Man-centered or God-centered?

The more I preach the more I am convinced that much of our preaching fails (even when we have a lot of responses) because our preaching is predominantly man-centered. It is most natural for man to want to know, "What good thing must I do to be saved?" The reason man is lost in the first place is because he is more concerned about what he wants than he is about what God wants. So when he discovers he is lost, if his question about how to be saved is answered solely or primarily in terms of his wants, needs, desires and actions, he may stay basically man-centered.

Because of the Calvinistic emphasis on God's sovereign grace and the fact that the followers of that theology taught that man could do nothing, our preaching has emphasized what man has to do to accept that grace. At least mine has, and I shall continue to denounce the Calvinistic theory as contrary to God's word (even though some connected with the Lord's church are now teaching it) and teach that man must respond to God's grace in God's appointed way.

But even if man did not need to do anything, our preaching could still be man-centered if it dwelt primarily on man's needs, wants, and desires. It would be well to start our teaching with the nature and purpose of God rather than with the wants and desires of man.

Most evangelists of the denominational type urge their hearers to accept Jesus as their personal Saviour. (That would not be too bad if they also gave a proper explanation of what the Bible actually teaches about accepting Christ.)

Most of us who uphold the Lord's Church in opposition to denominationalism would not put it quite that way. But we might put it this way: "If you want salvation; if you want remission of sins; if you want every spiritual blessing in heavenly places, you may have it all and more, freely in Christ." Then we tell how the water is warm, the clothing is ready, the aisle is carpeted, the preacher is waiting with outstretched arms, and the angels in heaven are practically holding their breath waiting for him to act.

I am not trying to deny even that last part, but do you notice what is happening? The sinner has become the center of the stage! The attention is, from start to finish, on what he wants and gets. If the water is not warm, or the clothing is not ready, should he perhaps wait until all his needs are met or his wants satisfied?

There comes a time when the sinner should be told the blessings he has, and that the Father stands yearning for the Prodigal, and will indeed give him the ring, the robe and the calf. But before that, the foundation should have been laid in the nature and character of God.

To help you see whether your preaching has been man-centered or God-centered, ask yourself some questions about Acts 2:36-39. Have you assumed that the question of Acts 2:37 was primarily with reference to "What shall we do?" in view of gaining salvation, or "What shall we do?" in view of the fact that the Jesus we have crucified is both Lord and Christ? Of course it does not have to be an "either-or" situation.

But can you not see the difference in the reaction of one whose attitude is always predominantly man-centered -- what shall we do in order that we may get something -- and one that is God-centered -- what shall we do in view of the fact that Jesus is Lord, and that we have offended a holy God? If a person obeys the gospel primarily in terms of what he can get, then his subsequent life will probably be based primarily upon selfish considerations instead of on what will glorify God.

Do you not see that the concept of accepting Jesus as Saviour is one thing (relating primarily to what He gives -- salvation) and accepting Him as Lord is another (relating to what He demands or requires because of His nature)? Of course the truth is that if one is truly converted in the Bible sense, he cannot accept Jesus as Saviour without accepting Him as Lord. But I am not talking about what can actually be done from God's standpoint. I am talking about our concept of it. There are many who would like to accept Jesus as Saviour without accepting Him as Lord!

The primary purpose for the existence of the church is not the salvation of souls! Does that shock you? The primary purpose is to glorify God (Eph. 3:10, 21). Of course this purpose is realized primarily in the salvation of souls, for there is no greater way to glorify God than to help save a soul. But the fact that the football team has to get to the one yard line in order to get to the goal line does not mean that getting to the one yard line is the primary purpose of the game.

To put it another way: If "getting saved" is the ultimate goal in life (an man-centered one), then when I think I am saved -- whatever that involves -- I will tend to stop or slow down. But if glorifying God is the ultimate goal (a God-centered one), there is no stopping place.

Those of us who talk to persons about the church find some who say, "I lean that way." How do you lean on this point? If it should be emphasized that Acts 2:38 teaches that a man should be baptized for (in order to get) remission of sins, (and it certainly should), should it not also be emphasized that he sould be baptized because Jesus is Lord, and commanded it for the remission of sins? Almost any time a "why" question is asked, there is a "because of" and there is an "in order to." We should be able to understand and properly emphasize both of them.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive