The Problem with Preaching— Part One

‘Preaching’,it’s what makes so much of the Protestant world go around. It’s what many people go to church to hear— not the singing, not the jingling of coins in the plate, not the appeals of the Sunday school class, or the peals of the church bells, but preaching. This is in some ways odd, as the NT say very little about preaching to the choir, or the already converted. Of all the many sermons in Acts, all but one of them is directed to the unconverted.

Preaching seems to be an evangelistic enterprise more than a discipleship activity. Well, yes, there is Paul’s sermon to the Ephesian elders, but they don’t represent a whole congregation, they are leaders from several congregations, presumably.

And then when you read the gift lists in 1 Corinthians or Romans or Ephesians, you have a hard time finding preachers. Teachers yes, exhorters yes, prophets yes, tongue speakers, yes. Preachers….well, not so much. More than anything else, preaching in the modern sense on some one specific text is a product of the Protestant Reformation.

This is not to say there wasn’t plenty of preaching before Luther. There was. Some of the best sermons ever were offered by church fathers like John Chrysostom. But my point is that there is not much guidance in the NT about what preaching is, or what it should be like.

It would appear that Paul’s letters, as wholes, were intended to be proclaimed out loud to a congregation in a rhetorically effective manner. Notice I did not say— they selected a verse or two and went to town. Notice I also didn’t say they used 23 illustrations instead of in depth exposition of the Word. Notice I didn’t say they put the cookies on the bottom shelf, on the assumption that the audience is not intelligent enough to sit through and process a high level discourse.

Whatever Biblical preaching looked like in the first century, and whatever caused Eutychus to fall out of his window as Paul waxed eloquent, it isn’t much in evidence in churches today. This word just in, preaching in the NT era was not based on a lectionary of NT texts blended with OT ones. There was no NT in the NT era, and the word Gospel applied quite specifically to the good news about Jesus himself, not about abstract concepts or theological ideas found in letters written to people who were already Christians. We have four Gospels, they all tell the story of Jesus.

This post is simply a ground clearing exercise. In the next post, we will begin to talk in some depth about the problem with preaching in this day and age and culture— not the least of which is the ‘Isaiah syndrome’ warned of by that prophet— namely the day will come when people have itching ears and want to be entertained or told pleasant things they like to hear, but as for hearing the hardcore word of God for their lives— ‘not so much’. God’s advice to Isaiah— speak to them in ways they can’t understand. Maybe that will wake them up. ‘Tease their minds into active thought’ What a concept. More in a bit.

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