The Genesis account of creation tells us both that God created and how he created—by His Word. Christians have steadfastly affirmed that God created ex nihilo (out of nothing), but many have forgotten that God works the same way in the miracle of salvation:
For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:6, HCSB)
Not only did God create by his Word, but He “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3, HCSB). So both the initial act of creation and the ongoing (moment-by-moment) act of sustaining creation is accomplished by God’s word.
What does this have to do with preaching? Simply put, there is an analogy in Scripture: God creates and sustains His people spiritually in the same way that He created and sustains the world. He creates and sustains by the Word.
I wish to communicate two main ideas in this brief essay. First, that preaching is a medium. Second, that the medium of preaching is the divinely appointed means by which God regularly performs the miracles of salvation. I say miracles because, like creation itself, there are two salvation miracles for every believer (not that a particular person is saved twice). Salvation is a miracle because God imparts the initial gift of faith where there is no faith (ex nihilo, see 2 Cor 4:6, Rom 3:9–18, Eph 2:1) and because God not only imparts saving faith but also sustains saving faith (see Phil 1:6 and Jude 1:24). God both brings new life and sustains life by the Word.
Preaching is a medium. A medium is a means of doing something. In the arts, media are the elements used to create something beautiful. Oil paint, for instance, is a medium. Leonardo da Vinci conveyed the beauty of a subject through the medium of oil paints in his famous painting “Mona Lisa.”
Preaching the Word is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The end of preaching is the glory of God in the exaltation of Christ (the incarnate Word) through the exposition of the written Word. Faithful preaching, like a good painting, artistically and faithfully displays the beauty of the subject.
Preaching is the divinely appointed medium by which God regularly performs the miracles of salvation. In Romans 10:14 Paul asks “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” The implication is clear and the application is obvious: Preaching is the means—the medium—by which God regularly saves people. It is the regular mean of grace from God to His people.
Christians should pay attention to the regular means of grace, not use the possibility of alternative miraculous events to minimize how God says He will work and normally does work. Is it possible for a person to have a dream leading to salvation in Jesus? Sure. I’ve heard stories. But these stories are not Scripture; they are not the object of our faith, nor are they are not our hope, and they must not become a replacement for our strategy of evangelism and missions.
God’s imperative to pastors is to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2). It is the sine qua non of biblically faithful and authentically fruitful Gospel ministry. You will not find Gospel health apart from the faithful preaching of the Word. Of course, you may find a big church. You may find a thriving ministry. But popularity, or the lack thereof, does not now and has not ever been a reliable indicator of a biblically healthy church.
If there is a divinely appointed medium by which God performs the miracles of salvation, then we must beware of imposters and distractions. Technology is not evil in itself, but it is not the divinely appointed medium that should consume the time and attention of pastors. Facebook, while perhaps a helpful supplemental tool, is not the medium that should consume the time and energy of a faithful pastor. Twitter, while perhaps a helpful supplemental tool, is not the medium that should command the time and energy of pastors. A pastor’s time, attention, and energy (both emotional and intellectual) should be consumed by multiple weekly opportunities to preach the Bible.
Faithfulness and fruitfulness require the prioritization of the divinely appointed medium of preaching.
It is by preaching that faith is both created and sustained.
That doesn’t change.
Adam Groza (Ph.D.) is Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services and Associate Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Gateway Seminar in Ontario, California. He is a contributing author to such publications as Ministry in the New Marriage Culture (B&H, 2016) and Idealism and Christian Philosophy (Bloomsbury Press, 2016) and his writing has been featured online with the ERLC, CBMW, and Baptist Press.