Sunday, March 19, 2017

Reformation Preaching. . . a few thoughts. . .

I have been thinking, always a dangerous thing, about Timothy George's article on preaching in the Reformation and how it was transformed and yet not a novelty introduced by the reformers.  He began his article (on both the First Things and Gospel Coalition websites):
The preaching of the gospel as a sacramental event is at the heart of Reformation theology. Preaching is also at the heart of Reformation faith—preaching as an indispensable means of grace and a sure sign of the true church. Where is the church? According to Article VII of the Augsburg Confession (1530), the church is that place where the Word is purely preached and the sacraments are duly administered. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) went even further when it declared that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”
Of course, preaching—unlike the printing press—was not a new invention of the Reformation era. Far from it. Think of Augustine and Chrysostom in the early church, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Hus, and the many mendicant friars who fanned out across Europe in the Middle Ages.
St. Francis preached the gospel to a Muslim sultan, and Savonarola declared God’s judgment on the sinful leaders of Florence. Bernardino of Siena, the great Franciscan herald, preached to throngs in the 15th century, calling on his listeners to repent, confess their sins, and go to Mass. The Protestant reformers knew this tradition and built on it, but they also transformed it in two important respects.

Central Act of Worship

First, they made the sermon the centerpiece of the church’s regular worship. Prior to the Reformation, the sermon was mostly an ad hoc event reserved for special occasions or seasons of the liturgical cycle, especially Christmas and Eastertide. Most sermons were preached in town squares or open fields. The reformers brought the sermon back inside the church and gave it an honored place in the public worship of the gathered community. The central role of preaching in Protestant worship can be seen in the way pulpits were raised to a higher elevation as families gathered with their children to hear the Word proclaimed.

Second, the reformers introduced a new theology of preaching. They were concerned that the Bible take deep root in the lives of the people. The Word of God was meant not only to be read, studied, translated, memorized, and meditated on; it was also to be embodied in the life and worship of the church. What might be called the practicing of the Bible—its embodiment—was most clearly expressed in the ministry of preaching. Martin Luther believed that a call to the preaching office was a sacred trust and shouldn’t be used for selfish purposes. “Christ did not establish the ministry of proclamation to provide us with money, property, popularity, honor, or friendship,” he said.
Much of what George offers us is good and challenging but I wonder if he does not find more commonality between the radical reformers and Luther -- at least more than I am comfortable with?  The great leaders of the Reformation were preachers and the Reformation preached its way into the hearts and lives of the hearers (as well as sang its way there, at least for Lutherans).  They did not introduce something new to worship but exploited the great treasure of God's Word as something not inapproachable for the common man but indispensable to him.  For the radical reformers (Zwingli, Calvin, and Bullinger -- as named by George), preaching was worship.  Without the mass, without any real sacramental presence or sacramental theology that located Christ where His Word says He is, preaching became the one and only means of grace and the sacraments ordinances with varying degrees of satisfying grace from participation in them.

Yet George does not note clearly the difference between Luther and these other reformers.  For Luther the sermon was not THE centerpiece of the church's regular worship.  The sermon did not compete with or displace the real presence of Christ -- His body in bread and His blood in wine.  The mass was not disposed of as so much garbage but reformed and renewed -- so carefully that early pew sitters could not easily identify the difference between a Roman mass and a Lutheran one.  The identification of the Sacrament of the Altar as pure Gospel with the chanting of the Words of Institution on the same tone as the Gospel was chanted is but one evidence that Luther did not make the liturgy the setting for the sermon as did the other reformers.

Secondly, as much as Luther was concerned that the Bible take root in the lives of the people, preaching was not a Bible study and the goal of preaching was not simply knowledge.  It was for Luther catechesis -- it was both source and consistent identity with the instruction in the home through the Small Catechism and the Table of Duties and of the home through the Large Catechism.  Luther did not dispense with the Catechism as the essential teaching form in the home and preached the six chief parts often -- with the texts of the liturgical year in the lectionary -- to root and shape the faith of the hearers in the church and not apart from it.  The marks of the church were marks that were seen in the context of Sunday morning and not as theoretical characteristics.  While the other reformers may have also had this interest, none approached Luther in marrying the preaching with the Divine Service to the catechetical instruction of the household and within the household and the Word of God that permeated both.

George ends by saying "The sermon is similar in one respect to the role of the eucharist in medieval Catholic theology."  Well, yes and no.  The sermon did not replace the Eucharist nor did it compete with the Eucharist but lived along side of and together fed and nourished the people of God and sustain them to eternal life and the marriage supper of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end.

My point?  Just as I am not comfortable papering over the differences between Rome and Wittenberg for the sake of a party, neither am I comfortable failing to distinguish the very real differences between Wittenberg and Geneva for the sake of an anniversary celebration.


James Kellerman said...

Let's be fair to our opponents. The term "Radical Reformation" is reserved for the Anabaptists, Socinians, and their ilk. Given that Zwingli called for the abolition of infant baptism and, like many of the earliest Anabaptists, was willing to take up arms for the faith, I can see how Zwingli is somewhat rightly associated with the Radical Reformation. But Calvin and Bullinger? They thought that they had repudiated Zwingli's excesses and were in fundamental agreement with the Augsburg Confession. Many self-professed Lutherans in post-Luther Wittenberg and in the Prussian court agreed. It took a lot of theological work, culminating in the Formula of Concord, to show that Calvinism was not a variant of Augsburg-style Lutheranism.

We Lutherans don't like it when Roman Catholics lump us together with anyone who is not Roman Catholic and ascribe to us the views of Pentecostals or Baptists. I think we need to show the same charity and clarity toward others. Thus, you are right to point out that the Reformed have a different understanding of the sermon than we do. But you don't have to lump them in with the old-order Amish in order to make that distinction.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

The similarities and differences between Lutheranism and Catholicism are radical, even though there is a prior relationship and some residual effects. Remember that the Counter Reformation and the Peasants War in Germany succeeded in driving half of the population back to Catholicism, and the religious wars between Catholics and Lutherans were divisive, and polarizing. In my view, the historical bloody religious wars and persecutions between Christians against other Christians on the basis of doctrinal positions have hurt the church within and without. Some hold animosity against Christians in general for our religious wars, and for events like the Salem witch trials and other inhumane excesses not befitting followers of Christ. Is it a small wonder why some denominations were formed before and after the Reformation in response to the hypocrisy and bickering of the Christian body on earth? I am a Lutheran. I do not desire to look back at the Catholic Church from which we came. It is a heretical body with many false teachings. I care little about the arguments, or the resudues of Catholicism remaining. I think we need to get past these things and avoid contentions continually.

jb said...

Given the current pope, and his immediate predecessor who clearl;y stated the the primary focus of Trent - Transubstantiation - could and should be still proclaimed through the Lain Rite . . .

And given the 5/2/CoWo/Church Growth mentality that threatens the sacramentals, AND the Sacraments, there can be no ignoring or putting in the past that which is alive and in our midst. (I hate Jean Cauvin!). . .

It is clear that leaving it "back there," or cutting it some slack, are impossible.`And to know that the RCC and the entire reformed bowl of pottage which has amputated the Sacraments, is alive and well among us, cannot be permitted to exist in our midst.

We do not determine content, and abridge and adjust it as we see fit, but rather, to defend it tenaciously. Unfortunately, we do not want to be seen as hard-asses. That would turn potential evangelism efforts much harder. If that is the case, bet on it, you are following the wrong evangelism model. The devil had all of creation from which to chose, but he hooked our first parents and plunged them, and all of us, into this fore-running of hell, on earth.

The Gospel - Word and the Mysteries, convey the only possible antidote, and all, always in Christ. Which was always, always, always Luther's primary focus.

Let us never, ever delude ourselves!

jb said...

Mea culpa! The sentence regarding our first parent should have includedl "only single solitary tree and its fruit." Again, mea culpa.

William Tighe said...

"Given that Zwingli called for the abolition of infant baptism ..."

This is news to me, given that he enthusiastically advocated for, and supported, the death penalty in Zurich for those who were rebaptized, or who rebaptized others. (An example of the "wit and wisdom of Huldrych Zwingli" is his terming "the third baptism" the manner of executing Anabaptists in Zurich, that is, tying them up in sacks and throwing them in the River Limmat.)

"... and, like many of the earliest Anabaptists, was willing to take up arms for the faith,"

You've never heard of the Schmalkaldic League, or the Battle of Muehlberg?

Anonymous said...

Surely in comparison to Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Bullinger could be called "radical" with a small "r" -- even if not formally identified with the Radical Reformation (large "R")?

James Kellerman said...

I stand corrected on Zwingli's baptismal theology. Relying on memory of something I had read years ago, I thought that Zwingli late in life had gone wobbly on baptism. But apparently not.

Of course, I know about the Schmalkaldic League and the Battle of Mühlberg. But that league was formed primarily as a defensive league to protect Protestants. Luther was wary of it on several counts, rightly so. But even when he grudgingly acknowledged that the princes could organize themselves for mutual defense, he never envisioned himself or his fellow clergy taking up arms in that league. That was the princes' vocation to ply.

By all accounts Zwingli had a markedly different attitude. He was itching for a fight against the Five States--Catholic territories that had few Protestants for him to defend, but that he hoped would be fertile ground for Reformed preaching. And he was no war hawk who hid behind a pulpit, but he himself took up arms and fought at the Battle of Kappel, accompanied by many fellow clergymen whom he had persuaded to do the same. Unlike Luther, he sought to advance God's kingdom by employing blood and iron rather than purely spiritual weapons. His was a spirit more akin to Münster and Müntzer than to Luther.