton quote below from the White Horse Inn from the broadcast Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. If you need that particular broadcast I could send it to you via snail mail or email the white horse inn.

"If we took Grace too seriously especially the doctrine of election it would undermine our only basis for pursuing a holy life, fear of punishment and hope of rewards."- John Wesley

"but isn't that (to the quote above) a selfish motivation for the Christian life? That has always been the fear, "Too much grace it will throw a wrench in the whole process of Christian growth." But the scriptures insist that a legalistic view of the Christian life is what leads us right back to fear and bondage. Since the law, though good in of, of itself could never give us the power to perform what it commands; the gospel not only reconciles us to God in the first place, it's the only fuel we have to keep us going in the process of santification. Therefore gratitude not fear of punishment or hope of reward is the only proper basis for pursuing a holy and God glorfiying existence. Folks, if our salvation depended on us for one moment even in the slightest degree, we would eventually either become self-rightouess, pretending that we were actually pulling it off, or we would despair of ever knowing whether God really accepted us. How could we possibly love God and serve our neighbor freely if we were still caught up in the saving of our own skin."- The Intro to Guilt, Grace, Gratitude on the White Horse Inn

Also, here's an article by Horton about this topic here: http://www.modernreformation.org/mh93preaching.htm
 

InwooJLee

Puritan Board Freshman
whoops I forgot to quote those. Also, the last chapter of God of Promise by Horton titled New Covenant Obedience expands that remark to the John Wesley quote.

Also, a White Horse Inn broadcast titled Rightly Dividing the Word: Law and Gospel has some really good things to say about this. I'll send you the transcription via U2U if that would be ok with you?, I transcribed it with permission.
 

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
The first and third uses of the law are essential to Christian preaching. What your evangelical friends are seeking, however, is moralism! They want to hear about themselves. Fortunately, the bible is not fundamentally or most basically about "me" or "them," but about Christ. Luke 24 and 2 Cor 1 and John 8:56 etc make that clear enough.

The sort of hermeneutic that drives the preaching they want is not Christ-centered. In certain respects it isn't even Christian. They have the same hermeneutic as Jesus' neighbors: "Jesus ben-Joseph, he's just a carpenter" or of the pharisees. He doesn't fit into their scheme so they exclude him.

Here are some resources:

Julius Kim on Christ-centered preaching

The Israel of God

This Christian Life

Paul's preaching was nothing if not Christ-centered. What these folk want is a neutered Christianity because they have a truncated notion of what constitutes the gospel as an invitation/altar call attached to the end of a lecture on morality. They can't imagine 30 minute invitation so they want "practical" Christianity, because God the Son incarnate bores them!

Of course they have no idea of the riches of Scripture because of their presumably Israeleo-centric or self-centered hermeneutic.

What you're asking of them is a paradigm change. You might point them to:

Clowney, E. P. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament: NavPress, 1988.

Honestly, if these folk knew the greatness of their sin and misery they would be less interested in good advice and more interested in the gospel. Because the law and been stripped of its power and, as a consequence, the gospel is stripped of its beauty.

rsc
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Inwoo referenced Mike Horton and when I saw the question I was thinking of the White Horse Inn. I would recommend to anyone that they should download the last 6 weeks worth of MP3's (they're free after all).

If anyone has the quote, the White Horse Inn recently quoted Rick Warren as essentially stating that doctrine only divides and we need more people doing what Christ said instead of discussing what He said.

At one point, Ken Jones made an observation that has been churning in my mind for a few weeks now. He remarked that "striving for holiness" is precisely what the Evangelical Church has been emphasizing for the last century and look at the fruit! Revivalism, Wesleyanism, and the lot are all basic holiness or pietist movements. When has Evangelicalism ever NOT been about what Warren says it should be about in the last 150 years?!

The results have been disastrous.

There is nothing quite so painful for a man who loves God's Word as to sit and have to listen to a Southern Baptist "preacher" butcher a text of Scripture to make sure that people get the "you should be living your life like this" message.

Just last week, we had a guest preacher who was preaching on Josiah. Every single verse (about Josiah breaking down altars or killing priests of Baal or finding the Law) was allegorized into what we should be doing in our lives. God is ready to bless us, after all, but we need to give Him all our heart to kick that blessing into high gear.

What was the predictable "fruit" of his message? The normal cast of guilt-ridden Christians who realize they are failing in their perfect obedience coming forward at the altar call. Such scenes break my heart but anger me. All this produces is navel-gazing and a constant, inward focus of "how well am I doing". It paralyzes the Christian. They can hardly be fruitful because they are constantly focused on their failings instead of what Christ accomplished on the Cross.

The insidious nature of it is that it truly is a false Gospel every time a minister makes such statements. it is one thing to uphold the Law as a righteous standard to convict of sin and convince people of their utter need and continued reliance on Christ. It is quite another to continue to lift up that Law and say "accomplish this so you can be blessed." It is no different than saying "Do this and live...." It is Words of Law and not of Grace.

So, I say, when someone says: "Why preach Christ?" I say: "Because any idea of acceptance through the Law, apart from Christ, is a FALSE Gospel!!

Anathema! Anathema!

[Edited on 10-2-2006 by SemperFideles]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Originally posted by SemperFideles
The insidious nature of it is that it truly is a false Gospel every time a minister makes such statements. it is one thing to uphold the Law as a righteous standard to convict of sin and convince people of their utter need and continued reliance on Christ. It is quite another to continue to lift up that Law and say "accomplish this so you can be blessed." It is no different than saying "Do this and live...." It is Words of Law and not of Grace.

I don't see the either/or here. Peace is a blessing, and yet it flows from the life of prayer, Phil. 4:6, 7; if not as a consequent then at least as a complement. If a Christian lacks peace, and is afflicted he should be instructed to pray. Don't the wars and fightings amongst Christians come from the lusts that war in their members? Then we can point to ill consequences of unmortified sin in believers.

Now certainly prayer should be through Christ for acceptance and blessing. Certainly mortification is an accounting of ourselves dead in union with Christ's death. But nonetheless these duties must be done, and insofar as they are left undone, Christians are the poorer for it.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Rev Winzer,

I think you misunderstood my issue. It is one thing to seek to mortify the sin nature given the backdrop of the Cross of Christ. "Freed to obey..." is probably the most elegant way of saying it. I don't have any problem with Christians, who trust in Christ, being enjoined by the Scriptures with the imperatives of the things that please their heavenly Father.

But that's not what I'm railing against. I used a specific example of a sermon that said nothing of Christ. It focused on what Josiah had done and, by strained allegory, used him as an example to destroy our own idols, battle sin in our lives, etc. The message was stated unambiguously: God will not bless you until you obey like Josiah did. That is Law apart from the Gospel. That is "Do this and you shall live..." according to your strength that will then move God to respond and bless you.

Yes Christians have duties but it is a matter of how the duties are presented and understood. The irony is that the duties are actually weakened in a Pharasaical approach to those duties. I can probably attain to Josiah's zeal on my own strength and then believe that God is blessing me because I have measured up.

Conversely, I strive to hate all my sin and to love the command of God as Christ did as an adopted Son. The Law is not the stench of death to me as a new creation at all but I love it and pray that I would love it more still. At the end of the day, however, I know that I have not attained perfect obedience and I confess all my sins honestly instead of lowering the bar to convince myself otherwise. I don't minimize the consequence of that sin but I am confident that Christ died for those sins and was obedient perfectly in my stead. I can, then, both repent with tears but then thank God that my sin is covered by Christ's blood.

Dr. Clark said it beautifully here:

Honestly, if these folk knew the greatness of their sin and misery they would be less interested in good advice and more interested in the gospel. Because the law has been stripped of its power and, as a consequence, the gospel is stripped of its beauty.

Why does the same woman keep coming forward every week for the altar call in tears at the Church I attend? I'm not sure but which would be worse: that she thinks she "really means it this time" as she goes forward or that she goes home feeling justified because somebody prayed over her to absolve her of the guilt she's feeling? The woman is a Filipina and I wonder if she even senses a difference between herself and the many Filipino Roman Catholics that do the same thing at Penance.

She's baptized into an Evangelical Church so I call her a sister but I wonder if she has truly has been given rest to her soul because of preaching like that.

[Edited on 10-2-2006 by SemperFideles]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Rich,

I am obviously a stranger to your church situation. Altar calls? I don't recall those in reformed churches. It sounds like they need a good dose of law-preaching with its impossible demands to cut up the self-confidence of the carnal man and bring them nearer the kingdom of grace.

But in reformed churches, where free grace is proclaimed loud and clear, blessings joined to obedience should never be called law-preaching. I tend to think it is only a soul stricken by the law that could construe it that way; where grace reigns every precept is a precious promise of God's goodness to His people.

Blessings!
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Originally posted by armourbearer
Rich,

I am obviously a stranger to your church situation. Altar calls? I don't recall those in reformed churches. It sounds like they need a good dose of law-preaching with its impossible demands to cut up the self-confidence of the carnal man and bring them nearer the kingdom of grace.

But in reformed churches, where free grace is proclaimed loud and clear, blessings joined to obedience should never be called law-preaching. I tend to think it is only a soul stricken by the law that could construe it that way; where grace reigns every precept is a precious promise of God's goodness to His people.

Blessings!
We agree wholeheartedly.

It's a long story. I'm a flaming Presbyterian but they don't have any Reformed Churches in Okinawa. I do what I can.
 

Larry Hughes

Puritan Board Sophomore
Rich,

Your post was spot on the money. I use to re-walk the aisle so much I wore it out. That's no joke. The only person that did it as much as I did was an ex-Roman Catholic who was use to such refilling of the bath tub. The irony in that is rich. That's what happens when real Law and real Gospel are not clearly and distinctly preached, even proper third use needs to be clear. Only those of us who were in that form of pietism really understand it and its damage. If one has not walked those miles, one really doesn't understand the deadly spiritual crisis it puts one in. AND the hearer ought NOT have to "read between the lines" of a sermon and say, "Yea, but I know what he really mean't."

Here in the south, especially KY, it is a cess pool of that stuff. Most people forget that solid law - gospel preaching does not exactly grow on trees. It's easy to sit back and say, "Go find a better church." But one still has hold a job down to pay the bills and feed the family and some folks do not have the financial resources at all to just pick up and move to the nearest solid church.

In some places in the States its a drought of churches, but in KY the problem is so many it can take forever to find that church that may or may not exist. E.g. Driving to my wife's former hometown is 85 miles one way we counted 90+ churches, mostly SB and variants. And that's just the one's visible from the highway. And not ONE single church is going to say "no" to the question, "Do you all divide the Word right and preach the Gospel here?" A person seeking a church in this area needs to as much question the leadership as they themselves may be question if not more.

A lot of times its either a case of a "drought" of sound Law/Gospel churches or a poisoned pool of churches.

Great post Rich, it was very encouraging!

Yours truly,

Ldh

L
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Thanks Larry.

It occured to me the other day that this discussion causes unnecessary rancor among some Reformed folk that agree on the third use of the Law.

I realized while I was driving the other day and thinking about this thread that Rev. Winzer might have thought I was coming from an extreme BT perspective in which I was discouraging the preaching of any imperatives. I believe a passage should be exegeted according to what it says and have, elsewhere, disputed the idea that preaching should be entirely indicative. Of course, that is what some mean when they say preaching should be Christ-centered. That is not my definition however.

More often than not, the excess that I'm concerned with is not the excess of the few BT Pastors out there who have taken things a bit far but the vast sea of American Evangelicals that Larry and others have extensive experience with. I'm not certain of the theological landscape of Australia other than the fact there are far fewer, by percentage, that attend Evangelical Churches. That is not meant to disparage, it is merely meant to cause me to appreciate that others might not be as familiar with past or current trends in American Evangelicalsim.

The specific examples I gave of Revivalism and other forms of Pietism have so infected American Evangelicalism that it is, by far, the majority position. Thus, when I read a thread that begins by describing a well-known phenomena among American Evangelicals then I am critiquing it specifically.

As already noted current Evangelicalism completely misses the weight of the Law and all but destroys the beauty of the Gospel in the process. Since it cannot represent the Law properly, it misrepresents Christ and the power of His Atonement. Since they don't understand the nature of their Savior, they're constantly confronted with the demands of the Law which, in spite of poor exegesis, are there in black and white and continue to convict the heart. People know they're missing something but cannot articulate the gap between what they're seeing in Scripture and what they're being told about "...how you can be like Daniel too."

I fear, frankly, there are vast numbers of unconverted souls. I don't say that to be prideful but because it frightens and concerns me. The White Horse Inn played clips from a recent Pastor's Conference that confirmed my worst fears about the fact that a majority of "Evangelical" pastors have rejected the concept of original sin and imputation.

I just wanted to clarify this discussion so we don't argue past one another.
 

Larry Hughes

Puritan Board Sophomore
Rich,

I'm with you. Those evangelical churches, like I knew, all SB, destroy both Law and Gospel. If you lower one, then you lower the other which is to destroy both.

The third use of the law ought not be that complicated, it is the guide to the Christian sans threats and if one is "hearing its thunder" as Calvin said, return to the second (or first use depending on who you read), then flee to the Gospel. In Reformed and Lutheran churches this is not a problem because the liturgy forces it so. But in so called "non-liturgical" churches its a nightmare, nothing protects the hearer if the pastor goes astray.

The third use is tremendous if it is made clear. Law then Gospel if the killing use is made or if it is third use it should be grace then third use. Those orderings are exceedingly bright lights into Scripture. But the key is that Law and Gospel MUST be pure.

But I ran across yet another problem in my journey before coming to a sound Law Gospel Reformed church. What I found in quasi "sovereign grace" awakening churches is STILL no category for preaching Christ as righteousness to the ALREADY Christian. They would see the weakness of the "alter call" churches but they themselves only ratcheted up the works from alter calls to something higher but yet not killing. To put it in analogy instead of preaching a killing law to end the non-sense as Rev. Winsor wisely points out, all they end up doing is uping the ante but still short. They never kill the will. Analogy: The evangelicals would give you $2 law that you "could do", the awakening "sovereign grace" churches would give you a $10,000 law. Point being they never make it an $infinite law, something you can't do. And that too is a BIG problem in some areas in KY.

The vast majority of churches here are of the $2 law, no Gospel at all kind. Then there are some pseudo "sovereign grace" churches, much fewer in number, with their $10,000 law and no real Gospel at all. All of them affirm crassly "justification by faith alone" as ANY good protestant church would have to do in words so as to not at least sound Roman Catholic. But they preach another Gospel, there's no way around it, no level of "niceness" to cover it up. It's deadly, its poison, its damning to souls, it blaphemes Christ, grace, the Gospel and the Law and deceives ALL hearers.

And I've discovered that if you try to address this with pure Law and Gospel and right use of the third use, you WILL be castigated. I've said this before and it is mainly my experience in Kentucky, but when I was called in 1997 from atheism to Christ - I never fathomed, quite innocently, that the LAST place I'd NOT hear of Christ would be in the church. That was quite a shock for someone coming from so far out, atheism, then into the church to discover, "Where is Christ, I just came from where He was not." They talk about the "burnt over districts" of the north, the south is one big burnt over region.

It's always a blessing to discuss with you, Rich. You are very thoughtful and considering of situations. Very shepharding!

Yours always,

Ldh
 
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