In this episode of TGC Q&A, Chris Bruno and David Helm discuss the question, “When and where did sermons originate?” They address:
- Laying a biblical foundation (:00)
- From the mind of God (:43)
- Formalized in the Old Testament (1:41)
- Preaching in the ministry of Jesus (3:35)
- New Testament patterns (4:47)
- Processes of the early church fathers (5:44)
- The preacher and the sacraments (7:14)
- Importance of the Word in worship (9:40)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of preaching.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Chris Bruno: We’re thinking about when the sermon originated and some people will jump to the early church. Some people will jump to the New Testament, but really we can go all the way back to the Old Testament and see a foundation for what we call modern day preaching, can’t we?
David Helm: Yeah. I was thinking, when does a sermon originate, or from where does it originate in church history? In one sense, you could say it originates in the mind of God. He determined not just through the creative act of his own word, like at creation, let there be light and there was light, but he determined that mediating relationship between him and his people would be through that word explained. I’m thinking of Deuteronomy 18. So Deuteronomy 18, you hear the word of God given in the law, but because we couldn’t hear God’s voice too terrifying it was, he puts it in the mouth of Moses. And so early in Israel’s history from the first moment of revealed word, it’s already in the hands of someone who’s mediating that relationship between God and his people through his word explained.
Chris Bruno: Yeah. And we see that even earlier. It’s kind of formalized or instantiated there in Deuteronomy, but all the way back, Noah, we see preaching to the unrighteous generation around him, he’s somehow proclaiming the will of God, he’s proclaiming coming judgment to them. So in a way we could even call that a form of preaching or at least proclamation of God’s will, God’s salvation, and God’s judgment.
David Helm: Yeah. And so then the evolution of it is it becomes inscripturated. So post Moses you’ve got the kings where to keep that inscripturated word near them. The prophetic office, which was to call God’s people to it. I’m thinking of Ezra, Nehemiah, in the book of Nehemiah chapter eight, where they recover text and spend their whole community gatherings around hearing it and having it parceled out bit by bit for understanding.
Chris Bruno: So when Nehemiah says that they gave the sense-
David Helm: Yeah they gave the-
Chris Bruno: Of the passage, what do you think that means?
David Helm: Well it, I mean, you probably know better than I do, but it’s debated in regard to, were they reading it or were they interpreting it?
Chris Bruno: Sure.
David Helm: And I don’t know that at a lexical level, we’ll be able to solve that issue, but at a practical level, what happens is God’s word gets explained.
Chris Bruno: Yeah, exactly.
David Helm: To God’s people that’s.
Chris Bruno: Yeah. And I agree with that in Nehemiah eight there, whether it, some people say it’s being read in Hebrew and then they’re kind of interpreting it, or translating it into Aramaic. But I think you’re exactly right. The outcome is that here’s somebody explaining the word of God in a way that people can understand and actually begin to apply and let it kind of soak into their thinking and their living.
David Helm: And if you push it forward, so the ministry of Jesus, he decides to launch out his ministry of preaching, preaching is his priority, Mark one, but Luke four, he comes out of an Isaianic prophetic text. So he reads the word and then he explains it in the sense of today you’ve heard this fulfilled in your hearing, and therefore we’re now wrestling with this man, Jesus, as the full final interpretive explication of God’s word.
Chris Bruno: Yeah. I mean, probably the most famous of Jesus’ teaching is what? The Sermon on the Mount. So-
David Helm: Oh yeah, that’s good.
Chris Bruno: Jesus himself sets this pattern or continues this pattern of preaching. So what’s he doing in the Sermon on the Mount? Well he’s doing a lot of things, but I think one of the things he’s doing is helping people understand what the true meaning and intent of the law is. So he’s proclaiming God’s word to people and you see this all throughout his ministry. He goes throughout the different cities in Galilee and Judea, and what’s he do? He goes to the synagogue and he’s preaching, he’s proclaiming God’s word. And this pattern continues with the apostles. I mean, this is what Paul’s doing as well.
David Helm: And he’s actually indicating that the church begins to drift when they drift from that word proclaimed. So there are all kinds of examples in the New Testament that you’re to give yourself to this sound teaching this, this body of material and people are called out as they move away from that into other expressions in regard to how we actually relate to God.
Chris Bruno: Yeah, I think that’s it because they’re receiving the teaching from the apostles. Well, from Jesus, himself and then mediated through the apostles, all throughout Acts, we see that repeated Peter, Stephen, Paul, others, they’re preaching the word and people are getting into trouble when they deviate from the preached word. That’s how God’s truth is given to his people all throughout scripture.
David Helm: Yeah. And it seems to me then that you get beyond scripture, you can do what you want with the early church fathers. I’d love to hear you on that, but by Augustine, you’ve got a full-blown hermeneutic. His little work on Christian doctrine, he really frames it by saying, “There are two things you need to do.” One is the process of discovering the preacher, what you need to learn from the Bible. And then the process of presenting that which you have learned. So by the fourth century, you have a full blown hermeneutic set for worship around God’s people gathering together under his word in order that they might listen to him and live well under that.
Chris Bruno: Yeah. And I don’t think what Augustine was doing was anything different than what he had received over the previous couple of centuries. I was looking at this quote from Justin Martyr, who explains how the scriptures are read when the reader has finished, the president is how my translation has it here, in a discourse, instructs and exhorts the imitation of these good things. So it’s always been a part of Christian worship. It’s really always been a part of the worship of God’s people that somebody stands up and proclaims God’s word, explains it. So whether we go to Moses, Nehemiah, Ezra Paul, Justin Martyr, Augustine-
David Helm: The early church, the reformers.
Chris Bruno: Well, here’s a question for you, now recently, Francis Chan, who we know and love said, For 1500 years there …” And I’m just grabbing this quote. So forgive me if I’m misquoting him. But I think this is accurate. “For 1500 years there was never one guy in his pulpit being the center of the church. It was the body and blood of Christ. And even the leaders just saw themselves as partakers.”
David Helm: That’s interesting.
Chris Bruno: What do you think of that?
David Helm: Well, okay. I’m not aware of that. I haven’t read that and I don’t want to cherry pick-
Chris Bruno: Sure.
David Helm: A quotation that I’m not quite familiar with.
Chris Bruno: Yeah, that’s fair.
David Helm: So I’d love to hear him kind of ferret that out. And I’m not sure what he’s reacting to. It seems like there’s an element of reaction there to the preacher, as much as the word being preached on the centrality of an individual. But let’s at least say this-
Chris Bruno: That is a conversation worth having, but…
David Helm: If you begin to move away from the notion that God has seen fit to mediate his relationship with us through word, rather than through strictly a sacramental understanding, or a spirit charismatic understanding, the further you move away from the word as that mediating relationship. I think you’ve got to think about some things because there’ll be some unintended consequences with that kind of a statement.
Chris Bruno: Yeah. I think I tend to agree and we probably don’t think enough about the Lord’s supper what’s going on there in many evangelical churches. I think there’s a real danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water in that approach. So that the preached word becomes secondary or just unimportant. And then you just have the sacrament. And that will raise all kinds of questions about, what is this uninterpretable unmediated symbol? It will be unclear to folks. I think word and sacrament must always go together. And there’s an order to them. The word must explain the symbol. I think Calvin talked about that.
David Helm: Yeah. Well, this is a discussion for another time, because are you going to be low church, high church-
Chris Bruno: Sure.
David Helm: I guess, in this sense, when did the sermon originate and what is its role in worship? If we just limit ourselves to that-
Chris Bruno: Yeah, which we probably should.
David Helm: It has got to be central.
Chris Bruno: Yep. That’s right.
David Helm: God’s people gather around God’s word where they hear his voice and live under the word of Christ.
Chris Bruno: Yeah. I think that’s exactly it. To deviate from that pattern, I think would be a significant departure from both the evidence of scripture. And then what we’ve learned in church history from others who have gone before us.
David Helm: Yeah. To close it out, think of Romans 15:4. He actually says already in the New Testament that it is through the encouragement of the scriptures that we are given hope. Or think of First Peter one, Peter himself did not want the post Epistolic world looking back with longing on his experience, subjective experience, or even sacramental experience, you could say with the Mount of Transfiguration and all that goes on. Now, what he does is he places it in something more sure, which is inscripturated text, which holds us for the future.
Chris Bruno: Amen, amen.