Why Do We Listen to a Sermon at Church Each Sunday?
The Bible offers little support for a minister to preach a sermon to us at church
Many changes occurred in church practices because of the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago. One of those changes adjusted the emphasis of the Sunday service. The reformers had concern over the focus of Sunday gatherings being on the altar and the celebration of the Eucharist. They intentionally shifted the focus away from that and to the sermon. I understand why they did it, but I think they were wrong.
When Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, NIV), he provided the basis for us to celebrate communion. This gives biblical support for us to periodically observe the Lord’s Supper as part of our gatherings, be it on Sundays or at other times.
However, I don’t see any biblical command to have a paid minister preach a sermon to a local congregation each Sunday. In fact, I see little biblical support for this. Here’s what I do see in the Bible:
Preach to Those Outside the Church
Jesus told his followers to go around and tell others about him. He said to “preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15, NIV). Here’s a direct command from Jesus to preach, but the setting isn’t inside the church walls, it’s outside the confines of the church, in the real world. Although this gives a command to preach, we miss the point. The teaching Jesus talks about isn’t to those who are already on his team, it’s to those who aren’t.
Teach New Converts
In Acts we see the apostles holding regular classes to teach about what it means to follow Jesus (Acts 2:42). Since back then almost everyone was new to the faith, think of this as a new members class. Note that this is an example of what the church did, not a command to do it. This teaching is optional, but if we do it the focus is likely on new converts.
Another example in the New Testament of people speaking to local congregations is when traveling missionaries or church delegations visited local churches. They spoke to the people to update them on what was happening elsewhere and to share stories of God at work. The purpose of these talks seems to be to offer status reports and provide encouragement. Again we see this as an example of what the early church did, but there’s no command for us to do likewise.
In these three scenarios we see people speaking either in the church or outside it. But nowhere do we see a command for clergy to preach to a local congregation in church each Sunday. So why, then, do we have a weekly sermon?The people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. Click To Tweet
What should we do differently?
Paul answers this in his letter to the church in Corinth. He says when we gather together each person should be ready to share a song, teaching, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. The purpose of this is to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Paul’s instruction, his command, is that the people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. With such little biblical support to have a professional minister deliver a sermon on Sunday mornings, maybe it’s time for us to abandon the practice. Instead let us begin ministering to one another as the Bible instructs.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.