But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. -Isaiah 66:2

Back when nations issued coins made of precious metal, it was common for thieves to shave the coin ever so slightly, then pass it off in a monetary exchange at full value. This left them with gold shavings they could sell, but the nation’s currency had been debased.

Call it “trimming” and think of Scripture and its truths, then the calling of pastors. Writing his last letter to the young pastor, Timothy, the Apostle Paul commanded him:

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the good deposit which has been entrusted to you. -2Timothy 1:13-14

God’s Word and truths are treasures deposited under the guardianship of the Church. This is why the Apostle Paul calls the church “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15). The pastor’s calling is to proclaim this truth without in any slightest way trimming it. He is to defend this treasure. Thus the pastor’s work is, at its heart, defensive—both of God’s truth and of the sheep he shepherds whose souls depend upon that truth. The defense is necessary because false shepherds are trimming God’s Word every day, in every nation, and within every church, seeking to destroy God’s good deposit. What is this good deposit?

Note what is declared to be the first devotion of the first church in Jerusalem:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. -Acts 2:42

In the first churches, they devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, and this was done by the church listening to the teaching of the Apostles.

The Apostles’ teaching was first passed down audibly. Some of the Apostles were long-winded in their teaching and preaching. We read that the Apostle Paul was so long-winded that one of his younger listeners named Eutychus fell asleep and off his window seat to his death below. God was kind to raise him from the dead by means of the one who had put him to sleep.1

In time as the Apostles began to write the books of the New Testament, the “standard of sound words” passed down to the Church turned from audible to written. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles deposited their teaching in the inspired and inerrant words of Scripture. Today, this means we devote ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles by devoting ourselves to the Word preached each Lord’s Day. This preaching of the Apostles and prophets has always been the high point and center of Christian worship truly so called.

In the gatherings of our Lord’s flock, God’s truth must always possess the seat of honor. Without it the church dies. But the church has often betrayed the preeminence in worship of the proclamation of God’s truth, and has often trimmed it. Concerning the preeminence of the preaching of God’s Word in the gathering of the church corporately for worship, this has been done most frequently by displacing the preaching of Scripture, subordinating it to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

The Roman Catholic Church of the High Middle Ages removed preaching from the center of its worship, replacing it with their idolatrous sacrament of the Mass. This removal represented the abandonment of truth by the church’s shepherds who were then called “priests.” The church was no longer founded on the words of God which our Lord had declared would abide forever, but rather endless performances of the sacrament of the Mass. Even in our lifetimes, Rome has called her subjects to daily attendance at their performance of the Mass.

We can understand why medieval Rome rid themselves of preaching when we read and learn how they habitually corrupted their sacraments by naked mercantile exchanges that milked the sheep of their money. The most obvious example is Tetzel’s preaching and sale of indulgences done at the command of Rome’s pontiff who, by the way, desperately needed money to continue the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica—including the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s painting there.

Medieval sheep were not able to place themselves under the watch-care of any men approximating true shepherds who would preach and guard the good deposit. Under the Papacy’s caste of hireling-priests, Gospel regeneration was not preached, leaving sanctification and glorification impossible. Seeing the state of the good deposit and the sheep harassed, helpless, and dying for lack of good shepherds, the reformers took up the shepherd’s fundamental work revealed in the New Testament and began to “retain the pattern of [Scripture’s] sound words” and to “guard [this] good deposit.”

One key component of the Reformers’ work was condemning Rome’s sacramentalism, and the most visible aspect of that condemnation was their removal of the idolatry which was the core of Rome’s Mass, returning the Lord’s Supper to its Biblical simplicity, then relegating it to its proper and Biblical subordination to Apostolic preaching. Preaching was restored to its Apostolic primacy, the primacy demonstrated and taught by the record of the Jerusalem church. The Reformers barred any celebration of the sacrament of the “breaking of bread,” placed in second place in the Acts account, unless and until the preaching of God’s Word had preceded it in the worship service.

So it has been that all those who know church history and the Apostolic practice and commands concerning guarding God’s words and truth affirm together that the Reformation was the greatest “preaching revival” the world has ever heard.

Those of us who claim to be the true successors to the Reformation’s faithful shepherds largely assume we are motivated by the same Biblical truths and commands that motivated them. But of course, religious leaders always claim to be the true legatees of the prophets, whose tombs they shower with scholarly eulogies and pretty garlands.

But is our assumption and declaration of solidarity with the Reformers true? Are we faithful to God’s calling to His shepherds of His sheep to “retain the pattern of sound words” and “guard the good deposit?”

(First in a series.)


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1Acts 20:9-12.

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