Helpful Tidbits for Organic Church Life                                        January 12, 2009
What is 'Preaching'?
My Reflections
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Francis_profileIt was St. Francis of Assisi who made famous the saying, 'Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.' By uttering these timeless words, here's what I think St. Francis understood: words lose their power when not backed up by the totality of one's life. In other words, there must be utter congruence between one's life and the gospel message.

Ed_profileEight hundred years later, another saint (St. Ed of Phoenix) often heralds this message: 'It's not my goal to multiply listeners, but communicators of the gospel.' When around St. Ed, one gets the strong sense that all Christ followers are saints, called to preach the gospel. But how can that be when most are not gifted public speakers? The answer to that question, of course, lies in the often mistranslated/misunderstood word: preach.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION/TOPIC: What does the Bible mean by 'preach'?
Myth 3: Preaching is God's Ordained Means of Communicating the Gospel
Excerpt from Communication Theory for Christian Witness by Charles H. Kraft

KraftSomething very misleading has happened that relates first to the way the early Christians used certain Greek words and then to a tradition that has developed among Bible translators and interpreters.

1. It became the custom of the early church to employ the Greek word kerusso and its derivatives as the preferred label for their attempts to communicate the gospel. This word, like many of the words the early church used, did not originally cover every kind of activity to which they applied it. Kerusso originally referred mainly to the announcing that heralds or town criers did as they moved from house to house and from town to town making the kinds of important announcements for which we today depend on radio and television (see Kittel 1967:683-718). The word was chosen by the early Christians and used in an expanded way to refer to a much wider range of communicational activity. It included monologue lecturing but was also used to label interactions that were mainly dialogical, as long as the focus was on the communication of the gospel. It is an interesting confirmation of this fact that John, perhaps sensing the limitations of this word, consistently uses the word witness (martureo) in its place. 

Since words derive their meaning from the things they are used to label, we should seek the biblical meaning of kerusso by studying the contexts in which it is used (see Barr 1961). When, therefore, we find Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, and others presenting the gospel largely via dialogue, we should recognize that the term often used to label their activities has a broader meaning than that suggested by our word preach. Rather, the focus of kerusso is on the fact that the source is other than the speaker, as with a messenger.

2. The use of the terms preach and proclaim as virtually the only translations of kerusso and several other Greek terms suggests, then, the failure of translators and other biblical interpreters to find in English a term that adequately represents the range of meaning covered by the original terms. In present-day English, at least, such a term is readily at hand in the word communicate. I would, therefore, contend that in most of the places where it is clear that the broad presentation of the gospel is intended by such Greek terms as kerusso, it would be more accurate to translate it "communicate."

 My Reflections
The Apostle Paul gives Timothy this "charge": "Preach [kerusso] the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Tim 4:2).
In context, Paul issues this charge having just told Timothy that he must first embody the way of Jesus (2 Tim 3). Paul also issues this charge in a time when people preferred religious entertainment over sound doctrine (4:3). The real challenge facing Timothy, then, was this: how does one communicate the gospel to people who'd rather get their 'felt needs' or thirst for knowledge met than grapple with a life characterized by genuine discipleship as opposed to one that merely admires Jesus from afar?
As Timothy contemplated Paul's charge I seriously doubt his thoughts led him to strategies that would attract a crowd. On the contrary, I propose that Timothy continued in his mentor's footsteps, often moving from town to town (Acts 19:22) and ultimately suffering for the message he 'preached', just like Paul (Heb 13:23).

Of course, not much has changed. As Warren Wiersbe points out, "We have a love for novelty in the churches today. Too often the person who simply opens the Bible and teaches it is ignored, while the shallow religious entertainer becomes a celebrity" (from The Bible Exposition Commentary). Although I agree with Wiersbe, let's get real here: when was the last time you heard somebody admitting to 'preaching' a shallow gospel? It just doesn't happen.
Although I could point fingers all day long, doing so would be an exercise in futility. What would be productive, however, is to take a look at myself and ask: (1) Do I embody the gospel that I 'preach'?, (2) Are people regularly 'offended' by the gospel I 'preach'?, (3) Am I multiplying communicators?, (4) Do people seem to elevate my 'preaching' above others'?, and (5) In actuality, is my 'preaching' characterized by a multiplicity of communicative avenues (word, deed, ideologies)? Our answers should be yes, yes, yes, no, yes.
For all kinds of reasons, the western Church has elevated 'experts', especially those gifted in making good speeches. And while good speeches by those trained in seminaries do 'communicate', we must not forget that the thrust of most biblical passages concerning preaching has less to do with good speeches and more to do with communication of the gospel by ordinary people in all kinds of Spirit-empowered ways (1991:27).
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table