In a church, every question concerning the pulpit concerns the nature of Scripture. The way a church defines the primary role of the pastor reveals its expectations for the way sinners are saved. In other words, if a church body truly embraces the idea that the preached Gospel is the only means through which souls can find comfort and be redeemed, it will generally tend to value the preeminence of the preaching office of the pastor. If it doesn’t…it won’t. A simplistic view of salvation produces a low view of the pulpit. So the question of the invitation is a persistent one: should every sermon include an invitation?
Even for churches that value the Scriptures, this can be a difficult question. For instance, certain texts don’t lend themselves to an explicit Gospel presentation as easily as others do. Many Old Testament passages, for example, present challenges to preachers who have never been taught to look to the cross in every book and theme of the Bible. Countless sermons today are Christ-less exhortations of practical living completely devoid of the Gospel. The result is a very impractical Christianity, as the Gospel is replaced with bare ethics that one could find, for example, in the Koran. A segmented biblical theology that does not use the New Covenant to interpret the Old can often leave passages devoid of any salvation message (e.g. Hyper-Dispensationalism). For instance, David’s sin with Bathsheba can easily become just a sermon about staving off the temptations of adultery and not a pointing to Christ, the Davidic heir and spotless Lamb who abstained from sin. The story of Joseph being sold into slavery and eventually redeeming his brothers can become simply a story of integrity and kindness and not a typological proclamation of Christ, the One who delivered His people once-and-for-all by dying on the cross for the very people who condemned Him. If we’re not careful, Christian preaching can miss the Christian message. Thus, in reality, the question of an invitation shouldn’t be the first one we ask. The question we should instead be asking is this: Do we preach Christ crucified in every sermon? The answer is undoubtedly yes. The following are 3 reasons (and there are more than 3) to preach the person and work of Christ in every single sermon, in some fashion, regardless of the text:
- When Christ read the Old Testament Scriptures, He became His own hermeneutic.
Ever wonder how Christ would exegete the Scriptures? With two men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus did exactly that: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Later in the same chapter, Christ tells His disciples that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:27,44) When Jesus read the Old Testament, he pointed to Himself. Christ was His own hermeneutic! When this happened, Scripture says that their hearts burned and their eyes were opened. (vv.31-32) And that’s precisely how preachers open eyes and hearts today – by pointing people to Christ, even in the Law, Prophets, and the Psalms. Therefore a Christ-less, Gospel-less, cross-less preaching of the Old Testament is missing out on the very reason these Scriptures were written. For instance, the Law wasn’t laid down so that preachers can simply exhort their churches to obedience. The law was laid down for the ungodly, and the way to “use it lawfully” is by using it to point others to their utter need for Christ as they pursue obedience. (1 Timothy 1:8-9) If Christ is the central theme of Scripture, a sermon that lacks the name above all names doesn’t actually qualify as Christian preaching.
- Christ is the “Newness” of the New Covenant.
When pastors eviscerate Christ from their preaching, they’re inadvertently sending their churches back to the Old Covenant. They’re subtly teaching them that salvation is through obedience and human striving. And this is bad news for the sinner. After all, the Apostle Paul tells us that “the law came in to increase the trespass.” (Rom. 5:20) In other words, law-abiding sinners without a sense of grace or dependence upon Christ are simply increasing their self-righteousness and storing up wrath for themselves on the day of Judgment. (2:5) Consistent moralistic preaching is a training ground for modern-day Phariseeism. In reality, the aim of the Old Covenant is to point us to our utter sinfulness and our insufficiency to save ourselves. When sermons don’t include the panacea for our souls, Jesus Christ, they’re not simply “missing the point”; they’re steering their churches in a Hellish direction. The point of preaching is to point us to Christ. “We preach Christ crucified,” Paul reminded the Corinthians. (1:23) If there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” logic dictates that sermons without the name of Christ are not aiding their hearers in salvation. (Acts 4:12) By the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit as a part of the New Covenant, we fulfill the law of Christ. (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 6:2) Paul calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of Christ.” (Rom. 8:9) The Spirit is given freely to the church precisely because Christ first died upon the cross for our sins. (Titus 3:5-6) It’s impossible to understand or harness the power of the Spirit without first examining and meditating upon the person and work of Christ. (John 16:14; 1 Cor. 12:3) Therefore Spirit-led preaching is Christ-centered preaching. If Christ isn’t preached, to one degree or another, churches cannot confirm that indeed the Spirit is present.
- The Gospel is what makes us “Christian.”
Christians are people who live in the eschaton, the end of the ages. (1 Cor. 10:11) And the author of Hebrews is clear that the God who spoke in the past still speaks: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb. 1:1-2) In the words of Tom Schreiner, “The revelation in the former era was diverse and partial, but the revelation in the Son is unitary and definitive.” Simply put, no more clarification is needed. The day in which we live is marked by the revelation of Jesus. He is the chief cornerstone of the church. (Eph. 2:20) Therefore to abandon the message of Christ in our sermons is not simply a dereliction of our responsibility as pastors; it is a shedding of Christianity. Churches that don’t preach Christ crucified aren’t churches at all. Therefore the question of invitations must begin with Christ: do we value Him enough to preach Him every Sunday? In some form or fashion? Do we truly believe that He is the Word enfleshed? (John 1:1) Any pastor that ascends the pulpit becomes a preacher. And any preacher who opens the Bible in order to “rightly divide the word of truth” has the responsibility to preach Christ crucified for the good of the church. (2 Tim. 2:15) After all, He is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) Where else would be direct them? He is before all things. In Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the church. Therefore, when we gather in the church, we should proclaim His name. (Col. 1:17-18)