John 15:26-16:4 (Day 72, 90 Days with Jesus)
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
I mentioned in a post a few minutes ago that I am reading a book by William Willimon called Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized. This book is quite amazing and I am glad that I listened to White Horse Inn the other day (an older podcast) and heard them interview Willimon and reference the book. The book is about preaching and the peculiar language that preachers mustuse when preaching to those Willimon calls the baptized by which I think it is safe to assume he means Christians or, at least, those who are the church but something more than mere pew sitters. Consider well his words:
We are born, drowned, adopted, clothed, gifted so that we might be a people worthy of listening to a peculiar account of human life called Scripture…To begin to preach from the perspective of baptism, assuming that these words are not meant for everyone but only for those who have been or who are to be baptized, is to speak in a new key. It is to listen to Scripture with the expectation that we may well hear the unexpected. It is to preach to a congregation with the assumption that no conventional human gathering will be adequate to hear such words, that a new gathering will be necessitated by such language. Too much of our theology and preaching has acted as if we need new language in order to maintain our old, conventional means of human gatherings. Biblical language has shown, time and time again, that it has power, like the sacrament of baptism itself, to evoke that of which it speaks. The Bible is able to create, re-create the people it desires” (Willimon, 22-23).
My interest in Willimon’s comments is very simple. He sees a necessary connection between the baptized and the preached Word of God—assuming, that is, that the Word of God is being preached. I think he is right that congregations have lost, or at least do not listen, with any sort of expectancy when the Word of God is proclaimed. Preachers are thus ‘forced’ to dip into the thesaurus of modern pop-psychology or the dictionary modern pulp-fiction and find new ways and new words (read: exciting) in order that the congregation may be kept awake. Willimon’s contention, I gather, is that the language of Scripture is adequate enough to the task if the preacher will trust it.
This is not to say there are no boring preachers. This is not to say that we shouldn’t use dictionaries and a thesaurus. This is certainly not to say that we should deliver our Sunday sermons in the stout language of good ole King James himself. It is to say that the baptized, the Church, Christians, the Body of Christ, a peculiar people, strangers all, should be expectant when it comes to the word of God. But I suppose that Willimon’s book is directed towards the preacherand it is decidedly his responsibility first to have confidence in the Word of God. If the preacher doesn’t have such confidence, how on earth can the congregation be expected to? Willimon writes, “A distinctive community is being formed here by this reading and listening” (20).
It is to this ‘distinctive community’ that the Word of God has been given. It is to this ‘disctinctive community,’ this ‘community of the baptized’ that the Word of God has been entrusted. It is within this ‘distinctive community’ that the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, ‘bears witness to Jesus.’ And, further, it is within this distinctive community that Jesus says that we ‘will bear witness also.’ At some point the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples that night, the words revealed and clarified by the Spirit of Truth, the words that were given to us to keep us from stumbling, these words he expects us to remember came from him, were written down and became Scripture (in the written sense). They were always the Word of God. These words were then preserved for generation after generation, and at the same time, these words shaped generation after generation of Christians. This is yet another important reason why the Word of God must not be shoved aside in favor of, well, not the Word of God or, worse, something other than the Word of God.
It is these words of the Spirit of truth that define and shape this distinctive community of the baptized. I say we are a peculiar people, a strange people, who have our own language and ways of understanding what is going on around us. So later Paul can write things like, ‘We do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and Jesus can say things like ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted because of me’ (Matthew 5:10), and Peter can write things like ‘Be hospitable to one another without complaint’ (1 Peter 4:9) and they make sense. I don’t suppose though for a minute that all of our unique language will have any meaning for those who are not part of this peculiar body. This is a significant reason why I get so distressed when Christians try to impose certain moral standards on not-Christians and use the Bible as their justification for doing so. There is a place for Scripture in the ‘world,’ but it is not the same shaping, defining, and distinctive place that it has in the Body of Christ.
Finally, I note that these word of Jesus were entrusted to the disciples, they were confirmed by the Spirit of Truth who came from the Father. I also note that the Spirit’s main intent in confirming these words is to ‘testify to Jesus.’ There are, to be sure, a lot of different ideas floating about the church as to the nature of the Spirit. But here Jesus makes it rather clear that the primary role of the Spirit is to Testify concerning Jesus. To that end, He will lead us into truth. Furthermore, the Spirit will not lead us into lies and the Spirit will not testify to anyone but Jesus. The work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is the same and does not contradict itself, nor is it counterproductive.
The problem is that too much of our contemporary preaching has gotten off the beaten path. We are no longer content to preach the Scripture and mostly because we simply don’t trust the Scripture. There are too many preachers who are terrified of the words of Scripture. There are too many who are embarrassed of the language of the Scripture. There are too many who do not even know the Scripture. There are too many who are horrified that the Spirit of God might just lead people into the truth if the Scripture is preached! But if the Spirit is to remind us of Jesus’ Words, confirm them, and testify to Jesus Christ, then don’t you agree that it is the Words of Jesus that preachers ought to be preaching? How can the Spirit confirm words that are not the words of Jesus? How can the Spirit lead us into a truth that is not the truth he desires to lead us into? How can the Spirit testify to Jesus when the preacher won’t testify to Jesus? Even when it comes to so-called miracles and signs and wonders I have to ask: Are not those things done by the Spirit to confirm the Word of God? Is the Spirit, in those acts, testifying to Jesus Christ? And yet often those things are merely a means to their own ends.
I think the church, that strange peculiar people, needs a real introduction by her preachers, those strange, peculiar talkers, to the Word of God. Then again, many preachers themselves need an introduction the Word of God. Can we agree with Willimon that the Word of God can do it’s work of creating and re-creating as it desires? If we agree, then we need to preach it. If we don’t agree, we need to preach it so that we can be proven wrong.
Soli Deo Gloria!