Saturday, July 20, 2019

Do we value a sermon too highly. . .

A comment on this blog about Lutherans placing too much value on the sermon over the liturgy got me thinking.  For most of the time, this blog advocates for liturgy precisely because some ignore the liturgy as if it were merely the warm up act for the sermon and treat the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood as if it were a mere add-on (and optional one at that) to the sermon.  For someone to read my blog and find my words about the role of the sermon within the liturgy to be offensive is both a shock and surprise -- even from a Roman Catholic source!

The reality is that Protestantism has only the sermon and without sacraments must rely upon the sermon, entertainment style music, and a quasi-sacramental idea of prayer to fill the void.  That is not who Lutherans are.  We do not tilt the scales of sermon over sacrament or sacrament over sermon but believe both are essential too the Divine Service.  We do not choose and we do not expect those in the pews to choose.  Part of the impetus of the Reformation was the inattention to the sermon -- not in craft but in content and the fact that it was both incidental to the mass as well as inconsistent with the Gospel (too often merely a moral address designed to improve behavior).  We Lutherans love to preach and we love the Sacrament and if there is a Lutheran innovation it is that sermon and Sacrament belong TOGETHER.

But the reality is that the sermon is supposed to be important to Rome as well.  The papal sermons are not incidental little devotional asides but the world listens, especially on Christmas and Easter.  The history of Christianity shows great and profound preachers, one who was known as Golden Throat in part for his preaching zeal and ability!  The sermons of the fathers remain some of the most profound doctrinal as well as devotional literature of Christianity.  We have an abundant record of preaching from the earliest days (Acts and the preaching of Peter and Paul) right down to the present day.  To bemoan the importance placed upon the sermon by this Lutheran and this blog is to ignore Roman Catholic history and to betray the importance of preaching in the Church, even though sometimes it is forgotten or neglected.  Every great time of renewal has been accompanied by great preaching and teaching.  It is no less true and needed for our age and time than for the days before.

In the end I think it is rather foolish to try and pit one against the other or to complain about the attention given to the sermon.  Rome is suffering today in part because of the decline of the preaching and teaching tradition.  Rome's glory days were accompanied by great preachers and great preaching (think Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen).  It is the same for Lutherans.  We are a profoundly sacramental communion and yet when preaching has suffered, we have suffered -- just as we have also suffered when the Sacrament has been neglected or treated as secondary or optional.  What this blog agitates for is nothing less that the full measure of liturgical renewal with attention give to reverent liturgy within the great tradition of the Church AND the renewal of Biblical preaching, in which the whole counsel of God's Word is proclaimed.  Only a fool would pit one against the other or presume that we need one but do not need the other.  The Lord has given us both.


Rev. Paul T. Mc Cain said...

Dr. Benjamin Mayes, professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, has a brilliant article in the latest issue of Concordia Theological Quarterly titled "The Useful Applications of Scripture in Lutheran Orthodoxy:
An Aid to Contemporary Preaching and Exegesis" and in it he presents how Luther and Lutheran Orthodoxy and Walther, etc. actually preached and why their sermons seem different to use today. Simply put the proper distinction of Law and Gospel was never intended to be an outline for a sermon. Mayes' resurrection of this key insight by the orthodox Lutheran fathers can be a tremendous help to the preacher today and an an answer to the often repeated complaints of the laity that often sermons today are, well, just plainly boring since they do not consist of much else other than a repetition of the doctrine of justification, etc.

Here is a link to the issue, in which you can find Dr. Mayes' article:

Mayes' concluding remarks:

"Also, there is a real danger in just using “law” in the first half of every sermon and “gospel” in the last half of every sermon. While this sermon structure can be useful in some situations, if you use it or even some other pattern in every sermon, no matter what text of Scripture you are preaching, then people will know exactly what is coming next, and they will tune out. Also, more dangerously, they may begin to think that the different parts of Scripture are all exactly the same and that Scripture has nothing more to say—nothing more to teach, admonish, warn, or console—this week over and above what they heard last week. That is dangerous. Also, how often have you heard about people who request more practical application in sermons and Bible studies? Some pastors teach Bible studies every week filled with huge quantities of data about biblical history and archaeology, and sometimes doctrine, but do not apply it in teaching (i.e., showing how the text taught or supported an article of faith); they do not apply it in admonition, warning, or consolation, either. If this is you, do not be surprised if people react by saying silently “so what?” to such preaching and teaching. People want practical application, and that is not wrong. So how do preachers become skilled in preaching the useful applications of Scripture? First, they should be aware that they exist and know what they are. Second, they should find portions of Scripture that are sermonic and identify which of the applications are being used. The sayings of Jesus and the letters of the apostles would fit here. Third, they should analyze the sermons of great preachers to see how they do it, such as Augustine, Martin Luther, Johann Gerhard, and C. F. W. Walther. All preachers have room for improvement. One excellent way to do so is to restore the useful applications of Scripture, based on 2 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 15:4."

Anonymous said...

"That is not who Lutherans are. We do not tilt the scales of sermon over sacrament or sacrament over sermon but believe both are essential too the Divine Service."

"Holy Communion is the climax of the Divine Service" - first sentence promoting the forthcoming book "A Simple Explanation of Holy Communion," anonymous author,

Cliff said...

Great article and I couldn't agree more that SERMON and SACRAMENT belong together. Unfortunately, many Lutherans don't place the same value on the Lords Supper. But in our defence, the comment about our lacking more sacraments, may not hold too much water. For those who have lived or live in small or rural communities where we rub shoulders with Roman Catholics daily we have seen that perhaps the extra sacraments had NO affect? IMHO

My apologies to the many fine and devoted Roman Catholics.

Unknown said...

Pr. Peters wrote "We do not tilt the scales of sermon over sacrament or sacrament over sermon but believe both are essential too the Divine Service." I'm going to call this for what it is--b.s.

In my time as a Lutheran, the Liturgy would often be replaced with a praise service with about 25 minutes of happy clappy good-felings music with a sermon that was over 30 minutes with nothing to do with the happy clappy stuff that preceded it. For all of your incessant apologetics that Lutherans are as in need of the sacraments as they are of the sermon, then why:
1) is the sacrament only offered in most Lutheran parishes only once or twice a month? Or even on fewer occasions? Why are there orders for services of Preaching to be used INSTEAD of the Liturgy?
2) do people get their pants in a knot everytime someone else may teach or preach as if the sermon itself should be treated as a sacrament?

So, please be honest with yourself. Lutheranism may have valued the sacraments once, but the sermon is now more important which begs the question: Why do pastors eschew the gift of God through the Eucharist and insist on more sermons?--Chris (Former Lutheran and proud of it)

David Gray said...

I don't recognize the Lutheranism that "Unknown" describes in my church. Every Sunday we received the Word preached and the Word made visible at the altar.

Anonymous said...

I thought Chris had promised to stop trolling this blog site? They leave...but they just can't stay away.

Unknown said...

I never promised to stay away, anonymous (that's courageous. you can't even use your real name). I find a lot of what Pr. Peters says to be quite good even when I disagree with him vehemently.

Anonymous said...

Of course the Lord's Supper is the high point of the Divine Service. At what other time or place do you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ into your mouth, for forgiveness, life and salvation? That doesn't mean it is "better" than preaching, but in the Divine Service, it is most definitely the "high point" ... kind of the whole point of the Hauptgottesdienst.

Anonymous said...

"Preaching is a supernatural act, and that should give great confidence and assurance to every preacher tasked with the public exposition of God’s Word. Luther’s view of the Christian life, like his view of the success of the Reformation, was rooted first and foremost in the overwhelming power of the preached Word." - Carl Trueman

"This great and marvelous thing is accomplished entirely through the office of preaching the Gospel. Viewed superficially, this looks like a trifling thing, without any power, like any ordinary man's speech and word. But when such preaching is heard, His invisible, divine power is at work in the hearts of men through the Holy Spirit. Therefore St. Paul calls the Gospel "a power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith." - Luther

"The Lutherans were quick to recognize that preaching is an inseparable component of the pastoral office, so that the German term for the office of the holy ministry is Predigtamt or “Preaching Office.” (AC V; Tr 10; cf. AC XVIII:5-8) The pastor is the man God sends to proclaim His Word, and the Holy Spirit then works through this preached Word to create faith. As St. Paul writes: How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-15a, 17; cf. AP XXIV:31-33)

"Preaching is done by one called by God through the church to speak on His behalf. (Luke 10:16; AP VII & VIII:28, 47) As you hear the preacher you are hearing Jesus speak to you, and the Holy Spirit is working in you to create and strengthen faith. Luther said, “Yes, I hear the sermon; but who is speaking? The minister? No indeed! You do not hear the minister. True, the voice is his; but my God is speaking the Word which he preaches or speaks.”

"Preaching, therefore, is not just instruction or entertainment. Preaching is a means of grace. It is sacramental. A good sermon is not just a message that you find interesting and educational, but one in which God’s word of Law convicts you of your sin and His word of Gospel comforts you and strengthens your faith, delivered by the man God has sent to you as His spokesman."

Anonymous said...

The fact that some Lutherans put the "sermon" over the "Sacrament" is a sad reflection of the utter, frankly, stupidity about our history that has taken hold. Fortunatley, there are many LCMS congregations that have become aware of what the Lutheran practice about the Supper is.

The issue is NOT taking the Lord's Supper every Sunday. That's a personal decision and choice.

The issue is OFFERING it at every chief Divine Service, every Sunday.

If the likes of Richard Strickert and Steve Schmidt and other old fart Lutherans do not desire it every Sunday..that's entirely up to them, but they have no right to tell the rest of us, "NO! Do not take it too often"

Anonymous said...

Amen to the above is a sad, sick reality that some Lutherans do not themselves hold the Holy Sacrament in the highest regard, as did Martin Luther, but would presume to tell the rest of us that we should not want it as frequently as possible. We need to do nothing other than pronounce a stern word of judgement on them and tell them that they are sinning, grievously, and should repent. If YOU do not want to receive the Sacrament every Sunday, that's your problem, not ours. Do not presume to tell us we should not. Damn opinions such as this to hell, where they belong.

Anonymous said...

“It is better to omit everything but the Word. Nothing deserves to be fostered more than the Word; for the entire Scripture shows that this is to be in common use among Christians, and Christ Himself says (Luke 10.42) that one thing is needful: that Mary sit at the feet of Christ and hear His Word daily. This is the best part that is to be chosen, and it will never be taken away. It is an eternal Word. All the rest must pass away, no matter how much work it gives Martha to do”

I think Luther understood the place of the Word of God himself in Lutheran worship.

Luther also commands in the preface to the Small Catechism that no law be made outside of the congregation concerning the Sacrament.

In times when the Sacrament is exalted over the Word ("Communion is the climax of the Divine Service") and frequency of observance of the Sacrament is treated as law, trampling Christian liberty, the true Lutheran is obliged to confess the words of Luther.

Anonymous said...

This nonsense of sermon vs. Blessed Sacrament is such utter proof of the kind of idiocy that has taken hold of The LCMS and it is a true low point. Shame on anyone who dares suggest the Sacrament should not be offered at every Sunday and every feast day (as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord).

You are NOT a Lutheran, you are a screwed up protestant sub-Lutheran Christian.

Anonymous said...


Are you really such a total idiot that you do not understand that OFFERING the Supper at every chief divine service has nothing to do with RECEIVING the Sacrament every Sunday. How dare you deprive those who wish to receive it often, every Sunday, from their Lord.

You are soul-sick individual who should repent of your sin against your brothers and sisters of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 2:38pm 7/21/19

Judge not lest ye be judged.

I desire mercy not sacrifice.

But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire

Just thought you should know......

Anonymous said...

Some comments are so incredibly stupid it boggles one's mind, like expressing disagreement with this statement.

"("Communion is the climax of the Divine Service")"

Yes, it is.

There is a reason why in all the old German LCMS hymnals there is a "Hauptgottesdienst" and then merely "gottesdienst."

Why do you think they referred to a CHIEF Divine Service as opposed to some other Divine Service. What made it the CHIEF Divine Service? Hmmm??