defining proclamation amid the shifting paradigm

Throughout the history of the faith of Christ, preaching the sermon has been central to our understanding of the modus operandi of Christ, His bride (the Church) and how we interact in the world.  This morning as I was reading through the various tweets (on my Twitter page) I saw that The Methodist Thinker had tweeted a link to a Christianity Today article on preaching entitled “A Vertical Discipline.

J.Wesley's preaching was just one part of his ministry
J.Wesley's preaching was just one part of his ministry

An aside:  Though my thoughts are not founded, I wonder greatly if there is a serious disconnect between how we view our faith and how we emphasize a vertical form of homiletical expression of our faith (again, I don’t know if I’m simply misplacing my thoughts or if I’m properly addressing a systemic disconnect OR if I’m simply placing my on sordid thoughts upon this topic…but perhaps there is some discussion to be had).

Clearly preaching in the Christian context displays a multitude of forms and its purposes are part of the greater contextual teaching.  As it must, right preaching offers the community the chance to collectively think about the story of God.  Preaching at its best offers a chance for the community to hear the story while placing the text in proper context.  When done in this way, insight is given into God’s story while the reality of that community’s story are properly positioned within the apostolic order of the past, present and future order of the Church (translation: the community enters the story of God).

Preaching is good.  Preaching is essential.  John Wesley preached prolifically.  Preaching was central to Methodism from its inception and to this day our basic doctrines are defined from sermons that Wesley wrote and preached.  But in focusing upon formal preaching as the central proclamation of the Message of Christ, are we overlooking the critical question of how?  In reading “A Verticle Discipline” I disagree with two of the seven points to good preaching:

“Good preaching gives a place for a spiritually qualified person to protect believers from dangerous error. To use the biblical metaphor: Christians are sheep; false teachers are wolves; preachers are guardian shepherds. A preacher is a person called and gifted by God with spiritual authority for the care of souls in the context of God’s church.

My thoughts: Okay, this seems fair enough – but what makes a person “qualified” to preach?  Who qualifies them?  How long does this qualification take?  This is good in theory but in praxis EVERYONE is qualified to proclaim the Good News of Christ – & I dare say that even if their doctrine is not exactly correct they must proclaim Christ from the rooftops.

The real danger here is that this rule of thumb is deadening to the Spirit in that it disallows real proliferation of the Word to take place.  It co-signs the institutional Church and belittles all others as affiliate or secondary.  Yes right doctrine is essential; yes proclamation should have doctrine.  But when one figure-head is given authority above others carte blanche, we all suffer from institutionalism – and the power may become severely squelched for the many potential proclaimers.  (Jesus very effectively commissioned many to proclaim the Good News of Christ….while he preached, he expected all others to do the same).

“Good preaching does what most Christians are not gifted, trained, or time-endowed to do: interpret a text in context, distill the theological claims that are universally true, and apply those truths in a particular time and place to particular people in a particular church—all this with the help of resources informed by 2,000 years of the church’s study that average Christians do not own.”

More of my thoughts: Oh dear!  Do I have to elaborate on why this is not a healthy commentary!?!  Good Preaching comes from the Spirit of God!  While being informed by the texts of Scripture, the best sermons are very often being preached in streets and not in the pulpit.  What I mean to say is that the sermon of craft and control seems to be the one of they that regard training above they that are called.  A model like this seldom leaves room for belief in action…and places very little emphasis on the mission of the church to be the hands and feet of Christ.  Faith w/o works is…. Don’t underestimate the sermon of the person that offers a cold cup of water or the sermon of the person that refuses to step over that person in the street (He is Jesus).

“Listening to preaching has a much lower threshold. While many spiritual disciplines sound like exercises for the spiritually elite, young and old, educated and uneducated, disciplined and undisciplined can at least listen to a sermon.”

Yet more of my thoughts: The message of God is that we all have a sermon to give.  We each have a sermon to offer and share daily.  EVERYONE must listen to the sermons around us, but sermons are best preached when they are done.  Sermons spoken are weak and powerless aside from the action of preaching!  Preaching is best done from outside the building walls of a temple or a sanctuary or a worship center, etc.  Sermons are not for the trained alone.  Sermons are better offered by the people.  If liturgies are truly “the work of the people,” then may preaching be theirs first…and may those of us in the pulpits remember that God prefers to use the unexpected first and foremost.

Is singular congregational proclamation the way of Christ or is it merely a western model of proclamation?  Are we perpetuating cultural standards by cosigning such a means of order and perhaps authority?  Is this too raucous for the institutional church?  Perhaps but in the midst of a potential vacuum and decline the institution must look inwardly and take notice of its misunderstandings of the people it claims to serve.  Perhaps a more holistic approach to homiletics is in order.


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David A. Wofford

Serving Christ, proclaiming Resurrection, renouncing Evil.

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