During medieval times, the Eucharist dominated the Roman Catholic Mass, and preaching took a backseat. But with the coming of Mar-
The enthusiastic applause from an audience to a sophist's homily was a Greek custom. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1938. Durant, Age of Faith, 65. Norrington, To Preach or Not, 23. ^ Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 71. * Brilioth, Brief History of Preaching, 31, 42.
Senn, Christian Liturgy, 366. Both Lutheran and Reformed preaching tended to be a verse-by-verse exposition. This was characteristic of the patristic fathers like Chrysostom and Augustine.
John McGuckin, professor of early church history at Union Theological Seminary, e-mail message to Frank Viola, September 29, 2002. Norrington, To Preach or Not, 23
tin Luther, the sermon was again given prominence in the worship service." Luther viewed the church as the gathering of those who listen to the Word of God being spoken to them. For this reason, he once called the church building a Mundhaus (mouth-house or speech-house)!61
Taking his cue from Luther, John Calvin argued that the preacher is the "mouth of God."" (Ironically, both men vehemently railed against the idea that the pope was the vicar of Christ.) It is not surprising that many of the Reformers had studied rhetoric and were deeply influenced by the Greco-Roman sermons of Augustine, Chrysostom, Origen, and Gregory the Great."
Thus the flaws of the church fathers were duplicated by the Reformers and the Protestant subcultures that were created by them. This was especially true of the Puritans.' In fact, the contemporary evangelical preaching tradition finds its most recent roots in the Puritan movement of the seventeenth century and the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century.
The Puritans borrowed their preaching method from Calvin. What was that method? It was the systematic exposition of Scripture week after week. It was a method taken from the early church fathers that became popular during the Renaissance. Renaissance scholars would provide a sentence-by-sentence commentary on a writing from classical antiquity. Calvin was a master at this form. Before his conversion, he employed this style while writing a commentary on a work by the pagan author Seneca. When he was converted and turned to sermonizing, he applied the same analytical style to the Bible.
Following the path of John Calvin, the Puritans centered all
White, Protestant Worship, 46-47. rt Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 114.
Thomson, Preaching as Dialogue, 9-10. " Old, Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship, 79ff.
Tracing the evolution of sermon content from the Reformation to today is beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say that sermons during the Enlightenment period degenerated into barren moral discourses for improving human society. The Puritans brought back the verse-by-verse expositional preaching that began with the church fathers. Social justice themes became prominent in nineteenth-century Methodism. And with the advent of Frontier-Revivalism, preaching in evangelical churches was dominated by a salvation call. The Puritans also made contributions to modern sermonic rhetoric. Their sermons were written out ahead of time in a four-part outline (Scripture reading, theological statement, proof and illustration of doctrine, and application) with a detailed organizational structure. White, Protestant Worship, 53, 121, 126, 166, 183; Allen C. Guelzo, "When the Sermon Reigned," Christian History 13, no.1 (1994): 24-25.
their church services around a systematic teaching of the Bible. As they sought to Protestantize England (purifying it from the flaws of Anglicanism), the Puritans centered all of their church services around highly structured, methodical, logical, verse-by-verse expositions of Scripture. They stressed that Protestantism was a religion of "the Book." (Ironically, "the Book" knows nothing of this type of sermon.)
The Puritans also invented a form of preaching called "plain-style." This style was rooted in the memorization of sermon notes. Their dividing, subdividing, and analyzing of a biblical text raised the sermon to a fine science." This form is still used today by countless pastors. In addition, the Puritans gave us the one-hour sermon (though some Puritan sermons lasted ninety minutes), the practice of congregants taking notes on the sermon, the tidy four-part sermon outline, and the pastor's use of crib notes while delivering his oration."
Another influence, the Great Awakening, is responsible for the kind of preaching that was common in early Methodist churches and is still used in contemporary Pentecostal churches. Strong outbursts of emotion, which include screaming and running up and down the platform, are all carryovers from this tradition.'
Summing up the origin of the contemporary sermon, we can say the following: Christianity had taken Greco-Roman rhetoric and adapted it for its own purposes, baptized it, and wrapped it in swaddling clothes. The Greek homily made its way into the Christian church around the second century. It reached its height in the pulpit orators of the fourth century—namely Chrysostom and Augustine."
The Christian sermon lost its prominence from the fifth century until the Reformation, when it became encased and enshrined u Meic Pearse and Chris Matthews, We Must Stop Meeting Like This (E. Sussex, UK: Kingsway Publications, 1999), 92-95. " White, Protestant Worship, 53, 121, 126, 166, 183; Guelzo, "When the Sermon Reigned," 24-25. The ghosts of Puritan preaching are still with us today. Every time you hear a Protestant pastor sermonize, underneath you will find the Puritan sermon style which has its roots in pagan rhetoric.
Pearse and Matthews. We Must Stop Meeting Like This, 95. Brilioth, Brief History of Preaching, 22.
as the central focus of the Protestant worship service. Yet for the last five centuries, most Christians have never questioned its origin or its effectiveness."
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