The Church Series (The Sermon) Pt. 22 (WARNING) Rated FG-7

The Sermon

“Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it.” – Will Durant 

 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

The most sacrosanct church practice is the sermon. Remove the sermon from the order of worship and all you have is one big song fest, a wealth of entertainment. But, is the sermon any different? Have the givers of sermons just become another means of entertainment with the institutionalized church? Every Sunday morning, the pastor steps up to his pulpit and delivers an inspirational oration to a passive, pew-warming audience. Ask a person how was church on Sunday and you will most likely get, “pastor preacher a good sermon”. Remove the sermon and you will have eliminated the most important source of spiritual nourishment for countless numbers of believers (so it is thought). Yet the stunning reality is that today’s sermon has no root in Scripture. Rather, it was borrowed from pagan culture, nursed and adopted into the Christian faith.

In a word, the Greco-Roman sermon replaced prophesying; open sharing, and Spirit-inspired teaching. The sermon became the elitist privilege of church officials. It is amazing what men and women will do or sacrifice to be able to be next to get into someone pulpit to preach a sermon. Today many take a seminary course called homiletics to learn how to preach. Homiletics is considered a “science, applying rules of rhetoric. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: Acts 4:8” Being filled with the Holy Spirit is only a sidebar to men and women preparing to address you in their sermons. A polluted stream has made its way into the Christians faith and muddied the waters. Another influence, the Great Awakening, is responsible for the kind of preaching that was common in the early churches and is still used in contemporary churches today. Strong outbursts of emotion, which include screaming and running up and down the platform, are all carryovers from tradition.

Problems with the sermon are it makes the preacher the virtuoso performer of the regular church gathering. As a result, congregational participation is hampered at best and preclude at worst. The sermon turns the church into a preaching station. The congregation degenerates into a group of muted spectators who watch a performance. There is no room for interrupting or questioning the preacher while he is delivering his discourse. The sermon freezes and imprisons the functioning of the body of Christ. It fosters a docile priesthood by allowing pulpiteers to dominate the church gathering week after week. The sermon often stalemates spiritual growth. Because it is a one-way affair, it encourages passivity. The sermon prevents the church from functioning as intended. It suffocates mutual ministry. It smothers open participation. This causes the spiritual growth of God’s people to take a nosedive. As Christians we must function if we are to mature. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. or whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” Mark 4:24-25 We do not grow by passive listening week after week. In fact, one of the goals of New Testament styled preaching and teaching is to get each of us to function.  

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. Ephesians 4:11-16

We are to encourage each other to open our mouths in the church meeting. I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. 1 Corinthians 12:14 The conventional sermon hinders this very process.

It matters not how loudly ministers drone on about “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry,” the truth is that the contemporary sermon preached every week has little power to equip God’s people for spiritual service and functioning. Unfortunately, however, many of God people are just addicted to hearing sermons as many preachers are addicted to preaching them. In the late 80’s I was addicted to cocaine in the late 90’s I became addicted to the Word of God, in the early 00’s I became addicted to church and sermons. Let me tell you in the late 80’s I was killing myself physically, in the early 00’s I was killing myself spiritually. (If you can read between the lines) New Testament styled preaching and teaching equips the church so that in can function without the presence of a clergyman.

Countless preachers speak as experts on that which they have never experienced. Whether it is abstract/theoretical, devotional/inspirational, demanding/compelling, or entertaining/amusing, the sermon fails to put the hearers into a direct, practical experience of what is being preached. Thus the typical sermon is a swimming lesson on dry land. It lacks any practical value. Much is preached, but little ever lands. Most of it is aimed at the frontal lobe. Contemporary pulpiteerism generally fails to get beyond disseminating information and on to equipping believers to experience and use that which they have heard.

Sermons mirror its true father – Greco-Roman rhetoric. Sermons are designed to entertain and display genius rather than instruct and develop talents in others. The contemporary polished sermon can warm the heart, inspire the will, and stimulate the mind. But it rarely if ever shows the team how to leave the huddle. In all of these ways, contemporary sermon fails to meet its billing at promoting the kind of spiritual growth it promises. In the end, it actually intensifies the impoverishment of the church. The sermon acts like a momentary stimulant. Its effects are often short-lived. Let’s be honest, there are scores of Christians who have been sermonized for decades, and they are still babes in Christ. We Christians are transformed by regular encounters with Jesus Christ. Those who minister, therefore, are called to preach Christ and not information about Him. They are called to make the ministry intensely practical. They are called not only to reveal Christ by spoken word, but show their hearers how to experience, know, follow and serve Him. The contemporary sermontoo often lacks these all important elements.

If the preacher cannot bring his hearers into a living spiritual experience of what he is ministering, the results of his message will be short lived. Therefore the church needs fewer pulpiteers and more spiritual facilitators. We have moved far outside of biblical bounds when we allow teaching to take the form of a conventional sermon and relegate it to a class of professional orators. Paul told his Greek converts that he refused to be influenced by the communication patterns of his pagan contemporaries (1 Corinthians 1:17, 22; 2:1-5). Christianity has absorbed its surrounding culture. When your pastor mounts his pulpit wearing his clerical robe to deliver his sacred sermon, hr is unknowingly playing out the role of the ancient orator.

Posted on May 7, 2011, in The Church Series. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Kenny, good stuff. Sounds like my last writing on “Think”. Most of the church goers… don’t. It’s, “You perform for me and I’ll be entertained and go home”. Thanks for your diligence and forthrightness, speaking the word in season and out. Blessings, my Brother,
    Ron

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