Ligonier Conference - Al Mohler
The 2009 Ligonier Ministries National Conference begins today.Though the conference proper does not kick off until after dinner, thePre-Conference, “John Calvin—Celebrating a Legacy” began bright andearly. This mini-conference features messages from Al Mohler, StevenLawson, Sinclair Ferguson and Ligon Duncan. They will each speak onetime and will also participate in a panel discussion.
Al Mohler began with this reflection: the legacy of John Calvin isnow represented by a half millennium of influence. Calvin would nodoubt be shocked to learn that, 500 years after his birth, severalthousand people would gather in a Pre-Conference to talk about hislegacy. That so many are gathered here is a testimony to God’sfaithfulness to his church.
Mohler’s task today was to introduce John Calvin as a preacher and ateacher. And indeed, the focal task of Calvin’s ministry came down tothese two tasks. He excelled in both.
The first portion of Mohler’s address was biographical, a quickoverview of Calvin’s life focusing on his tasks of preacher andteacher. It was too fast to easily summarize, so I will leave it tothose who are interested to watch the webcast.Calvin believed there were four offices within the church: preachers,teachers, elders and deacons. This message revolved around the first two.
Having given this thumbnail sketch of Calvin’s life, Mohler spokeabout Calvin as a teacher. Calvin left behind a significant legacy ofteaching material, even down to his personal correspondence which wasfilled with teaching. Early in his career he desired a quiet life ofreading and writing, but he was compelled to take up the pastorate in Geneva.
He saw two offices that had a distinct teaching function. The taskof the teacher was to prepare those who would have the sacred task ofteaching the Word of God. Before he was a preacher in Geneva, he wasinvolved in this teaching task. The preacher was the key agent to whomGod would speak to his people, but the preacher needed to be taught;hence, Calvin was convinced that there needed to be a learned clergy.His singular aim was that the church be properly taught the Word of Godand be protected from error. Here Mohler looked to the Institutes giving a quick overview of their contents, style and usefulness, even in our day.
The need Calvin perceived is a need that continues today, perhapseven more emphatically. Teaching suffuses all that he does, all that heoffers to the church, all that he was.
In all the world, there is only one office higher than the teacherand that is the preacher. Calvin desired to be first a teacher, butonce he became a preacher, he took up this task with a passion. Histheology of preaching begins with his understanding that God speaksthrough his preachers, through the Word. Calvin did not deny natural orgeneral revelation but saw that God speaks through a human voice in aspecial way in the act of preaching. Preaching is not a human inventionbut a means God had already used to speak to his people of old and ameans he would now use again to instruct his church. It is an act ofGod’s kindness and accommodation that he speaks to us through a humanvoice; if he spoke through his own voice, we would be destroyed.
Calvin understood the majesty of preaching because he understood themajesty of God. Calvin’s mode of preaching was verse-by-verse,book-by-book so he would not selectively avoid things he did not wishto teach. In this way God’s people receive all that they need and notjust what the preacher determines the people need. The preacher isneither to add nor subtract from Scripture.
Calvin believed preaching is the Word of God in at least three ways:
- Preaching is the Word of God because it is the exposition of the Bible
- Preaching is the Word of God because the preacher is sent and commissioned by God and given his authority to speak in his name
- Preaching is the Word of God because it is revelation, revealing the treasures of God’s Word.
Calvin looked to three movements in his day, offering both agreementand disagreement with each of them. From these we can see some of theemphases of his ministry.
The enthusiasts - they were right in that they preached thenecessity of the Holy Spirit but wrong in that they said there was noneed for preachers.
The Church of Rome - they were right in that the church is to listenattentively to the preacher but wrong in that the church taught thatChristians did not need to verify the minister’s words according to Scripture.
The fanatics - they were right in that believers are to read theBible on their own but wrong in that they downplayed the need forguidance from teachers and preachers.
Mohler offered these four hallmarks of John Calvin’s preaching:
- Centrality of Scripture
- Systematic exposition
- Simplicity of expression
- Practical application
And here he recommended Steve Lawson’s The Expository Genius of John Calvin as a useful, accurate summary of John Calvin’s teaching ministry.