Doubtlessly, someone reading the previous few paragraphs will retort: "People preached all throughout the Bible. Of course the sermon is scriptural!"
Granted, the Scriptures do record men and women preaching. However, there is a world of difference between the Spirit-inspired preaching and teaching described in the Bible and the contemporary sermon. This difference is virtually always overlooked because we have been unwittingly conditioned to read our modern-day practices back into the Scripture. So we mistakenly embrace today's pulpiteer-ism as being biblical. Let's unfold that a bit. The present-day Christian sermon has the following features:
"Nothing is more characteristic of Protestantism than the importance it attaches to preaching." Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 110.
(n France, the Protestant church service is called aller a sermon ("go to a sermon") (White, Protestant Worship, 20).
* It is a regular occurrence —delivered faithfully from the pulpit at least once a week.
> It is delivered by the same person—most typically the pastor or an ordained guest speaker.
> It is delivered to a passive audience—essentially it is a monologue.
> It is a cultivated form of speech—possessing a specific structure. It typically contains an introduction, three to five points, and a conclusion.
Contrast this with the kind of preaching mentioned in the Bible. In the Old Testament, men of God preached and taught. But their speaking did not map to the contemporary sermon. Here are the features of Old Testament preaching and teaching:
Active participation and interruptions by the audience were common.'
Prophets and priests spoke extemporaneously and out of a present burden, rather than from a set script. There is no indication that Old Testament prophets or priests gave regular speeches to God's people.' Instead, the nature of Old Testament preaching was sporadic, fluid, and open for audience participation. Preaching in the ancient synagogue followed a similar pattern.5
Come now to the New Testament. The Lord Jesus did not preach a regular sermon to the same audience.' His preaching and teaching took many different forms. And He delivered His messages to many different audiences. (Of course, He concentrated most of His
Norrington, To Preach or Not, 3.
The prophets spoke in response to specific events (Deuteronomy 1:1, 5:1, 271, 9; Joshua 211-24:15; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Amos; Haggai; Zechariah; etc.). Horrington, To Preach or Not, 3.
Norrington, To Preach or Not, 4. The only difference in synagogue preaching is that a message delivered on a biblical text was a regular occurrence. Even so, most synagogues allowed for any member to preach to the people who wished to do so. This, of course, is in direct contradiction to the modern sermon where only religious "specialists" are allowed to address the congregation. ■■ Augustine was the first to title Matthew 5-7 in his book The Lord's Sermon on the Mount (written between 392 and 396). But the passage was not generally referred to as the Sermon on the Mount until the sixteenth century (Green, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 736; Douglas, Who's Who in Christian History, 48). Despite its name, the Sermon on the Mount is quite different from the modern sermon in both style and rhetoric.
teaching on His disciples. Yet the messages He brought to them were consistently spontaneous and informal.)
Following the same pattern, the apostolic preaching recorded in Acts possessed the following features:
It was sporadic.'
> It was delivered on special occasions in order to deal with specific problems.'
It was extemporaneous and without rhetorical structure.' It was most often dialogical (meaning it included feedback and interruptions from the audience) rather than monological (a one-way discourse)."
In like manner, the New Testament letters show that the ministry of God's Word came from the entire church in their regular gatherings." From Romans 12:6-8, 15:14, 1 Corinthians 14:26, and Colos-sians 3:16, we see that it included teaching, exhortation, prophecy, singing, and admonishment. This "every-member" functioning was also conversational (1 Corinthians 14:29) and marked by interruptions (1 Corinthians 14:30). Equally so, the exhortations of the local elders were normally impromptu."
In short, the contemporary sermon delivered for Christian consumption is foreign to both Old and New Testaments. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate its existence in the early Christian gatherings."
Norrington, To Preach or Not, 7-12. Norrington analyzes the speeches in the New Testament and contrasts them with the modern-day sermon.
Acts 2:14-35; 15:13-21, 32; 20:7-12, 17-35; 26:24-29. Norrington, To Preach or Not, 5-7.
The spontaneous and nonrhetorica I character of the apostolic messages delivered in Acts is evident upon close inspection. See for instance Acts 2:14-35, 7:1-53, 17:22-34.
Jeremy Thomson, Preaching As Dialogue: Is the Sermon a Sacred Cow? (Cam bridge: Grove Books, 1996), 3-8. The Greek word often used to described first-century preaching and teaching is dialegomai (Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; 20:7, 9; 24:25). This word means a two-way form of communication. Our English word dialogue is derived from it. In short, apostolic ministry was more dialogue than it was monological sermonics. William Barclay, Communicating the Gospel (Sterling: The Drummond Press, 1968), 34-35. 1 Corinthians 14:26, 31; Romans 12:4ff.; Ephesians 4:11ff.; Hebrews 10:25. Kreider, Worship and Evangelism in Pm-Christendom, 37. Norrington, To Preach or Not 12.
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