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The Authority of the Preacher

[In the introduction to this rubric, The Binding Power of the Word, we noted that authority in the Church of Christ is the right [from Christ] to speak the Word of God, and pointed out several areas of authori­ty found in the Church. The first area to be examined is that of the preaching. But to understand the authority of the preaching, we must first know the authority, or right, of the preacher to speak the Word of God. This is the purpose of the following article.]

Must we listen to [and obey] the preaching? The answer to that question depends on the authority of preaching and the preacher. The authority of the preacher is that he speaks the Word of God as a repre­sentative of Christ Himself! Let that sink in a moment. Did you ever wonder why the preacher has the right to “speak for Christ”? Or, to put it differently, how is preaching different from any believer giving a sound, Biblical speech? The answer is that the preacher is called by Christ to be an official spokesman. That is the key — CHRIST CALLS THE PREACHER!

How does that happen? Christ could and did per­sonally call His disciples to preach because He was on the earth; but how can He call preachers today, since He is in heaven? The call of Christ has two aspects, which can be described by the terms “internal call” and “external call”. With the external call we are all familiar – it is the call of a congregation to a particular man to be their minister. This call results from a nom­ination by the consistory (usually a trio of ministers) and the election of one through the voting at a congre­gational meeting. Through that official call from a con­gregation, Christ speaks, calling a man to preach.

But before that call, the man must have an inter­nal call from Christ. This call is much more difficult to describe. The individual hears no “voice,” sees no vision, and receives no sign, as did Gideon in the Old Testament, for example. Yet he becomes convinced that Christ calls him to preach. Certainly, a major part of the internal call is the desire to be a preacher. In addition, the circumstances of his life may well direct his thoughts continually to the work of the ministry. The gifts God has given will point to the ministry. But whatever the exact combination, that man becomes convinced that Christ calls him to labor in the min­istry of the Word! Determining whether or not one has received this call can be a great struggle because the call is impressed upon the heart of that individual, not his parents, not his wife’s, not his friends.

Regardless of exactly how God impresses this call upon him, the man MUST have this internal call. If he does not, even if a congregation calls him to be their minister, CHRIST HAS NOT CALLED HIM! Such a man will be most miserable in the office of the minis­ter, and will finally bring ruin upon himself. The rea­son for that is simply that if Christ does not call a man, Christ does not equip him to carry out the duties of the office. On the other hand, with this call, the preacher can have the confidence of the prophet Jeremiah to whom God said, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou earnest out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Thus called, the minister arrives at the point where he echoes the words of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 9: 16 — “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”

These two parts, the internal and the external calls, give the right for a man to be ordained into the office as a spokesman of Christ. Romans 10:15 asks, “And how shall they preach except they be sent?” Christ, the King of His Church, sends, using the call.

That Christ sends His ministers is also evident from the main New Testament words for preacher and preaching. A preacher is a “herald.” You probably know that long ago, before the days of radio and tele­vision, and before the days of the printing press, when the king wanted to inform his citizens of a new law or decree, he sent out the word by means of heralds. Such men were chosen because of their dedication to the king, for they would be his official spokesmen. A herald’s calling was to bring the message of the king, and nothing more. He was not to add to nor subtract from the king’s words. He was not to give his impres­sion of it. He was called only to bring the official word of the king.

In the Church, Christ is the King. He chooses His “heralds” and sends them forth with the message from the King. Thus, even though it does not literally state this every week, the minister’s preaching asserts: “Christ sent me to you. The word I bring is not my own, it is Christ’s. Hear the Word of the King!”

This is why Jesus said that His sheep know His voice — the voice of the Good Shepherd (John 10). While He was on the earth Jesus called, and His sheep followed. But He added, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (vs. 16). This refers to other elect who would yet be gathered into the sheepfold (Church) of Christ – some Jews, but many of them Gentiles, and many not even born at that time. How could they hear the voice of Christ after He ascended into heaven? Only through the preaching of a herald, called and sent by Christ. To this agrees Romans 10:14, where Paul writes [literally]: “. . . and how shall they believe on him [Christ] whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

What does all this mean? Simply this. When you sit in church Sunday hearing a man preach, a man called by Christ, then believe that Christ is speaking to you. Now face the question – Do you have to listen?

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Next time, the Lord willing, we will examine the content of authoritative preaching.