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Biblical Preaching: Supernatural, Not Magical

Church altar

 

Christian worship is a supernatural event – but it is not a magic show.

In pagan worship, forms and rituals are thought to be inherently effective. The Latin phrase is ex opere operato, “from the work worked.” It is the idea that we can do things that in turn will make God do things. This is the essence of paganism and of magic: that forms of worship or manipulation produce supernatural effects simply by our performing them correctly.

In Harry Potter, it’s saying the right gibberish-Latin words (“Wingardium leviosa!”). In other literature, it’s gestures, or words-plus-gestures. In some lands, it’s sacrifice and incantation.

My fear is that some evangelicals – despite our call to reject all paganism – unwittingly entertain a faux-baptized form of the same sorts of expectations and beliefs.

How so?

We (correctly) affirm that the Bible is not just a book, not a mere collection of human musings. It is the word of God, “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and communicates the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). It is the means of saving faith (Romans 10:17), and of growth in holiness (John 17:17). It is truly a marvel, a gift from God.

So we (again correctly) make the preaching of the Word the center of our corporate worship. This reflects the stated priorities of Christ (John 8:31-32) and His apostles (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2). So far, so good.

But here comes the disconnect: sometimes both preacher and hearers get the idea that, if we do that right – that is, preach the Word faithfully – then God must do great and wonderful things, along the lines of our expectations. Sinners will be saved, saints will be transformed and matured, churches will grow. Glory all around. It’s guaranteed!

Right? Wrong.

I yield to no man in my absolute conviction of the centrality of God’s written word to all thought, faith, worship and practice. It is that very conviction which compels me to point out the corollary truth:

The glory of God requires not only faithful preaching of the Word, but also faithful hearing of the Word.

Once you see it, you will find this verity literally all over Scripture. Take Deuteronomy 28:1 – “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” This verse brims with vital truth.

We see here the voice of Yahweh your God – something many Christians say they long to hear. But what they mean by it is not what God means by it. They mean some mystical, subjective inner experience, where they feel something that they identify as God’s voice. This verse means nothing of the kind. It locates God’s voice not within us, but in God’s commandments. God’s voice is God’s written Word.