Rev. Hanko is missionary/pastor of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. Reprinted from the mission newsletter circulated in the UK by Covenant PRC.
What is preaching? Is it just another form of teaching, the only difference being that the Bible is taught? If it is just another form of teaching, why does Scripture emphasize so strongly its importance? Is preaching, perhaps, something unique?
To understand why preaching is of vital importance, we must understand what it is and that it is unique. The Bible tells us what preaching is, and tells us a great deal about it, in one of the words the New Testament uses for preaching.
One New Testament word tells us what the content of preaching is. That word is really the word “gospel,” in Greek the word from which comes our English word “evangelize.” The other word, the one we are talking about, shows us instead what preaching is all about.
Translated, that word means “to be a messenger.” The reference, though, is not to any messenger, but to the kind of messenger once called a “herald.” A herald was a messenger commissioned, usually by a king or great ruler, to bring a specific message to the people in the words of the king himself. A herald was not allowed to add anything to, to leave anything out of, or to “interpret” the message. He had simply to say, “Thus says the king!” He was, then, very similar to an ambassador (cf. II Cor. 5:20; Eph. 6:20).
Applied to preaching, this word teaches us, first, that anyone who preaches must be commissioned or sent by the King of kings, Christ Jesus. No one has any right to appoint himself a preacher or to take up the work on his own (even Christ did not do this—Heb. 5:5). If he does, his message has no official weight and no one is obliged to hear it.
An illustration may help here. As a private citizen, I may have some knowledge of what my (American) government’s plans are, and living here in the UK may take it upon myself to inform the British government of these plans. Even if my information is correct in every particular, what I say has no authority and no one here is obliged to pay any attention to it. Only if the American ambassador or some other official representative of that government brings the message is the British government obliged to recognize it.
Thus Scripture tells us that those who preach must be sent (Rom. 10:15). If they are not sent, no one is obligated to give any heed at all to what they say. And this sending is done by the Holy Spirit through the church by means of ordination or the laying on of hands, as Acts shows so clearly in the case of the Apostle Paul himself (Acts 13:1-3).
This implies, too, that the minister is accountable not only to God, but to the church or churches that send him (cf. Acts 14:27). Calling always means accountability. Even as Christ uses the church to send a minister, so He also uses the church to call him to account with regard to the message he brings. For these reasons, therefore, we believe in an ordained ministry, contrary to Brethrenism. For the same reasons we also do not believe that lay “preaching” is biblical, and insist that men like Billy Graham, who are sent by no one and accountable to no one, are not true ambassadors or heralds of Christ. But more next time.