In a day when music takes more priority than preaching, it is necessary to re-establish the primacy of preaching within the church of Christ.

Putting the Pulpit in its Place

When furniture speaks

I've always been interested in church architecture.  For a church's design speaks much of its theology.  Even the furniture will send a message of what that body believes.

High walls tell of a transcendent God who forces you to look up.  Stiff pews force you to lean forward and take the position of a penitent sinner.  The Puritans jettisoned stained glass windows, not because they were anti-color, but because they wanted lots of sunshine radiating through their windows to optimize the congregation’s ability to read the Scriptures during their services.
Yet when it comes to today’s church, one of the most revealing details is not so much what the church has, as what it doesn’t have.  Upon walking into a modern church facility, the observant eye might notice that a pulpit is missing.  Perhaps there is a little table or music stand, but there is definitely not a pulpit.

The lack of a pulpit may not seem like an earth shattering thing; at least not until you think about the meaning and significance of it.  
For centuries the pulpit has been equated with the ministry of the word.  It was not just a place for keeping the minister’s notes.  It was a physical demonstration of the authority and importance of preaching.
Long ago pulpits were constructed so as to be raised aloft over the pews.  The minister would then have to ascend a number of stairs to bring his message.  Afterwards, he would step down to administer the sacraments.  
One of the main reasons this was done was to assist with projection.  Since they did not have amplifiers, they had to find ways to help increase volume levels.  But for them, the ministry of the word was so important that they sought to make every word audible to every single person in the congregation, no matter how far back they may be.  The high position of the pulpit paralleled the high regard they had for the preaching of God’s word.
During the Reformation pulpits began to appear in the very center of the church’s chancel.  It was no chance thing that this was exactly where the table for Communion used to be.  The Protestants were declaring that the ministry of the Word was central to the Christian life and the primary means of communing with God (vs. the sacraments).
That pulpits are on the furniture’s endangered species list is an indication of how the ministry of the word has fallen on hard times.  Preaching is no longer considered the main focus of the service.  Instead, we've made room for dramas, dances, televisions, and choirs--all of which are supposed to enhance one's "worship experience."

When a message is given, it is hardly viewed as an authoritative declaration that is filled with the power of God himself.  It might be considered helpful, but hardly is it regarded as the very voice of God sounding in our midst.
That is why this issue of our newsletter is dedicated to restoring the centerpiece of the church service.  It is our hope that you will not only understand how significant the preaching of the word is, but that your own habits & preferences will begin to be ordered around it.  
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The Power of Preaching

Charles Spurgeon was once asked about how best to defend the Bible's integrity.  He responded by saying, "Do I need to defend a lion?  Of course not!  Let the lion out of the cage and let him defend himself!"

In his quirky way Spurgeon accurately expressed the inherent power of preaching.  

The Bible goes to great lengths to show us that God has appointed preaching as His primary means of convicting and converting sinners and building them up in the faith.  One of the ways Scripture impresses this upon us is through its use of terminology.  

A number of Greek words can be translated with our word preach.  For instance, there is the word kerruso used in 1 Tim. 4:2.  This word means "to proclaim as an official herald."  Heralds were the official messengers of kings and emperors.  When a herald spoke, his words were to be regarded as the very words of the king himself.

Similarly, the New Testament uses the word "euanggellizo."  We often talk of "evangelism" as "proclaiming the good news."  This was originally the official job of a messenger   When a battle would be fought, a messenger would be sent to proclaim the good news of victory to the king.

These terms show us that God has endowed the preacher with authority.  He holds an official office and his words are to be given the same weight that one would give to the very voice of God.

Along with these specific terms, the Bible gives us pictures.  There are a number of stories in the Bible where where men are seen to be preaching.  What's more, there are even stories that show how God blesses the preaching of the Bible over and above the reading of it.

In the Old Testament Ezra stood up to read the book of Moses to the masses of people who had gathered before him.  After he read a section he would pause and allow his helpers to give the people a brief explanation of it.  (Neh. 8:8).  Ezra understood that God had a greater part in the expounding of each section.

In the New Testament we see an even more vivid example of the power of preaching.  The book of Acts tells of a God fearing unich who was diligently studying the book of Isaiah.  Even though he worked hard to grasp it, it wasn't until Philip preached to him that the Lord granted him understanding.

Each of these serve as examples of how God puts his special blessing upon the proclamation of His word.  They also serve to show us how diligent we ought to be to sit under it as often as we can!

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Having Ears to Hear

If what we have said above is true regarding the ministry of preaching, it logically follows that we who sit under the word must take it seriously.

Jesus told us to "have ears to hear," and "to be careful how we hear."  For this reason the Reformers gave specific directions on how to rightly prepare, receive  and reflect on the preaching of God's word.

If we are going to hear the word, the first thing we ought to do is prepare for it.  If we simply run out the door after getting ready (and squabbling with the kids?), then how likely will it be that our minds will be focused for that great event?

While Sunday is often regarded as a good sleep in day, it is wise to make sure that you get up in plenty of time.  Allowing yourself some personal prayer time and/or a few minutes to join together as a family to sing can "prime the heart" for worship.

When it comes time for the sermon, it is not a time to kick back--as if the participation time is over.  The sermon should be something of a mental workout as you seek to grasp the teaching's main theme and points, as well as the illustrations and applications.

Why is diligence in this important?  Part of this is because we need to test everything we hear as to whether it is true or not.  

Another reason is because the sermon is not to be a momentary affair.  The Spirit still uses the message as you talk about it at the dinner table with the kids or reflect on it through the week.

Like our baptism, the grace of it is not limited to the moment wherein we receive it.  The Lord may use it to bring great blessing at a later point.

In the end, the words of Hebrews 2:1 ring true:  We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

What is this "Reformed" thing?

One of the things that makes Providence Church distinct is our tenacious devotion to Reformed theology and desire to see it propagated.  

Over the last year or so we've been attempting to spell out these distinctive beliefs through these newsletters.  In each issue we dive into one tenet of Reformational doctrine.

We understand that this is a slow process, and that some of our brethren are wanting to get the gist of it a little faster.  So, if you want a quick overview, wait no longer!  In 2002 Calvin Seminary put together a simple synopsis of much of what it means to be "Reformed," and it is available online.

What is great about this article is that it explains the broader meaning of what it means to be Reformed.  Some think that our doctrine is encapsulated in the 5 points of Calvinism.  But that is not true.  As you will no doubt see from this pamphlet Reformed theology involves so much more!

The Spirit's Sword

From what we read in its pages, it would seem like the Bible likes to tout how robust it is.

We read in the book of Hebrews that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing soul and spirit, bone and marrow."  

In the book of Ephesians we read that the Bible is "the sword of the Spirit" that we are to take up.  

Such images are then complimented with descriptions of the inherent potency of the word.  We are told that the word creates (Gen. 1), convicts (Acts 16:30), converts (Ps. 19), enlightens the mind (Eph. 1), renews, persuades (2 Cor. 5).  

These are but a few reasons why the Apostle Paul was "not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation."

The Westminster Divines understood the efficacy of the word, and they summed up the testimony of Scripture in the Larger Catechism.  In question 155 they asked, "How is the Word made effectual to Salvation?"  

A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word and effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners, of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ, of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will, of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions  of building them up in grace, and establishing their heart in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

This is why people of the Reformation have always stressed the importance of corporate worship and sitting under the ministry of the word.  This is the time when God is most active to nurture one in their faith.

We believe that individual devotions and family Bible time is of the utmost necessity.  Children need their fathers and mothers giving them the nutrients of the gospel every day.  But we must not think that this out-weighs the significance of Sunday morning and evening.

Such a comment may be considered almost heretical to many evangelicals.  But the Bible says that a minister is one who acts as an ambassador of God (2 Cor. 5), bringing His authoritative message to bear on the lives of those gathered.  

In another place, ministers are said to be "stewards of the mysteries of God."  In other words, they are servants who take the gospel message to whom ever God has appointed to gather that day.

In sum, the preaching of the word is the time when the Spirit is most apt to plunge His sword into the heart of man.  Those who attend worship with regularity will find that their souls are made more sturdy, while  those who chose to neglect the time of worship do their souls a great injustice.

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Providence Church meets in the Mifflin Community Center, which is located on St. Rt. 603 in Mifflin, OH.  
Services:  Sunday 10:30 am

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