The original Chinese article here.
A while back, I was talking about the character of the preacher. This installment, I’ll talk about the nature of preaching. Prof. Thomas Long, in his book, considers preaching as “witness.” Furthermore, besides witnessing, he also states in his seminar that preaching is confession. These are good starting points in looking at the nature of preaching.
What would cause us to think about preaching as confession and witness? Certainly, both ideas are not as prominent as others in biblical descriptions of preaching. There’s better vocabulary from the NT to describe the nature of preaching than those two words. I think our point of departure should surely come out of a church history and spirituality grid. What exactly does that mean?
Confession answers the question “What is my belief?” Witnessing answers the question “What experience do you have?” The former is an important recognition because my belief is quite different than what God actually revealed in the text. In saying “this is my belief,” we recognize the gap between the human interpretation and the actually divine revelation. The sermon is not divine revelation. Rather, it is an interpretation of the divine revelation. So, what are the measuring sticks when we look at the concept of “confession”?
I think one place to check my confession of belief is the broadest historical confessions of the church. The more we study the church fathers, the less we’re likely to think that we have the corner on truth. When we confess our belief, I think it is important to make sure our range of truth is wide enough to see the many possible facets of truths that had already existed in church history. Our individual confession is part of the greater confession of the church. This fact ought to keep the preacher humble to know that he has not possessed the corner on truth within the greater history of the church.
Another nature of preaching is witnessing. As I said before witnessing is about experience. In order to understand witnessing, we should contrast it against confession. Confession is about what I know and witnessing is about what I do with what I know. Witnessing links belief to praxis. Confession shouts, “I believe this is truth.” Witnessing shouts, “I’ve tried out my belief, and it works.” Witnessing is about practicing what one preaches. The practice of one’s belief does not merely touch on church tradition, but also touches on spirituality of the practitioner. Faith is translated into practicable form when the preacher sees preaching as witness. A witnessing preacher proclaims that a certain truth is indeed true and that this truth is practicable as well as relevant.
Confession and witnessing then become the expression of the church’s belief through the pulpit and through the words of the preacher. After doing all righteousness, confession and witnessing give the gift of the sermon to the church. The preacher himself does not own the sermon. He then builds it as part of the greater tradition through the ages in order to remind the church of what she ought to believe and do. In other words, preaching has a unifying effect on the congregation with the larger universal church.
What are some of the tools that will bring the confession and witnessing nature of the sermon back into the church? Long suggests usage of lectionary and series. The modern church mostly enjoys series because they are flexible and practical. The trouble is that the practicality of the series can take the church away from difficult passages. Lectionary has its lessons along with many resources to refer to. While the wider church can also refer to the lectionary, the preacher can feel insecure if he uses the resources, but he is missing the point of the lectionary because the resources are not exclusively his. Besides, reading the resources is one thing; using them wisely in the sermon is quite another thing. Lectionary can also unify the entire church to study something similar that is according to the church tradition without individualizing the sermon to the preacher’s own theological tastes. Certainly, it is better than making all the church pastors preach from the Purpose Driven Life and making the congregation do Sunday school on it. The lectionary is much safer and will enable the preacher to confess and witness for the faith of the church as well as his own faith.