Don’t Mess with the Godfather

Tim Aynes, a co-laborer here at IC who leads MissionsMandate, sent me a link to a post (“The Godfather of Christain Media”) based on its relation to my sermons this past Sunday. We’re working our way through Colossians and this Sunday morning focused on 3:16 (and I amplified on it with some application based on the parallel Ephesians passage in the evening service). The relevance of the link was found, I think, in the fact that I had stressed that our idea of worship should not be restricted to the sermon, but I did so positively rather than negatively. IOW, I tried to increase the value we place on prayer and praise without minimizing the importance of hearing from God’s Word via sermon. The writer of the post, on the other hand, takes a very negative view of the sermon’s place in worship and of the value of sermons in general.

As traditional church-going Christians, we often judge the entire service by the “quality” of the sermon-as if somehow it could be graded. If you removed the sermon from a Protestant Sunday morning, you’d probably be left with nothing but a few songs-perhaps the dreaded announcements. When we say we’re “going to church,” we really mean we’re going to hear a sermon. It’s not much of a stretch to categorize church as a synonym for “sermon-listening.”

For Chermak, this is problematic because sermons are no longer effective and, he claims, are the result of Christianity being influenced by Greek sophists. The latter claim not only lacks proof, but it runs directly contrary to what we see in 1 Corinthians 1-2. Rather than accommodate the culture around him, Paul stood against it by defending preaching. The question of effectiveness seems to come up regularly in our day because of its love affair with media trendiness. More could be said about each of these, but allow me to just fire off some quick thoughts about this:

  • Effectiveness is really an ancillary question. The real question is one of obligation, i.e., what has God told us to do? The Corinthian problem seems rooted in a desire to be more effective. Paul’s answer was that God’s chosen method brings Him glory and accomplishes His purposes. Nothing has changed since then, so we ought to stick to what God has ordained.
  • If we were, though, to engage the effectiveness question, it seems that his charge is prejudiced, i.e., it is ineffective according to the standards he has developed. But what standards are those? By normal standards, you can make an easy case for the effectiveness of public speaking and preaching. There seems to be ample evidence that people want to hear good public speaking (didn’t a president recently get elected based mainly on this?). People flock to conferences and settings in which people give speeches. And it’s not just that people come to hear it, it also is an effective means for teaching, motivating, and training. I am not sure what part of the planet he lives in, but it seems like most other parts find it effective.
  • Ultimately, though, the effectiveness of preaching hinges on the combination of faithfulness to the text of Scripture and the work of God’s Spirit, not the act of preaching itself. So, even if public speaking were judged to be an ineffective means for changing people, this argument against preaching fails in that it ignores the content and genuine power of preaching. God’s Word is living and active (Heb 4:12). The Spirit uses that Word to transform those whose eyes have been opened by Him to see Christ in it (2 Cor 3:18). I have no doubt that preaching will be ineffective if it is being done by those who do not believe its truth and trust its power.
  • Chermak is critical of the sermon because it is primarily (if not exclusively) monologue in nature. That means, to him, that the preacher is active, the listeners are passive, and there is no interaction going on. I fear that Chermak has been exposed only to bad preachers and apathetic listeners! Good preaching is never like he describes it.
  • His critique of monologue, though, is also flawed by its shallowness. It’s convenient to make the claim that preaching became prominent because of Greek sophistry and love of rhetoric, but that ignores the character and pattern of God’s revelation in written and spoken form (cf. Heb 1:1-2). God speaks to us. He sent prophets to speak. He sent His Son to preach. Preaching was so central to the Lord’s earthly mission that He could turn away from needy people and say, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for” (Mark 1:38).

Through I disagree with John Stott on a number of fronts, I fully agree with this assessment by him, in Between Two Worlds, about preaching:

Preaching is indis­pens­able to Christianity. Without preach­ing a necessary part of its authen­ticity has been lost. For Chris­tianity is, in its very essence, a reli­gion of the Word of God. No attempt to understand Chris­tianity can succeed which over­looks or denies the truth that the living God has taken the initiative to reveal himself savingly to fallen humanity; or that his self-revelation has been given by the most straight­forward means of communi­cation known to us, namely by a word and words; or that he calls upon those who have heard his Word to speak it to others. 

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