Scripture and the Church

'Do Not Diminish a Word' - The Christian Minister's Responsibility

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In contrast to many examples of contemporary failure to preach the whole counsel of God, examples of boldness in preaching shine forth from the pages of Scripture and the history of the church.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 5 of a series. Read part 4.

In contrast to many examples of contemporary failure to preach the whole counsel of God, examples of boldness in preaching the Word "undiminished" shine forth from the pages of Scripture and the history of the church.

As we continue our series on God's command in Jeremiah 26:2, we turn now to the responsibility of those our Lord has called as ministers of the Word. Christ's ministers have the great and vital duty to "not diminish a word" in their preaching, in shepherding of the flock of God under their care, and in their personal conduct. What the preacher brings to the pulpit must be the overflow of a life spent comprehensively and continuously searching the Scriptures.

Sadly, there is a great deal of failure in this regard in our time. What do we see among so many who call themselves ministers of the Word, today? We see the diminishment of the Word of God. We see widespread compromise with the world on matters that Scripture makes absolutely plain.

Ministers Caving In to the Homosexual Agenda

We see men who claim to be Gospel ministers proclaiming that homosexual thoughts and proclivities are not sin, only actions are sin. We see other men who claim to be Gospel ministers going even farther, and saying that those who are living in such sin can be members in good standing of the visible church. We see other men who claim to be Gospel ministers today going even farther, and saying that such people can serve in the ordained offices of the church - and yes, even as pastors and missionaries and seminary professors.

But the Word of the Lord says, "Diminish not a word." Do not fail to proclaim, God says, that I especially label this sin an abomination. Do not fail to proclaim, God says, that I declare that no such unrepentant person has any part in the kingdom of heaven. (For a fuller discussion, see our Bible Knowledgebase article Why Are Some 'Evangelicals' Caving In to the Homosexual Agenda?.)

A Hole in the Gospel?

We also see men who claim to be ministers of the Gospel saying today that there is, in Bible-believing churches, a "hole" in the Gospel. The Hole in Our Gospel is the title of a book that was written a few years ago by Richard Stearns, then the president of World Vision [1]. He asserts that ministers are not preaching a "complete" gospel unless they are preaching a social justice gospel. He says that if a man is preaching a Gospel about salvation from the bondage of sin, from this present evil world and from the wrath to come, growth in sanctification, and the inheritance of the glories of the New Heavens and New Earth as the adopted sons of God - well, if that is the only Gospel you preach, Stearns says, your Gospel has a gaping hole in it.

The "hole" in that Gospel, he says, is the failure to preach the worldwide social revolution of cultural Marxism. Many men in many pulpits, in many churches, are embracing that kind of thinking. These days the popular term for that is "wokeness."

Dear friends, when men say such things, they are diminishing the Word of God. They are diminishing the Gospel. Any time a man says that it must be the Word of God plus, what he is actually saying is that it must be the Word of God minus. It must be a diminished gospel - a diminished view of God's holiness and justice, of sin, of the Word of God, of regeneration, and Christ.

The gospel of political correctness and social justice is no gospel at all. It is another gospel, as Paul describes it in Galatians, which is not another. Paul declares, by the authority of the Holy Spirit, that the one who preaches such a thing is accursed (Galatians 1:9). He exclaims to the Corinthians, "Woe is me" (that is, may I be divinely denounced) if I do not preach the authentic Gospel in its fullness (1 Corinthians 9:16). (For more detailed discussion, see The Evil of Critical Theory and Social Justice Is Not The Gospel on our website.)

Examples From Scripture

The Christian minister's greatest example, of course, is to be found in the preaching and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus said things to the people who had been following after Him that they called "hard sayings" (John 6:60). After that time, many who had been public followers of Jesus went back and followed Him no more (6:66). But there were those who remained. Jesus said to the apostles,

"Do you also want to go away?" But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (6:67-69).

That is the response of the believing heart to the whole counsel of God - the undiminished Word that Christ's minister must preach at all costs. That is the response of the believing heart even to the things that we may not presently understand, but we take by faith, knowing that God, in His time, and by His Spirit, makes things clear. He illuminates His Word. One of the ways in which He does so is through the "foolishness" of such preaching:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

We also find such boldness to "not diminish a word" in Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. The response was that many, as Acts chapter 2 tells us, were "cut to the heart." The Spirit of God convicted them through the preaching of the Word, in a sermon that was certainly not designed to appeal to itching ears. And so it was also with the apostles, when they were brought before the Sanhedrin in Acts chapter 4, and commanded to stop preaching the whole counsel of God:

But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

It was the same when the Apostle Paul was called before the Jewish authorities in Acts chapter 23. Even though some of them were Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the dead, and others were Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, or in angels or in spirits, the Apostle Paul did not hold back. He said, Let me tell you the central reason why I am being called into question before you today. It is because of "the hope and resurrection of the dead" (23:6).

When he said that, a riot broke out between the opposing sides, and Paul's life was in danger. The chief captain of the Roman guard was afraid that Paul was going to be pulled to pieces by the mob, and so he sent his men to take Paul out of that dangerous situation by force, and take him to a safe place. But the Apostle Paul, even at the risk of his life, diminished not a word of the whole counsel of God.

Examples from Church History

We find abundant examples of those who emulated the Biblical examples of Christ, the apostles, and the prophets in the history of the church. As we have already seen in this series, Martin Luther rejected Satan's strategy of "Scripture-plus", adhering to the whole counsel of God, even at the risk of his life. John Hus, William Tyndale, and many others gave their lives rather than fail their Lord by recanting a word.

Nineteenth-century British Reformed Baptist preacher Archibald Brown pastored a congregation of 3,000 at East London Tabernacle. While the people of the church conducted a vast work of charity among the many poor people of East London, the work was operated on a strict basis of genuine need. If any recipients were found to be lying about the true nature of their need, or the able-bodied refused gainful employment, charitable aid would be stopped on Biblical grounds (e.g., 1 Timothy 5:3-16, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11). Always, Brown emphasized that the charitable work of church members was not a substitute for, nor an adjunct to, the Biblical Gospel.

Charles Spurgeon, Brown's mentor and contemporary, conducted the Gospel ministry of Metropolitan Tabernacle in another part of London on the same basis. Spurgeon and Brown stood together for the preaching of the whole counsel of God against vehement opposition during the "Downgrade Controversy" among British Baptists. Spurgeon sacrificed his health fighting the liberals' efforts to diminish the Word of God, which contributed to his death at 57.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones left a promising and lucrative career in medicine to answer God's call to the Gospel ministry. When he took up his first pastorate he gave all his savings to a needy relative, and did not even ask the board of his new church how much - or even if - he would be paid, trusting completely in God's provision. During over fifty years of public ministry he saw many former colleagues and men he had mentored (including such leading figures as John Stott and J. I. Packer) fall away from the truth and diminish the Word of God to the point of denying the Gospel. In later life MLJ said that at times he felt as though he were "a denomination of one" - although he was well aware, as the Lord reminded Elijah, that God had preserved a believing remnant that had not bowed the knee to Baal (Romans 11:2-5). Lloyd-Jones fearlessly refused to "diminish a word" of the Scriptures to the very end. His last public sermon, "Why Do the Heathen Rage?", is a powerful testimony to his resolve to "not diminish a word" and an exhortation to many young preachers who were present on that occasion to do the same without fail.

How can those who have been called as ministers of the Word in this day, in this hour, do less? Christ's ministers dare not diminish a word.

References:

1. Richard Stearns, The Hole In Our Gospel (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009).

 

Next: 'Do Not Diminish a Word' - The Church's Responsibility

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