Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sermon Question 6: Have We Redefined the Word "Preach"?

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.

12 comments:

Wesley Handy said...

I'm with you here.

My question: was preaching ever done for believers, or was it for unbelievers?

Eric said...

Wesley,

Thank you for your comment.

You ask a good question here. Part of the difficulty with the book of Acts is that we are looking at the spread of the church, so the preaching would be to lost people.

However, I do think that when Paul was telling Timothy to, "Preach the word," he was informing him to preach, at least some of the time, to the church at Ephesus. Some of those folks would have been saved, and others would not.

Furthermore, when John the Baptist and Jesus were preaching, they were certainly proclaiming the gospel to some people who were looking for the coming of the Messiah. These would not yet have believed in Jesus, but they would have had faith that God would save them.

So, I do think we have examples of preaching to the saved, but what we have from Acts focuses more on proclamation to the lost.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

So far brother, I agree 100%.

We have become Greeks degrading preaching to skillful rhetoric and oratory, almost as a performance, almost an art form.

Alan Knox said...

Yes, I think that kerussw is one of the Greek words that we've redefined. I don't mind redefining the word "preach", but we should not hold people accountable to living up to our definition as if that is Scripture. Nor should we assume that by living according to our definition of kerussw that we have obeyed what Scripture says we should do.

-Alan

Eric said...

John,

It really is strange how we have morphed something so wonderful (preaching according to the biblical model) into a much lesser form.

Eric said...

Alan,

It's interesting and often troubling to step back and look at how many biblical concepts we have re-defined in the way we "do the American church." It seems that whenever we strive to follow the scriptural model (whatever the issue or concept), the outcome will be a much more positive one.

tenjuices said...

Would you say kerussw should be defined to include the things like share the gospel, reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching? This seems to be the thrust of the passage. It seems to be more concerned with the church's life than sharing the good news with unbelievers.

Eric said...

Ed (10 J),

I definitely think that the term means all of those things. I did not intend to suggest that preaching only involves proclaiming the gospel in the form of evangelism. I think part of proclaiming the gospel is to preach to the church about living out the gospel-filled life. Timothy was clearly preaching, at least part of the time, to the church at Ephesus.

The problems I see in the modern church are all of the needless traditions that we have added to what it means to preach.

Alan Knox said...

Actually, I did study once of how kerussw was used in Scripture. I examined the "audience" and "content" of the "preaching" when they were specified. I found that the "audience" was rarely (if ever) people who were already believers. Now, its true that there are many uses of kerussw in which the "audience" is not specified (such as the famous 2 Tim 4). Could those be kerussw with an "audience" of believers? Possibly. How do we decide?

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

That's an interesting question. It seems to me that we should be free to preach the gospel to unbelievers and believers. For those who already believe, the content could be an exhortation to live out the life of a person saved by the gospel.

Either way, Christians should not feel artificially handcuffed by any modern definition of what preaching is.

Dan said...

In reference to the traditions we have added on to "preaching" what do you think of the idea that all sermons be exegesis of a aprticular passage. I hope I don't get stoned for asking such a question, but it seems like a lot of the sermons recorded in Acts don't really fit our modern strict model of exegesis in the SBC.

thanks.

-Dan

Eric said...

Dan,

You won't get any stones thrown at you from this end of the internet.

Based on what we see in scripture, I think we have freedom as to whether our sermons are more expository, topical, evangelistic, etc. in nature. Despite what we might hear in seminary, I do not think all sermons have to be expository in nature.

As for me personally, I try to preach almost all expository sermons. This is not because of some sort of legalistic reason. Rather, that is the method that I have been taught, and therefore feel most comfortable with. Also, I feel like that method will force me to be faithful to scripture.

If I do preach a more topical sermon, I do have to always warn myself to avoid "proof-texting." In other words, I need to make sure that I don't yank a verse out of context just to prove a point.

I'm sure we would both agree that the key is that we be faithful to the scriptures when we preach. Frankly, I don't think method itself is all that critical.

Eric