Thursday, August 23, 2007

Evangelism and outreach euphemisms for apostasy?

Can the church be trusted with the gospel? Will its preachers be faithful men? This is more than just a question of sound doctrine, it is also very much a question of sound practice. Where does our confidence really lie? Will we risk our all on God's word that he has promised will not return to him void but will accomplish all that he desires?

I cannot help but observe the similarity between the practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture (the grand narrative proclaimed by the gospel) in our day and in the medieval church. "But may not images be permitted in the churches as teaching aids for the unlearned?" the Heidelberg Catechism asks. "No, we should not try to be wiser than God. He wants his people instructed by the living preaching of his word" (Q. 98).

Contrast this "swim against the tide" attitude with the following thoroughly unheroic fatalism from another pastor: "Evangelical churches have thrived on careful exposition of the Scriptures, and lengthy sermons. But we are approaching the place where there is no intellectual content left in the sermon. So we will be driven to the power of liturgy and the communication of the gospel through the arts."

Why answer a dearth of intellectual content in the sermons by turning to golden calves? Is this really an inexorable, ineluctable destiny? Why not answer the problem of shallow sermons by suggesting substantive ones? Is this all we can expect from today's preachers, so we had just better find a different medium?

The power of liturgy is itself none other than the power of the word as it cascades from the pulpit into everything else, from the call to worship to the benediction. If liturgy possesses its own independent power and the arts may now be our only hope in reaching an idolatrous culture, one wonders whether evangelism and outreach have become euphemisms for apostasy.

Michael Horton, "Challenges and Opportunities for Ministry Today" in Ryken, Thomas and Duncan (eds.) Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, p. 440

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