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Saturday, October 15, 2011

EECC 1.5: Liturgy—Preaching (Definition)

As outlined in the last EECC post, the first topic of discussion concerning preaching I wished to cover was a basic definition. Preaching takes many forms, can be conveyed in any number of moods and expressions, and is difficult to limit to a single definition. So in place of a singular phrase by which it can be confined, I have opted to discuss what it is and what it isn't.

What Preaching Is
First and most obviously, preaching is a form of public speaking. This is not to discount or ignore what may be called a verbal ministry such as one-on-one conversations with another person concerning one's own religious convictions. Rather, it is concerned with speaking to many persons in a single setting. Given that this is a discussion of an aspect of Christianity (and my partial assumption that those reading have some Christian heritage), it makes sense to attempt an examination of how preaching (if such a term is applicable) is done in the Christian Bible. Nearly every teaching opportunity (if not all of them) taken by Jesus was directed to a crowd or group of people, either anonymous (an unnamed ὄχλος) or a specific group (οἱ μαθηταί, for example). All the canonical gospels portray Jesus, to some extent or another, as a teacher. Some examples of his teachings are, for each gospel, Matthew 5–7; Mark 3.31–4.34; Luke 6.17-49; and John 6.25-39. The disciples of Jesus are shown in Acts as teaching many (2.14-42; 3.11-26), and it could possibly be argued that many of Paul's letters could have been read as sermons for the congregations to whom they were written, though such public teaching seems to me to be of a different variety.

Second, preaching is intentional. The intent, or purpose, of preaching shall be discussed more fully in the next EECC post. Let it suffice to say for the time being that one such purpose of preaching is to bring about an inner transformation in the hearer.

Third, it is (I would argue) a form of worship. An alternate translation of the Greek verb which is often rendered as preaching (κηρύσσω) is "proclaim". In classical Greek a noun form of the verb was used (κῆρυξ) which is translated as "herald". So, in a manner of speaking, preaching is a proclamation. What makes it a form of worship, however, is exactly what is being proclaimed. If one speaks the "Gospel" (εὐαγγέλιον), then one speaks "good news" and "glad tidings". Preachers are to be heralds of the in-breaking reign of God. Thus, when one proclaims such news, he does so in reverence and worship to the one from whom such news comes.

What Preaching Isn't
For all the things preaching represents, there are numerous things it is not (or ought not be, as it were). First among these is a sales pitch. This is especially important for those of us living in a Western society where advertisements bombard potential buyers like vultures on carrion. Preaching is not for the purpose of selling something. In fact, it is quite the opposite: it tells of something free, already given, which one has but to accept and take hold of.

Second, preaching isn't a form of nagging. For many preachers it has become a frequent tool for a desperate plea or a call of damnation upon the unsaved, rather than an occasion to celebrate freedom and mercy. I underlined "frequent" purposefully: in some instances, it may be appropriate to plea with listeners. For the latter purpose given, I cannot say that, for many trapped in a culture of "you're not good enough," being told of one's utter worthlessness is an advisable motive for public discussion. Are we worthless? Some would say yes; but it is the preacher's message which proclaims at what great a cost the hearers were purchased.

Allow me to explain: If a child's finger painting is sold for $20, what is it worth? If a car is in a wreck, fixed, then sold later for several thousand dollars, what is it worth? In some circles it is the case that the object is valued at its sold price rather than its inherent sellable worth. If the Son of God was given so that all mankind may live, what is each person worth?

Given each of these points, what then is preaching? This is where you come in. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and give a stab at defining "preaching". If you disagree with me, let me know! I'm always open to new ways of thinking.

Grace and peace,
-Reed Hamil

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