“We keep our proclaiming fundamental since we have such a significant number of new believers. On the off chance that we give them an excessive amount of teaching, they won’t probably get it.” I can’t recall how often I’ve heard church grower and ministers express such words. Unfortunately, as their services start to develop numerically, develop devotees to the gathering are left to mull in otherworldly undernourishment and demoralization.
Ministers need to learn how to break down, rather than water down, the truth of God’s word.
Then again, there are those chapels (however essentially less in number) in which pastors appear to wear their scholastic advantages on their sleeve in the lectern. They load the gathering with profoundly nuanced religious subjects or expressiveness for the sake of unwaveringness. Regardless of whether it is trading off priests weakening God’s statement to the profound malnourishment of the assembly or ivory tower ministers thinking minimal about bringing along new adherents, one of the incredible needs of our day is for evangelists to figure out how to separate, as opposed to water down, reality of God’s promise.
We find this important principle at work in the ministry of the sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin. On the whole, Calvin tended to reserve his more academic prowess for his work The Institutes of the Christian Religion and his commentaries rather than for his sermons. In his essay, “Calvin’s Sermons on Ephesians: Expounding and Applying Scripture, ” Randall C. Zachman helpfully observes,
[Calvin's] sermons differed from the commentaries both in terms of their audience and their objective. The commentaries have, as their audience, the future pastors...with the goal of revealing the mind of the author with lucid brevity. The sermons have, as their audience, ordinary Christians within a specific congregation with the goal of expounding the intention or meaning of the author, and of applying that meaning to their use, so that they might retain that meaning in their minds and hearts, and put it into practice in their lives.
Calvin sought to adjust himself in different ways to his readers and hearers, distinguishing between what he wrote for the academy and what he proclaimed from the pulpit. A brief comparison of his commentary on Genesis and his sermons on Genesis serve to demonstrate this difference of approach. To be sure, it is a task of no small difficulty.
Ministers must be careful to neither deny the sovereign working of the Spirit nor intellectually insult the congregation.
In our day, when ministers water down God’s word they almost always do so from behind a missiological smokescreen. Insisting that a robustly theological ministry is a detriment to reaching the unchurched, they introduce a number of serious problems.
First, ministers—perhaps inadvertently—give the impression that the ability to impart spiritual understanding lies within the power of the messenger rather than in the working of the Spirit and word of God. In essence, they suggest that the outcome of their teaching is commensurate with the supposed intellectual ability of the hearers. This not only denies the sovereign working of the Spirit of God through the word of God—it levels an intellectual insult at the people to whom they minister.
Ministers shouldn’t assume that everyone grows at the same spiritual pace.
Second, such reasoning carries with it the faulty presupposition that everyone grows at the same slow spiritual pace. Such ministers forget that most of the weighty apostolic letters were written to new Gentile converts who lacked much, if any, familiarity with the Old Testament. Yet, the apostle Paul wrote some of the deepest and most profound truths to new converts in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, etc. These letters included appeals to oftentimes less familiar verses of the Old Testament, as well as to some of the most difficult and nuanced theological argumentation in all of the Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
Those priests who neglect to separate God’s statement for his kin normally do as such from behind a religious smokescreen. They treat every individual from the assemblage as though the person in question ought to be at a similar profound spot in comprehension by goodness of the way that they are individuals from the congregation. This is frequently determined by ridiculous and undistinguished otherworldly and scholarly desires for each devotee. They also have broken presuppositions that everybody will develop at a similar otherworldly pace—neglecting to factor in the profound earliest stages of new adherents.
Those who water down the truth will often appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:2 where the apostle Paul writes,
I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.
Ministers who fail to break down the truth will almost always point to Hebrews 5:12-14 where the writer rebukes the congregants for their spiritual immaturity when he says,
For though, by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
So, how can we reconcile these two truths of Scripture that seem to lay in stark contrast with one another?
Ministers must be faithful to avoid both theological dilution and ecclesiastical elitism.
Calvin’s comments on 1 Corinthians 3:2 are exceedingly helpful. First, Calvin explains that the minister must learn to “accommodate himself to the capacity of those he has undertaken to instruct.” He writes:
Christ is at once milk to babes, and strong meat to those that are of full age, (Hebrews 5:13, 14,) the same truth of the gospel is administered to both, but so as to suit their capacity. Hence it is the part of a wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with first principles, and does not go higher than they are able to follow (Mark 4:33).
He then goes on to warn ministers against watering down the truth in preaching:
[We must] refute the specious pretext of some, who...present Christ at such a distance, and covered over, besides, with so many disguises, that they constantly keep their followers in destructive ignorance...their presenting Christ not simply in half, but torn to fragments....How unlike they are to Paul is sufficiently manifest; for milk is nourishment and not poison, and nourishment that is suitable and useful for bringing up children until they are farther advanced.
Pastors must be faithful to their call to break down God’s word so that his people “may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”
How significant it is for clergymen of the gospel to, at one and a similar time, keep away from that religious weakening by which we neglect to raise youngsters “until they are more remote progressed” while dismissing that clerical elitism that will not “suit to the limit” of those we are educating. Or maybe, it must be the objective and point of our services to be devoted to the call to separate God’s pledge…
"…until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ." (Eph. 4:13-15)