House Church Talk - Exalting the Office of the Preacher

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Tue Apr 20 12:36:15 EDT 2004

**Below is an advertisement that advocates the exaltation of an 'office 
of the preacher,' which is then followed by WHERE DOES GOD EXALT THE 
OFFICE OF 'PREACHER'? by Jon Zens.**

 Exalting the Office of The Preacher Paul's dying words to Timothy were 
"Preach the Word!" This is still the greatest need in the church of 
Christ and in the world. Solid Ground Christian Books is determined to 
honor the office of the Pastor-Preacher by offering the best books 
available on this subject. Here are our present offers:

 Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry edited by Tom Ascol, The 
Scottish Pulpit by William M. Taylor, The Preachers of Scotland by 
William G. Blaikie, Lectures on the History of Preaching by John A 
Broadus Homiletics, and Pastoral Theology by William G.T. Shedd, The 
Preacher and His Models by James Stalker 


Anything About How To Gather?

 Is it possible that both Protestant and Catholic worship-styles are 
oblivious to New Testament patterns? Catholicism puts the sacrament on 
center stage and includes a homily by a priest. For the most part in 
Protestantism's worship services everything rallies around the sermon, 
which is delivered from behind a pulpit. Generally, the "office of 
preacher" has been elevated. Is such exaltation warranted from the 
Scriptures we claim to be sufficient for all faith and practice?

 We claim that the NT documents provide God-inspired direction for the 
New Covenant people of God, just as the OT Scriptures structured life for 
Israel. But where do these writings ever reveal what has traditionally 
come to be known as "the centrality of preaching"? Where is the "office 
of preacher" emphasized? If these traditions cannot be found in the 
Bible, why do we get our feathers so ruffled when they are questioned? 
Why is questioning the inordinate focus on one person's sermon tantamount 
to challenging motherhood, apple pie, and even God Himself? Please 
consider with me the following points, and see if some light from the 
Lord's Word emerges to drive us to view "church" in a new light.

 The "sermon" as traditionally practiced, in which a clergy person 
usually gives a message from behind a large, wooden object, originated 
from Greek, not Biblical, sources. There is nothing revealed in God's 
Word about the primacy and exaltation of a specialist who issues forth a 
monologue Sunday after Sunday. Roughly in the period of 200 - 300 A.D. 
the sermon emerged as central in Christian gatherings. But the cue for 
this practice was taken, not from the Lord's inspired apostles, but from 
Greek culture. As one author noted, "The 'sermon' was the result of 
syncretism - the fusion of the Biblical necessity of teaching with the 
unbiblical Greek notion of Rhetoric. [Edwin Hatch notes] 'Such are the 
indications of the influence of Greek Rhetoric upon the early churches. 
It created the Christian sermon.'" (Kevin Craig, "Is the 'Sermon' Concept 
Biblical?," ST, 15:1-2, 1986, p.28; citing Hatch, The Influence of Greek 
Ideas On Christianity, Peter Smith, 1970, p.113). 

 The Greek verbs used in the NT to portray "preaching" are found 
overwhelmingly in situations which are outside church meetings and 
evangelistic in nature (cf. Eric Wright, "Terms Used to Describe 
Apostolic Communication in the Book of Acts," ST, 13:2, 1984, pp.7-8). 
One of the few places where "proclaim" (Greek, kataggello) is used in an 
ekklesia setting is in 1 Cor.11:26, and this is accomplished by 
proclamation through their actions, not by one person's sermon. The Greek 
words used for what goes on in an assembly meeting carry with them a 
mutuality - pray together, instruct one another, sing with one another, 
exhort and comfort one another, care for one another, eat with one 
another, etc. "Preaching" in settings outside of Christian gatherings is 
more one-way in that unbelievers hear the gospel announced, although 
discussion and give-and-take are certainly present also. Paul does charge 
Timothy to "preach the word," but it must be kept in mind that he was an 
itinerant "evangelist," not a resident elder. If you check out the 
references to Timothy in the NT, you will see that he was a person on the 
move, not having a resident ministry in one place. If "preaching" 
primarily takes place outside of Christian meetings, why do we magnify 
the "office of preacher" within the church?

 Some point to Acts 20:7-12 as an example of "the centrality of 
preaching," a time when Paul spoke for a long time. But it must be noted 
that v.7 specifically states that the purpose of their coming together on 
the first day of the week was "to break bread" (fellowship) not to hear a 
sermon. There were special circumstances surrounding this particular 
meeting, for it was the last time Paul would ever see them. I'm sure if 
Paul came to your assembly, you would want to prolong your time together 
in order to hear what he had to say. Further, the verb used here, 
dialegomai, from which we derive our English word "dialogue," implies 
give-and-take with the listeners. What Paul said provided the substance 
of the gathering, but he did not talk non-stop for hours. There would 
have been discussion and audience participation. Paul was concerned about 
what was on the hearts of others too (cf. Norrington, To Preach or Not to 
Preach, pp.9,100).

 In 1976 a brother asked me, "Why is preaching central in your church?" 
The first verse that came into my mind to defend this practice was 1 
Cor.1:21, God uses "the foolishness of preaching." But the brother 
pointed out that the context there was evangelism, not Christian 
meetings. I was perturbed at his rebuttal then, but as I reflected on 
this issue I came to see that he was absolutely right. God uses preaching 
to save Jews and Greeks who come to faith in Christ.

 The Greek word for "preacher" (one who heralds a message) is used three 
times in the NT, and has evangelism in the forefront. Paul twice 
designates himself as a "herald" (1 Tim.2:7; 2 Tim.1:11), and connects 
his mission to the Gentiles and his sufferings with this function. In 2 
Pet.2:5 Noah is called "a preacher of righteousness," However, he was not 
preaching to the choir members, but to a doomed, unbelieving generation. 
Again, from the scant use of the word "preacher" in the NT, there is no 
basis to focus on this function in the midst of assembly meetings.

 Indeed, the Lord has said, "How beautiful are the feet of those who 
announce good news" (Rom.10:15), but the context here has evangelism of 
Jew and Gentile in view, not believers' gatherings. "And how can they 
hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom.10:14).

 1 Cor.14 reveals an open kind of gathering, with no one person 
presiding, and with multiple participation from the body. If the 
traditional sermon is removed from our meeting, what is to take its 
place? Without the focus on one part's contribution - the sermon - it 
would be possible for the saints to be built up in a gathering where they 
looked to Christ as the Head, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to bring 
forth from the brethren what is needful. There is nothing in 1 Cor.14, or 
anywhere else in the NT for that matter, about pews, a pulpit, a sermon, 
one person dominating the meeting, or an "order of service." William 
Barclay (himself from the very liturgical Church of Scotland) comments on 
what he saw taking place in 1 Cor.14.

 "[1 Cor.14] sheds a flood of light on what a Church service was like in 
the early Church. There was obviously a freedom and informality about it 
which is completely strange to our ideas..Clearly, the early Church had 
no professional ministry..There was obviously a flexibility about the 
order of service in the early Church which is now totally lacking. There 
was clearly no settled order at all..The really notable thing about an 
early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling 
that he had both the privilege and obligation of contributing something 
to it" (The Letters to the Corinthians, Revised Edition, Westminster 
Press, 1977, pp.133-135).

 Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary notes concerning 1 Cor.14:26:

 "Verse 26 insists that the Corinthians continue to worship in highly 
participatory and spontaneous fashion. 'Everyone has a hymn, or a word of 
instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.' This does not 
mean that every person present exercises all of the gifts, nor even that 
all exercise at least one in every service. But opportunity is made 
available for all whom the Spirit leads on any given occasion to 
contribute" (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians, Zondervan, 
1995, p.278).

 It is acknowledged by NT scholarship that early church gatherings were 
simple, taking place for the most part in homes. James' command, "be slow 
to speak and quick to listen," may have such gatherings as a backdrop.

 "There may be an allusion to the free and unstructured worship of early 
Christian assemblies" (Curtis Vaughn, James: A Study Guide, Zondervan, 
1960, p.35).

 "It is possible that contentious Christian babes were taking advantage 
of the informal style of worship in the early Christian church to produce 
wrangling" (James: A Primer for Christian Living, Pres.& Ref., 1974, 

 In light of 1 Cor.14 a big question I have is this: why is the NT 
evidence we do have concerning Christian gatherings discarded and 
functionally treated as irrelevant, and that for which there is no 
evidence - the centrality of the preacher and his sermon - elevated to 
assumed divine status? Why do virtually no Western churches resemble the 
early churches in practice? Why do we confess that the NT is a sufficient 
guide for the church's faith and practice, and yet meet together in ways 
that contradict its patterns? Are we at liberty to set aside what is 
revealed about gospel gatherings in order to keep intact the 
non-apostolic traditions that we have received? Paul said in 1 Cor.12:14 
that the body is not one part but many, yet we generally gather in a way 
that hinges on one part and denies the contributions of all the other 
parts (except to put a check in the offering plate).

 Over a century ago David Thomas touched on some key points in this 

 "The Christian church in assembly, on the same occasion, might have 
several speakers to address them..If this be so: 1. Should Christian 
teaching be regarded as a profession? It is now: men are brought up in 
it, trained for it, and live by it, as architects, lawyers, doctors..2. 
Is the Christian church justified in confining its attention to the 
ministry of one man? In most modern congregations there are some 
Christian men who, by natural ability, by experimental knowledge and 
inspiration, are far more qualified to instruct and comfort the people 
than their professional and stated minister. Surely official preaching 
has no authority, either in Scripture, reason, or experience, and it must 
come to an end sooner or later. Every Christian man should be a preacher. 
Were the half-hour allotted in church services for the sermon to be 
occupied by three or four Christly men.with the capability and expression 
withal, it would not only be far more interesting, but more profitably 
spent than now" ("1 Corinthians," The Pulpit Commentary, 1898, p.459).

 In his song, "All of Us Together," Scott Wesley Brown expresses a 
wonderful thought that can be applied to the blessings of open Christian 
gatherings where there is multiple participation -- "no one of us has got 
it all together, but all of us together got it all."

 We must remember that human traditions are not neutral. Jesus taught in 
Mark 7:5-13 that human traditions originate from religious leaders and 
over time take on the force of law; they tend to multiply and take 
precedence over more important matters; they render the worship of God to 
be a vain undertaking; when they are elevated, the actual instructions of 
God take a back seat; when zeal is directed toward them, the commands of 
God will be flagrantly violated; when people are fixated on traditions 
handed down from the past, God's Word is made of no effect; and fixation 
on traditions tends to permeate all of one's existence.

 One tradition can spawn a legion of activities that support it. Think of 
all the religious baggage that is created by the exaltation of the 
clergy's sermon - myriads of books, seminars, videos, and classes on 
various aspects of 'How to Preach'; seminaries to produce people who 
preach; ministerial associations for local support of those who preach; 
clergy conferences to encourage those who preach; denominational 
machinery and politics to fill empty pulpits; local church pastoral 
search committees; expensive church architecture that focuses on the 
pulpit at center stage; the manufacturing of pews, pulpits, audio and 
video systems and other accoutrements that enable the 'laity' to hear 
sermons; a wide gamut of specialized products, services, and perks for 
preachers; special days for 'clergy appreciation'; numerous sources for 
sermon outlines for busy preachers. Such a list could go on and on. 
Everything in our religion is predicated on the notion, "We must have a 
Sunday sermon." Yet few ever ask, "Where does God's Word reveal the need 
for a weekly monologue?" 

 How can we continue to exalt the position of "preacher" when it is just 
a long-standing human tradition? Do we realize that by elevating 
"preaching" we have for the longest time rendered God's Word of no 
effect? Can we reflect on the blessings that would be ours in Christ if 
we practiced an "each of you" meeting where Christ as the Head would lead 
the brethren into edification? Why do we pursue the "centrality of 
preaching" for which there is no Biblical evidence, and thereby neglect, 
stifle, hinder, and suppress the kind of open, edifying gathering which 
the NT does reveal?

 I appeal to you to consider this illustration, an illustration which 
could be equally applied to the evaluation of many other human 
traditions. If a group of new believers located in a remote area of Iraq 
read through the NT in their language, would they ever come to the 
conclusion that in order for their meetings to please the Lord they must 
exalt an "office" in which one person who stands behind a "sacred desk" 
(a pulpit) and delivers a sermon week after week? They wouldn't. They 
couldn't because such notions aren't to be found in the Scriptures. Why, 
then, do we become so defensive when pulpit centrality is examined, 
questioned, and the emperor is found to have no Biblical clothing?

 It is interesting to note that D.M. Lloyd-Jones, who wrote Preaching & 
Preachers, sensed that some traditions were hindering full church life.

 "There is also this whole question of the exercise of gifts in the 
church..[Some] have certain major difficulties, one of which is the 
so-called 'one-man ministry.' We have our views about that, but I feel 
the time has come for us to examine even questions such as these. It does 
not mean that you necessarily abandon that ministry, but it does focus 
attention on this: are we giving members of the church an adequate 
opportunity to exercise their gifts? Are our churches corresponding to 
the life of the New Testament church? Or is there too much concentration 
in the hands of ministers and clergy?.But I still ask, 'Do we manifest 
the freedom of the New Testament church?' In other words, this is another 
reason why we must come back and consider the whole doctrine of the 
nature of the church, and the marks of the church..The notion of people 
belonging to the church in order to come to sit down and fold their arms 
and listen, with just two or three doing everything, is quite foreign to 
the New Testament." (Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various 
Occasions, 1942-1977, Banner of Truth, 1989, pp.195-196).

 "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." Brethren, I 
can give testimony to the wonderful blessings of growing in the practice 
of meeting together around the person of Jesus Christ in simplicity. Of 
course it is open to abuse - Paul was correcting the Corinthians in 
chapter 14. It is more vulnerable when you trust the Lord to guide by the 
Spirit and not an 'order of service.' It requires commitment to people -- 
like yourself! -- who can act at times like porcupines. It involves 
Spirit-sensitive brothers and sisters who are active participants, not 
just passive receivers. Fervent love for Jesus Christ, a desire to 
discern and act the mind of Christ, and deep humility with openness must 
flow among the brethren. Taking up our cross and following Jesus is not 
easy, but it is the only way of true blessedness.

 I believe that the exaltation of preaching, while no one could doubt 
that some good fruit from it has been born over the years, has blocked us 
from pursuing the gathering of saints in simplicity which is revealed in 
the NT. It often keeps people in a position of spoon-fed dependency, 
instead of fostering their growth and maturity into works of service, and 
deepening their relationship with the Lord and other believers. But when 
we boil everything down, isn't our basic concern, 'What has the Lord 
revealed to us in His Word in this regard?' If we exalt that which He 
hasn't, aren't we going to be the worse for it? Why wouldn't we want to 
devote our zeal to what He has shown us in the Scriptures? Is it really 
beneficial for a deeply-rooted human tradition to continue its reign over 
church life?

 The story was told of a brother in the 1800's explaining to a Lutheran 
scholar his understanding of the early church and their gatherings. The 
scholar then asked, "Yes, but can such things be practiced in these 
days?" The brother replied, "Have you ever tried it?"

Jon Zens, April 2004

 Box 377, Taylors Falls MN 55084


 For further reflection:

 Barlow, William, "Communicating the Gospel," ST, 21:1-4, 1993, 65pp., 

 Craig, Kevin. "Is The 'Sermon' Concept Biblical? A Study of Its Greek 
Origins," ST, 15:1-2, 1986, 29pp., $2.50

 Erkel, Darryl. "Problems & Limitations of the Traditional 'Sermon' 

 Kallen, Horace. "Buildings, Clergy & Money" [1946], ST, 28:1-3, 2000, 
65pp., $5.00

 Norrington, David. To Preach or Not To Preach? The Church's Urgent 
Question. Paternoster, 1996, 130pp., $8.50.

 Owen, Rick. "A Suggested Pattern for Church Gatherings," ST, 12:4, 1983, 
34pp., $2.50

 Wright, Eric. "Terms Used to Describe ApostolicCommunication in the Book 
of Acts," ST, 13:2, 40pp., $2.50

 Zens, Jon. "The 'Clergy/Laity' Distinction: A Help or A Hindrance to the 
Body of Christ?" ST, 23:4, 1995, 16pp., $2.50

 Zens, Jon. "'Only One Speaks' In A Dialogue?" ST, 27:4, 1999, 16pp., 


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