27 August 2007

Why Talk About Preaching?

Christopher - an internet friend who was once Lutheran and now is Orthodox - raises the question of whether we are making too much of preaching as Lutherans. I don't think so. Not for a minute! The Smacald Articles express the Lutheran conviction:

"God is superabundantly generous in His grace. First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in all the world. This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third, throug the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren...." SA III:III:IV

Which is to say that the preaching of the spoken Word, the embassy of forgiveness, is for us a preeminent means of grace. "Go into all the world and the preach the Gospel to the whole creation" our Lord says in Mark 16. Thus, not only is the Sacrament a "visible Word" but the Word is an "audible sacrament!" Preaching does not play second fiddle to the Eucharist, but is conjoined to it, for in both "we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."


Susan said...

My pastor is fond of reminding us all about something he learned at Fort Wayne symposium a couple of Januarys ago. Apparently the Greek in that 1 Corinthians verse can be translated as "Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are to proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." He tells us that this is the translation that is cited in the Confessions, and it shows that preaching is not an option or an add-on when it comes to the celebration of the Supper.

Paul T. McCain said...

And given the preeminence that the preached Word is given, both in Scripture, and in our Lutheran Confessions, I think we have much to ponder when we observe the decreasing amount of time devoted to preaching in many Divine Services. From one hour, to 45 minutes, to 30, to 20, to 15, now 10 seems the "norm" for many. Just last night I noticed a sermon of only 7.5 minutes in length.

Now, granted, it may well be true that 7.5 minutes of a sermon are more powerful, effective, meaningful than a 30 minute sermon that rambles and has little point.

But...I suspect that the response is not quite that facile in reality.

Something is happening, and has gone wrong, in my view, in how we understand the place of the Word preached and taught from the pulpit.

And, I'm concerned.

L P Cruz said...

Pr. Will,

During my RC days as a young bloke, I recall that in some Masses I attended, there would not even be preaching, say when I attend a day mass. There will always be Eucharist of course.

Technically when not checked by the Confession, the Lutheran church can slump into no preaching in the divine services too. I mean one can see the whole ministry as Sacrament only and no Word, the reverse of modern evangelicalism.


Christopher said...

The argument could be made that the entire Divine Service should be one longer, interactive sermon that teaches the people of God. Add to that the everyday life of the parish and its people acting as the people of God and you have a wonderful expression of the story I have heard told of both St Anthony the Great and Francis of Assisi concerning preaching to a town by walking through it with his disciple. When questioned as to why they hadn't preached, the saint said they had: only "if necessary, use words".

Of course, that isn't an argument that Chrysostom and the Great Church bought since their sermons lasted hours with dozens of speakers while the entire, huge congregation communed one by one. While that was true of him and his church in a culture where rhetoric and public speaking were 'must see TV', I wonder what the average country, small town or monastic church's sermon was like. Perhaps the 'lack' of sermons in Orthodoxy and RCism comes more from this stream of the primitive church, rather than the heirs to the rhetoriticians.

A different Christopher

wm cwirla said...

Romans 10:14-17 would argue against the notion that one can make "too much of preaching" in the same way one can make too much of icons, vestments, and incense.

Fr John W Fenton said...

It is apparent (at least to me) that the Book of Concord nearly equates preaching with Absolution. It suggests to me that for Lutherans, preaching is an extended, catechetical absolution, and absolution is a pithy sermon.

If I am correct about this, then it raises (and frankly has always raised) an historical question in my mind. In the history of the Church (East & West), not every priest was granted to right to be a confessor or even to grant absolution. The same was true--even more so--of preaching. Not all, but only a select group, were granted the right to preach: all bishops, and select priests/presbyters and deacons, and even a few laymen. Why was this? Because it was not assumed that the charism of being a confessor or of preaching (being apt to teach) was automatically tied to presbyteral ordination. (Notice: "apt to teach" goes with "episkope.")

In the Saxon Visitation Articles, the Preface to the Smalcard Articles and Chemnitz' Enchiridion, this history seems to be either challenged, ignored or unknown. (Perhaps the latter.) One key assumption documents in these documents is that every Lutheran pastor, by virtue of ordination, is in fact a confessor (i.e., has received that charism); and therefore should be "brought up to speed." Luther's preface to his sermons (Kirchen Postil) seems to assume the same; for he states that the sermons are provided for the same reason--to "bring up to speed" those who, by virtue of ordination, have received the charism of preaching.

Now is that truly what ordination bestows? Or are their diversities of "charisms" (i.e., charismata) among those ordained to the presbytery/priesthood?

William Weedon said...

Father John,

Are you assuming that the NT episkope referred to bishops as distinct from presbyters?

Also, we note that in the rise of bishops as distinct from presbyters, there is a long history of items once reserved to the bishops becoming ordinarily the competence of the presbyters. One thinks not only of preaching, but of baptism, of chrismation (at least in the East), and so the pronouncing of absolution would only be one in a long series - one might even point to the Lutheran practice of presbyters ordaining and note that it could be construed as being of a piece with that history.

Fr John W Fenton said...

Regrettably, it appears I muddled my comment so that it seemed that I was explicitly or implicitly arguing for a certain understanding of the word "episkope." In fact, all I wanted to do was raise this question:

* Does ordination automatically bestow the gift (charism) of preaching or being a confessor? Or can one be ordained and yet not permitted (for whatever reason) to preach or hear confessions? If the latter is granted, does this somehow weaken or limit the ordination?

The point that you raise, Pr Weedon, is quite legitimate; namely, that perhaps preaching and hearing confessions runs with the charism of baptizing, chrismating or celebrating Mass (which also was not originally done by priests/presbyters). This would suggest that the answer to my last question might be "Yes." But if so, does it have to be?

My reading of Luther and the Lutherans suggests that, early on, they did not grant preaching or hearing confession as a given or "automatic" in ordination. But I'm most likely mistaken on this conclusion.