“The Reformers focused on God’s living Word, Jesus Christ, made known in God’s written Word, the Bible. The great theme and controlling contour of their preaching was Jesus Christ, for he is the supreme focus, substance, and purpose of God’s revelation.”
Just as the gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone was the central message of the Reformation, so the preaching of the Word was central to the work of the Reformers. Like the Apostles, the Reformers gave themselves to the ministry of the Word. Preaching came to be recognized early in the Reformation as the primary task of the church’s ministers, dethroning the celebration of the Mass in the process. Reformed preachers and pastors were often designated simply as “minister of the Word” or “preacher of the gospel.” The entire office of the ministry came to be defined by the act of preaching.
The Reformation was born out of and gave birth to God-honoring, Scripture-rooted gospel proclamation. So what can we learn today from the Reformers on this vital subject of preaching?
A High View of the Preaching Office
First, the Reformers embraced a high view of preaching. John Calvin calls the preaching office “the most excellent of all things,” commended by God that it might be held in the highest esteem in the church. “There is nothing more notable or glorious in the church than the ministry of the gospel,” he concludes. In commenting on Isaiah 55:11, he says, “The Word goeth out of the mouth of God in such a manner that it likewise goeth out of the mouth of men; for God does not speak openly from heaven but employs men as his instruments.”
This stress on preaching moved Calvin to be active on several fronts in Geneva, where he labored for twenty-six years. He preached from the New Testament on Sunday mornings, the Psalms on Sunday afternoons, and the Old Testament at 6 a.m. weekday services. Following this schedule during his last period of ministry in Geneva from 1541 to 1564, Calvin preached nearly four thousand sermons, more than 170 a year. On his deathbed, he spoke of his preaching as more significant than his writings. Do you place such a high premium on the weekly task of preaching the Word?
A Pervasive Exaltation of Christ
Second, the Reformers sought to lift up or exalt Christ in all of their preaching. The great Reformer of Basel, Johannes Oecolampadius, viewed preaching the Word as the proclamation of Christ. This arose from his view of the Scriptures. He wrote, “Because the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit, I am unable not to affirm that in all places the Spirit of the Scriptures has regard for Christ Jesus in purpose, goal, and method.” Therefore, the first and fundamental act of the student and preacher of Scripture is to come to the Bible seeking Christ: “The sense of Scripture does not come to any, except to those who also seek Christ and to whom Christ reveals Himself.”
The Reformers focused on God’s living Word, Jesus Christ, made known in God’s written Word, the Bible. The great theme and controlling contour of their preaching was Jesus Christ, for he is the supreme focus, substance, and purpose of God’s revelation. Therefore, like Paul, they determined as preachers “not to know anything . . . save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).