"SO WHAT?!" Series Overview
Why should you care about my seminary education
Seminary Affects You
The title of this series was inspired by the story of a seminary professor who threatened to raise a sign during the middle of his students’ sermons, which read, “So What?” He desired his graduates to always ask the question of the listener- So What? Who Cares! A thought often withheld from polite company, but nonetheless resolutely waiting in the honest corner of our minds. The “So What?!” Series plans to answer this very human response in regards to my decision to attend seminary. “Why should you care?
First, we will investigate God’s transformative power in my life- my personal testimony of faith. Seminary trains the mind, teaching the mechanics of preaching; but God makes the preacher, placing His spirit within the man. As he chose and sent the prophets of the Old Testament-“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” (Isa 51:16; Jer 1:9), so he chooses and sends the modern preacher, providing the message by His word preserved in the Scriptures and His conviction through the Holy Spirit- “I will pour forth My spirit.” (Acts 2:17-18). A self-made preacher is an oxymoron. Regardless of one’s depth of education or personal charisma, God provides the message and calls the messenger. Men may devotedly practice religion, but only God calls them to herald His truth. So, I will write upon my personal experience of faith, providing the Scriptural evidence of my conversion- born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13).
Then, we will address the importance of seminary training and the mechanics of preaching. Certainly God calls the man and provides the message, but we must ask: How does one faithfully present God’s word, while successfully communicating God’s message to the listener? We plan to answer this question by dissecting the quote: “The sermon defines the pulpit, the pulpit leads the church, and the church influences the nation.” A modern day twist of Hosea’s lament, “like people, like priests (Hos 4:9)” and an expansion of the modern equivalent, “as goes the pulpit, so goes the church.” Seminary trains men to preach God’s word- accurately, faithfully, and with precision.
Whether you consider yourself a devout Christian, only casually engaged with religion, or an atheist. We intend to whet your appetite for spiritual thought and conversation. In this series overview, we plan to only briefly review each topic, preparing the reader to engage the subsequent and more in-depth feature articles and interviews. We will begin with God’s transformation of my life, and then proceed to explicate the preceding quote. We will investigate the spiritual implications of God’s call and the importance of seminary: how God’s word faithfully preached by a man yielded to His Spirit affects the pulpit, the Church, and the nations.
The Heart of a Testimony
The word testimony remains synonymously fixed to the Christian world. We ask for testimonies, give testimonies, read about testimonies, and hear testimonies. But, what is a testimony? While a vast array of speeches, presentations, and personal interactions may all be billed in the category of “testimony,” we desire to uncover the origin and purpose of a testimony. In Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word for testimony is martureó. The word, appearing over thirty times in the New Testament, originates not in Christianity, but in the Greek courts of law. Testimony literally means to give evidence or bear witness and composes the root of the English word martyr.
Proof-positive or indisputable evidence forms the basis of a genuine testimony. If the evidence can merely be dismissed as untrue or fails to find collaboration outside the presenting witness, then the testimony is void and discarded. But, if the evidence cannot be denied, then the jury must accept the truth of the witness. Yet, one option remains to reject a genuine testimony, the witness must recant. So, born from the desires of corrupt men, enters martyrdom. When a Christian refuses to recant his testimony and the evidence cannot be overturned or destroyed, then the witness must be eliminated. Raving madmen are sent to mental institutions or permitted to roam around cities and sleep under bridges. But, Christians holding to indisputable facts, the truth of God, and persuasively convincing others of the truth of their testimony compose a serious threat to the lies of this world.
The final distinguishing feature of a Christian testimony remains in the type of evidence given. A testimony cannot be grounded in subjective emotion, feeling, or revelation. Instead, objective, confirmable truth forms the foundation of a testimony. A true Christian testimony begins at the confluence of God’s truth and the human experience. Our perceptions affect and inform our testimony, but they must depend on God’s word for verification. Likewise, a witness in a court of law may retain a degree of emotional tenor, but ultimately their testimony hinges on the truth of the evidence. Subjective emotions, not confirmable by objective truth, have no grounds in the courts of law or the Court of Heaven. A Christian testimony depends on evidence informed and confirmed by God’s word. We may think we have faith, convinced by our personal experiences, but outside of God’s confirmation by His word, we have built our faith upon a foundation of sand- blown away upon the winds of the first cross-examination. Only God’s word can assure and embolden our faith (Eph 2:11-12), so a testimony must rely on the Scriptures to confirm God’s presence in the life of a witness.
My Personal Testimony
My personal testimony of faith begins with my hostility towards God. My dark heart serves as the battleground with Christ as victor. I embraced the methods of men (Matt. 11:12), which scheme against God (Psalm 2). I strove for righteousness in my youth, devoutly attending mass and submitting to the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church: Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. I served as an altar boy and Boy Scout. Yet, none of these works satisfied my guilty conscience. In college, I abandoned religion for the ideas of men. I pursued truth in literature, study ancient verse and modern prose. Yet, I found more unanswered questions and meaningless riddles. So, I continued. God in His providence directed my studies to philosophy- the love of wisdom. The great thinkers of the ages struggled with my same questions, so I took refuge in their thoughts. But, one contradicted the other. Soon I grew weary, despite their vast intellect and immense learning, they could only postulate, theorize, and speculate. Meanwhile, my anxiety, despair, and depression never ceased. So, I returned to religion to appease my guilty conscience. I changed denominations. I choose a Protestant church focusing on social outreach, mission projects, and youth ministry. Again, I embraced the religious systems of men and strove to demonstrate my righteousness in my deeds apart from God. I denied the power of Jesus Christ and the validity of the Scriptures (Romans 1:18-19). Despite, my pursuit of religion in all its many forms, and quest for truth in academia, my heart never discovered rest in God, nor life in the name of Jesus Christ.
I stand accused as a sinner, depraved and unrepentant, deserving God’s full judgment. But, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)." A youth pastor at a local Presbyterian Church entered my life, desiring to teach and exposit the Scriptures. His exegesis often disagreed with the interpretations of the church. But, my unrepentant heart rarely understood the differences. I continued on, “swayed by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14)”, but he remained faithful to God’s word, His absolute authority, and His power. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news(Rom 10:15)!” My initial dislike of him continued, his missing teeth, his crude manners, street kids as his constant company, but he possessed the light of Christ, the power of the word expressed and revealed by Christ. He held the key to salvation, and with every word of Christ I began to open the vault of my heart and search its depths! What sadness, what despair! Truly the words of Jeremiah 17:9 cannot be read enough, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” My heart was black, unknown- full of contradiction and confusion. I was lost in despair and depressed beyond human hope.
I do not know the exact moment of my repentance and submission to Christ, but as I continued to study with this youth pastor, beginning a verse-by-verse reading of Genesis, experiencing a Seder Dinner from the perspective of the apostles, studying for and teaching Sunday school, I began to realize that Jesus was the Christ, and in my submission to Him found life in His name (John 20:31). He fulfilled the perfect righteousness of God for my eternal benefit. In His divinity, He quenched God’s infinite wrath continuously burning against my sin (Rom 1:18). In His humanity, His blood reconciled my relationship with God (Heb 9:22). The Holy Spirit convicted my heart of sin and opened my eyes to the truth of Jesus Christ (John 16:8).
My life, my speech, my thoughts began to transform for His glory. The Holy Spirit had planted God’s life in my heart, a seed sprouting in repentance and taking root by faith. My faith bore witness to God’s free gift of salvation. As I continued to read the Scriptures, with a great desire to understand the Church and my own salvation, I read and reread Acts 2:37-38,
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I began to understand the importance of recognizing one’s personal sin as a direct affront to God and the necessity of repentance, turning away from sin and submitting to Christ. My ever-growing desire to obey God further confirmed the evidence of my salvation. I memorized Acts 2:42, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” I realized their continual devotion was not a product of human will, but of God. The Holy Spirit they received in repentance informed their understanding of the word of God. I was amazed. Daily, I prayed for repentance, I prayed for a desire to know and read God’s word. He transformed my heart, my desires, my purpose, and my final aim. He alone released the fetters of sin from my feet and cleared the path towards Him through the power of His word. He transformed my apathy for His word into joy. His testament bears a great mark in the lives of my family and devoted wife. Now, he burdens my heart with a desire to proclaim Him. His Holy Spirit convicts me to preach for, “How will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15).
The Purpose of Seminary
The heart of a preacher rests at the heart of the pulpit. If he burns with a Godly conviction and passion for the truth, he can serve the Church from the pulpit. If he lacks courage and boldness, he has earned his spot in the pew. But, mere passion and fervor cannot deliver a sermon. Men must couple their Spirit convicted heart with a mind knowledgeable of God’s word. Martin Lloyd Jones called such preaching “logic on fire.” The result is a God-honoring, Spirit empowered proclamation of God’s word. So the purpose of Seminary can never supersede God’s calling or His spirit. Seminary’s only purpose remains to equip the man of God for his God ordained call. We will briefly analyze the preceding quote- “The sermon defines the pulpit, the pulpit leads the church, and the church influences the nation.”- to better understand the importance of seminary and the mechanics, purpose, and effect of properly executed preaching.
The Sermon Defines the Pulpit
The sermon defines the pulpit. Surely, we must agree. A well-executed musical score transforms the stage. A passionate, engaging speech claims the podium. An enlightening lesson establishes the lectern. The pulpit serves as a space, opportunity, and venue to present God’s truth. In the name of relevance, we will focus on the Christian sermon. A Christian sermon must ascribe God as the sole authority and the Scripture as His chosen medium. 2 Timothy 3:16 reads,
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
The Greek word for inspired is theopneustos or literally translated God-breathed. His word remains sufficient to instruct for every good work. God breathed out all Scripture, so we must preach from the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27). A sermon not fundamentally tied to the Scriptures easily drifts from Biblical truth to spiritual advice, thereby losing what inherently belongs to Christian preaching- the word of God.
The Bible remains at the core of Christian preaching; yet, the Bible cannot stand up and speak. Christian preaching depends upon Christian conviction. The preacher gives his hands and feet, his heat and passion to present the Bible. The heart of the sermon beats with a preacher’s conviction- his belief in the truth, inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of God’s word. Yet, Christian conviction differs from the other convictions of the world. Unlike the religious fervor of an imam or the manic oratorical frenzy of the dictator, the Christian preacher’s convictions remain grounded in the Word of God and animated by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works primarily as a teacher, not as a means of perpetuating religious ecstasy or heightening a state of mediation. John 14:26, expounds upon the role of the Holy Spirit, stating,
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
The Holy Spirit merely explains the meaning of the Scriptures. The Christian preacher relies upon the Word of God and the Spirit of God to proclaim the truth of God. When Biblical truth and Christian conviction intersect, they catapult the message of the pulpit and spread God’s message for His glory. In our feature on preaching, we delve deeper into these topics, asking: What is Biblical Truth? How can one assert the Bible as Truth? How should a convicted Christian preach? And, how does Biblical truth and convicted preaching define the pulpit?
The Pulpit Leads the Church
The sermon by definition shapes the pulpit; the message defines the messenger. But, does the pulpit lead the church? Does an ineffective manager lead his business into bankruptcy? Does a successful engineer lead his company towards innovation? Biblically centered preaching results in a vibrant, influential, and God-honoring church. Churches across the world and throughout history have benefited from a faithful explanation and sound presentation of God’s word. The early church flourished under the preaching and teaching of the apostles. In Acts 4:33-35, we read,
“And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and laying them at the apostles’ feet.”
God used the preaching of the apostles to align the early church with His will. God’s message produces Godly compassion. George Whitefield’s faithful preaching built numerous churches and charitable societies, leading the British and American churches to again assume an evangelistic faith and concern for the common man. Charles Spurgeon ignited the hearts of London and preached to thousands of congregates weekly, turning his hearers to Christ and to love their neighbor. On the other hand, when preachers diverge from the Biblical text, chaos ensues. The Pope exhorted the Roman faithful to fight the Crusades; many American churches upheld slavery and segregation due to a poor textual analysis; pastors and congregates across Germany embraced Nazism, tacitly supporting the Holocaust; and, the state sponsored churches of China preach a pro-Communist message, while the country’s leadership actively persecutes the Biblical preaching of the underground Church. The pulpit leads the church for better or worse. This feature plans to focus on how sound Biblical preaching affects the church. Depending on the principles of Biblical preaching developed in our first series, “The Sermon Defines the Pulpit”, we will look throughout the Scriptures and history to better understand the effects of accurate, faithful, and God honoring expositional preaching.
The Church Influences the Nation
Easily, the most controversial statement- “the Church influences the nation”- attracts the naysayers. Most grant the necessity of the Bible for Christian preaching. They further concede the pulpit leads the Church. But, many refuse to acknowledge the full extent of God’s Spirit working alongside His Word through Biblical preaching to influence the nations.
The modern mind cannot accept any unwanted influence. Unfortunately, our nation and society continues to perpetuate the false idea that because man desires complete autonomy, he can possess complete autonomy. The 21st century witnesses the pursuit of this false idea. Our postmodern world deconstructs and then discards the social constructs of the past. Government, religion, family and nature are all deconstructed to serve humankind’s march towards ever-greater human autonomy. Developed nations have politicized speech, redefined the family, and denied the essentials of human sexuality.
Yet, in our pursuit of greater freedom, we have forgotten two truths: first, the postmodern system of deconstructionism is a type of social construct; and, more importantly, ignorance of the truth never changes the truth. We have created a system far more flawed than those of the past- a fantasy. Now, we hide as a child with our eyes closed in a lit room. Certain of our concealment, so long as we keep our eyes closed. While our volition remains- to keep our eyes closed- certain foundational truths unavoidable affect our autonomy- the light reveals our exact location.
So, enters the Church. Never intended to design or advocate a political system. Instead, the Church remains the voice of God, content to rise and fall, so long as God’s word remains faithfully preached. Depending on the groundwork laid in our series, “The Pulpit Leads the Church”, we will search the Scriptures and history to discover how God uses Biblically grounded and vibrant Churches to encourage good will among men and inhibit the spread of evil (2 Th. 2:7).
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