Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Power of Preaching - Martin Luther

Carl Trueman’s introduction to his lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary, March 20, 2013
I am convinced that good preaching depends on at least two things. First, a good grasp of the technical skills necessary: ability to handle the biblical text, to communicate well and to speak with conviction on things that count. But it also depends upon as second, equally important but often neglected point: the need to understand preaching as a theological act. Only when this is done, when the preacher accurately understands what he is doing will he really do so well and with the confidence necessary.

And what better way to reflect upon preaching in Protestant context than to spend a few moments thinking about how Luther, the founder of the Protestant preaching feast, understood preaching as a theological act?
On speaking on Malachi 2:7 (“The lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts”) Martin Luther wrote:
The Word is the channel through which the Holy Spirit is given. This is a passage against those who hold the spoken Word in contempt. The “lips” are the public reservoirs of the church. In them alone is kept the Word of God. You see, unless the Word is preached publicly, it slips away. The more it is preached, the more firmly it is retained. Reading it is not as profitable as hearing it, for the live voice teaches, exhorts, defends, and resists the spirit of error. Satan does not care a hoot for the written Word of God, but he flees at the speaking of the Word.
Luther echoed this statement at the end of his greatest hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.