Maybe we took a wrong turn somewhere…
In preparing this Sunday night’s lesson on the reformation doctrine of preaching, I came across this very helpful article by Cornelis Venema, professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. In it, he traces the doctrine of preaching through the various reformed confessions to show a distinct and uniform teaching that is often missing from many evangelical and even reformed churches. Perhaps most helpful is his following summary of the problem:
In spite of the historic and uniform conviction of the Reformed churches regarding the centrality of preaching as a means of grace, this conviction does not enjoy a lively and ready reception among many Reformed churches today. The Reformation’s view of preaching has been seriously challenged in recent years, even in churches and communions that fall within the Reformed tradition. On the one hand, there is a spirit of democratization and egalitarianism that chafes at the notion of an ordained ministry whose administration of the Word of God in preaching has a place of pre-eminence in the church. When this spirit captivates the churches, all of the members alike become equally “ministers” of the Word of God, the minister of the Word and sacraments being only a specialized expression of a more general activity. And on the other hand, there is a growing prejudice that preaching no longer serves as an effective means of communicating the gospel. This prejudice can give birth to an almost endless proliferation of new devices or strategies for preaching the gospel—from a kind of neo-sacramentalism among some evangelicals to alternatives to preaching in drama, music and other, sometimes esoteric, worship practices. The only common thread holding these devices together is that they constitute an alternative to preaching. The sorry image of preaching today can easily be illustrated by noting that the expression, “to preach to (at) someone,” is generally thought to be objectionable.
While the process of regaining the reformation’s view of preaching while not devaluing the various ministries of discipleship in the church may be a difficult one of unsteady progress, we do well to begin by recognizing the problem.