The following article was first written by myself in 2020 for CovenantConfessions.com and can be found here…
There are many things I have grown to appreciate concerning the Reformed tradition. It is a tradition that contains unity, much diversity, and a wonderful heritage that has been left to the Christian of today contained in the writings of the ones who came before us. But some things within this rich tradition encourage me more than others. While I receive much freedom in my worship adhering to the regulative principle of worship or rest easy at night as I lay my head on the pillow due to the doctrines of predestination and election, it is the ordinary means of grace, and more specifically, the ministry of the wordthat provides a needed peace for my soul and is what I am choosing to write about today. While there has been much scholarly work done on this topic, my intent here is to focus on how the ministry of the word works itself out in the local church.
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith describes the ministry of the word in chapter 14, paragraph 1:
The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.
So it is through the ministry of the word that people are given a faith to believe, they receive the saving of their souls, are gifted with the Holy Spirit, and their faith is strengthened. These are very important things that should not be taken lightly when we organize our worship on the Lord’s Day. In my experience, as churches distance themselves from the Reformed tradition, they can often neglect to make the ministry of the word a priority in the church. The preaching of the word of God can often begin to become a mere backdrop to our worship. I do not mean that churches who don’t make the ministry of the word a priority in their worship do not care about preaching. What I mean is that as we distance ourselves from making the preaching of the word of God the main focus of our worship, pulpits can suddenly turn into a music stand, sermon notes and a Bible can be replaced by a MacBook Pro, and the preaching of the word of God becomes something that we “get to” after announcements, ministry updates, etc., and not the centerpiece of our worship which is where it belongs. I use these illustrations to make an important point. The ministry of the word of God must not become a mere backdrop to our worship. It must be made the very foundation of our worship. Not doing so leads to an emphasis placed on what we can do for Christ instead of the declaration of the finished works Christ has already accomplished for those that are His (the church).
For the remainder of my time, I will attempt to point out four ways in which making the ministry of the word the centerpiece of our worship can benefit the local church.
- The ministry of the word is to be performed by the gifts to the church.
- The ministry of the word is a means of grace.
- Christ is present in the ministry of the word.
- The ministry of the word encourages families to worship together.
This is in no way an exhaustive study on the benefits of the ministry of the word for the people of God. But my hope here is to provide encouragement for the brethren by pointing them to Christ and to move towards making the ministry of the word the foundation of our worship service.
The ministry of the word is performed by the gifts to the church.
In Acts 6, we are provided with some issues that arose in the early church. Such issues include some Greek-speaking Jewish widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. – Acts 6:1-4 (ESV)
These verses are not a proof text that those set apart for the ministry of the word should not have to lift a finger in other areas of the life of the church. Rather, these verses reveal that from some of the earliest times in the church, 1) it was common knowledge that men should be set apart for the ministry of the word, 2) it required much labor, and 3) those called to serve in this role should be freed from other services in the life of the church, as the Lord so leads. This is further supported by Ephesians 4:11-13, where Paul explains how pastors (those who are to perform the ministry of the word) are gifts to the church and have been given a work to perform in the church…
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ… Ephesians 4:11-13 (KJV)
These men are a gift from Christ to the church, and they are to be set apart for the work of the ministry. This includes the ministry of the word and all other ordinary means of grace God has ordained for His people.
The ministry of the word is a means of grace.
While there are many passages of scripture that we can study to see that the ministry of the word is a means of grace, I will focus on just a couple today to provide clarity concerning this important work in the life of the church. The first reference to the ministry of the word being a means of grace is found in Romans 10:14-17…
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:14-17 (KJV)
In this passage, we can clearly see that people come to a belief in Christ by hearing the word of God. The ordinary way in which Christ saves His people is by the preaching of the word of God. We also see that those who are proclaiming the word of God are those that are sent, which implies that they are sent by the local church. The one being sent is the preacher, the preacher is a gift to the church (Ephesians 4:11), and the means by which he is sent is through the local church. This does not mean that God cannot save His people outside of the local church. However, it does reveal that God does a special work through the word being proclaimed through the ministry of the word. Through the ministry of the word, regeneration occurs in the life of a former enemy of God. A new heart is given, and the sinner is found to be not guilty and is declared righteous because Christ is now standing in his/her place. All of these things and more are given freely (grace) to an individual as they sit under the ministry of the word. But the ministry of the word is not only a means by which Christ saves His people. The scriptures tell us that something else takes place in the life of someone who has already been saved. In Romans 1:15, we see that Paul, while writing to the church (believers) in Rome, wants nothing more than to share the Gospel with those who have already professed faith in Christ…
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. Romans 1:15 (KJV)
In 1 Peter 2:2, the apostle mentions an important desire that believers should have concerning the word of God…
Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. 1 Peter 2:1-3 (KJV)
The believer in Christ should “desire the sincere milk of the word” so that they will then grow and taste that the Lord is gracious. For the believer, we are well aware that our Christian walk does not end at our conversion, but rather, our conversion is only the beginning of God performing a work in us. As a believer sits under the ministry of the word, they are encouraged, built up, and attain knowledge of Christ while growing to a mature believer who will not be tossed to and fro (Ephesians 4:13-16). The ministry of the word is a means of grace because it is not only used during conversion but also used in building up the believer as they continue to be fed God’s word in the local church. But it must not be overlooked that while the church gathers on the Lord’s Day, and as they sit under the ministry of the word, it is not only the members and officers of the church present…
Christ is present in the ministry of the word.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Ephesians 2:14-18 (KJV)
This passage is important for us because we know that as the apostle writes to the churches in Ephesus, Christ was not physically present then, or even previously during His earthly ministry. So knowing this, how then does Paul tell the Ephesians that Christ preached to them? The answer is very simple. When the apostles faithfully preached the word of God, Christ was there with His people. This aligns perfectly with what Paul says later in Ephesians 4:11-13, in that Christ gave gifts to the church (which include pastors and teachers) who would perform the work of the ministry, which includes the ministry of the word. What does all of this mean? It means that when the people of God gather to hear the word of God faithfully preached by the one that was sent, Christ is spiritually present with his people. This does not place any supernatural anointing on the pastor or teacher himself, but rather, it rightfully places a supernatural anointing on the faithfully preached word of God. Under the ministry of the word, God’s people will hear His voice (John 10:16), He will call those that are His own, encouraging them, building them up, and strengthening them through this ordinary means of grace. Knowing that all of this is taking place under the ministry of the word, a logical conclusion for a believer should be to have an all-hands present approach to the proclamation of His word…
The ministry of the word encourages families to worship together.
It is very common to see evangelical churches splitting families apart on the Lord’s Day. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not stating that those who take a big church – little church approach to adults and their children on the Lord’s Day are attempting to be hurtful in any way to their children. Nor do I believe that sending your child to a classroom for their age group can never produce good things in their lives, including hearing about the truths of scripture in a more palatable way. But what I will say is that sending your child away to a classroom can actually prevent them from sitting under such an important means of grace by which God speaks to His people. Taking into consideration what I have already mentioned above, if the scriptures do teach us that through the ministry of the word, Christ speaks to His people, calls His people to Himself, they hear His voice, and that He is spiritually present with them during this time, why would anyone want to send their child away so as to completely miss a golden opportunity to participate in this special occasion? Understanding that it could be a challenge to many families to teach their children to remain still during the proclamation of His word, wouldn’t it be worth putting in the necessary work of patiently and gracefully teaching your children to attend worship with the rest of their family? Would it also be worth it for the local church to provide an atmosphere of grace for those families new to this approach to worship? Again, after understanding what we have already worked through above, the answer to both of these questions would be an astounding yes. One must always remember that our hope under the ministry of the word is not placed on the behavior of our children. We are not expecting that our little ones will digest every word being proclaimed from the pulpit that day. Our hope is placed on the promises of Christ, which tell us that He will use this means of grace (the ministry of the word) to call His own to Himself and that we can be “…confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 1:6)
The ministry of the word is an ordinary means that God uses in the local church to provide grace to His people. May we be a people who see the ministry of the word not as a mere backdrop to our worship service. May we see this means of grace for the supernatural thing. That is, may we see Christ is present with us, Christ is speaking to us, and Christ promises that those who are His will hear His voice and that He will never let them go…
One thought on “The Ministry of the Word”
The reformed journey for me was greatly simplified once I began to read Spurgeon. TULIP or Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints; were for me eye opening. While I know now that I was not and am not among the chosen, I respect those who embrace this.