Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we began a new series in our adult Sunday school class on the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). In our first lesson, we talked about the purpose and helpfulness of creeds and confessions, along with a brief look at the historical context of the writing of the WCF. This coming Sunday, we will begin our chapter by chapter study of the WCF in chapter 1 and the doctrine of Scripture. I invite you to join us at 9:30 am on Sunday mornings for this journey that will take us through the thirty-three chapters of the Confession, concluding in May of 2017.
During our first class, we noted that our denomination and our local church has adopted the Westminster Standards (the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with the Larger and Shorter Catechism) as our confessional standard. What that means is that our church receives and adopts these documents as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.
Instruction on Worship
A little known fact – at least to some – is that the Westminster Assembly also published a document called “The Directory for the Publick Worship of God” (please excuse the old English!). Even though this document is not a part of our church’s confessional standards, it contains excellent principles and valuable instruction for worship that seeks to be biblical. If you follow the previous hyperlink, you will be able to read all of it for yourself.
One of my favorite parts of the “Directory” is the section on ‘The Preaching of the Word.’ A great resource in this regard is a book published in 2008 called The Westminster Directory of Public Worship: Discussed by Mark Dever & Sinclair Ferguson. In addition to the 1645 Directory of Worship, this little book contains two essays by Dever and Ferguson that focus especially on the Directory’s instruction on preaching.
Dever’s and Furguson’s essays are an excellent resource for those called to preach in the church. They provide valuable insight, instruction, and advice for preachers. In fact, using this book as a guide, I’ve developed a ‘sermon evaluation form’ for use in presbyteries when hearing the sermons of men coming to be examined for ordination.
Even as this book is a great help for preachers, it also provides all Christians with a helpful framework for thinking about the importance of the preached word. And, there are some very practical ‘nuggets’ that will aid both preachers and hearers. Here are just two.
1. A minister ought to be resident among his people, not absent from them. (“Puritans: Minsters of the World” by Sinclair Ferguson, in The Westminster Directory of Public Worship, 32-33)
There are three reasons why preaching ought to be anchored in a local context where the preacher feeds a flock he has come to know and love:
(1) A minister is called to feed the flock in his charge through the ministry of the Word.
(2) Preaching must be accompanied by prayer for the people.
(3) A minister is called to apply biblical truth to his congregation individually in personalized instruction and evangelism.
2. Four basic guidelines for preaching (“Preaching Like the Puritans” by Mark Dever, in The Westminster Directory of Public Worship, 42)
(1) The sermon should be faithful to the text and its central point.
(2) Sermons should be true, biblical, and helpful – flowing plainly from the text for the edification of the hearers.
(3) The sermon should be clearly expressed and understandable.
(4) Every part (arguments, illustrations, applications, etc.) should fit with the whole of the sermon.
The Puritans and the Westminster Divines had a high view of preaching. One that the church (along with preachers and hearers!) would do well to recover. The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God concludes with seven exhortations for ministers of the Gospel:
But the servant of Christ, whatever his method be, is to perform his whole ministry:
1. Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.
2. Plainly, that the meanest may understand; delivering the truth not in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect; abstaining also from an unprofitable use of unknown tongues, strange phrases, and cadences of sounds and words; sparingly citing sentences of ecclesiastical or other human writers, ancient or modern, be they never so elegant.
3. Faithfully, looking at the honour of Christ, the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people, not at his own gain or glory; keeping nothing back which may promote those holy ends, giving to every one his own portion, and bearing indifferent respect unto all, without neglecting the meanest, or sparing the greatest, in their sins.
4. Wisely, framing all his doctrines, exhortations, and especially his reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail; shewing all due respect to each man's person and place, and not mixing his own passion or bitterness.
5. Gravely, as becometh the word of God; shunning all such gesture, voice, and expressions, as may occasion the corruptions of men to despise him and his ministry.
6. With loving affection, that the people may see all coming from his godly zeal, and hearty desire to do them good. And,
7. As taught of God, and persuaded in his own heart, that all that he teacheth is the truth of Christ; and walking before his flock, as an example to them in it; earnestly, both in private and publick, recommending his labours to the blessing of God, and watchfully looking to himself, and the flock whereof the Lord hath made him overseer: So shall the doctrine of truth be preserved uncorrupt, many souls converted and built up, and himself receive manifold comforts of his labours even in this life, and afterward the crown of glory laid up for him in the world to come.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch