Now the Bereans were of more noble character, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11
Finding fault with preaching is almost in a class with criticizing motherhood and the flag. In Christian Reformed circles the sermon has become almost a sacred cow by being identified with church-going and the primary purpose of worship. Sermons as we know them today are a far cry from the Bible’s understanding of them, John Calvin’s kind, and the catechism “preaching” that our forebears practiced.
Ideally, a sermon should be teaching. But how much education – in any subject – would a student receive from a one-hour (per week) course at which attendance is voluntary, no preparation is expected nor notes required; no tests or reviews are taken, and the textbook is “studied” in such hit and miss fashion that some parts of it are never considered, while some secondary sections are gone over repeatedly? But there, basically, you have a description of “preaching” as it is commonly carried out in our day.
All this, mind you, is not criticizing the method or content of contemporary preaching. Changes certainly can and should be made in those areas. Preaching should be expository (instead of topical, as is true of most sermons, particularly Catechism) and sequential, instead of taking time out every year for seasonal and occasional messages on everything from Christmas to Communion. But even changes in this direction would not solve the problem. The fault lies in the institution itself and its context. We are expecting something from our preaching that it simply cannot provide.
The primary purpose of our weekly gathering as a congregation is worship, celebration. God (and the angels) are supposed to be the audience and we, the congregation, are the performers. But we have made the preacher the primary performer whom we watch as spectators, our “priest” (who does our praying for us, etc.) going through a performance while we watch and half-heartedly hear him “doing his thing” which he has spent most of the week rehearsing.
Put it this way. The majority of our membership depend upon Sunday sermons for the bulk of their spiritual food. Very few have personal daily devotions, and the remnants of “family altars” that still exist amongst us have very little pedagogical value. Meditation of an inspirational sort are the norm, rather than instructional material. All of this is comparable to a person eating a heavy meal on one day of the week and starving or nibbling on crumbs for the rest of the time. What this meditation would like to accomplish is that all of us imitate the Early Christians and the newer churches even today by way of small-group or individual Bible study.
As it is, we long-term church members are put to shame by our ignorance of the Scriptures, despite hearing literal thousands of sermons in a lifetime. Who of us can tell which gospel records the Sermon on the Mount, the visit of the shepherds to Bethlehem, most of the parables, the seven “I Am’s”? And lest I make preaching the sole whipping boy for our deficiencies, how many Christian school/catechism graduates can give a one-sentence summary of any of Paul’s epistles?
God can say what is certainly applicable to most of us, “My people perish for lack of knowledge”. And we have far less excuse than those to whom God first said that. In the Old Testament nobody had a personal copy of the Scriptures. In the days of the Bereans an important part of the Bible had not even yet been written. Many of our immediate forebears were unable to read with ease, and naturally had to look to their dominees for Bible instruction and application.
But today we have Bibles in abundance, as well as study helps, tapes, and even sermons in downloadable and video form. Liberal education is commonplace amongst us. To whom much has been given, of them shall much be required. For all our church-going we threaten to be the first who shall be last in the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, back to our Bibles! Be Bereans! You will be sure to discover for yourself dozens of important Biblical truths for which the pulpit does not have time and these meditations do not have space. Then, like the Bereans, you will become a living epistle for all to see and hear. Moses’ prayer will have been answered, that all of God’s people are preachers. That is what the Bible says we should be and the Early Christians were, rather than just the man who occupies a pulpit briefly one day a week.