Saturday, October 6, 2007

Sermon Question 1: Why Am I the Only One Speaking?

Over the past three weeks, I have had the opportunity to preach a total of four times in three different churches. I am grateful to God and to these churches for the opportunities. During the midst of all this, several questions popped to mind about preaching and sermons in general.

As I was preaching a few weeks ago, I thought, "Why am I the only one speaking today?" As I looked at the people sitting there, it seemed to me that it would have been much more edifying for all of us if several people had spoken, instead of just me.

That got me thinking about the biblical model for what happens when the church gathers. As my friend Alan Knox has mentioned several times, I Corinthians chapter 14 in the only place in the NT where the gathering of the church is described. As we read chapter 14, it is clear that the purpose of this gathering is the edification of the body of believers.

So, as the body gathers, what do we see in I Cor. 14? Paul writes in verse 26, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (NKJV). Several things are clear here. When this church gathered, at least a few different people were involved in speaking in a way that led to the edification of the body. We also see that the speaking took different forms (psalm, teaching, etc.). Finally, Paul said nothing against this. Surely if it was wrong, the apostle would have told them so. He certainly did not hesitate in this letter to address their problems with division, immorality, the misuse of the Lord's Supper, etc.

The norm, then, in the only gathering of the church described in the NT is for several different people to speak in a manner that builds up the body of Christ.

Interestingly, look at what is written in verses 29-31: "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged" (ESV).

What can we learn from these three verses? First, when Paul writes, "Let two or three prophets speak," he is actually giving a command. In the context of NT prophecy, more than one person is supposed to speak. It is not advice; it is a command.

Second, others there are to weigh (again a command) what is said. This provides us a picture of several different people getting involved in the edifying speaking of the local church.

Finally, verse 31 makes it clear that this should be done in an orderly manner so that learning and encouragement will take place. It seems from this that a key to edification is that more than one person be involved in giving prophecy.

How does this relate to the proclamation of the word in the church today? NT prophecy takes the form of a person saying something that they believe the Lord has laid on their heart to say to the body. While proclaiming the word is not exactly the same as this, there are similarities. Whoever is proclaiming/preaching should be exhorting the body based upon scripture. This is what we might call more objective than prophecy. However, the preacher still, I hope, believes that God has led them to a specific passage for a reason.

Preaching and prophecy in the NT, within the context of the church, exist for one purpose: the edification of the body. When we look at I Cor. 14, we see multiple people involved in the speaking ministry of the church. Paul even commands this.

So what can the church do about this today? I propose that churches, if they really want to move toward more of a NT model, actively get many more people involved in speaking when the body gathers. How can this happen?

Here are some ideas:
-Have two different people read scripture, one from the OT, and one from the NT.
-Have a time each gathering for people to talk about what God is doing in their lives.
-Each meeting, give people a chance to voice prayer requests, and/or pray publically.
-If a person speaks in tongues, make sure that someone is there who can interpret. Also, don't outright condemn speaking in tongues.
-Set aside time for people to prophesy in the gathering. This might scare some people at first, but if anyone is unbiblical, I Cor. 14 makes it clear that they can and should be corrected.
-Have two or three people preach. This could take the form of several shorter sermons.

If even some of these ideas would be instituted in our churches, I believe much more edification would take place. Why? Because the church would be following the NT model much more closely.

What other ideas do you have or have you seen to get more people involved in speaking when the body gathers?

9 comments:

Bobby said...

that is very interesting. I have thought about many why's and why nots concerning how we conduct ourselves when we gather corporately but never thought about having more speakers.
I always thought of how believers talk, share, exhort, and fellowship with one another before and after the sermon as the time to be practicing the gifts God has given. I guess it would be interesting to see it done differently as long as those who were gifted in teaching, exhortation and prophecy were the ones preaching the word of God to the body as a whole. Everything must be done in order and out of love.

Eric said...

Bobby,

For some reason we still, as Protestants, tend to copy the Catholic church in some of the things we do instead of looking to the scriptural model. Too often we almost treat the preaching pastor as a priest. What I mean by that is that he is the only one who brings the word of God in spoken form.

The scriptural model is much more one of a body of believers edifying one another through various means (psalms, teachings, etc.), many of which are spoken. I think it would be great for most churches if laymen were given plenty of opportunities to preach.

Eric

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

I have some thoughts on why only the pastor speaks on Sunday mornings:

1) The pastor is paid to study and speak. Everyone else has to work, so they do not have the time to study.

2) The pastor is educated in theology (no heresy) and trained to know how to preach (put together a sermon).

3) The pastor is the only one who is considered to be responsible for teaching the church.

4) The pastor has authority to tell us what is right and what is wrong - to interpret Scripture for us.

5) The pastor has always been the only one to speak on Sunday mornings.

I don't think all Christians believe the five things above. However, I believe that one or more of them factor into our Sunday morning practices.

By the way, I also do not think the five things listed above are good reasons for acting differently than how we are instructed to act in Scripture.

-Alan

Bobby said...

I see your point. However, in 2 Tim 4 we see Paul "passing the torch" and charging Timothy with the preaching of the word along with a warning of how the lay-men will look for pastors who tell them what they want to hear. 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound [1] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.


some pastors like John Piper and Marc Driscoll have made comments on how monologue is turning to dialogue in our culture and it is bringing with it an abandonment of foundational doctrine due to mishandling of scripture. Preaching is not a task that many lay-men should be entrusted with. We need men of scriptural integrity who will rightly handle the word to preach the gospel as Paul did, and then at the end of the race ... pass the torch and charge another young man with the difficult task.

Eric said...

Alan,

Based on what I've heard you say about I Cor. 14 in particular, I figured that we would be on the same page in this.

Isn't it interesting how most of our churches ignore the commands for multiple speakers?

Eric

Eric said...

Bobby,

I think you and I are actually in agreement here, but are looking at the topic from two different angles.

I very much agree with you that anyone who preaches in the church needs to preach in a manner that is faithful to scripture. We don't need any more false and/or poor teaching than we already have.

Regarding the II Tim. 4 passage, Paul is clearly writing to Timothy about the dangers of false teaching. Timothy was to take a stand against this. However, I don't see anything there that suggests that only elders can preach. Also, there is no reason to believe that all laymen will want to listen to false teachings.

As far as Piper is concerned (and I am a big fan of his by the way), I agree that we need to be wary any time preaching is replaced by other things. I Cor. 14 does not suggest a casual conversation. Rather, it indicates that multiple people talk within the church. This would be based on scripture, and would take place in an orderly manner.

You wrote, "Preaching is not a task that many lay-men should be entrusted with." If the lay-men are not prepared or do not know how to preach through a passage, then I agree with you. However, I think the elders of any church should, as part of their charge to equip the saints, work with lay-men to teach them how to do this. The pastors should try to recognize who has a gift for teaching, and then train them in how to preach.

We need to try to avoid the clergy-laity split as much as possible.

Thanks again, Eric

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

As I've been thinking about this, I would add one more reason that only the pastor teaches/preaches on Sunday mornings:

6) No one else (or very few) has studied the Scriptures, listened to God, and considered the possibility that God may want them to share what He is teaching them.

Thanks for this post by the way.

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

I think you are correct about all of these. I'd add another: no pastor wants to be questioned about anything he has said in front of the entire body.

Bobby said...

right on eric

laity (especially those who are aspiring) should be encouraged and trained in proper handling of the word in order to efficiently use their gifts. This teaching and mentoring should always take place before the opportunity is given for prominent speaking is allowed. This doesn't occur often enough and laity get lazy in matters of preaching and the Church is left lacking the benefits of the gifts God has given.