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More Sacred Cows

Then there is what we do when we're inside Church.

How do many of us get our instructions in Christian life and theology? It's the sermon, of course! Yet the sermon didn't really catch on until the Fourth Century AD, around the same time that Greek ideas were beginning to take grip in the Church. Not a co-incidence, I'm afraid. The origins are with the Sophists, itinerant speakers who, dressed in their finery, gave impressive monologues, either in public squares or in exclusive dinner parties. This tradition was still alive at the time when the Christian Church was flourishing under official patronage and when many of these accomplished orators became Christians, many became paid preachers in the Church circuits of the day. This caught on, as these orators were skilled and polished in their art, masters of  Greek rhetoric and soon only these trained individuals were allowed to preach to the masses. The mass impartation of Christian knowledge became a one-way  street, delivered only by those with training in Greek rhetoric and oration. The sermons delivered were known as homilies, a word that still survives in the Church.

Now I am not saying that there is no place in Christian life for the sermon. Far from it! Jesus himself preached enough of them, the Sermon on the Mount being a good example. And so did Peter and Paul in the Book of Acts. Noah himself was called a 'preacher of righteousness' in 2 Peter 2:5, leading a whole line of Biblical preachers who spoke out God's word to the people. But there are sermons and there are "sermons". Done correctly, it has been God's favoured way of preaching the Word.

But it hasn't always been done correctly and there are plenty of "preachers" who have more to do with the Greek Sophists than the practitioners of the noble art of preaching. The modern-day Sophists stand there at the pulpit, perfectly groomed, teeth flashing with an earnest expression. Showmanship and cleverness are the priorities, rather than a humble and powerful exposition of God's word. We must learn discernment at the very least. So how do we do this? When the preacher lifts his hands to God, look to see how many fingers are pointing back to him, figuratively speaking of course.

So let's not bash the sermon, but just be wary of the abuses and hold onto the thought that perhaps there are also other ways to convey the message of the Gospel. More about those later on.

Who usually preaches the sermon in today's Church? The pastor. This individual is mentioned just once in the New Testament,

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers," (Ephesians 4:11)

The word pastor comes from the Greek word for "shepherd", referring to an individual who would care for his flock. Of course pastors perform this function, but they tend also to be the administrator, leader, teacher, preacher etc. etc. It is the Churches equivalent of the secular CEO, the top of the heap, the head of the hierarchy, the man with the desk slogan, "the buck stops here". Before the pastor was established, the early Church had no titles or offices or complex hierarchies. Everything was done in an informal manner by the elders and apostles. Then in a process started by Ignatius of Antioch, in the First Century, a hierarchy slowly began to take shape within the Church, with the bishop taking on more and more responsibilities. He became the equivalent of today's pastor, as leader and spokesman, with his finger in every pie. The word clergy, referring to the people who did all the work in the Church, started to appear, as well as laity, referring to everyone else and the die was cast in separating "professional" Christians from the rest of us.

So the Church developed hierarchies, great human edifices that served to distance the common man from his God. Christians were no longer a "priesthood of all believers" (1 Peter 2:9) and access to God was now controlled by the middle-men of the clergy, who controlled every aspect of life and became a privileged caste of society, even exempt from paying taxes or serving in the army.

Sunday, when most of us go to Church, is just a day of the week, incidentally named after the Sun god (the emperor Constantine called it the venerable day of the Sun). Are we just Sunday Christians? If we are then we are just closet Greeks. We are saying that our times for personal holiness are just that hour or two on Sunday morning and the rest of the week belongs to us. Those Church visiting times are not particularly special to God, what He wants from us is 24/7 reality, lives dedicated to worshipping and serving Him even at 7:30pm on a Monday when our favourite soap is on the box.

These articles have been nothing more than a small introduction to a very large subject. More could be said, but there is no need to do this, as I believe my point has been made. The Christian Church is far more Greek in its outlook than people could ever imagine and this is not a side issue, but very much a key battleground for the truth. This is not a battle, but a full-on war for the Christian heart and mind and you have only really been introduced to one side of the conflict. Next week we will meet the cavalry ...

Steve Maltz
May 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again )

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