Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

More Reflections on Experiential Preaching

Written by Rev. Aasman
In the May issue we featured excerpts of a speech delivered by Rev. Hans Overduin at a recent meeting of representatives from the Free Reformed and Canadian Reformed subcommittees for inter-church relations. The speech, co-authored by Rev. Wullschleger, was entitled ÒWhat is Experiential Preaching? What follows is a brief summary with some excerpts of a speech by Rev. Aasman, representing the Canadian Reformed Churches. The speech was entitled ÒHow Do We See The Congregation?Ó This is followed by an overview of exchanges that took place between representatives of both denominations. Some editorial remarks complete this topic.
The Canadian Reformed View of the Congregation
Among some of the key statements made in Rev. AasmanÕs paper are the following: The Canadian. Reformed (Can. Ref.) see the congregation as ÒGodÕs covenant people, as believers and their children who seek their salvation in Jesus Christ and rejoice in this salvation which is by the grace of God alone.Ó For that reason worship in the Can. Ref. Churches is characterized by joy and thanksgiving. ÒHow gracious and merciful He is for gathering, defending and preserving His Church! How rich we are to have the gospel and the reality of Jesus Christ as our Saviour! How blessed we are that the Holy Spirit works through the Word and through the faith which He works in our hearts, we are marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are GodÕs possession-to the praise of GodÕs glory.Ó

This does not mean, however, that the Can. Ref. see the congregation as a group of mature Christians all of whom are on a healthy diet of solid food (Hebrews 5:11-14). There are church members who are weak in faith, struggle with faith or perhaps do not even have faith. This is a reality that needs to be addressed in the preaching. As well, there must be Òa continuing call and challenge to repent from sin, to flee to Christ with His perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness, and to respond with a grateful heart which loves and keeps the commandments of God.Ó Therefore, although we view the church as GodÕs covenant people having a living relationship with God, they are nevertheless Òa people who sin, struggle, fall, act stubbornly and rebelliously, live in smug complacency, and sometimes just refuse to listen to the Word of God.Ó

This also needs to be addressed in the preaching and home visits throughout the congregation. The preacher who stands before the congregation must view her Òas a body which needs to be built up so that it is not tossed back and forth in weaknessesÉ GodÕs Word is a hammer and the sword of the Holy Spirit that addresses the congregation as people who wrestle with sin and weaknesses and possibly no faith at all! É Clearly the preaching needs to comfort, challenge, exhort and admonish the congregation in a living way. It might even happen that someone will rebel and leave the church all together. This only goes to show that the preaching is the primary key of the kingdom of heaven which opens and closes the door.Ó

ÒOne of the great dangers for the church is covenantal automatism or smug complacency.Ó Scripture warns against the danger of Òpresuming that membership in the church and covenant guarantee salvation.Ó The Free Reformed Churches (FRC) allege Òthat the Canadian Reformed churches have not been sufficiently cognizant and mindful of the dangers of covenantal automatism. We will not try to defend ourselves on that matter. It is entirely possible that there are many examples of weaknesses in this regard. At the same time it is unfair and incorrect to suggest that in all our congregations and among all ministers in our churches this is a problem. We think that there is attention for, or possibly a growing appreciation for, the need to address the dangers of covenantal automatism.Ó

Discussion of Papers
The members of the respective subcommittees then discussed the above speech, together with Rev. OverduinÕs paper. Rev. Aasman expresses appreciation for the stress on applicatory preaching while Rev. Slomp agrees with the statement that it is not enough to be hearers of the gospel but that the gospel must be experienced in oneÕs life. Rev. Aasman wants to know what Rev. Overduin means by Òfirst time and ongoing or continuing faith,Ó and how much emphasis should be placed on the former. Rev. Overduin replies that Òfirst time faithÓ receives much emphasis in Free Reformed preaching because our young people need to be converted and there are always covenant children who have not yet come to faith. Rev. Bilkes considers this a good question for it points up the difference between the FRC and the Can. Ref. The Canadian Reformed emphasize Òongoing faithÓ or ÒdailyÓ conversion while the FRC stresses both Òongoing and first faith.Ó Before there can be a daily conversion there has to be a first conversion or a being grafted into Christ by a true faith (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 7, Q. & A. 20).

Another question concerned Rev. WullschlegerÕs reference to a comment made by a member of the ÒLiberated Reformed ChurchesÓ in the Netherlands, to the effect that ÒFree Reformed people must first have experienced something before they believe.Ó Is this a fair characterization of FR preaching? Rev. Wullschleger does not think so, but points out that when the Holy Spirit convicts a sinner of sin this usually happens before he believes. It is a misconception, however, to say that you must first experience something before you believe because this would make the offer of grace conditional. All biblical preaching is experiential preaching. It must not just be an added element to the preaching. A person must experience what God has done in his or her life. Rev. Bilkes adds that the term ÒexperientialÓ does not refer to a stage or experience before someone comes to faith; it is not separate from and different from faith.

Rev. Overduin objects to Rev. AasmanÕs statement that the FRC have accused the Can. Ref. of not being sufficiently cognizant and mindful of the dangers of covenantal automatism. He feels that this was a comment rather than an accusation and adds that the FRC also struggles with automatism. Rev. Wullschleger wants to know if the need for regeneration is emphasized in AasmanÕs preaching. He detects a tendency to regard the church idealistically rather than realistically. Rev. Aasman admits that his preaching has weaknesses but that he recognizes the need for the sermon to be applied. Rev. Bilkes is happy to hear that the matter of application is being emphasized in the Can. Ref. churches and he admits that the FRC have in the past characterized the Can. Ref. churches as not having this (application).

This growing understanding of and appreciation for each other does not mean, however, that the two federations are about to merge. Despite the urging of one of the Can. Ref. brothers to do so Òbecause we can talk about the various issues until the cows come home,Ó the other brothers agree with Rev. BilkesÕ comment that Òwe must carefully and slowly deal with all the issues.Ó

Comments
The above papers and discussions show that despite several encouraging developments in the latter federation toward a more biblical and confessional understanding of experiential preaching and the recognition of the dangers of automatism, there remain important differences between our denominations. These differences are best summed up by Rev. WullschlegerÕs question to Rev. Aasman: do you emphasize in your preaching the need for regeneration? We can also frame the question this way: do you realize that there are those in the congregation who need to be changed from death to life by means of a first conversion? The answers given by the Can. Ref. brothers, in my view, are still too vague and problematic. True, Rev. Aasman does recognize that there may be some in the congregation who have no faith at all. We are thankful for this admission, but we suspect that for him it is a mere possibility, an exceptional case of Òsomeone who will rebel and leave the church altogether.Ó But what about those who do not outwardly rebel and to all appearances live a decent life, agree with the teachings of the church and regularly attend the worship services, etc. but who are still Òstrangers to grace and to God, not knowing their danger and not feeling their loadÓ (MÕCheyne)?

True, such people are not subjects to church discipline, for no one knows the heart. We must judge and speak of them in the most favourable manner (Canons, III/IV, 15). But that does not mean that in the preaching we should leave them with the impression that all is well. Rather, we must address the consciences of our hearers, plainly and frequently delineating the marks of grace and warning that Òsuch as do not sincerely repent stand exposed to the wrath of God and eternal condemnationÓ (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 31, Q. &A. 84).

As for automatism, this is a danger, facing not only the Canadian Reformed Churches. Let us never give the impression that we, Free Reformed, occupy the moral high ground here and can point fingers to others as if we are above that sort of thing. We rightly reject the false doctrine of presumptive regeneration, but are we not in danger of substituting it for another doctrine just as false, namely presumed faith? Do we not see signs of Òeasy-believismÓ creeping into our congregations? Easy-believism means professing faith in Christ without showing the corroborating evidence of godly sorrow which produces true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). What the Canadian Reformed Churches need therefore, is exactly the same thing the Free Reformed churches need, namely the Spirit of Pentecost who convicts not only unbelievers in the world but also unregenerate covenant children in the church, of the sin of not believing in Jesus (John 16:9). Such conviction produces pain, like that of the Jerusalem sinners who were pricked in or cut to their heart and then urged by Peter to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2: 37-38).

Read 1826 times

We have 321 guests and no members online

© Free Reformed Churches of North America