Care and Feeding of the Born-Again Heart: In Remembrance of Our Spiritual Forebears

download (1)For the foreseeable future, The Training Table will be serving-up a sampling of tasty, race-runner-meaty, and “full-filling” delights from a smorgasbord of our spiritual forebears.

Today’s feast of the born-again heart at The Training Table consists of The Attributes of Puritan Preaching and Teaching.

There is little doubt that the [some would say post-Christian] Western Church has been in a state of “splintered chaos” for some time—the biggest sea change beginning in the ‘60’s which was prefaced by Enlightenment-humanistic philosophy.

While seated here at The Training Table, we have chewed on the “macro-cultural forces” that have influenced the Western Church’s worldliness and declination from its role as God’s “salt and light factory”—and the “helper agency”(1) for making and then growing disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19).

(1) The first agency-mover is, a) God’s effectual and predestinated calling of The Church-Supernatural since before time; b) Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and defeat of sin and death at the resurrection; c) the Spirit’s regenerating the spiritually-dead heart and birthing a spiritual new creation; and d) THEN each convert’s response in the realization of his or her sin, and God’s perfection—thereby responding in repentance of sin and faith alone in Jesus as first Savior, and then the Lord of his or her life. The institutional church [where The Church Body-Supernatural regularly meets] was designed by God to “take the baton passed along by God” [“a, b, c” above] and proactively help, arm, equip the new Believer, born-again, newly-created covert in the training and continual growth as a disciple to run the good race!

Moving from 30,000’ to Ground Zero

Before we look at some detail of The Attributes of Puritan Preaching and Teaching, let’s do what we should always do before… doing it: Provide the context.

It so very important to regularly remind ourselves of what the vital signs are of a vital church. Please read these items below and consider a reality check on your experience at your own church. Please consider being a change agent—that awesome yet often-challenging role of light and salt—in your own church! Bring the list below to your Community/Fellowship Group or another such vitally-involved community in your church for a discussion.

From the “Macro-Perspective”: The Essential Quality Characteristics for Vital Churches:

1. Empowering leadership—Leaders empower others for ministry. Leaders let go of responsibility and let God’s energy be seen in the laity, other members. Pastors need to be both goal and relationship oriented.

2. Gift-oriented ministry—People are able to recognize and use their God-given talents and Spiritual gifts for ministry both inside the church and in the local community.

3. Passionate spirituality—Christians in these congregations are “on fire” (Spirit-filled). They have a genuine relationship with God. People’s lives are committed to their faith. They are enthusiastic and joyful.

4. Functional structures—The structure in a healthy church promotes growth rather than hinders it. This book suggests that department heads may work best, recommending that a co-leader (or a person in training) also be an automatic part of the structure. The right person for each job is one who has the appropriate Spiritual gift.

5. Inspiring worship service—Spirit-filled worship with the people thoroughly involved in the services [preaching and teaching, the sacraments, fellowship, stewardship, etc]

6. Holistic small groups—Groups are to go beyond study and discussion to applying God’s message to daily life. Small groups are the place where Christianity can really be practiced. Groups multiply by having the co-leaders form two separate groups after a time. Each new group invites new participants and selects an additional co-leader.

7. Need-oriented evangelism—The pastor knows which 10% of the congregation have the gift of evangelism and encourage them to make use of it. She/he also encourages all members to individually share Christ with those they do know. Evangelism efforts should be focused on the person’s questions and needs. Congregation-wide efforts would take the energy of the people’s interests and the community’s needs and redirect them to God’s ways.

8. Loving relationships—This is the experience of Christian love, not just talking about it. Examples include spending time together, compliments, being aware of personal problems, and laughter.

(Based on Christian A. Schwarz’s book: Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches)

The Attributes of Puritan Preaching and Teaching:
A) 3 Characteristics of Puritan “Plain Preaching” We Need to Rediscover

“Three characteristics associated with Puritan plain preaching need rediscovery by today’s preachers.
First, Puritan preaching… addressed the mind with clarity. It addressed man as a rational creature. The Puritans loved and worshiped God with their minds. They viewed the mind as the palace of faith. They refused to set mind and heart against each other; instead, they taught that knowledge was the soil in which the Spirit planted the seed of regeneration.

Second, Puritan preaching… confronted the conscience pointedly. The Puritans worked hard on the consciences of sinners as the “light of nature” in them. Plain preaching named specific sins, then asked questions to press home the guilt of those sins upon the consciences of men, women, and children. As one Puritan wrote, “We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.” They believed that such an approach was necessary because, until the sinner is drawn from behind that bush, he’ll never cry to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Modern evangelism seems to be afraid to confront the conscience pointedly. We need to learn from the Puritans, who were solemnly persuaded that the friend who loves you most will tell you the most truth about yourself. Like Paul and the Puritans, we need to testify, earnestly and with tears, of the need for “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

Third, Puritan preaching… wooed the heart passionately. It was affectionate, zealous, and optimistic. Puritan preachers did not just reason with the mind and confront the conscience; they appealed to the heart. They preached out of love for God’s Word, love for the glory of God, and love for the soul of every listener. They preached with warm gratitude of the Christ who had saved them and made their lives a sacrifice of praise. They set forth Christ in His loveliness, hoping to make the unsaved jealous of what the believer has in Christ.”

(Excerpts adapted from Joel Beeke’s Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Available from, emphasis added)

The Attributes of Puritan Preaching and Teaching:
B) 3 Characteristics of “Catechetical Teaching” We Need to Rediscover

“Like the Reformers, the Puritans were catechists. They believed that pulpit messages should be reinforced by personalized ministry through catechesis—the instruction in the doctrines of Scripture using catechisms. Puritan catechizing was evangelistic in several ways.

Scores of Puritans reached out evangelistically to children and young people by writing catechism books that explained fundamental Christian doctrines via questions and answers supported by Scripture. For example, John Cotton titled his catechism Milk for Babes, drawn out of the Breasts of both Testaments. Other Puritans included in the titles of their catechisms such expressions as “the main and fundamental points,” “the sum of the Christian religion,” the “several heads” or “first principles” of religion, and “the ABC of Christianity.”

At various levels in the church as well as in the homes of their parishioners, Puritan ministers taught rising generations from both the Bible and their catechisms. Their goals were to explain the fundamental teachings of the Bible, to help young people commit the Bible to memory, to make sermons and the sacraments more understandable, to prepare covenant children for confession of faith, to teach them how to defend their faith against error, and to help parents teach their own children.

Catechizing was a follow-up to sermons and a way to reach neighbors with the gospel. Alleine reportedly followed his work on Sunday by several days each week of catechizing church members as well as reaching out with the gospel to people he met on the streets. Baxter, whose vision for catechizing is expounded in The Reformed Pastor, said that he came to the painful conclusion that “some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close disclosure, than they did from ten years’ public preaching.”

Baxter invited people to his home every Thursday evening to discuss and pray for blessing on the sermons of the previous Sabbath. The hard work of the Puritan catechist was greatly rewarded.

Richard Greenham claimed that catechism teaching built up the Reformed church and seriously damaged Roman Catholicism. When Baxter was installed at Kidderminster in Worcestershire, perhaps one family in each street honored God in family worship; at the end of his ministry there, there were streets where every family did so.

He could say that of the six hundred converts brought to faith under his preaching, he could not name one who had backslidden to the ways of the world. How vastly different was that result compared with those of today’s evangelists, who press for mass conversions and turn over the hard work of follow-up [and discipleship] to others.”

(Excerpts adapted from Joel Beeke’s Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Available from, emphasis added)


This combination of Puritan “Plain Preaching and Catechetical Teaching” is just awesome! Yes, in our day, it still exists in a very small number of churches, but the vast majority of churches “in the West” are so light on these attributes of “plain preaching and catechetic teaching” that for most churches today taking up this cause and process would seem archaic at best, legalistic as second worse, and abysmally anachronistic, wholly uninformed, backward, and out-dated… actually retarded [def, “slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress, etc.”] at the very worse.

The “culture of comfort” so dominant in the world has infiltrated the church SO THAT the spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically challenging realms of discipleship are now counter-cultural… even in the church.

Over time, the lack of consistent “plain preaching and catechetic teaching” has left the church nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the sadly-secularized, rampantly-pluralized [truth relativized], and isolatedly-privatized [very few intimate and transparent relationships] culture.

The sad fact of the matter is that there are many more cults which practice these two processes of creating misguided-disciples than bible-believing churches. RE: I was recently visited by a pair of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints seasoned disciples who knew their stuff far better than many/most Christians I know…

Of the numerous and complicated consequences of the Western church having been so overcome by the world’s ways, I believe that the lack of DISCIPLESHIP- related items listed above is the most harmful—due to so little, consistent “Plain Preaching and Catechetical Teaching” like the Puritans practiced, and we should get back to.

Making +PLUS+ growing disciples = spreading the Gospel… like the Light and Salt of The Church is meant by God to do. Or not.

“The Christian church in the U.S. is still strong numerically, but it has lost its decisive influence both in American public life and in American culture as a whole, especially in the major elite institutions of society.” (Os Guinness)

Please consider some questions of yourself such as:
Of the various ways Puritan “Plain Preaching and Catechetical Teaching” was expressed above, which ideas, practices, rationales, etc. most resonated with your experience, conscience, faith?

Which are most present and consistently practiced in your church? Faith? Relationships? Why?

Which are most absent and most needed in your church? Faith? Relationships? Why?

If GAPS exist for you in these first two questions, what are you willing to do to in an attempt to “close GAPS”? Pray specifically about certain ideas/GAPS? Inquire of leadership in your church? Speak with others in your church? Offer to be part of the solution… and not the problem?

Lastly, please take some time to see where, how, why Puritan “Plain Preaching and Catechetical Teaching” show up in the Resource section below.  It would be my most ardent hope that in whichever ways our churches might return to these principles and practices that it would be pleasing to God, a blessing to His people, and an obvious force for cultural transformation that we so sorely need in our day.

Can’t wait to see each of you next week when we partake of the subject of The Puritans on Prayer. It will be some meaty and nourishing fare!

May God richly bless your Thanksgiving—each and every day!

Vital Member, by John MacArthur

Twelve Challenges Churches Face, by Mark Dever

Why We Love the Church, by Kevin DeYoung, Ken Kluck

The Prodigal Son(s) and Church Discipline, Scotty Smith

9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever

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