In the meta of my recent Feeding the Sheep post, commenter Simon asks a really good question: Why the sermon over other elements of our shared life? I have experienced this in practice for the last 20 years, and I admit that I really don't know why we elevate the sermon the way that we do. What is the reason for this?
First, rather cynically, I wonder if this general feeling of skepticism about the centrality of the sermon is not a testament to the ever-increasing superfluousness of evangelical preaching. Are we tempted to think the message of equal importance or less importance to corporate worship or to other elements of a worship service because we have taught for too long not the Gospel but "good advice" nobody really follows anyway?
Whatever the reasons for it, it's a question that should be asked. Especially today when even some who think "teaching" is important in worship would like to re-define teaching to mean sharing, dialogue, conversations, testimonies, dramatic re-creations, what-have-you.
But we do have, in the momentum-gaining gospel-driven church movement, a glorious recovery of cross-centered preaching. This is not to say that all preaching is good preaching, that all sermons are created equal. Certainly there are good preachers and bad preachers, just like there are good worship leaders and bad ones. There are more dynamic speakers and more dry ones. There are people who wield the Word more deftly and accurately and those who treat it like a dictionary or quote book. But none of this is to say that preaching in itself is passe. It is, as I said in my comments in that previous post, the most important element of the corporate gathering. And here are a few reasons why I believe this . . .
1. From the days of Moses delivering the Law through the prophetic era to the days of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the mode of bringing the Gospel to the gathering has been proclamational preaching. (By proclamational preaching, I mean one person (or a few persons) proclaiming God's Word to a gathering.) This is a direct approach, a reverent monologue, and it has been the way God's message has been delivered to believers and nonbelievers alike since the beginning of God's community.
2. While I believe worship in music (not to mention worship in the celebration of the sacraments) is indispensable to our worship gatherings, in seeing the whole and complete testimony of Scripture to get a sense of "importance," I see far more weight lent to teaching the Word than to group singing. Paul certainly spends far more time making sure the Church knows to keep its doctrine straight and to keep the Gospel central than he does encouraging them to sing together.
3. The "foolishness of preaching" has been singled out as the designated form by which people encounter the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:18-21:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
4. Faith comes by hearing the Word preached. Romans 10:14-17:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
5. I could expound on this subject much further, but the final reason for a message-driven worship service I would offer is this more Gospel-driven one: While, again, I believe corporate worship is indispensable to a worship service, it is the delivering of a message from the Word of the Lord that is (or at least, should be) most reflective of God-centeredness. See, in worship, we are bringing God our work, our voices, our efforts. There is nothing wrong with this. But it is our contribution to giving God glory. Hearing the Word properly and passionately taught is God's revelation of his own glory. Despite the human teacher -- and I'm aware of and wary of the idea itself of a preacher "speaking for God" -- proclamational preaching from Scripture is the way God speaks to us. And God's Word is far greater, much fuller, and infinitely more important than our words.
In short, Gospel-driven proclamational preaching should be central to the worship service for the same reason immersion in Scripture should be central to the life of worship in general.
More on preaching and teaching in the days to come . . .