Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Element of Warning in Preaching

Written by Rev. J. VanAmstel
The following is translated and slightly modified from an article by Rev. J. Van Amstel, who writes a rubric in the official publication of our sister churches in the Netherlands, De Wekker, 23 April 2004, number 24, 113e jaargang. It deals with the judgment theme in preaching, a part of the gospel that needs to have its rightful place in our preaching. It seems that this is an element that is becoming neglected in some of our sister churches; hence this article. It is printed here, not because we accuse any of our ministers of neglecting this element, but to point out that judgment and condemnation are part of the gospel preaching, which we wish to maintain in our Free Reformed Churches. It is the flip side of the gospel. This is further explained in the Meditation, based on Mark 1:14 and 15.
Every Sunday again and in every worship service the Gospel is proclaimed, isnÕt it? DoesnÕt the apostle Paul write: ÒWoe is unto me, if I preach not the gospelÓ? That is why again and again the congregation of the Lord must hear the Gospel. And it must be the full Gospel. IsnÕt it therefore a contradiction in terms when the judgments of God sound forth in the proclamation of the Word? Is it really necessary to hear that it is appointed unto man to die once and after that the judgment? DoesnÕt hearing that put you in a somber mood when you leave the church, that is, if you havenÕt already become somber and depressed during the sermon?

From various sides the complaint is heard that the judgment of God is not heard clearly any more in preaching today. It is said that the warning element does not have its rightful place in the preaching today and this weakens the seriousness and the depth of preaching.

It is difficult to judge whether we may not be dealing here with a reactionary phenomena. There was a time when in certain churches and circles the judgment of God was given a strong and prominent place

It is true that only in light of the judgment of God the gospel receives its fullest meaning. The Gospel proclaims, not that God negates His judgment, but that He maintains it. Those who do not see this background to the gospel have no eye for the wonder of the gospel. The danger of our time is not imaginary that we think that the condemnation the Bible speaks of with such seriousness is to be applied only to those who are outside the church or have become estranged from it.

It was requested that I write something about this. There is a general complaint that the warning element is lacking in the preaching and at funerals. The impression is given that everything is well and that everyone is saved. Did Christ not die for sinners?

But if we do not warn the people around us, is it then our guilt when our neighbour is eternally lost? Or should we take it this seriously?

Is It Necessary?
It seems that there are more and more people who think it is not necessary to warn against eternal condemnation. Several things lead to this view. Primarily, it is the result of an optimistic view of man. It is held that people may at times do and think things that are bad, but that is part of being human. At the most, it shows one-sidedness, our humanness, and our negative points. In reality, man is not as depraved as has been supposed.

Secondly, it is thought that if God is a God of love, everything will turn out alright in the end for everyone. The teaching of certain influential theologians that Jesus died for everyone is becoming more accepted. Was He not crucified between two others! The one called on Him, but do you think the other one is forever lost? That is hard to imagine.

In the third place there is the fear of proclaiming judgment. There is the fear to be regarded old-fashioned. Therefore the preachers are silent concerning the judgment to come, even though they sometimes secretly think they should warn more. Sometimes they feel guilty that their shortcoming in this respect may even cause people to be lost.

In The Bible
In GodÕs Word we clearly see that there have to be warnings. In the Old as well as in the New Testament numerous examples can be cited. Moses and Elijah warned the people of God. The prophets did not shy away from proclaiming GodÕs judgments. Think only of how Ezekiel describes the task of the watchmen. You shall warn them in My Name, the LORD says, If you do not do that their blood will be required of your hands. Solemnly and resolutely the people of God are called to repentance.

It certainly is important that consistories pay attention to this aspect of the preaching, since they are given the task to oversee the proclamation of the Word in the congregation of the Lord. They have to watch out for one-sided preaching.

In Preaching
It was the opinion of an elder that in the worship services the whole congregation ought to be addressed as holy in Christ. He thought that there should be no warning in the sermons to either the unconverted or to hypocrites. That should be left to the elders at family visitation. Whether it did take place in this congregation is a question. No doubt, if warnings are missing in the preaching it probably is missing elsewhere too, with all the dire consequences.

In a discussion between consistories it has happened that the warning element in the sermon was broadly discussed. There was honest and open communication. But what happened? There were brothers who were convinced that preaching should only serve to draw sinners in a loving manner to the Lord. To warn in the preaching was rejected as fear mongering.. DonÕt we have to do with the congregation of the LORD, it was asked? Are the promises of salvation not for the whole congregation? What else should we want?

When it was mentioned that John the BaptistÕs preaching was full of warning and that he even mentioned that the axe was already ready to cut the tree down, the reaction was: yes, but that was John; we are members of a covenant congregation. When it is pointed out that in the perfect preaching of Jesus He seriously warns and speaks about the wise and foolish builders, the wise and foolish virgins and He seriously urges to enter into the narrow gate and walk on the narrow way, it was said that we are not to preach that way to the congregation because we are the congregation of the LORD!

But what do they do then with the exalted ChristÕs letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor?

Consciously, the warning element is not given a place in the preaching, or maybe once in a while. The view is that only the Gospel ought to be proclaimed.

In this case we must say that the congregation is short-changed in the messages it needs to hear. In LordÕs Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism we confess that Òto all and every believer, that whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of ChristÕs merits; and on the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath of God, and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted.Ó

Both elements {grace and condemnation] have a place in the sermons in every congregation. Both element are essentially full Gospel.

In All Seriousness
Again and again the message of the New Testament is that the judgment of God is a response, a divine response to the sin of man. The judgment of God is such an encompassing reality because the sin of man is such a terrible reality. The judgment character of the New Testament evangel belongs to the gospel proclamation and the proclamation of the gospel includes condemnation. This does not take away that the judgment of God remains a terrible thing.

No one can get away from it. The horror of the judgment as it is proclaimed in the New Testament point us to our sin and wants to convince us how terrible sin is.

Not what we think about sin, but what God thinks of sin is important. The judgment of God described in the New Testament is the divine answer to the fundamental problem of sin.

ÒThe coming judgment serves as incentive to find refuge in God. For that reason warning has an essential place in the proclamation of the Gospel.Ó *

1. Dr. L. Floor. Het Gericht van God Volgens het Nieuwe Testament. Prof. W. Kremer, Priesterlijke Prediking..

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