June 21, 2012

How the Sermon Crippled the 'Church'

My purpose for presenting this information is no different from any other blog post I've written over the years. Teach to inform, teach to transform, ask questions that need to be asked and to deal with issues the traditional 'church' refuses to deal with.

I ask that you thoughtfully consider the source of our 'church' traditions and then ask how these practices square with Scripture and the practices of first-century Christians.

What if I told you your pastors sermon has no biblical support but, has been borrowed from pagan culture?

For those of you who are preachers, pastors, and teachers of the gospel, you are familiar with the structure of a typical sermon, introduction, three to five points, and a conclusion. But did you know that today’s contemporary sermon is a far cry from the Spirit/Holy Ghost-inspired preaching and teaching described in the Bible?

Until 2003, like most Christians, I never gave any real thought to why I believed what I believed or, why I did what I did as a minister. I simply followed along according to what I was taught, assuming that what I was taught, believed and did was right, mistaking the practices of contemporary, or American “church” as biblical.

After discovering through study, research and experience, I began to see a huge chasm between what we call Christianity and New Testament realities. One of which is sermons.

Modern day sermons are a regular occurrence delivered faithfully from the "pulpit" at least once a week.

They are delivered by the same person, to a passive audience, as a cultivated form of speech. An introduction, three to five points, and a conclusion. Yet in both the Old and New Testament, men and women of God did not give what we call sermons.

If we search the scriptures, preaching and teaching went as follows:

“Active participation and interruptions by the audience were common. Prophets and priests spoke extemporaneously and out of a present burden, rather than from a set script."

"There is no indication that Old Testament prophets or priests gave regular speeches to God’s people. Instead, the mature Old Testament preaching was sporadic, fluid, and open for audience participation.” See: Pagan Christianity? Pg. 86.

The prophets spoke in response to specific events. See Deuteronomy 1:1, 5-1, 27:1, 9, Joshua 23-1-24-15; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Haggai, Zachariah, etc. See also Norrington, To preach or Not.

The apostolic preaching in the book of Acts followed the same form. It was sporadic, delivered on special occasions to deal with specific problems and issues that arose.

It was certainly extemporaneous (Not planned beforehand), without an introduction, three to five points, and a conclusion.

It was mostly dialogue, giving other believers the opportunity to ask questions, give feedback and interruptions from the group were the norm. It was never a one way discourse.

If you search the New Testament Scriptures from Romans 12:6-8, 15;14, 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16, you will see that it included teaching, exhortation, prophecy, singing and admonishment.

1 Corinthians 14:26 "Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you." NLT

So where did the Christian sermon come from?

The Christian sermon was borrowed from the pagan Greek culture.

The earliest Christian source for sermonizing can be found in the late second century. “Clement of Alexandria lamented the fact that sermons did so little to change Christians.” Brief History of Preaching, pg. 19-20; Pagan Christianity? Pg. 89.

Yet, despite its failure, sermons became a standard practice among Christians by the fourth century. See: Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, pg. 109.

When I was in college, I took a class in philosophy. In that class, we studied the art of rhetoric. So, as I was doing research on the history of sermons, I noticed many familiar terms, key words, people and groups.

For example, the sophists, who invented rhetoric, which is the art of persuasive speaking. Those who majored in communications, public speaking, politics, as well as philosophy, are familiar with this.

The sophists were great debaters who recruited disciples. They also demanded payment of their disciples and others for their orations to be heard. Now why does this sound familiar?

Hold on, it gets interesting from here.

Did you know that, “The sophists were masters at using emotional appeals, physical appearance, and clever language to sell their arguments”? Now where have you seen this before?

See: Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy, pg. 56-57; Pagan Christianity? Pg. 89

Hold on, it gets even better.

“In time, the style, form, and oratorical skill of the sophists became more prized than their accuracy.” 

Does this not happen on any given Sunday, behind pulpits around the country? 

Speaking of styles, did you know that the sermon created a new craze, and a class of men?

It became the "elitist privilege of church officials." Rhetoric became one of the greatest forms of art.

Orators were lauded with glamorous status, the same as today's movie stars and professional athletes.

Sermons turned into sermonettes by a professional orator at dinner parties for entertainment. Sounds like a “Preach Bowl”.

Like the American church today, Greeks and Romans in the second and third century were addicted to sermons.

"So a new style of communication was being birthed in the Christian church-- a style that emphasized polished rhetoric, sophisticated grammar, flowery eloquence, and monologue. It was a style that was designed to entertain and show off the speaker's oratorical skills. It was Greco-Roman rhetoric. And only those who were trained in it were allowed to address the assemble!"
Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, pg. 32-33

The sermon found its way into Christian assemblies around the third century when mutual ministry faded from the body of Christ. Norrington, To Preach of Not, pg. 24

“At this time the last of the traveling Christian workers who spoke out of a prophetic burden and spontaneous conviction left the pages of church history.” Hatch, Influence of Greek ideas and Usages, 106-109.

This opened the door to clergy style ministry.

The emergence of clergy killed the open gatherings as witness in the New Testament.

The church meeting became more regulated and prescribed. “Hierarchical structures took root, the idea of religious specialist emerged,” giving way to the creation of the church “service”.

“In the face of these changes, the functioning Christians had trouble fitting into this evolving ecclesiastical structure.” (See Pagan Christianity pg. 91)

Scholars say that by the fourth century, there was no place for the early Christians to exercise their gifts.

The church at this time had fully become institutionalized and controlled by clergy, or pastors.

“The Church” became a building, restricting others from fully exercising their gifts.

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