Re-Thinking Preaching

Join us as we deconstruct some modern constructs so that we can reconstruct them Biblically. This week's topic is "preaching".

Written by Mike Biolsi on .

Notes

So far in our reflections on exile we have re-imagined church – the gathering of God’s people. We have also re-discovered scripture as a beautiful, diverse book with a common story about God and his creation.

When You realize that the exiles lost their ability to meet, you start to value what we have! They had no sabbath services to attend when they lived as exiles. At least, not at first. That means they had no public meetings.

Our pandemic changed a lot of things for us. When public meetings were banned in our region, it meant using tech so we could still try to “meet”. Some churches attempted music and other things to try to make it seem like “normal”. As we adjusted, we felt the number one thing we needed to focus on for Sunday mornings was teaching God’s Word.

David and I did a conversational style tag-team series of messages. While we are sure that was not everyone’s favorite style, it was something we really enjoyed doing. Other churches recorded their messages and just played the videos. Yet others had drive-in services with fm transmitters. We learned that there could be a lot more variety in the way we do things when what we are used to is taken away from us.

That made me really think about what we actually DO on Sunday mornings when we gather. So for our last reflection, I want to re-think preaching.

When I went to Bible college I was taught how to “preach”. In our homiletics class we learned how to take a passage, parse out the meaning, make it into 2-5 memorable points (though 3 was preferred because we know that is the number of the trinity), and then

1.     captivate our audience with illustrations,

2.     elaborate on God’s word with authority,

3.     motivate people with application

SEE… I even made that 3 points, and they had a good rhythm (captivate, elaborate, motivate). Though if I were a skillful preacher, I would have alliterated my points as well 😁

We were trained that preaching was the predominant method of teaching in the church and that it was our duty to preach in such a way that we could:

Hebrews 10:24 (ESV) — consider how to stir up one another to love and good works

Preaching meant mobilizing God’s people to action. That is what Sunday mornings were for. I have two books that were given to me in the past year – check out the titles:

** show books.

My concern is that in an effort to make sure our listeners have action points and outlines to remember, we can distort the true meaning of the passage. Even worse, by always require application with each message we can actually perpetuate the concept that God only accepts us when we are doing things for him.  (cf Mary & Martha and take notes!) People might think that God is only interested in human-doings not human-beings. While it can be beneficial and even necessary at time to have action points, it is not the only way to preach.

Additionally, I have found more and more books that promote specific styles of preaching (topical, expository, etc) and even polarized on specific styles. Some have even gone so far as to say that a single style is the only biblical way to preach.

While there is nothing wrong with expositional or exegetical preaching, it is actually quite good, it is not the only way to preach.

It is not what Paul did, nor what Peter did, nor how Jesus taught. Each of them tailored their message to the individuals or churches they were addressing.

Claiming that there is only one biblical way to preach is unbiblical.

I believe it is possible that the modern church and modern pastors, have lost touch with the beauty of God’s word and the wonder of the God who penned it. I think it very possible that we have:

1.     relegated the Word of God into an instruction manual

2.     made idols out of preaching styles

3.     perpetuated a false concept of works-based acceptance by God

This morning I want us to strip away the modern expectations of Sunday messages and the production that Sunday services have become and look at what the Bible teaches us about what the church could and should be doing when it meets together.

Reclaiming a Biblical Understanding of Preaching

In most churches, I am called a “preacher” because one of my responsibilities is to “preach”. That is what we expect on Sunday mornings, right?

That is an interesting word, isn’t it? According to Webster:

Preach

1: to deliver a sermon

2: to urge acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action specifically : to exhort in an officious or tiresome manner

~ Webster

To get the full meaning, you have to understand how Webster defines sermon:

sermon

1.     a religious discourse delivered in public usually by a member of the clergy as a part of a worship service

2.     a speech on conduct or duty

 

THEREFORE, to preach is: “to deliver a speech on religious conduct in a tiresome manner” 🤣

 

Also, according to Webster, the first known use of the word in this form was in the 13th century (1200s).

The original roots of the word go back to Medieval Latin, where it came from two word: “prea” (before) and “dicare” which means to announce or proclaim.

THIS is much closer to the actual usage of the word in the Bible.

The word “preach”, found in the New Testament in our Bibles, means to proclaim, and the first time we are introduced to it is when John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness:

Matthew 3:1–3 (CSB) — 1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight!

The word “preach” used here comes from the Greek word “kerysso” which appears in the new testament 74 times in the CSB and is translated as “announce, proclaim and preach”.

Luke 3:3 (CSB) — 3 He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

John’s message was to repent. He was the one coming before the Messiah to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was to announce the message of repentance and also the good news that the kingdom has come.

ASK: How would you describe the difference between “proclaim” and “persuade”?

Most lectures, seminars or books that I have on preaching are about persuading people. Take the two that I brought with me as examples.

The Apostle Paul puts out a very clear message that the goal of preaching is NOT to be persuasive!

1 Corinthians 2:1–5 (CSB) — 1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. 2 I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.

Preaching needs to be more about yielding to God’s spirit than learning on human wisdom and devices.

Perhaps the problem is one of definitions? Maybe we have the wrong understanding of just what “preaching” is in the Bible? How does the Bible portray preaching?

We already learned that John preached (announced) that people needed to repent. After the arrest of John the Baptist and the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began to preach:

Matthew 4:17 (CSB) — 17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

His message was much the same as John’s: repent (turn back to God) because God’s kingdom is near.

Matthew 4:23 (CSB) — 23 Now Jesus began to go all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

35 of the 74 times we find this word “Preach” in our NT, it is in the gospels.

·        In Matthew it is the kingdom of God that is preached

·        In Mark it is the gospel that is preached

·        In Luke it is baptism of repentance, release of captives, the year of the Lord’s favor, the good news, forgiveness of sins

All of these are kingdom language. All of these are about the promises of the Old Testament that relate back to the garden exile, the promise of the Messiah, the covenants with Israel and the messages of the prophets – and how Jesus came to fulfill them.

Though the word “preach” is used to describe other announcements, the primary use of it in the NT is in regards to telling others the good news about Jesus.

Not only did John and Jesus preach, but Jesus told his followers to preach:

Mark 3:14 (CSB) — 14 He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach,

The man who was freed from demon possession also became a preacher:

Mark 5:18–20 (CSB) — 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him earnestly that he might remain with him. 19 Jesus did not let him but told him, “Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So he went out and began to proclaim [preach] in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.

Modern churchdom has relegated the ministry of “preaching” to “preachers”. Not only have we misunderstood the meaning of “preaching” (it is NOT to give a sermon or to nag to action) we have misunderstood who is to preach!

The last commissioning of the disciples, before Jesus ascended and after his resurrection, was for them to go and make disciples. We claim this as the calling of ALL disciples of Jesus, not just the 11. If that is so, what would be the first step of making disciples? Telling them about Jesus – proclaiming the good news of the forgiveness of sins – preaching. Mark’s account of the commission is crystal clear:

Mark 16:15 (CSB) — 15 Then he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Read you read that, it might sound scary to you if I am saying that is your call. If so, it is only because you have adopted “churchdom” understanding of certain words. What if I said,

“Go into all the world and tell others the good news of what God has done for you!”

Less scary? Preach = proclaim  | gospel = good news

Perhaps this will help us see the connection:

Romans 10:14–15 (CSB) — 14 How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.

There is a glorious joy in that preaching is not just limited to the church elders/pastors! Everyone has been invited to tell others what Jesus has done for them - like the blind man, and the deaf man, and the demon possessed man did. And as we do, we are blessed!

Avoiding another false doctrine

Some might conclude that preaching is therefore only related to the gospel.

Remember, the word WE use for  “preach” is actually the Greek word “proclaim” or “announce”. It is NOT really what you and I are used to today. And it is NOT only used regarding the gospel!

Paul commanded the young pastor Timothy to “preach the word”.

2 Timothy 4:2 (CSB) — 2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching.

That word, “word”, is not the same as the word “gospel”. I can mean a lot of things! You might think Paul is referring to Jesus as the “Word”, but it is not capitalized here, as it is in the gospel of John, for John refers to Christ as the Word, but Paul does not.

In the most direct context, it could mean the things that Paul taught Timothy. In the larger picture it could mean the law and prophets – for Timothy’s Gentile church would not know all about the God story and by this time the Law & the Prophets were accepted as canon.

Paul also uses the word “preach” in a different context in Romans:

Romans 2:21 (CSB) — 21 you then, who teach another, don’t you teach yourself? You who preach, “You must not steal”—do you steal?

That preaching sure was not about Jesus! In Peter’s teaching about God, he mentioned Noah, and listen to what he says about him

2 Peter 2:5 (CSB) — 5 and if [God] didn’t spare the ancient world, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others, when he brought the flood on the world of the ungodly;

Noah was a preacher, but certainly not about Jesus, right? And the angel who is waiting to open the scroll in Revelation was certainly not explaining the good news when we read this:

Revelation 5:2 (CSB) — 2 I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”

Same Greek word for preach.

The vast majority of the times that we see the English word preach in the NT, it is connected to a message of the kingdom, repentance or the Messiah. So, for that reason, it is totally acceptable for us to connect preaching with the good news of Jesus.

However, it is not healthy for us to define all preaching as gospel centric or to say that only gospel centric messages are true preaching. Not biblically.

What we can certainly agree on is that preaching is a public announcement, not a private matter, and that it belongs outside the walls of a church building as much as it does inside the walls. For the Christian church, it is to be focused on God’s message and character, not man’s methods and cleverness.

So, yes, the church should be preaching.

Though a Biblical understanding of Preaching may be to proclaim the good news, the modern church understanding of preaching is to share a good message from the pulpit.

HOWEVER, what we have NOT addressed is the question of, “Is preaching what the church should be doing every time it meets on Sunday?”

I think a great place to go for this is Paul’s letters to a young elder/pastor of a church. Let’s go back to a passage we previous visited this morning:

2 Timothy 4:1–3 (CSB) — 1 I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of his appearing and his kingdom: 2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching. 3 For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.

·        Preach the word

·        Correct

·        Rebuke

·        Encourage

·        With great patience and teaching.

Paul instructed Timothy not only to preach, but also to teach.

One popular author and preacher wrote this about the difference between teaching and preaching:

Preaching does not stop with understanding ancient languages, history, culture, and customs. Unless the centuries can be bridged with contemporary relevance in the message, then the preaching experience differs little from a classroom encounter. One must first process the text for original meaning and then principlize the text for current applicability. One’s study falls short of the goal if this step is omitted or slighted.”

On the surface this sounds OK, However, the distinction here is that preaching is one step more than teaching in that it applies the text to our current life.

·        Where is the Biblical understanding of what preaching is?

·        Are we OK with assuming that teaching does not apply things to the current context?

Another quote I think is interesting is this one,

“There are five considerations that must be met in every successful sermon. There should be an appeal to the Reason, to the Conscience, to the Imagination, to the Emotions, and to the Will; and for each of these there is no method so serviceable as systematic exposition.”

Can I suggest that the concept of “successful sermons” is part of the blight that has created productions out of instructions? I do not find those five things given to us in the Bible.

Paul also had a previous charge to Timothy, which further explains what he wanted Timothy to do with his congregation:

1 Timothy 4:13 (CSB) — 13 Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.

NOTE: while the NIV wants to use the word “preaching” instead of exhortation, the word that is in this passage is NOT the same as the one we have been using for preaching throughout the gospel. “exhortation” means comfort, encouragement, or an entreaty”.

Some might argue that the preaching is for Sunday morning and the teaching is for Bible study or Sunday night. I say that is a man-made tradition and not a Biblical practice or mandate. Though it may not be wrong to choose such a course, it would be terribly wrong to mandate such a practice.

It was not uncommon for churches to gather and just read the law & prophets. This was done on the Sabbath. We see an example of this in the book of Acts:

Acts 13:13–15 (CSB) — 13 Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14 They continued their journey from Perga and reached Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, you can speak.”

If proclaiming the kingdom (preaching) was done in the synagogue by Jesus, and reading the word was to be done in the synagogue (1 Tim & Acts 13) then teaching also belongs in the synagogue and should be a part of the believer’s time together.

As a matter of fact, Jesus did this:

Luke 4:31 (CSB) — 31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath.

Preaching is one part of a well-balanced church diet. Scripture reading, teaching, encouraging each other with songs, prayer, all are components of a healthy church.

As we meet as a church family, our time, like this, should be about exploring the God of the Bible, the God who made you and me. Understanding his heart, his mission and his provision for us to be his people.

That means learning about the entire Bible, not just the passages that preach well, nor the ones that we can draw great applications from. It means being faithful to God’s word, which means we have to understand what the Bible is and what it is really designed to do.

What we should be concerned with is “faithful teaching” or “sound doctrine”:

2 Timothy 4:2–3 (CSB) — 2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching. 3 For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.

If you hear “sermon” and “doctrine”, do they mean the same to you or do they conjure up different images in our mind?

WEBSTER:

doctrine

1.     a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief

2.     archaic: teaching, instruction

A speech on conduct OR a system of belief? Which sounds more like modern preaching or perhaps even your expectation of sermon?

The word used for doctrine is most commonly translated as teaching. Here are some other passages that use this word:

Romans 15:4 (CSB) — 4 For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.

Remember our timeline? Paul would be referring to the Law & Prophets and he said it was written to help create a system of belief, or doctrine that generates hope and endurance (in our faith in God).

1 Timothy 5:17 (CSB) — 17 The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

Notice that Paul refers to both teaching and preaching, as if they are two different things. Preaching is proclaiming the gospel. Teaching is instructing people in truth and helping them form a system of beliefs.

While it is not wrong to have teaching that makes a point, nor a message that calls us to action, it might be helpful if we redefine action. It could mean doing something right now. It could mean thinking about the implications of a doctrine for the rest of your life.

When we approach the scriptures in such a scripted method as what was taught to me, it comes with some concerns:

1.     That we will mostly preach on passages with obvious action points (thus missing out on 60% of the Bible!)

2.     We will bend the text to make application for us

3.     Propagate a culture that believes the scriptures is all about them

4.     Seeing the Bible as a manual for life instead of a revelation of God

Literary genres

Last week we talked about literary genres in the Bible and how each one is meant to engage us in a different way and teach us in a different way. If that is true, might it also be true that the way we teach or form doctrine will vary based upon the type of literature we are studying?

Elders are called to preach the gospel, as well as to teach sound doctrine. However, our preaching must not be focused to points, presentation, or persuasion.

Preaching must be focused on faithfulness to God and his Word.

In my opinion, preaching and teaching ought to leave people with a clearer picture of God and his mission. If there are lessons to learn and things to do along the way, great! But the greatest focus should be on God and his activity.

So, what is my point in bringing up all of this?

Well, it was not to make a bunch of people mad at me, though I am sure that is a distinct possibility.

I want us to contemplate what we expect on Sundays.

From what I have studied, the early church had no hang-ups that I can find regarding the “proper” method of preaching or style of teaching or order or service or length of service.

·        You could have heard Paul teaching until midnight

·        You might have shown up and just heard a reading from the law or prophets

·        You might have gotten a history lesson

·        You could have been presented the truth of Jesus as the Messiah

·        Of you might have listened as the elder read a letter from the leaders of the head church telling you to stop being a jerk (most of Paul’s letters to the churches)

The point is that the expectation of preaching ought to be to engage the God of the Bible, through the power of the Spirit and God’s word is shared together.

May that be our Sunday morning aim and our everyday commission.


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NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.

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