“Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” -Rev. 19.10b
I am gripped by these statements from Eberhard Busch regarding Karl Barth’s views on preaching:
From early on one of the elemental convictions of the theologian Karl Barth was that the same God who had spoken clearly the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures speaks also to us today. Therefore he formulated as a basic principle to be heeded precisely: ‘Preaching aims at the people of a specific time to tell them that their lives have their basis and hope in Jesus Christ’ (Homiletics, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Donald E. Daniels [Louisville: WJK Press, 1991], p. 89).
And even more: it is the task of preaching to state clearly that God himself makes himself heard in the contemporary situation.
…. The danger would then be too great that the preacher would play the role himself as the intermediary between God and humans or that the congregation would be kept busy with merely human opinions. According to Barth, the question is much more whether with the whole congregation the preachers also hear and pay attention to what God says- not only said, but says. Barth learned from the Reformers that the sermon…. is to correspond to the prophetic office of Jesus Christ.
However, according to him, this concept can also be said the other way around: The congregation hears God’s word only when it listens to the word of God, who has already spoken according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. God has spoken not merely once, but rather once for all.
(The Word in this World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth, Ed. by Kurt I. Johanson, Regent College Publishing; 2007, pp. 7-8)
To what degree can our modern preaching and living be found in direct correspondence “to the prophetic office of Jesus Christ?”
The above quote was given in a little booklet that contained two sermons from Karl Barth. The first, delivered in 1912, was a message regarding the sinking of the Titanic, which was obviously weighing heavily on Barth’s mind.
The second was delivered in 1934, two days after The Confessing Church challenged the Nazi system, and two days prior to Barth being fired from his professor position and shipped out of the country.
Suffice it to say, delivering the present testimony of Jesus Christ can have historic effects, but it will also be costly, and we need to settle it in our hearts that this is the way of the Kingdom.
I’m convinced that most of our modern preaching, witnessing and writing is having little effect on the hearers, and scant impact on society, because we are rarely speaking from the prophetic office of Jesus Christ; which is to say, we are busying souls with “merely human opinions,” rather than leading them in listening in a lively way “to the word of God, who has already spoken according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.”
Who is bearing the word of the Lord for this hour, saints? The Church has a calling, and preachers all the more so, to be so immersed in the Spirit of God, and so enwrapped by the revelation of God through the Scriptures, that we would have the prophetic grace to discern the times and seasons in our generation, and to set forth the word of Jesus Christ as superior to all other voices and vantage points. Who is hearing His word, much less setting it forth?
Failing here, we fail in the most simplistic and central of callings; namely, bearing witness to the present testimony of the Son of God. What are His thoughts in this hour, after all?
On 9.11.2001, men thundered out whiplash responses of judgment, and others offered a humanistic comfort. But where was the prophetic office of Jesus Christ expressed through the Church? As smoky, bloody, and horrific as that day was, were we as the Church fit to set Him forth in the midst of it? Or was the Lord absent on that gut-wrenching day, with no desire to speak to our nation?
What of the moral condition of our country? What of the issue of Israel? What of the rise of Islam within our own borders? What of the multitudinous issues and plights that flood the airwaves? I’m not suggesting a meticulous, anxiety stricken pursuit of understanding every detail in this hour. I’m asking, who is bearing the word of the Lord? Who is abiding in the continuum of Biblical thinking that can only be given when we’ve partaken of the prophetic office of Jesus Christ? What is He saying, saints?
Have we really got a jealousy for the hearing and knowing of His great heart? If we’ve given ourselves to lesser voices, it is only because we have not been willing to step into the great calling to set Him forth, and that is a calling, in the first and last analysis, that can only be carried out through those who have been redeemed.
If the world will not hear the “present testimony of the Jesus Christ” through us, they’ll not hear Him at all. The platform of a conversation with your co-worker is just as crucial as the platform of an internationally recognized preacher. But what’s being given on Christian T.V.? And what’s being given to our co-workers and neighbors? What’s being given from our pulpits, or to our children in our homes? Are we bearing the very testimony of Jesus Christ, or are we playing paper-rock-scissors with opinions and hypotheses? Failing to hear and deliver His own word, we fail to live as the Church, and the world continues to perish with no alternative to the pipe-dream that men are wasting their lives to pursue.
We’ve got to go back to the place of prayer and worship, and the place of a radical study and meditation upon the Scriptures. We have a mandate to set Him forth, but to settle for human opinion regarding Him, or regarding the events in our generation, is to drop the ball entirely. He is jealous to raise up a nation of priests; men whose hearts are utterly before Him, loyal to His own perspective, and willing to set Him forth as He is, no matter what consequences will result.
Lord, take the weak souls that we are, and consume us with the fire and truth of Your great heart. Let us hear Your voice in this wilderness, and privilege us to set forth Your mercies and judgments in this pivotal hour. Amen.