Mercy Journeys (blog).
". . . . I have a different understanding of preaching from that [set forth in Leiturgia]. The preaching of the ancient church . . . was doctrinal preaching. It was an expression of the orthodox faith of the church at that time. Accordingly it is subject to the prejudiced charge which is leveled against all forms of orthodoxy, including the orthodoxy of our time, that the preaching was dry and irrelevant and of interest only to learned theologians. I wish that you could see some of the few extant fragments of paper on which stenographers recorded sermons. Perhaps you are aware that the extant sermons of the great Church Fathers, including those of Augustine, were not written by themselves but were recorded by stenographers. When one sees and deciphers the hastily written shorthand notes of the stenographers, one can get an impression of what preaching was like at that time. Sermons were not dull doctrinal addresses in our sense of the term. Congregations were attentive. Records reveal the tremendous, dramatic emotion which the sermons evoked, even the cries with which the auditors interrupted the preacher. The stenographic reports give us all sorts of information, even that Augustine had a bad cough on one occasion. This is alluded to in a passing remark, ‘Pardon me, I could not help coughing, for I have been preaching a great deal the last few days.’
"If one reads the great sermons on the dogma of the ancient church which Gregory Nazianzen preached in Constantinople before he was elevated to the patriarchate—the entire dogma of the ancient church is contained in four sermons which have been published on
the basis of stenographic reports— one must be astonished at the intellectual and spiritual power of the preacher, who was able to communicate the teaching of the church to his hearers in such a compact, vivid, and existential manner, for what he treated concerned life and death. This is what services were like in the ancient church. Our honored liturgiologists . . . will say that all of this is well known. But there is still danger that we misinterpret the ancient church when we see it only in the light of the Benedictine investigations and inquire only about the origin of the Kyrie and ask when the Hallelujah was first employed. . . ."
Some have tried to make Elert's comments into a rebuke to the liturgiologists of the day and to the liturgy itself. In reality, Elert is not so much condemning those liturgical scholars or choosing preaching over the liturgy as he is calling for the catholic liturgy in which preaching is neither an option nor an extra. Rather, it is integral to the liturgy itself -- the authentic liturgy of evangelical catholicism. In addition, he is insisting that this preaching is not just proclamation but doctrinal preaching which not only taught the hearers the faith but called them forth in faith, engaging them in what has been belieeved, taught, and confessed in the orthodox Christianity from the beginning. His is not a choice between them but a call to faithful liturgy which includes faithful, doctrinal, orthodox preaching. I am reminded here in the way that Bishop Bo Giertz took what others had pitted against each other and placed them together within the creative tension of the Spirit (in his great booklet Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening -- still a good read!).
The scandal of modern worship is not merely the vapid character of contemporary music and its texts but the abuse of the sermon so that the Word does not preach and teach but informs and entertains. In the same way, the scandal of worship among some Lutherans today is that the form is revered (liturgy) but its content forgotten (doctrinal preaching as part of faithful liturgy as well as what the liturgical texts confess). On the one hand, we have on both sides of the debate those who would insist that the sermon saves the mistakes of the worship service (and makes it "Lutheran") and those who insist that the liturgy does not much need preaching. Lutheran liturgiologists insist that both are equally wrong. What happens in worship is not inherently neutral but itself confession ("As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes...") and yet that liturgy (faithful confession that it is) presumes and expects faithful, passionate, doctrinal, orthodox proclamation. The altar and pulpit point to the same things or one of them has it wrong.
An Orthodox priest friend once told me that the main vehicle of catechesis in Orthodoxy is the Divine Liturgy and the preaching that takes place within it. As Lutherans we should not disagree. When President Harrison laments the state of preaching he is not talking about delivery so much as what is preached. If it is to belong to faithful catholic liturgy, the sermon must be faithful and doctrinal and preach that catholic faith. Where this happens the Church is vibrant with the work of God and steadfast and immovable before the changing faces of the world. Where this does not happen, it does not matter how aesthetically beautiful the liturgy or dynamic the preacher, the people of God are left hungry, wanting, and distracted from the faith that gives them and sustains them in God's life.