Biblical Authority: Preaching the Word
“The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” This line from the Second Helvetic Confession summarizes how we should think of the Biblical authority exercised in the pulpit. We see this concept reflected in Scripture, when someone preaches they are bringing the Word of God with authority.
Consider that Scripture itself is breathed out by God. It is God’s own words:
2Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
Because of what the Bible is, Paul can give the solemn charge to Timothy, and by extension, it is applied to all who bear the office of elder in the life of the church:
2Tim. 4:1-2 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
This is no small charge. Paul charges Timothy under God and Jesus Christ to whom the pastor is ultimately accountable. The preacher is to bring the Word of God. In proclaiming this Word, the preacher has the authority to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. This is to be carried out with patience, not to beat up the sheep. It is an act of teaching and instructing.
The reason the preacher can reprove, rebuke, and exhort is because the Word of God is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. The Word of God does the work. The Word of God bears the authority for what the preacher says. At the same time, the minister in the pulpit has the responsibility to use the Word of God in every way that God has intended for His Word.
Let us spell out several implications:
First, the preacher must stay close to the text of Scripture. One cannot just step into the pulpit say what he wish and claim ‘thus saith the Lord.’ Perhaps one reason we have lost the vision for Biblical authority in the pulpit is because so many pastors today give mere talks that have little if any actual connection to the Bible. If you are not explaining what the text says and means, no amount of citing Bible verses will make your message preaching. There is no Word of God proclaimed when the Bible is not read and expounded.
Second, the preacher only has the authority to bind the conscience where Scripture binds the conscience. Not only must the preacher stick to the Word of God, he cannot go beyond what is written when he corrects, reproves, and rebukes. The preacher must draw conclusions that are both good and necessary. For example, he can say with Biblical authority that it is sin to look at internet pornography even when there is no concept of the internet in Scripture. However, he cannot say with Biblical authority that one should never go to movies even if some movies are questionable or sinful. The authority from the pulpit must be tied to the Scriptures.
Third, the pastor is preaching the Word but not bringing a new word. Many pastors take notes or manuscripts into the pulpit. As a pastor, my notes are not new Scriptures nor is my manuscript authoritative. We must listen as faithful “Bereans” (Acts 17:11). We are to hear the Word of God and receive it with joy, but we also open our Bibles and follow along with the passage being preached and expounded. As the pastor explains the Word of God, we are not to hold ourselves in authority over the Word (or the pastor) but sit under the proclamation of the Bible. The preacher is not inerrant; no man is perfect. At the same time, to hear the faithful exposition of Scripture is to hear God’s Word proclaimed. The distinction must be stressed in our culture: listening to Biblical preaching is not listening to a message about God’s Word, it is hearing God’s Word with all His authority being brought to bear on the listener.
Fourth, the Word is to be proclaimed and heard. Paul says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). There is something unique that goes on in the preaching of the Word of God in the church by men duly ordained as elders. God has established his church. God has established the offices in the church. And God has established preaching as the means of nourishing the church. There is an authority that comes in preaching. With God’s authority the preacher is announcing and telling God’s Word, calling people in the gospel to repent, and exhorting them through the Holy Spirit to obey God. Biblical counseling, small group Bible studies, and personal or family devotions are all good things but none of them bear the same weight and authority of Biblical preaching. In a truly constituted church, there can be no substitute for the authority of Bible proclaimed from the pulpit.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.