What is The Purpose of Preaching?
By: Rev. Joe Kramer
This is the question that we will be exploring today. I wrote this article in APA format because it was published that way when I wrote it during one of my Master’s classes. This, however, is adapted for our purposes here today.
“A man who first tried to guess ‘what the public wants,’ and then preached that as Christianity because the public wants it, would be a pretty mixture of fool and knave”(Lewis, n.d., ¶ 5). A lot of people believe preaching to be something easy and just getting up and talking about the Bible or current events. More goes into preaching than just giving your thoughts on a passage of scripture ore preaching current events. In this essay we will begin to explore the subject of preaching. The first thing we must know is why we preach. There are two responses to this, an objective response and a subject one. Then briefly explore the goal of preaching.
Let us begin by exploring the reason for preaching. There are two responses to this question. One is the object response and the other is the subjective response. This is not a new question throughout history preachers have struggled with the effectiveness of their preaching, even in the nineteenth century, the so-called golden age of preaching. The twentieth century has brought new challenges that other centuries did not have to contend. Such as the rise technological resources, i.e. Television, internet, Digital Video Discs and the list could continue. (Hamilton, 1992). But preaching still remains the same with only minor changes.
The Objective Response
We know that God has chosen to reveal himself in nonverbal ways (i.e. general revelation) but God has chosen to reveal himself in verbal communication as well (assuming one believes in the divine origin of the Bible). The question is raised then, is preaching different from public speaking? Yes. First Corinthians chapter two verses four and five tell us (NKJV) “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” So then preaching is empowered by God not just by man’s word and thoughts. Preaching is the very act of God using a person who has been called by God to deliver and apply God’s message to individual lives (see Ephesians 4:11) through the act of standing in front of people and speaking what God has given them (Hamilton, 1992). So, is there some kind of a unique authority of the Word of God? Yes. Both Matthew chapter twenty-eight verses eighteen through twenty and second Timothy chapter three verse sixteen points to a special and unique authority about God and His Word. As a matter of fact Hebrews chapter four verse twelve reports that God’s Word is active and alive (Hamilton). We do not often think of Words having any kind of life but the Bible says that His Word is alive and mixed with our faith can become a powerful motivator and life changing substance. Because of all of this we know from several scriptures that the Word of God is attended by the working of the Holy Spirit. Acts chapter one verse eight shows that the Holy Spirit descended upon the people and they began to proclaim God’s Word abroad through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. In First Corinthians chapter two verse four Paul reminds the people at Corinth that his preaching was shown to be true not merely by words, but words coupled with the demonstration of power by the Holy Spirit (Hamilton).
All of this indicates that God intends for preaching to be continued throughout this dispensation (or time) of grace. “The theological realities which saw the first-century church stress the preaching/teaching of the Word have not changed. God still reveals Himself and His will for people through verbal propositions” (Hamilton, 1992, p. 16).
The Subjective Response
The response here is for those that do the preaching. The question here is why should a particular person preach / teach God’s Word? As with all other things our response must be rooted in God’s Word. Throughout the Scriptures we find all the preachers were called by God. Some were dramatic (i.e. Isaiah and Paul) other were not so dramatic, but a simple call (i.e. Amos and John). The intricacies of the call or not important, the assurance that one has been called by God to preach / teach is important (Hamilton, 1992). In the New Testament, which is our guide, the call is both an internal call from God to the individual and an external recognition of that call by the church. There are some truths that must be present in an individual’s life, these are “. . . the truth and power of the gospel, the authority of Scripture, the giving of spiritual gifts, and the Lord’s sovereign right to call whomever He chooses. If these are missing, the felt call may be shallow and the product of one’s own thinking” (Hamilton, p. 17). That is the part where the church’s recognition is important. Too many people believe that being in ministry is easy, or that it will bring them prestige and this is why they chose to try to go into ministry. In actuality ministry is very difficult financially, spiritually and emotionally and should never be entered into with an actual call to the ministry. Jeremiah understood this, which is why he wrote the following words in Jeremiah twenty verses eight through ten (NKJV).
8 For when I spoke, I cried out;
I shouted, “Violence and plunder!”
Because the word of the LORD was made to me
A reproach and a derision daily.
9 Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not.
10 For I heard many mocking:
“Fear on every side!”
“Report,” they say, “and we will report it!”
All my acquaintances watched for my stumbling, saying,
“Perhaps he can be induced;
Then we will prevail against him,
And we will take our revenge on him.”
The goal of giving a speech is understanding. That, however, is not the goal of preaching. Yes the previous sentence is correct, the goal of preaching is not understanding. So what is it? It is quite simply, faith. The goal of preaching is to produce faith in the hearer. It makes no sense to man, but only to God. “The content of the proclamation is intolerable to men of all races, since it treats of the Crucified. This satisfies neither the Greek urge for knowledge nor the Jewish demand for religious certainty. . .only the believer. . .accepts it” (Kittel, Bromiley, & Feidrich, 1964-, p. 712). Faith can only come through hearing God’s Word and faith is always content with the simple content of God’s Word spoken by a preacher. This means that the audience must participate in the discovery process through the sermon that has been prepared for them by the preacher and the Holy Spirit working together. “The faith which the Word demands of man is also a gift of the Word, R. 10:8. Since faith comes by preaching, faith and proclamation have the same content, 1 C. 15:14” (Kittel et al., p. 712).
Each of these can be explored more thoroughly, but what is presented in this essay is a good overview of the reason for preaching in general, that God has called specific people to accomplish this task and the goal of the task. Preaching should never be taken lightly but should be entered into soberly and reverently, likewise the congregation should also participate in the act by receiving the Word as God’s Word, applying to their lives and mixing their faith with the Word that is being presented to them. In this way preaching is a participatory exercise instead of a one sided event.
Hamilton, D. L. (1992). Homiletical handbook. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Feidrich, G. (Eds.). (1964-). Theological dictionary of the New Testament (Vol.Vol. 3). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Lewis, C. S. (n.d.). Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. Retrieved December 13, 2011, from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/preaching