It is bad when a blogger gets in over his head, or when a theologian does, or when a pamphlateer does, or when a connector-of-the-dots does. But, with all necessary qualifications made, it not bad when a preacher does. It is a preacher’s calling to get in over his head (2 Cor. 2:16). But he needs to be careful to do it the right way — there is a way to be in over your head in the pulpit which is just ordinary confusion, and there is a way that is the work of the Spirit of God.
I wrote earlier about the reunion of Christendom, and how it was going to be glorious. But precisely because it is going to be glorious, it will not the result of careful negotiations hammered out by the canon lawyers. As Lloyd-Jones once memorably put it, getting all the ecclesiastical corpses into one graveyard will not bring about a resurrection.
As a pamphleteer, as a blogger, I do find it necessary to argue for the absolute necessity of the new birth, as I am doing here. But for a preacher, much more than this is involved. The preacher declares words calculated to raise the dead, which is quite different than flattering the living. When the Spirit is pleased to move, He will do so. But the Spirit, when He moves, will not be like a little zephyr, stirring the gauzy curtains of our theological library. It will be more like a massive thunderhead, silver on the top and utterly black on the bottom, coming in from the west, and looking to soak absolutely everybody.
I am an evangelical, the son of evangelicals, and so I do insist on the absolute necessity of the new birth. That’s our wineskin. There is nothing wrong with wineskins, because wine always has to go into something. But there is something wrong with empty wineskins, and there is something wrong with the idea that trafficking in the idea of wine is the same thing as wine, which it isn’t.
The glories that are coming will be the result of what we are talking about, and not the result of our talking about it. Elegant formulations are necessary in their way, but they are also as dead as an idiom about doornails. Reformation and revival consists of the reality of the Spirit moving, and we cannot whistle Him up — we can’t do it with sacraments, we can’t do it with church music, and we can’t do by rolling up our shirt sleeves in order to preach a hot gospel. Here, hold your mouth this way, and maybe that will make the Spirit fall.
But the Spirit will fall. The thunderhead will roll in. And when it happens, the work of regeneration will be a gully washer and lots of ecclesiastics will be pretty upset. But many more of them will be soaked through, and it will become increasingly harder to preach little floating dust cloud sermons.
And it will not be preaching that ushers this in, but rather the folly of preaching. But mark it well — the Spirit never moves in such a way as to leave things right where He found them. The detritus of religiosity — whether prohibited by Scripture or required by it — will be either washed away or washed clean. I speak of icons, candles, sermon manuscripts, choral anthems, lectionaries, processionals, and white eucharistic table cloths. If you want it all to be washed clean, and not washed away, then fasten it to the plain teaching of Scriptures with the nails of evangelical faith, and use as many as you have.
When God pleases, and He showers us with kindness, we will be given the wisdom found in the old song, God Don’t Never Change . . .
God in the pulpit,
God way back at the door,
God in the amen corner,
God all over the floor.