Church, the sermon and Kant.

…a church [is] a place where the Word of God “is purely preached and heard.”  The good news is that even that puny preacher of little worth can be heard as speaking God’s word; the bad news is that, no matter how good the preacher, a congregation where everyone is daydreaming or asleep is at that moment, in Calvin’s terms, not a church.  Congregations need reminding from time to time that the preaching of the Word of God is not a spectator sport.

– William C. Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God (142)

Interesting.  It’s not unusual, particularly on Christian blogs, to read arguments against the sermon in worship (or the sermon as central in worship).  It is not, they say, a transforming activity; it is one way; it is not community-oriented, but top-down; etc.  I don’t necessarily disagree with them, but I’ve never considered Placher’s (he’s actually paraphrasing John Calvin) angle before: what role does the congregation play in all this?

By preaching Placher means, “present[ing] and interpret[ing] scripture to the assembled people” (whether or not it is entertaining, witty or intellectual).

Is preaching not transformational because preaching the Word of God can’t be transformational?  Or is it not transformational because congregations are not interested and are not listening?

How much of the opposition to the sermon or the traditional form of church worship arises out of the possibly unconscious but pervasive influence of the Enlightenment project (that is, individualism and rationalism)?  “Give me a Bible and I’ll interpret it for you”; “That church is just not meeting my needs”; “that preacher is boring”; “the church isn’t relevant to our culture”; “what’s the worship like at your church? is it good?”; etc.

There is nothing wrong with taste or preferences per se.  I’m just wondering what motivates us in church?  And what motivates those who reject or move away from traditional ways of doing church?  The right answer these days is that the church is not being the church–but why do we think that?  Is it just an excuse to cover an individualistic choice? Is the church not being the church because it corporately functions incorrectly?  Or is it because our underlying assumptions as individuals about the church are wrong?

Just thinking out loud…

2 thoughts on “Church, the sermon and Kant.

  1. Dixie

    I’m just disappointed you didn’t try to title this one with the same letter… “Church, the Cermon, and Cant”. It could’ve been done you know.

    Good thoughts, though. 🙂

  2. Mark Hollingsworth

    There are so many factors involved including the Lord and His Word and the Holy Spirit and the preacher and his personality and ability and study habits, etc. and how all of these fit together in a particular person and preaching crowd and setting. But I do agree that the result of a preaching situation is both based on the preacher and the hearer and both have responsibility and possible reward in the shared event.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,
    Mark

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