God calls people to special service in his kingdom as he wills. In the beginning of the Hebrew nation the Lord said to Moses: "So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (Exod. 3:10). During the development of the kingdom, God chose Samuel. "The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!' Then Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.' "(1 Sam. 3:10).
In the eighth century B.C. God spoke of Amos: "The lion has roared—who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken—who can but prophesy? . . . Amos answered Amaziah, 'I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel' " (Amos 3:8; 7:14-15).
Later the Lord called Isaiah, the prince of prophets: "Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!' " (Isa. 6:8). Jesus, in his earthly ministry, also called out persons for special service.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:18-19).
"Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "Mary of Magdala went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20:17-18).
Was it not also true when "Bible days" had passed and post-New Testament times had begun that God continued to call people? God called Origen, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Ambrose in the early centuries. He called Bernard, Francis, Dominic, Wycliffe, Huss, and Savonarola after the Dark Ages and before the Reformation. He called Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Latimer, and Knox during the Reformation. There were Wesley, Whitefield, Bunyan, Baxter, Spurgeon, Maclaren, Edwards, Brooks, Beecher, Broadus, and Moody in more recent centuries. And in the twentieth century God called Billy Sunday, George W. Truett, Arthur Gossip, James S. Stewart, Clovis Chappell, Billy Graham, W. A. Criswell, Herschel Hobbs, G. A. Studdert-Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., D. T. Niles, Karl Barth, Samuel Shoemaker, Fulton Sheen, and Walter Maier.
As surely as God called the prophets, apostles, and great preachers of history, he calls preachers today. As always, the basis of God's call is still dependent upon the will, the good pleasure, of the Lord. In Mark 3:13— 14 the sovereignty of Jesus is depicted as he called out and sent forth the apostles: "Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach."
An era of decadent Christianity will be upon us if the belief in a divine call is lost. The Dark Ages will again envelop the church if we cease to believe in and respond to the call of God. There can be no powerful or effective preaching apart from a God-called ministry.
The person God uses to preach the unsearchable riches of the Lord Jesus Christ is a regenerate person. Spurgeon was horrified by the idea that an unconverted person should attempt to preach the gospel to people who are lost.
How horrible to be a preacher of the gospel and yet to be unconverted! Let each man here whisper to his own inmost soul, "What a dreadful thing it will be for me if I should be ignorant of the power of the truth which I am preparing to proclaim!" Unconverted ministry involves the most unnatural relationships. A graceless pastor is a blind man elected to a professorship of optics, philosophizing upon light and vision, discoursing upon and distinguishing to others the nice shades and delicate blendings of the prismatic colours, while he himself is absolutely in the dark! He is a dumb man elevated to the chair of music; a deaf man fluent upon symphonies and harmonies! He is a mole professing to educate eagles; a limpet elected to preside over angels.
The person God uses to preach the gospel is a committed person. Whether it be in public or private life, whether it be personal resources of moral and ethical concepts, or mental powers, or emotional resources, or physical capabilities—everything must be committed to the Lord's unrestricted use. Moreover, in all relationships—with parents, spouse, children, friends, church members, associates, and strangers—a preacher must live as a consecrated person. No personality trait, resource, relationship, or obligation can be placed beyond the control and care of the Lord.
The person God calls to preach is someone who constantly communes with the Lord. Preachers can preach only as well as they can pray. Preachers cannot rise higher in the preaching of the gospel than they can rise in their private and family spiritual lives.
Every possible evidence bears testimony that a minister must sustain a close fellowship with God in order to thrive spiritually. The dramatically beautiful fellowship of Christ with the Father bears witness to the necessity of a consistent devotional life. Later, in the midst of mounting responsibility and multiplying tasks, the apostles cried for relief that they might give themselves more thoroughly to preaching and to spiritual affairs. The writings of Paul abound in references to "praying without ceasing," "giving thanks without ceasing," and "remembering without ceasing." Paul lived his life in the white heat of an intense fellowship with God. Through the ages the most effective servants of the Lord have been those who have nourished their souls in close fellowship with him. Without exception every preacher of great power has had intimate communion with the Lord.
It is imperative that a preacher be a truly regenerated Christian, be called of God to a preaching ministry, and grow continually in fellowship with God. To be an effective messenger of God, a preacher must also diligently prepare for this task. Before one can prepare and preach effective sermons in particular and communicate in general, an understanding of the nature of preaching and communication, the objectives of preaching, and the history of preaching must be developed.
Although the New Testament offers no formal definition of preaching, a study of the primary terms reveals much about the nature of preaching. The most frequently used word in the New Testament for preaching, keryssein, is translated "to proclaim" or "to herald" and occurs more than fifty times in its various inflections. In the Gospels and in Acts it is usually translated "preach" or "preaching" or "preached." It denotes that the messenger has a message of authority from another. Of course, in the New Testament sense, the messenger has a message from God about Christ, and since the messenger is divinely appointed, the hearers are obligated to hear and to obey.
Another important New Testament term for preaching, euangelizesthai, is translated "to preach good tidings or good news." This word indicates the nature of the message as good news—good news of something to come or of something that has come and is available.
Throughout the New Testament many other words are used to indicate the act of "preaching" even though the specific word preaching is not always used. Four such words are didaskein, "to impart divine truth through teaching;" dialegesthai, "to discourse or reason with others with a view to persuasion"; lalein, "to talk or to discourse"; and parakalein, "to call to one's side or to admonish." As Thomas Long observed, "There is the congregation, who will, of course, be the hearers of the preaching. There is the preacher, who arises from the congregation but now stands to preach in front of the community. There is the sermon, which we must be careful to say is not what the preacher has written down beforehand but rather what the preacher says."
Through the years many have attempted to define the nature of preaching in precise terms. Perhaps the best known definition was set out by Phillips Brooks in 1877. "What, then, is preaching of which we are to speak? It is not hard to find a definition. Preaching is the communication of truth. It has in it two essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of those can it spare and still be preaching."
Charles Bugg adds a new dimension to the definition of preaching—that of relationship.
Preaching is more than a craft or an art or a profession It is more than the shaping of some words designed to dazzle the ears of hearers Preaching grows out of the minister's own experience with the living God As preachers, we stand inside faith We are not objective We bear witness to what has changed our lives
A key word is relationship Preaching cannot be separated from all that a minister is The concept that we just "get up" a sermon fails to take seriously all of the factors that converge in the person who is preaching Preaching cannot be separated from the person of the preacher
Andrew W. Blackwood, once the dean of American teachers of preaching, drew his definition of preaching from a study of outstanding preaching of the past.
He noted, "What do we understand by preaching? It means divine truth through personality or the truth of God voiced by a chosen personality to meet human needs. From another point of view preaching calls for the interpretation of life today in light that comes from God today, largely through the Scriptures."
The current emphasis on the nature of preaching centers largely on theological concepts which have been reborn in a rising tide of studies in theology of proclamation. This new thrust finds Richard Lischer, Fred Craddock, Clyde Fant, Thomas Long, Raymond Bailey, William Willimon, Craig Loscalzo, and Charles Bugg setting the stage by discussing the complexity of preaching in a multitude of ways, but always with an emphasis on communicating God's Word to a contemporary congregation. Early in the twentieth century, P. T. Forsyth declared: "With preaching Christianity stands or falls because it is the declaration of the Gospel. Nay more—far more—it is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself." Today, Clyde Fant's emphasis on incarnational preaching, Charles Bugg's emphasis on relationships, and new studies in congregational analysis help us wed theology to communication and thus to our preaching.
Robert H. Mounce in his helpful work, The Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching, expresses a similar conviction: "Preaching is that timeless link between God's great redemptive Act and man's apprehension of it. It is the medium through which God contemporizes His historic Self-disclosure and offers man the opportunity to respond in faith."
Such views speak strongly concerning the importance of preaching by insisting that the Word of God cannot be separated from its proclamation; the gospel is in fact a preached gospel; preaching is a redemptive event in contemporary time; the act of preaching is part of God's encounter with a contemporary listener; preaching is not merely a means of conveying content but is in a real sense bound up with the content; it is part of God's saving activity; and it is God's means of giving life to us. If these statements are true, all must admit to the supreme importance of preaching.
While agreeing with this contemporary emphasis, John R. Stott warns against careless terminology in setting out the existential nature of preaching. He calls attention, in examining the views of Mounce, to the various statements concerning the transference of the events of the past into the contemporary moment and then tries to place these expressions in correct focus. "God not only confronts men though the preacher's proclamation; He actually saves men through it as well. This St. Paul states categorically: 'Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of the kerygma to save those who believe' (1 Cor. 1:21)."
Fant articulates these concerns in Preaching for Today:
What can preaching do? It can send the church into a real world, a world of starving children and murderous competition, of lonely rooms and smug clubs, of shattered dreams and burned out hopes. This is the final mark of true preaching, to send the church into the world. For that is where the Christ of the church is: "He goes before you into Galilee: there you shall see him" (Mark 16:7).
In view of the various facets of preaching found through a study of the Greek words for preaching, an examination of various opinions concerning preaching, and a look at contemporary insights about preaching, what is preaching in terms of today? Preaching is the effective communication of the divine truth of the Christian Scriptures, by a person called of God to witness for Him to a redemptive deed for the purpose of giving eternal life through Jesus Christ.
An understanding of the objectives of preaching is essential in the preacher's preparation. An objective is that on which the mind and the heart are set as a purpose, goal, or result. The term "objective," as applied to preaching, includes both the overall or total purpose of a preacher's ministry and that of the immediate sermon being prepared.
The total objective (also called the ultimate, supreme, or comprehensive objective) is to bring life to people. A minister ought to see clearly the difference between what is being accomplished with the twenty-four hours of a day and what is the overall aim of forty or more years of ministry. Today the objective may be for preparing a sermon on "total stewardship" in which a plea is issued for stronger financial support for God's kingdom. The aim is to increase the income of the church. Such a limited purpose would hardly suffice as a supreme goal.
Nothing less than the purpose of Christ will be sufficient for the dedicated preacher. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fall" (John 10:10). In this comprehensive purpose for his own ministry, Jesus directs his ministers to the only goal worthy of His name—life for the people.
Life, a term so rich, so profound, and yet so simple, embraces eternal life for tomorrow and abundant life for today. With life as a guide, the minister will be able to preach, to plan pastoral care, and to balance the work of organizations in the church. There need never be an unbalanced ministry if the preacher knows the ultimate purpose is to see that people have life.
While the total objective is life, immediate goals must be formulated for individual sermons. The immediate goals or major objectives are determined by the needs of the people. Within each congregation are six basic needs. One need relates to non-Christians, while the other five relate to the Christian life. People need to be saved, to grow in devotion to God, to develop more mature understanding of God's truth, to live in better relationship with others, to serve God in a more dedicated way, and to find strength and comfort in trouble. Every sermon should be designed to meet one of these basic areas of need.
The presence of unsaved people in the congregation or in the community necessitates the evangelistic or gospel objective. It comprises more than any one or several truths about God. Evangelistic preaching presents the gospel—the good news—to those who do not know or who have not accepted it by faith.
The devotional objective or the goal of love is directed toward Christians with the ideal of causing them to love, to adore, and to worship God. General themes, such as prayer, praise, thanksgiving, joy and beauty of faith, the majesty and holiness of God, are useful in motivating Christians to adore and worship the Lord.
The doctrinal objective is used when a keen discernment of God and his truth is needed. Christians constantly need assistance in grappling with the great and noble truths of the faith. A preacher searching for relevant messages must be mindful of the difficulty people have in comprehending God's nature, Christ's birth, the cross, regeneration, the resurrection, and the second coming. Numerous other themes which clarify insight and belief furnish the preacher a challenge for doctrinal preaching. The doctrinal goal is a distinct goal when used alone. In a sense, the doctrinal goal is a part of every sermon. Thus, in some sermons we may understand that the objective is doctrinal/evangelistic or doctrinal/consecrative. In such sermons, we can assume that even though doctrinal is part of the goal, the major objective is evangelistic or consecrative and therefore state only one major objective.
The ethical objective presents a creative challenge in almost any age but especially in the twentieth century. At the point where a converted person touches the life of another person, there Christian ethics operates. True Christian ethics is grounded in a Christian's relationship to God, but it expresses itself in every area of life—in family relations, in business contacts, in public schools, in politics, in the armed forces, and in race relations. Christians should have such an effective ethical relationship with God and their neighbors that their neighbors will desire to know God. The need of the congregation for proper relationship with the Lord and with neighbors may be met by effective ethical preaching.
The consecrative or actional objective meets the need of God's children to be fully committed to him. Some need to hear the voice of God calling them to a life of unconditional surrender in the local church. The consecrative objective challenges the preacher to lead people to dedicate themselves and all the resources under their control (time, talent, and personality, etc.) to God.
A "promotional objective" is sometimes listed separately. Occasionally, it is necessary to "promote" a building project or an organizational program or some other part of the institutional life of the church. By considering the promotional objective as part of the consecrative purpose, a preacher can show a positive attitude and use positive methods in promotional work.
The supportive or pastoral objective is born of the sufferings and burdens of people in trouble. That men, women, and children do need grace and the everlasting arms of God is undeniable. In using the supportive objective, a crisis in the life situation of members of a congregation can be addressed from the pulpit. There is spiritual joy in ministering to people in need, but beware of creating artificial situations which require attention and of devoting overmuch attention to this area of need.
After one of the six basic areas of need has been chosen as the major goal, it is necessary to formulate a specific objective for the immediate sermon. The major objective of the sermon expresses in a positive statement the response desired from the congregation as a result of one particular sermon. Always the major objective of the sermon is part of the total objective—life for the people. Furthermore, it is a facet of one of the six major objectives. The major objective of the sermon relates directly to one aspect of one major objective in one sermon to one audience on one occasion. For example, in preaching to a congregation on an October Sunday morning in regard to the budget campaign, a preacher might have as an ultimate objective, abundant life; as a major objective, the consecrative goal; and as a major objective of the sermon, that each church member should tithe.
The total and major objectives are closely related. They represent the development of purpose from the general to the particular. In helping the preacher to organize a sermon, they constitute three steps to effective messages which can be clearly comprehended.
Three streams—ancient oratory, Hebrew prophecy, and the Christian gospel—comprise the sources of Christian preaching. Ancient oratory and Hebrew prophecy flowed separately for hundreds of years, and by the third century A.D. these two merged with the Christian gospel to produce Christian preaching.
The precise origin of oratory is not known. It is commonly assumed that oratory followed the development of languages which grew out of a common ancestry. In the development of oratory the contributions of the ancient civilizations and the early Hebrews were few in comparison to the later work of the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrew prophets. Early civilized nations such as Egypt, Assyria, and Persia contributed little because of totalitarian governments which discouraged free speech. Oratory was not unknown among these peoples, but it never reached a high level of development.
Among the Hebrew people, before the time of the great prophets, several examples of ancient oratory can be found. John A. Broadus observed, "The speech of Judah before Joseph, is unsurpassed in all literature as an example of the simplest, tenderest pathos." The author of Job was well-acquainted with oratory. The marvelous farewell speech of Moses is found in the book of Deuteronomy. Other examples of Old Testament speeches may be found in Judges 9, 1 Samuel 24, 25, and 26.
The long and glorious history of Hebrew prophecy prepared the way for Christian preaching. The Bible records Enoch (Jude 14), Noah (2 Pet. 2:5), Isaac (Gen. 27:27-29), Jacob (Gen. 49:3-27), Moses (throughout Deuteronomy), and Joshua (Josh. 23-24) prophesied or spoke words of counsel from the Lord. Later Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Malachi, et al,. heard God speak and related his messages to Israel.
The prophets attributed their ability to discern and to describe events to the belief that God had called them and placed his words in their mouths. Although much emphasis has been placed on their ability to see and to describe the future, in all probability the prophets' primary function was to see and to tell God's message to Israel for the day in which they lived. The Hebrew words for prophet emphasize two ideas: the ability "to see" for the Lord, and the ability "to speak" in a warm and fervent manner in his name. The prophets did predict, but basically they were forthtellers rather than foretellers.
From the period of the great prophets to the restoration following the Exile, the nature of prophecy changed very little. But in this latter period came the development of something which was to influence preaching profoundly in the years to come, i.e., the regular exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures as a vital part of the synagogue services of worship (cf. Neh. 8:8). The exact date of the origin of the synagogue is not known, but it seems to have been sometime during the Exile. While captives in a heathen land, cut off from Temple worship, the Israelites probably devised the synagogue system. When the refugees returned to Palestine, they established synagogues in almost every town. In that era the age of prophecy ended, and long night came as the Promised One was awaited.
Without question the synagogue system had profound influence on subsequent religious development. When Christ sent forth his disciples with a new message, they found a people already trained in hearing the exposition of God's Word in a special place set apart for sacred discourse. Moreover, the synagogue later afforded the apostles preaching places in almost every city in the world. The general structure of the synagogue building, the type of service, and the use of Scripture for divine instruction influenced Christian preaching for all time.
Later, the major contribution to ancient oratory came through Greco-Roman rhetoric. It was in the fertile minds of the Greeks that oratory as a mental discipline was developed:
Ancient eloquence, on its secular and artistic side, reached its culmination among this gifted and versatile people. The speeches in the Homeric Poems show that in the earliest, semi-mythical times the Greeks employed and prized the gift of eloquence. The growth of political freedom, the early and vigorous development of dialectic philosophy, the cultivation and excellence of art and literature, along with the imaginative and lively intellect and the flexible and powerful language of the Greeks, all contributed to their marvelous and abiding attainments in the field of oratory.
It is thought the rules of rhetoric were first formulated by Korax in 466 B.C. After Thrasybulus, ruler of Syracuse, who had confiscated private lands, was overthrown, private property was restored to the citizens through court action. Claimants were required to appear in court and present data concerning their confiscated property. Confusion reigned. Most of the citizens were ignorant of proper procedures, and out of the chaos came the rules of Korax. He taught that five items were needed in making a speech: proem (introduction), presentation of facts, argument, secondary remarks, and perortation (conclusion). The art of rhetoric proved to be extremely useful and developed rapidly in the centuries following Korax.
As Greece conquered the world by force, it also conquered the minds of people with its educational procedures. Greek educational methods, schools, and rhetoric flowed out to the ends of the earth. Even though Rome later conquered the Greek Empire, Grecian rhetoric and education conquered the Roman mind. As God later used the universal Greek language for writing the New Testament, he also used Greco-Roman rhetoric as an instrument for proclaiming his gospel.
In spite of the impact of rhetoric on the proclamation of the gospel in the centuries following Christ, the art of rhetoric lacked moral and religious content essential to the highest eloquence. The impact of rhetoric on Christianity was chiefly at the point of form and mechanics of preaching. The moral void in rhetoric was adequately filled by Hebrew prophecy.
The third stream of Christian preaching, the Christian gospel, is found in the ministries of John the Baptist, of Jesus Christ, and of the apostles. John the Baptist, the link between the Old Testament and the New, came out of the wilderness, proclaiming the coming of the Promised One and declaring the kingdom of heaven was at hand. John laid the foundation for the unfolding of the gospel.
In the coming of Jesus the cornerstone of Christian preaching was laid. He was the burden of his own message as he unfolded to the disciples the good news about the kingdom of God. Jesus himself was a preacher, and to preaching he devoted much of his energy. Not only did Christ make preaching important in his own country, but he commanded his disciples to preach (Matt. 10). It is significant in his final meeting with his church, he spoke about preaching: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15).
In the main, the sources of apostolic preaching were in the Old Testament as it had been opened to them by Christ, from the experiences they had with Jesus, from the events centering in Jesus himself, and from the individual interpretations the preachers gave to the total picture. To the apostles and the disciples "gospel" and "preaching" were virtually equivalent terms. "Gospel" was frequently the direct object of the verb "to preach." Indeed, the connection of ideas is so close that keryssein [to proclaim] by itself can be used as a virtual equivalent for euangelizesthai, "to evangelize," or "to preach the gospel."
From the preaching of the apostles, some New Testament scholars have drawn a sharp distinction between the kerygma, or gospel, and the didache, or ethical instruction. Other scholars point out, however, there is not so much a sharp distinction between the gospel content and teaching as there is a vital dependent relationship.
It is helpful to visualize the New Testament materials as forming three concentric circles around the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ. The first circle is the kerygma, which interprets these events with a view to bringing people to faith in Christ. The second circle is the theological expansion of the first. Its purpose is to lead the new believer into a fuller apprehension of what God has accomplished through Christ Jesus. The outside circle is the ethical expansion of the other two. It lays hold on this new relationship of man to God and brings it into focus for practical daily living.
The content or message of the Christian gospel merged with the fervent moral addresses of the Hebrew prophets. In the first three centuries following Christ the uniting of the rhetorical stream and the Hebrew-Christian streams was completed. From these three historical foundations Christian preaching originated. The development of Christian preaching may be divided into eight periods.
From A.D. 70 to A.D. 430 has been designated as the ancient or Patristic period for preaching. Within this broad expanse of time two clearly marked periods are discernible: A.D. 70 to 300 and A.D. 300 to 430.
The period A.D. 70-300 was a time of great crisis. The fall of Jerusalem, the expansion of the Roman Empire, and the persecution of the Christians profoundly influenced preaching during this period.
For about one hundred years following the death of Peter and Paul, ca. 70 to 170, traces of preaching are rare, and these do not reveal any great power. Near the end of the second century in the work of Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus there is clear evidence of an increase in the power of preaching.
Flexibility and informality characterized early preaching. The early conception was anyone could preach, and men spoke as God moved them. Later the idea developed that preaching should be confined to an official class. The preacher spoke from a sitting position. Three sources supplied content for the preachers: (1) apostolic tradition, (2) the Bible, and (3) the preachers' own personal contributions. In form, the sermon was the homily or unpretentious address or simply a running comment on Scripture.
Preaching of the early Patristic period had less spiritual power than the apostolic period, and it was more impersonal as time separated the minister from Christ. Preaching was also quite unstable as preachers waxed hot and cold.
On the positive side, preaching was successful because of the natural power of the gospel. In addition, several external factors aided Christianity: the Roman world was at peace; communications lines were open; old Greco-Roman religions were disintegrating; the preachers were faithful to their task of preaching; they were free from professionalism; and their preaching was personal, simple, and direct.
Three classifications of preachers have been set out by Dargan. The Apostolic Fathers—so called because they were supposed to have been disciples of the original apostles—were Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, and an unknown Clement of the second century. Other men, called Apologists, defended the faith by writing and pleading with secular authorities for fair treatment for Christianity. Dionysius, Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Tertullian were among the best known of this group. Several men won distinction as theologians (ante-Nicean group) and are usually classified as such. In the East, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dorotheus, Lucian, Diodorus, and Theodore were the primary leaders. In the West the leaders were Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Cyprian.
The period A.D. 300 to 430 saw a remarkable rise in the power of preaching. This is one of the five climactic periods in the history of Christian preaching. Governmental help and blessing, social prestige, the people's love for oratory, education, and excellent schools played prominent roles in advancing preaching to new heights. Within Christianity, more forms in sermons, a closed canon, more biblical preaching, a more orderly worship service, stability of doctrines, and the culture and training of preachers added luster to the pulpit. The great preachers during this period were Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Hilary, Ambrose, and Augustine.
The years A.D. 430 to 1095 saw the power of the pulpit all but destroyed as a long black night of ignorance settled over the so-called "civilized world." Preaching suffered along with all religious and social institutions. Preachers were corrupt; the liturgy strangled the power of the pulpit; the sacerdotal spirit grew until the preacher became the priest. Doctrinal controversies became common in the face of mounting corruption of doctrine. From without, hordes of barbarians came storming into the Christian world. Fanaticism and superstition abounded; the worship of angels, saints, relics, and Mary replaced the worship of Christ. Preachers were ignorant and drunk on perverted allegory.
Here and there someone held high a better conception of Christianity. Preachers such as Bede, Patrick, Gall, Boniface, and Eligius attempted to understand the Word of God and to propagate the message of salvation as they understood it. These years as a whole were the lowest, darkest, and most corrupt in the history of preaching.
The time from 1095 to 1361 has been called the scholastic age. Four forces helped to awaken Europe, the church, and preaching during these years. First, scholasticism ushered in a new concern for learning. Second, the Crusades under the leadership of men such as Peter the Hermit and Pope Urban II brought Europe in touch with the culture and commerce of the Orient and thereby quickened the pulse of the peoples of the West. Third, mysticism developed and brought a fresh breath of spiritual power to a decadent religion. Fourth, during this time, the missionary preaching orders developed. Driven by a genuine love for people, Francis of Assisi began a movement for taking Christianity to people in need, and from his zeal sprang the Franciscans. About the same time, Dominic, concerned for the welfare of the Catholic Church, initiated a movement to convert heretics and conserve the weak in faith. Because these men did so much effective preaching, this period, especially the latter part, is known as a revival period in the history of the Christian pulpit.
The period from 1361 to 1572 has been designated the Reformation age. Usually the preachers of this period have been listed as prereformers (1361 to 1500) and reformers (1500 to 1572).
In the pre-Reformation period preaching declined. Popular, scholastic, and mystical were the typical descriptions of preachers. A few dared to raise their voices and cry for better days. The ministries of John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Savonarola were most instrumental in preparing the way for the Reformation.
The Reformation itself brought a genuine revival in preaching as leaders made the preaching of the Word central in their task. After a thousand years of being relegated to a secondary role behind the Mass, preaching emerged as the most effective method for proclaiming God's good news. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Latimer, Knox, and a great host of others broke the shackles which had bound preaching and liberated God's chosen means for telling the world about his Son and salvation. These were not merely preachers, but they were biblical preachers. The pulpit was central; the sermon was in the language of the people; and the Bible was the supreme authority for the spoken messages. The reformers recognized, practiced, and taught preaching as the primary function of a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The years from 1572 to 1700 have been called the fifth period in the history of preaching. Throughout most of the Christian world, preaching declined following the Reformation. Such was not the case in France and England where these years are known as the "classic age of preaching."
In France King Louis XIV led his people to great advances in material prosperity and in intellectual development. He loved preaching and made it popular and socially acceptable. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes provided religious toleration and thereby stimulated both Protestants and Catholics to greater efforts. This was the period of great Catholic preachers: Bosseut, Bourdaloue, Fenelon, and Massillon.
In England in 1611 the King James Version of the Bible was published and initiated its era of influence and dominance that has lasted until this day. The seventeenth century was great in literary output but poor in morality. English preachers were motivated to great efforts to correct these abuses. Among the great preachers were Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Jeremy Taylor, and John Donne.
The eighteenth century was the century of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. Their work constituted the high point in a century of low morals, poor preaching, a weak church, and spineless doctrine. They were leaders of the evangelical revival in England and the Great Awakening in America.
The evangelical revival, in all probability, saved England from the moral destruction which befell France during the same century. In America the Great Awakening was responsible for a renewed vitality of American church life. Theodore Frelinghuysen, Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Edwards, and George White-field led this great movement.
The nineteenth century was one of the mountain peaks in the development of western civilization. Great ideas and movements shaped the preaching of these days. Democracy, industry, science, reform, slavery, education, economics, missions, and church organizations are the terms which characterize the century.
Great preaching dominated this century. Charles G. Finney, Horace Bushnell, Henry Ward Beecher, Phillips Brooks, John A. Broadus, Thomas de Witt Talmage, Dwight L. Moody, Thomas Chalmers, F. W. Robertson, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Alexander Maclaren, and Joseph Parker stand among the mighty pulpit giants of the age. Preaching reached one of its climactic periods of development during these years. God raised preachers who understood their task. They preached with clarity, vividness, and power. In the strength of the pulpit, this century can be compared with the first century with Peter and Paul and to the fourth century with Chrysostom and Augustine.
The twentieth century was ushered in with emphasis on the social aspects of Christianity. Walter Rauschenbusch was the prophet of the new order. Many perversions and corruptions came into the pulpit through a misunderstanding of what the gospel really was. While the preachers in the first century fully understood the kerygma came first and then the didache, men in the early days of the twentieth century did not. Gradually, in this century, progress has been made in securing a balance between gospel and ethical development.
By mid-century, it was evident that there was a significant content drought in preaching. The unparalleled growth of churches and the demands of a materialistic society forced ministers to relegate study and sermon preparation to a secondary role while the roles of administrator, pastor, organizer, counselor, and teacher superseded that of preacher.
Television programming exerted major influence on American society in the last half of the twentieth century. Sermons became less oratorical and more conversational. This led preachers to not only exegete their biblical texts, but to "exegete" their congregations as well. This became a healthy trend in that preachers are gradually becoming more sensitive to how sermons are received rather than just to how sermons are prepared.
One possible negative influence, however, is causing some tension. Many preachers fear that preaching has become a slave to marketing trends and to pop psychology. As the twentieth century ends and the twenty-first century begins, preachers continue in the age-old struggle to communicate the unchanging gospel in a rapidly changing society.
Whenever Christianity has made substantial progress, great preaching has led the way. In the history of Christianity, there have been five great centuries of growth and development. These same five periods are the five centuries of great preaching: the first with the apostles, the fourth with Chrysostom and Augustine, the thirteenth with Francis of Assisi and Dominic, the sixteenth with Luther and Calvin, and the nineteenth with Spurgeon and Maclaren. Contrariwise, whenever preaching has declined, Christianity has become stagnant. In the Dark Ages, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, preaching in most countries was weak and ineffective.
God ordained preachers to proclaim his message to all of humanity. When preachers have failed to understand God's method and message, God's kingdom has been hindered. When God-called preachers understood their task and faithfully delivered his message, the kingdom has moved forward for his glory.
—Steps to the Sermon