This post is the final installment in this sermon series. Maybe it should have been the first one.
In discussing all of these questions about sermons, we have been talking about preaching. I wonder if we have, in the evangelical church, redefined what the word "preach" means. Have we strayed from what the bible means to preach? If we have, then what did the writers of scripture mean? What do we mean?
The answers to these questions are critical to much of what we think about sermons because, quite obviously, we preach sermons. If we get the meaning of preaching incorrect, then there is almost no way that we can be biblical in our sermons.
I want to state this clearly: I believe we have defined preaching in a much narrower way than the biblical writers intended. We have added much tradition to what we mean when we think about the verb "to preach."
What did the writers of scripture mean by preaching? Let's begin with the verse that so many modern pastors like to quote. II Timothy 4:2 gives us Paul's exhortation to Timothy. Paul writes, "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." (ESV)
What does he mean by "preach"? Paul uses the "aorist active imperative 2nd person singular" of the Greek verb "kay-roo-so" (I got that from Bibleworks, in case anyone was wondering). Quite simply, Paul is commanding Timothy to announce, herald, or publically proclaim the gospel. Timothy is to make known extensively the good news of Jesus Christ.
It is interesting to look at other places that this same Greek verb is used in the N.T. The first usage is in Matthew 3:1, which describes John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea. The first usage in Acts falls in 8:5, where Philip is proclaiming the gospel in Samaria.
In I Tim. 3:16, Paul quotes what appears to be part of a very early Christian hymn. In that verse, we read that Jesus, "was proclaimed among the nations." The final usage of any form of "kay-roo-so" comes in Rev. 5:2; John wrote of a strong angel who proclaimed the question, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?"
When we read through the N.T., we see the gospel being preached/proclaimed in many different situations by many different people. There are instances where "kay-roo-so" is used, and other instances where it is not used, but where preaching is obviously taking place. For example, the accounts of Peter (Acts 2), Stephen (Acts 7), and Paul (Acts 17 and 22) do not use that particular Greek verb.
All in all, the N.T. writers provide us with a fairly wide definition of what it is to preach/proclaim the gospel.
Now, what do we mean today when we say "preach"?
In the evangelical American church, the prevailing tendency to to view preaching as something that the paid senior pastor (expert) does in the pulpit of the church building toward the end of the worship services on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings.
While this is taking place, the gospel can certainly be proclaimed/preached. I am pleased to say that during most sermons that I hear in SBC churches, the gospel is at least mentioned. Actually, too many times the very basics of the gospel are almost all that are mentioned (that will have to be a different post).
If we take a look at the above description of modern American preaching, how many different traditions have we added to the biblical definition? Let's see:
-the pastor (singular) preaches.
-the senior pastor preaches.
-the paid senior pastor (expert) preaches.
-only the pastor preaches.
-preaching comes from the pulpit.
-preaching occurs in a church building.
-preaching happens on Sunday (or maybe Wednesday).
-preaching occurs in worship services.
-preaching happens toward the end of the services.
I'm certain that there are other traditions that we have added to preaching that I have not mentioned here, but I think the point is clear. We have added many traditions to the proclamation of the word that puts handcuffs on preaching itself.
We do a great disservice to the Christian church when we use such a tight definition for what it is "to preach." Let's work together to return to the biblical definition of preaching. This will/should lead to more people feeling free to proclaim the good news of Christ to the lost among them.