How did the Greek sermon find its way into the Christian church? Around the third century a vacuum was created when mutual ministry faded from the body of Christ." At this time the last of the traveling Christian workers who spoke out of a prophetic burden and spontaneous conviction left the pages of church history." To fill their absence, the clergy began to emerge. Open meetings began to die out, and church gatherings became more and more liturgical." The "church meeting" was devolving into a "service."
As a hierarchical structure began to take root, the idea of a "religious specialist" emerged.' In the face of these changes, the functioning Christians had trouble fitting into this evolving ecclesiastical structure.' There was no place for them to exercise their gifts. By the fourth century, the church had become fully institutionalized.
As this was happening, many pagan orators and philosophers were becoming Christians. As a result, pagan philosophical ideas unwittingly made their way into the Christian community." Many of these men became the theologians and leaders of the early Christian church. They are known as the "church fathers," and some of their writings are still with us."
Thus the pagan notion of a trained professional speaker who delivers orations for a fee moved straight into the Christian bloodstream.
Robert A. Krupp, "Golden Tongue and Iron Will," Christian History 13, no. 4 (1994): 7. Norrington, To Preach or Not, 24. " Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, 106-107, 109. " Norrington, To Preach or Not, 24-25. Ibid.; see chapter 5 of this book. Ibid., 25.
Ibid., 22; Smith, From Christ to Constantine, 115.
Among them are Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius, and Augustine (Norrington, To Preach or Not, 22). See also Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, 7-9, 109; Richard Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined (Guildford, UK : Lutterworth Press, 1979), 53.
Note that the concept of the "paid teaching specialist" came from Greece, not Judaism. It was the custom ofJewish rabbis to take up a trade so as to not charge a fee for their teaching.35
The upshot of the story is that these former pagan orators (now turned Christian) began to use their Greco-Roman oratorical skills for Christian purposes. They would sit in their official chair" and "expound the sacred text of Scripture, just as the sophist would supply an exegesis of the near-sacred text of Homer.' If you compare a third-century pagan sermon with a sermon given by one of the church fathers, you will find both the structure and the phraseology to be quite similar."
So a new style of communication was being birthed in the Christian church—a style that emphasized polished rhetoric, sophisticated grammar, flowery eloquence, and monologue. It was a style that was designed to entertain and show off the speaker's oratorical skills. It was Greco-Roman rhetoric." And only those who were trained in it were allowed to address the assembly!' (Does any of this sound familiar?)
One scholar put it this way: "The original proclamation of the Christian message was a two-way conversation . . . but when the oratorical schools of the -Western world laid hold of the Christian message, they made Christian preaching something vastly different. Oratory tended to take the place of conversation. The greatness of the orator took the place of the astounding event of Jesus Christ. And the dialogue between speaker and listener faded into a monologue.
In a word, the Greco-Roman sermon replaced prophesying, open sharing, and Spirit-inspired teaching.' The sermon became the elit-
:Ll F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 220. The noted Jewish rabbi Hillel said, "He who makes a worldly crown of the Torah shall waste away" (107-108). Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, 110.
Norrington, To Preach or Not, 22. An exegesis is an interpretation and explanation of a biblical text. Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usage, 110.
A student who studied rhetoric completed his studies when he could talk offhand on any subject that was presented to him. Logic, in the form of debate, was common in the study of rhetoric. Every student learned how to argue and argue well. Logic was natural to the Greek mind. But it was logic divorced from practice and built on theoretical arguments. This entire mind-set seeped into the Christian faith early on (Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, 32-33).
Ibid., 108. Hatch writes, "with the growth of organization there grew up also, not only a fusion of teaching and exhortation, but also the gradual restriction of the liberty of addressing the community), the official class." Wayne E. Oates, Protestant Pastoral Counseling (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 162. Ibid.. 107.
ist privilege of church officials, particularly the bishops. Such people had to be educated in the schools of rhetoric to learn how to speak." Without this education, a Christian was not permitted to address God's people.
As early as the third century, Christians called their sermons homilies, the same term Greek orators used for their discourses.' Today, one can take a seminary course called homiletics to learn how to preach. Homiletics is considered a "science, applying rules of rhetoric, which go back to Greece and Rome." 45
Put another way, neither homilies (sermons) nor homiletics (the art of sermonizing) have a Christian origin. They were stolen from the pagans. A polluted stream made its entrance into the Christian faith and muddied its waters. And that stream flows just as strongly today as it did in the fourth century.
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