Monday, July 03, 2006

Ten Commandments for Preaching

It's been along time since my last post: A busy schedule at work, visitors at home, and two weeks' vacation on Puget Sound have kept me away from the blog. But I'm home and, once I'm settled back in, I'll come back with more.

For now, I urge you to consider these ten commandments for preaching, together with Pontificator's comments on them.

I think the principles are sound. But I tend to agree with Pontificator's quibbles with them.

For instance, I have suffered through enough untrained speakers' sounding forth from the pulpit to deny the importance of rhetorical skill in a preacher. It is something that can be taught and improved, and more can and should be done in that area. (I don't mean that preachers should be great rhetoriticians or orators -- that tends to gripe me, too. But I mean that preachers should be adept at the use of their voices and knowledgeable in the means of getting meaning across.)

I'm evidence of what good can come from serious attention to this point: At one point in my career, I was serving as an interim pastor in a congregation where I belonged. (It is a long and strange story.) After a couple of weeks of my preaching and presiding, I was taken aside by a member who was a drama teacher and director at the (Big-Ten) university. She explained, in an unsolicited critique, that I was using my voice in rather odd ways that made for a less-than-effective presentation. She then suggested what the issues were and how I might correct them.

Now, some of my friends think it was an audacious -- and less than gracious -- thing to do. But I interpreted it as an act of pure grace: Her criticism made me more self-conscious, for a time anyway, but it also gave me insights that I wouldn't have had and enable me to improve my skills in ways that enhanced my preaching and presiding. (I'm not claiming to be that good at preaching -- just better than I would have been without the intervention by my sister-in-the-faith.) I think how good it would be if preachers had someone like that to offer their assistance.

On another point, however, I'm not sure how to interpret what the Pontificator says. It relates to the preaching of repentance and forgiveness. He suggests that there are times when repentance must be preached "in order" for God to offer forgiveness. I'm not sure that's correct.

I'm convinced that repentance and grace exist in a dialectical relationship. When I am offered the love of God, I can only lay hold on it in faith, which includes repentance (turning around from my self-driven direction to move in God's direction). Does that mean that, ala Barth (and, I'm discovering, also Bonhoeffer), that the preaching of grace must precede the call to repentance? Certainly, I believe that "I cannot by my own reason or understanding believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. BUT the Holy Ghost has called me through the Gospel." In other words, the preaching of salvation enables me to repent and to come to faith. Without meaning to impose a "pattern" on preaching, ought the Gospel be proclaimed first and terms of repentance thereafter? The Gospel enables me to repent, to participate in the amendment of my life, and to join in the communal existence of the Body of Christ.

In contrast to that, I understand some Lutherans to say that the call to repentance (or the preaching of Law, which may or may not be the same thing, depending on the theologian) sets the terms for hearing the good news. Must I be brought to a knowledge of my sin before I can be receptive to knowledge of my salvation? Frankly, in my most recent years, I have noticed that this kind of preaching tends to limit sin to a psychologized state. (Bonhoeffer was especially critical of that kind of preaching -- as was Karl Menninger, in his book Whatever Became of Sin?) That doesn't do much for me, I confess. It also posits the Gospel in terms of the sin/lack of reconciliation that is set out in the beginning of the sermon. Doesn't that tend to make salvation reactive, instead of proactive? (And I think the Gospel is not an answer to our needs until those needs are defined precisely by the Gospel.)

To be frank, I think not enough preachers take seriously the dialectic, capitulating to one model of the act of salvation or another. I think, too, that not enough preachers take seriously that their preaching IS an act of salvation. Salvation comes by hearing, and hearing by listening to the word of God -- yes?

But is part of this dilemma that preaching is too focussed on the individual? The Enlightenment gave us a new lens for reading life -- one in which I-me-my is the fundamental level of meaning. (I'm really quite delighted to echo others' critiques of the Enlightenment, but this is my own.) As a consequence of the Enlightenment (and of the liberalism it spawned in theology), "faith" has become a personal-individual thing. We have lost the basic, necessary, Trinitarian understanding of faith, salvation, the Church, ... .

Thus, there may be a need for an eleventh commandment (can there be 11?): Preachers ought, at least more than they do, preach to the community qua community and less to the community as aggregate of individuals. That would make for some interesting changes in emphasis.

Have I gone on too long again?


Pontificator said...

Hi, Dwight. Thanks for commenting on my post.

I don't think we disagree substantively on the repentance/forgiveness issue. Perhaps we might frame the question this way: Are we authorized to declare to our hearers, "Because of Christ's death on the cross, God has absolved you from all your sins"? Where in the pre-Reformation tradition do we find this way of construing the gospel? Is not forgiveness a concrete act? Thus Peter tells the crowd in Acts 2 to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

Part of the problem here is that Protestantism lacks a sacrament of repentance/absolution. For a Lutheran take on this, see this citation from Robert Jenson.

Jim said...

Missed you in June!

The Episcopal Church (with which Lutherans are in full communion), in its Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, has this for number 25:

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the
corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

Nevertheless, I have used the Sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation) to some benefit, and I must say that hearing a Lutheran priest say that "I forgive you all your sins" takes me on a wild ride during that part of the Lutheran liturgy (if I'm remembering correctly).

But I think we are off the point. The gospel is the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven, isn't it? And doesn't Jesus constantly assure us of our entry into that Kingdom, warts and all, right alongside the tax-collectors and the prostitutes? Repentance provokes reconciliation, and forgiveness is an eternal wellspring of the Creator's love for us, isn't it?

There appears to me to be a gulf between what Jesus proclaimed and how the Pauline and Petrine apostles (and their successors) seem to have re-written a bit of the open inclusiveness Jesus proclaimed.

Jesus, as very man, was fully aware that humans can repent and repent and repent, and still sin. Baptism, as a mark in the sand, is only one of those repentings, I think.

Without Jesus' wide-open arms, always there, we would be just as far from salvation by baptism as we are by trying to comply perfectly with the Law.

I guess it was my turn to write a long one. You can wake up now.

Anonymous said...

I've missed you, brother! Your pew has missed you, too. I'm looking forward to seeing you re-claim it from those usurpers who have snuck in during your absence. (Well, I only sat there the first Sunday of your vacation. The second Sunday I sat in the vicar's seat--he was on vacation, too.)

Reading your post, I realize I have never heard you preach (well, unless we count Adult Forum), and I'm wondering what exactly it was that the drama teacher told you to do with your voice.

We seriously need to do coffee sometime soon...

Dwight said...

What a great way to re-enter the world. (For this Great Plains-er, living on and around Puget Sound for two weeks was an other-worldly experience. Perhaps I should write about that -- later.)

It's good to hear from you Brother Al, a/k/a Pontificator. I hope you are doing well and finding strength and satisfaction in your formation in your new life. And I'm glad you discovered my comment on your post: I hope readers understand that as a commendation of your blog, which I consider simply one of the most stimulating sites on the Internet!

I think you and Jim rightly highlight the importance of rites of reconciliation (regarldess of what we call them -- confession, reconciliation, private confession and absolution) and of the regretable absence of them from most Lutheran/Protestant parishes. Lutheranism, of course, endorses individual confession and absolution, but you will look far and wide to find a Lutheran either who knows that or who, knowing that, practices it (and that latter category includes me).

Naturally, as a student of Jenson's, I find his analysis all-too-true. In particular, the vacuity of much Lutheran preaching is traceable directly, I think, to a fear of "legalism" and a complete misunderstanding that "forgiveness" is not the content of the Gospel. The Gospel has content, else why is the New Testament not merely three or four verses long?

In understanding repentance, I wonder whether this helps: When my then-future wife agreed to marry me and confessed her love for me, I was put in an existentially changed situation: If I claimed that love for myself (as I had asked for it), there would be consequences -- specifically, in part, that I would turn from my other "romances" and foolishness and "cleave only" to her. Surely, my silliness and infidelities and all the rest in the past were put to rest, but, in addition as it were, I was called into a new state of being in the present and future. I was enabled to be married (in the Christian sense, to live with another -- and if there are children, with others -- in a relationship of love and mutual support that mirrors Christ's own love and support for his Bride, the Church).

There is "repentance" (a change in "mind" or "direction" -- i.e., a "coming home to my true self") in my coming from my "bachelorhood" into the state of betrothal, and later, marriage. It is not JUST to look back and be freed from that, but it is also to see myself in the present and future in the new light offered by the good news (in this case) or the Good News.

In Baptism, I am initiated into the Body of Christ and graced with the powers -- even, in a sense, the eschatological powers -- of the one whose Body I share (thanks to the Holy Spirit). I am freed of the past in order to live freely into the future. Salvation is, thus, not a linear thing (proceeding from point A, sin, through point B, forgiveness, to point C, final salvation). It's more dynamic, just as is my marriage -- where I regularly confess to stupidity and infidelity (of various, but not sexual, senses) and am renewed in the marriage by the voice of forgiveness.

That's why, Jim, I think that while the Articles parallel standard Lutheran teaching on the sacraments, Lutherans (and you) are right to raise the possibility of the sacramental character of reconciliation. While there is no physical 'element' to this sacrament(al); human touch (laying on of hands, embrace) is an action that can carry embodiment, which seems to be an element of a sacrament.

Does that make sense? (I know it's garbled, but that comes from trying to write this in a noisy place).

Is it kosher?

Digital Diet 365 said...

Have you ever questioned Paul?

Paul says we are not under the law, but the Bible says God's
commandments are forever and ever (Psalm 111)

I seriously believe Paul was a false apostle as:

1. He wasn’t ordained an apostle by Christ (Mat 10)

2. He didn’t qualify to be an apostle (Acts 1:16-26)

3. Paul’s doctrine is proven false:

After Christ died and rose he appeared to his apostles. The gospels record him as appearing to the “eleven” (remember, Judas had died), but Paul’s doctrine is in clear error as he tells us that Christ appeared to the “twelve”:

Paul said twelve:

1 Corinthians 15:4-6

4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve

Mark said eleven:

Mark 16:14: Afterward he (Christ) appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat

Matthew said eleven:

Matt 28:16-18:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

Luke’s mentions the “eleven”:

2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. 3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 5And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, 7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. 8And they remembered his words, 9And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

Acts mentions eleven:

Acts 1:26:

26And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Paul is a liar, and a proven false witness. Christ, in Revelation 2:2 commends the church of Epheus for figuring out false aposles. He said, “…thou hast tried them which say they are apsostles, and are not, and hast found them liars. Remember, Paul preached at Epheus.

Fact 4:
The apostles did not believe Paul was a disciple:

Acts 9:26
26And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.

After Barnabas told the apostles that Paul had “seen the Lord” and that he preached boldy in the name of Jesus, the Apostles didn’t tell him to join them, but they sent him home to Tarsus. Remember, Jesus told us (Mat 13:57) that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house . The apostles sent Paul to a place that no one would believe him.

Paul's caught in a lie about his conversion:

There are 2 different stories. In one version he said that Christ told him to go to Damascus and that it would be there that Christ would reveal more to him. In the other version, Christ did the opposite. Compare Acts 22 with Acts 26

Jesus tells apostles to "heal", Paul blinded a man:

Acts 13:11, Paul said:
"11And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand."

Jesus, confirms twelve apostles, not 13:

Revelation 21:14:
14And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Jesus told the church of Ephesus they knew who the false apostles were:

To the Church of Ephesus, Revelation 2:2:

2I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

Paul told Ephesus he was an apostle:

Ephesians 1:1
1Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus

Paul admits his doctrine had troubles being accepted in Ephesus:

Acts 19:8,9:

8And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. 9But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

I have much, much more on my website going into faith works and law too. If you want to see more, just go to my site: