Is preaching and teaching the Word of God scriptural? Yes, absolutely. But the contemporary pulpit sermon is not the equivalent of the preaching and teaching that is found in the Scriptures." It cannot be found in the Judaism of the Old Testament, the ministry ofJesus, or the life of the primitive church." What is more, Paul told his Greek converts that he refused to be influenced by the communication patterns of his pagan contemporaries (1 Corinthians 1:17, 22; 2:1-5).
But what about 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (NLT), where Paul says, "I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some"? We would argue that this would not include making a weekly sermon the focus of all worship gatherings, which would have stifled the believers' transformation and mutual edification.
The sermon was conceived in the womb of Greek rhetoric. It was born into the Christian community when pagans-turned-Christians began to bring their oratorical styles of speaking into the church. By the third century, it became common for Christian leaders to deliver a sermon. By the fourth century it became the norm.'
Christianity has absorbed its surrounding culture." When your pastor mounts his pulpit wearing his clerical robes to deliver his sacred sermon, he is unknowingly playing out the role of the ancient Greek orator.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the contemporary sermon does not have a shred of biblical merit to support its existence, it continues to be uncritically admired in the eyes of most present-day Christians. It has become so entrenched in the Christian mind that most Bible-believing pastors and laymen fail to see that they are affirming and perpetuating an unscriptural practice out of sheer tradition. The sermon has become permanently embedded in a
Craig A. Evans, "Preacher and Preaching: Some Lexical Observations," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24, no. 4 (December 1981), 315-322. Norrington, To Pleach or Not, 69. Ibid.
George T. Purves, "The Influence of Paganism on Post-Apostolic Christianity," The Presbyterian Review 36 (October 1988): 529-554.
complex organizational structure that is far removed from firstcentury church life."
In view of all that we have discovered about the contemporary sermon, consider these questions:
How can a man preach a sermon on being faithful to the Word of God while he is preaching a sermon? And how can a Christian passively sit in a pew and affirm the priesthood of all believers when he is passively sitting in a pew? To put a finer point on it, how can you claim to uphold the Protestant doctrine of sola scripture ("by the Scripture only") and still support the pulpit sermon?
As one author so eloquently put it, "The sermon is, in practice, beyond criticism. It has become an end in itself, sacred—the product of a distorted reverence for 'the tradition of the elders' . . . it seems strangely inconsistent that those who are most disposed to claim that the Bible is the Word of God, the 'supreme guide in all matters of faith and practice' are amongst the first to reject biblical methods in favor of the 'broken cisterns' of their fathers ( Jeremiah 2:13).""
In light of what you have read in this chapter, is there really any room in the church's corral for sacred cows like the sermon?
1. You take issue with making the proclamation of the Word the center of the church meeting. However, Paul seems to emphasize preaching when instructing Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4:2, he tells him: "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction" (NIV).
Timothy was an apostolic worker. His role was to equip God's people to function and to know the Lord. It was also to win lost souls with a view to building the church. (In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul tells Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist.")
Therefore, preaching the Word of God is part of the apostolic call. Timothy certainly did this, just as Paul did when he preached in the marketplace in Athens and
See also chapter 5. A Norrington, To Preach or Not, 102, 104.
in the hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus. Those were apostolic meetings designed for equipping the church and for building the community by converting people to Christ.
By contrast, the normative church meeting is when every member of the church comes together to share his or her portion of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26). AH are free to teach, preach, testify, prophesy, pray, and lead a song.
2.Greeks and Romans may have used rhetoric to titillate a crowd; however, why does that fact make including the principles of rhetoric and verse-by-verse commentary wrong? After all, God tells us to love Him with "all our mind," as well as with all our heart and soul.
The point of our argument is that the sermon originated from Greco-Roman paganism rather than from Jesus or the apostles. It is for the reader to decide whether or not the Greco-Roman sermon is wrong or right—an improved development to apostolic preaching or a departure from it.
3. When you describe the work of a church planter, you say he "submerged the churches in a revelation of Jesus Christ." What exactly does that mean, and how do you think this experience affects how a church body assembles together?
The first-century church planters had a deep and profound revelation (or insight) of Jesus Christ. They knew Him, and they knew Him well. He was their life, their breath, and their reason for living. They, in turn, imparted that same revelation to the churches they planted. John 1:1-3 is a good example of this dynamic.
Paul of Tarsus preached a message of Christ that was so profound that it caused immoral, blood-drinking pagans to become full-fledged Christians in love with Jesus Christ in just a few short months. (These new believers made up the churches of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea [Acts 13-17].) Paul shared the depths of Christ with them in such a way that they knew that they were holy in His eyes and that they could know Him internally, for Christ indwelt them. This profound, personal understanding of the indwelling Christ affected how they gathered together and what they did in those gatherings.
Furthermore, Paul typically spent several months with these new converts and then left them on their own for long periods of time, sometimes years. And when he returned, they were still gathering together, still loving one another, and still following their Lord.
What kind of gospel did he preach to cause this kind of remarkable effect? He called it "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8, NIV ). To put it another way, he submerged them in a revelation ofJesus Christ.
THE PASTOR: OBSTACLE TO EVERY-MEMBER FUNCTIONING
"It is a universal tendency in the Christian religion, as in many other religions, to give a theological interpretation to institutions which have developed gradually through a period of time for the sake of practical usefulness, and then read that interpretation back into the earliest periods and infancy of these institutions, attaching them to an age when in fact nobody imagined that they had such a meaning."
— RICHARD HANSON, TWENTIETH -CENTURY PATRISTIC SCHOLAR
"I majored in Bible in college. I went to the seminary and I majored in the only thing they teach there: the professional ministry. When I graduated, I realized that I could speak Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and the only thing on earth I was qualified for was to be pope. But someone else had the job."
— ANONYMOUS PASTOR
THE PASTOR. He is the fundamental figure of the Protestant faith. So prevailing is the pastor in the minds of most
Christians that he is often better known, more highly praised, and more heavily relied upon than Jesus Christ Himself!
Remove the pastor and most Protestant churches would be thrown into a panic. Remove the pastor, and Protestantism as we know it would die. The pastor is the dominating focal point, mainstay, and centerpiece of the contemporary church. He is the embodiment of Protestant Christianity.
But here is the profound irony. There is not a single verse in the entire New Testament that supports the existence of the modern-day pastor! He simply did not exist in the early church.
Note that we are using the term pastor throughout this chapter to depict the contemporary pastoral office and role, not the specific individual who fills this role. By and large, those who serve in the office of pastor are wonderful people. They are honorable, decent, and very often gifted Christians who love God and have a zeal to serve His people. But it is the role they fill that both Scripture and church history are opposed to.'
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