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Problems and Limitations of the Traditional ‘Sermon’ Concept: Part III

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 19-06-2012


13. By centering our gatherings on one man and his “sermon” (which is what many evangelical churches do, even though they would never admit to it), we are, in practice, reversing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:14 and suggesting that the body is not many members, but one (namely, the same man who preaches to us week after week). Moreover, by centering our church meetings one man’s ability to speak, we subtly begin to form a personality-cult around one man’s talents. Eventually, he becomes the final authority on spiritual and theological matters and we end up producing our own brand of “Protestant Pope’s.”

14. The focal-point of one man’s sermon tends to cause believers to feel incapable of handling the Word of God because the impression is given (however subtle it might be) that only the eloquent and seminary trained “professionals” can undertake such things as preaching and teaching. The entire aura of preaching a “sermon” is very intimidating and many career preachers are more concerned with how they communicate than with what is communicated. A bad morning for such pulpiteers is not a failure to teach the full-counsel of God, but a slip-up of the tongue or in mispronouncing a word!

15. Directly connected to the traditional sermon concept, is the practice of limiting corporate instruction to one gifted pastor (usually the “senior pastor”). But in contrast to our inherited traditions, the New Testament never limits public teaching to one pastor (regardless of how eloquent he may be) nor is it limited to those who serve as church overseers, but may include gifted teachers who may have no desire to serve in the eldership (Acts 13:1; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:29; 14:26).

1 Timothy 5:17 speaks of “those” (not him) who work hard at preaching and teaching. 1 Thessalonians 5:12, likewise, mentions “those” (not him) who “give you instruction.” Thus, there is no scriptural warrant for limiting “pulpit preaching” to one pastor alone. As a matter of fact, the local church is greatly benefited when it receives revelations of Christ from the entire body.

A. No person, no matter how gifted or “dynamic,” can speak to all the spiritual needs within a church. The congregation needs the wisdom and scriptural insight which only a plurality of brethren can provide. No church should be expositionally-dependent upon one person for its instruction.

B. A church is less likely to fall into cultic doctrine when a plurality of informed teachers are present and accountable to each other for what they say publicly.

C. A plurality of corporate teachers helps to doctrinally balance a church and keep it from the theological fringe. The different perspectives which each teacher brings helps to sharpen a church’s understanding of God’s truth, broaden their grasp of theology, and demonstrate that biblical exegesis requires hard work (2 Timothy 2:15). It also helps a congregation from reaching simplistic conclusions about the meaning of Scripture, since they will sometimes hear another viewpoint or interpretation.

D. As pointed out earlier, a plurality of teachers within the corporate setting helps to reduce the possibility of a personality-cult forming around one man.

E. A plurality of teachers reduces the possibility of pastor burn-out – a syndrome which many pastors fall into because they are expected to take on the entire load of public teaching. With very little time allowed for deep reflection upon what is learned, and with the pressing need to crank out another message before the end of the week, along with a multiplicity of other tasks, it’s no wonder that the average pastor’s sermon is often forced or simplistic.

16. What our churches need are not more professional orators or slick, three-point “sermons,” but those who are willing to properly equip and lead the people of God to do that which He has called them to do: Ministry! [Ephesians 4:11-12] We need ones who understand spiritual gifts and their proper function in the local church; ones who truly know the people they oversee and who are wise in helping to guide them where they can best serve the cause of Christ. But for pulpiteers, we have enough of them. What we need are more spiritual facilitators.

“Preaching” and “Teaching” as Related to the Sermon Concept:

1. According to the New Testament, there is a distinction between “preaching” and “teaching.” Teaching is primarily directed toward believers for their edification and spiritual development in the Christian walk, whereas preaching is primarily directed toward unbelievers for the purpose of encouraging a saving response to the Gospel message. Teaching generally covers the entire gamut of theological and ethical issues which relate to the Christian life, whereas preaching generally covers only the essentials of the salvation message. Thus, these two terms, as used in the New Testament, indicate a distinction in both content and audience.

The New Testament writers draw a clear distinction between preaching and teaching. The distinction is preserved alike in the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse, and must be considered characteristic of early Christian usage in general. Teaching (didaskein) is in the large majority of cases ethical instruction . . . Preaching on the other hand is the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world . . . The verb “to preach” frequently has for its object “the Gospel.” Indeed, the connection of ideas is so close that keryssein by itself can be used as a virtual equivalent for evangelizesthai, “to preach the Gospel.”

It would not be too much to say that wherever “preaching” is spoken of, it always carries with it the implication of “good tidings” proclaimed. For the early church, then, to preach the Gospel was by no means the same thing as to deliver moral instruction or exhortation. While the church was concerned to hand on the teaching of the Lord, it was not by this that it made converts. It was by the kerygma, says Paul, not by the didache, that it pleased God to save men (1 Corinthians 1:21) (C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, pp.7ff).

Strictly speaking, the principal biblical words translated “preaching” do not correspond exactly to that activity to which we affix the label. They are somewhat narrower in scope. These words, kerusso and euangelizo, are used in the New Testament to describe “heralding” and “announcing the Gospel.” They refer to evangelistic activity. The former always has to do with public proclamation of the good news, while the latter may be used to describe making the Gospel known to either unsaved groups or individuals (cf. Acts 8:35).

On the other hand, the word didasko, translated “to teach,” more nearly corresponds to our modern use of the word preach, and has to do with the proclamation of truth among those who already believe the Gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17) . . . Whatever speaking is carried on in the church after it has assembled, though never divorced from the Gospel message, is didaskalia, or “teaching” (cf. 1 Timothy 4:16; 5:17) (Jay E. Adams, Preaching With Purpose [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982] pp.5-6).

Although G.P. Hugenberger, writing in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol.3, pp.939-943), does not make the broad distinction between “preaching” and “teaching” as does C.H. Dodd, he still admits: “In support of Dodd, it remains striking that in the vast majority of cases (although not every case, contra Dodd) ‘preaching’ in the New Testament is, in fact, directed to unbelievers.”

If it is indeed true that, generally speaking, “preaching” is primarily directed towards unbelievers and “teaching” is primarily directed towards believers, then it is more than likely that the form of delivery or manner of instruction to each of these groups would tend to be different as well (although we cannot be too dogmatic).

In preaching to unbelievers, the delivery would be an urgent proclamation; a monologue with no expectation necessarily of mutual exchange or lengthy discussion. However, in teaching believers, the delivery is less urgent and would tend to follow a dialogue structure – not because the message is less important per se – but because the speaker is attempting to impart information in a more or less methodical manner to those who are already redeemed.

This would suggest, therefore, that we should not generally employ or get locked into one form of communication pattern (such as the monologue sermon) when seeking to instruct believers. The problem today, unfortunately, is that the vast majority of pastors employ only the monologue “preaching” method when addressing believers, allowing no opportunity for questions, comments, or clarifications either during or after the message.

by Darryl Erkel

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