Hope For Fans of Ravi Zacharias

Reporting on the alleged sexual abuse of a prominent apologist has shaken parts of the evangelical world if the coverage at Christianity Today is any indication. I for one still find it hard to believe that Zacharias was the owner of two day spas. Imagine Tim Keller or Francis Schaeffer having side businesses like a delicatessen or mountain-climbing equipment store.

Here’s the thing. As I read and listen to people lamenting an evangelists fall from grace (alleged), I can’t help wondering whether the people who converted or became more convinced of Christianity through Zacharias are any less converted or convinced because of the apologist’s sins. The truth of the gospel, after all, does not depend on the character or zeal or holiness of the one proclaiming the gospel.

And here evangelicals depressed by the news about Zacharias might be envious of Reformed Protestants because we have a tradition that recognizes that the efficacy of preaching does not depend on the character of the minister. Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:

THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.

I understand not all Reformed Protestants believe this. But even in Zurich, which was not exactly Geneva on the spectrum of high church/low church convictions, the church confessed a high view of preaching that could rival Rome’s teaching on transubstantiation for unbelievability.

15 thoughts on “Hope For Fans of Ravi Zacharias

  1. An interesting parallel: in the Middle Ages, the Bishop of Winchester ran the bathhouses in his bishopric. For centuries, these would serve as the legal red light district of London. The general sentiment in those times was the same as modern prostitution legalization advocates: it’ll happen anyway, so tax and regulate them, etc., but equally no moral reformer stood any chance against the golden goose that filled the treasury, and it took Henry VIII’s reformation and a syphilis epidemic to finally drive the hustlers out of the temple.

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  2. “A great many ‘Protestants,’ in my experience, don’t believe that sin REALLY persists in believers.” It’s curious that in 66 years I never met one of the “great many”.

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  3. Scott,

    Larger Catechism:

    Q. 155. How is the word made effectual to salvation?
    A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

    High view of preaching but not the cigar of Zurich.

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  4. Westminster certainly takes this approach towards sacraments, with an implicit endorsement of the efficacy of the Word apart from the piety or intention of the one administering

    The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

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  5. “”The research that I’ve seen shows that more than 90% of victims of any sexual harassment experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. So intense feelings of isolation and anger and helplessness. But the research shows that with Christian ministers, when your spirituality is wrapped up in the abuse that happened to you, it’s different. It often results in intense feelings of shame, more intense feelings of shame, guilt, and sometimes long periods of spiritual confusion. So the one woman told me that she sort of suddenly stopped believing in God, and it took her a lot of therapy to kind of recover her faith. Another woman told me that she hasn’t been to church in over a decade since this happened and that she can’t trust religious institutions.“”

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  6.  “”Groups, individuals or even organizations claiming to be a church who primarily uplift institutional identity and institutional fidelity as a chief value for all its members, instead of primarily uplifting Christ, are engaged in Churchianity more than they are Christianity.”” This is indeed exactly what NAPARC leaders do. They uphold their idol of the institutional church at all cost. Sacerdotalism and an over realized ecclesiology are par for the course in conservative churches ever as much as Rome.

    “Whether or not the Western institutional church as we know it survives is of no ultimate consequence.  What God has accomplished and will accomplish in Jesus Christ will always stand.  His Church, in whatever form it takes, will stand with Him.”

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  7. Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:

    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    Yeah right whatever! So let’s get this straight, a fallen sinful human being stands up to read 2 verses of scripture text that the sermon is based on for all of 2 minutes, then spends another 40 minutes “preaching” telling us what he thinks it means and we are to believe that 40 minutes of human unpacking the meaning of the scripture text is on par with THE WORD of God itself? Wow! So we Protestants do believe in magic? And apparently we believe in total depravity except of course for elders, pastors and their offices have a special hall pass. What an over inflated view of yourselves and your offices you Reformed leaders have.

    Show me the scripture text, in context which backs that view?

    This is why the phrase “Protestant Sacerdotalism” is spot on. This Sacerdotalism is pervasive in NAPARC. Tear down that idol!

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  8. @E. Burns: You raise a fair issue. Is 2nd HC saying that preaching is identical to God’s revelation? Is there any daylight at all in Reformed thought between preaching and actual Scripture?

    And we should ask the opposite question. Are you arguing that there is *no* difference between preaching Scripture and simply expression a man-made opinion?

    The first category of Scripture that indicates that preaching is something above simple opinion are the passages that mention “preaching the word” (kerusso ton logon). It indicates that the preacher is capable of proclaiming the Word of God. 2 Tim 4.2

    Paul to Timothy: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

    See also Mark 2.2, Acts 8.4, Acts 13.5. I would put the passages about “preaching the gospel” in this category.

    The second category of Scripture looks at the power of the preached word. Eg

    For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1.17, 18.

    Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you 1 Cor 15.1

    Preaching (esp of the gospel) is not mere “words of eloquent wisdom” but “the power of God”

    So you ask, in effect, How far does this go? You suggest that Reformed thought places absolute equality between the Scripture and the preaching of Scripture, and call this sacerdotalism.

    But it’s not absolute equality. Instead, preaching is a proclamation and exposition of Scripture. It is to be regarded as Scripture insofar as the preacher is faithfully proclaiming. Compare to the Bereans of Acts 17. There is no suggestion that the preacher is providing infallible revelation. In fact the opposite is the case. When 2HC examines the teachings of the church fathers (who are proclaiming the word in writing), it says

    Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures. Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement. — 2nd HC

    Bottom line: Preaching carries with it the power of the Word of God, but only insofar as the preacher accurately proclaims. Preaching is not new revelation, but does convey the revelation already taught in Scripture. The preacher exercises authority not on the basis of his person, but on the authority of the message he preaches.

    The whole point of that passage is to make Scripture the sole authority.

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  9. Jeff,

    I appreciate what you are attempting and you make some fine points. I agree preaching from a text is important and can accurately express what the (text) Word of God that was originally communicating.

    However, with all due respect you are engaging in a lot of gymnastics. This also speaks to a significant and persistent problem in Reformed circles…..why can’t we just admit this statement is not true?

    Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:

    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    Again I asked, show the Scripture text which this statement is based on? Can we not admit this is poorly written? Can we not see that this and many other Reformed traditions give way to all manner of its own abuses via the road of Sacerdotalism which is based not on scripture but rather on confessions/ traditions?

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  10. If this statements purpose is to make scripture the sole authority …..
    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    Let me just say in the most appropriately penetrating way, it does a very piss poor job of that.

    Can we just call that what it is? Or are we so man pleasing as to uphold our institution/ denominations/ traditions at all cost? I will stick to my point and further stick to the fact that all manner of abuse has come out of Reformed circles due to this dogmatic, authoritarian and over realized ecclesiology which is so wrapped up in the statement in question.

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  11. E. Burns,

    I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize the wording of a confession written four hundred years ago as being confusing. I’m no expert, but I’m sure it was sufficiently clear for the people of that day to work.

    Here’s a question—it is possible for me to accurately explain the Scriptures and the biblical gospel without having a Bible in my hand or even referring to a specific text. “the Bible says Jesus died on the cross to atone for my sins, was risen from the dead, and now everyone who believes in Him will be saved.” I have preached the Word inasmuch as I’ve given the same sense of the Bible. God can use that simple phrase to save people. He has done so all around the world. But if God saves only through the Word, how can that be unless the preached Word in this case is actually the Word of God?

    All it is saying is that we have to receive the words spoken by the preacher and believe them insofar as they accurately convey the truth of Scripture. I don’t know why that is controversial. If your preacher accurately teaches you the Bible, are you allowed to disbelieve him when he’s right about what Paul or Jesus or whoever speaks?

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