Friday, May 27, 2011

A different perspective on sermons

Most of the time we see advocacy or defenses of sermons coming from pastors of traditional churches where the sermon is the focal point of the gathering. I read a post on sermons (and a follow-up post in response to a question about the original post) with interest because the author is part of, for lack of a more precise term, a house church group in the home of the college football team with the more wins than any other program, i.e. Ann Arbor, Michigan.. The author, Van Parunak, is a great guy and his wife is one of the nicest people I know.

Van starts off his post, In Defense of the Sermon, with this:

Traditionally, the sermon has been an important feature of the assemblies of God’s people. The sermon is so central to many groups that its delivery is one of the main duties of a professionally trained and salaried individual, the pastor.

The sermon is coming under attack in many quarters as ineffective and out of date. Yet the practice of delivering material through an extended, carefully prepared verbal presentation has strong biblical precedent. Before abandoning serious expository preaching, let’s think more carefully.

To be clear: what I mean by “sermon” is an extended lecture on a biblical text or theme, prepared in advance by one individual who delivers it orally to a group of people. Unlike a discussion, the presentation is asymmetric (primarily from the teacher to the congregation, though it may be interrupted by questions). Unlike a meditation, it develops its content with an argument that usually takes some time to present. Unlike an extemporaneous address, the teacher devotes effort to preparing it in advance.
I will cautiously say that this stance is something of an outlier among house/simple church folks. That doesn’t mean it is wrong of course just kind of unusual. Also note that in this group, as I understand it, questions are welcome and different brothers often deliver the sermon so it is not like a monologue delivered by the same guy to a mute audience of observers week after week. Again, I haven't had the chance to meet with this group but I do know several people who are part of Washtenaw Independent Bible Church.

I would like you to read both posts, first his post In Defense of the Sermon and then his follow-up to my question regarding Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter’s Planned Presentation. Be warned, they are lengthy and detailed. Let me know what you think!


Seth said...

I'll read them and let you know what I think...

Seth said...

I read the first one and skimmed the second. I appreciated the author's kind tone and thought he had some good exhortations. However, perhaps like yourself, I was not very convinced by the examples he gave of sermons in scripture. Specifically regarding the Acts 2 passage; I have always thought this message from Peter to be the outcome of both extensive reading and thinking through the scripture (on a personal level) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit on that day. The author gives the order and logical flow of thought of Peter's message to be proof of the preparation beforehand. But this is not very convincing to me. For example, the same argument could be used to explain the speaking in tongues; those disciples spoke of the mighty works of God and evidently were quite convincing to some. Plus how can we explain that they knew a different language? If we use the same logic we come up the idea that they must have studied it beforehand! But seeing that an idea has a compelling and logical argument does not always mean that it was prepared in advance by a person. The author apparently has no problem with believing that those who spoke in tongues did so by being imbued with power from the Holy Spirit. And why can this not be the same with Peter? I'm not saying it had to be this way in Acts 2, just that there seems to be enough doubt that we shouldn't use this passage as a proof text for the use of sermons, as the author defines them.