I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, researching and writing for another teaching website I hope to launch sometime this year. One issue I’m confronted with is preaching. In current protestant church practice the sermon is largely regarded as the central activity of the church. In fact a great many people believe that church just isn’t church without a proper sermon delivered by the right kind of person.
What is the biblical basis for the central role of preaching in the life of the church?
Albert Mohler points to just 2Tim 4:2 in this post. In this post he says:
Preaching did not emerge from the church’s experimentation with communication techniques. The church does not preach because preaching is thought to be a good idea or an effective technique. The sermon has not earned its place in Christian worship by proving its utility in comparison with other means of communication or aspects of worship. Rather, we preach because we have been commanded to preach.
Preaching is a commission–a charge. As Paul stated boldly, it is the task of the minister of the gospel to "preach the Word, . . . in season and out of season" [2 Tim. 4:2]. A theology of preaching begins with the humble acknowledgement that preaching is not a human invention but a gracious creation of God and a central part of His revealed will for the church. Furthermore, preaching is distinctively Christian in its origin and practice. Other religions may include teaching, or even public speech and calls to prayer. However, the preaching act is sui generis, a function of the church established by Jesus Christ.
The passage in it’s entirety is:
Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.
(2Ti 4:2 NET.)
At first blush I’m a little confused. If I was to write an article on what I think is the central activity of the church I’d probably want to find more than one bible verse. Constructing theology is tricky business. It is dangerous business to build a case on one verse. I could build a case for another activity that perhaps could be central to the life of the church based on 4 passages.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
(Rom 16:16 NET.)
All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
(1Co 16:20 NET.)
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
(2Co 13:12 NET.)
Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.
(1Th 5:26 NET.)
I know I’m being silly but this illustrates a point. We can’t pick just any group of passages of the bible and make what they talk about central in the life of the church.
We have lots of examples of Jesus and Paul preaching. People say we should preach because Jesus preached. Yes Jesus and Paul preached but they used a lot of other mediums as well. We see things like discussion, debate, and teaching. We really can’t cherry pick some examples and say this has to be central in the life of the church today.
Jesus picked and mentored 12 men, quite a lot is written about that, perhaps mentoring should be central? We have a very strong command from Jesus sending the apostles to go out and make disciples. Jesus sent out his disciples on little mission trips and eventually the apostles covered much of the known world, perhaps missions should be central?
Neither of the two common words translated preach actually define the medium used. One means to share the gospel (euaggelizo) and one means to proclaim something (kerysso).
Here is an example of euaggelizo in Peter’s one on one meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch.
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached [euaggelizo] Jesus to him.
(Act 8:35 NASB)
In this example is pretty clear that the word euaggelizo is more about the sharing of a specific message than the method it is shared in.
What about kerysso?
We proclaim [kerysso] Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
(Col 1:28 NASB)
Most of the time the NASB renders kerysso as preach but in this case the translators render it “proclaim.” Just like euaggelizo the word kerysso doesn’t define the medium. One can kerysso or proclaim something through a sermon, monologue, published writing, blogs, dialogue, art, music, debate, teaching etc… In Colossians 2 Paul is saying Jesus is being proclaimed/heralded/announced and one of the mediums listed is teaching.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the following:
1. kerýsso and Other Words for Proclamation.
The NT uses many words for the proclaiming of the Christian message, e.g., légein, laleín, martyreín, didáskein. It is a mistake simply to render such terms, and kerýssein itself, by “to preach.” Fundamentally kerýssein is the declaration of an event.
Kerysso is the word used in 2Tim 4:12. It seems shaky to the point to 2Tim 4:12 as evidence that one specific medium should be central in the life of the church when the words used in the passage don’t explicitly define the medium.
Does the context of 2Tim 4:12 imply something resembling the practice of the modern sermon? Most translators seem to think so as they render the word kerysso “preach” but not all do. The NRSV and the NJB render kerysso “proclaim” and I think it fits better.
Here is the passage with a little more context.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim [kerysso] the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
(2Ti 4:1-4 NRSVA)
It seems to me that Paul is telling Timothy to be ready to proclaim the message in any situation he finds himself in. Be ready to do it by convincing people, rebuking and encouraging. To proclaim it with patience in teaching. I don’t know that it fits as well to say that Paul is telling Timothy to be ready at all times to engage in a 30 minute exposition of scripture to a quiet audience.
The one word that does describe contemporary preaching is oratory, but we don’t see that word used in connection with ministry.
Where this whole investigation gives me pause is many of the people who believe wholeheartedly in preaching also believe wholeheartedly in proper biblical exegesis. I just haven’t seen the solid case for making preaching central in the life of the church. Now just because I don’t think it should be central doesn’t mean I think it is unbiblical or illegitimate.