Martin Luther · Preaching · Reformation

Reformation of the Pulpit

Martin Luther was asked at the end of his life to reflect upon the Reformation and to offer an explanation how, against all odds, his attempts at reform had proved so effective. People were curious to know how one person could bring such radical change to the papacy when it had ruled with such power and influence for so many centuries. The answer Luther gave was revealing and insightful, for it spoke to the power of Scripture.

Luther candidly admitted he did nothing more than preach, teach, and live the Word. It was the testimony of the Bible that weakened the papacy, bringing her to her knees and inflicting damage upon her. He did nothing, he admitted; the Word did it all.

The Reformation can only be explained in terms of the preaching of God’s Word. It alone has the power to convict the conscience and produce genuine, lasting results. It was the Word preached clearly, boldly, and faithfully from the pulpit which sparked the events leading to the Protestant Reformation. Where there is no preaching and teaching, there can be no great spiritual awakening to bring people captive to biblical truths.

During the Reformation period, the highest priority given to the church was expository preaching, speaking directly from God’s Word. All other aspects were secondary to presenting sermons filled with biblical truths. The same is true today. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). The most important duty Timothy had in the church was to preach the Word. The same must be true in our pulpits today.

The ministry of Jesus, likewise, confirms this importance. He launched his public ministry by “proclaiming the gospel of God,” commanding people everywhere to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14). Preaching consumed the remainder of his life on earth. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up to preach the gospel—not just to “tickle the ears” of an audience for amusement, nor to share feel-good, politically-correct anecdotes, but to proclaim the message of Christ. The paradigm of Christ and his apostles preaching is recorded throughout the corpus of the New Testament writings. And perhaps nowhere else is this attested as lucidly as in the teaching of Paul who, approaching his own demise, delivered his final command to Timothy: “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). If Timothy was to do anything, he was to, above everything else, preach the Word.

In every situation, whether good or bad, the Word is to be proclaimed faithfully to all people. This is the priority of the preacher in the pulpit, to preach the gospel. If reformation is to come to the church, it will only be preceded by the preaching of the Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that follows.

If there is to be reformation in our current generation, then sound, biblical preaching must be conducted from the pulpit. With people abandoning the clarity of the gospel message and failing to preach from the Word, reformation becomes that much more distant. As goes the pulpit, so goes the church.

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