I was supposed to do a bit of travelling today, but the recent fall of snow has put a stop to the idea. So, instead I have settled down to continue my longterm theological project of reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I have got quite a few notes already, but in what I have read so far, the thing that has impressed me so far is Barth’s view on proclamation or utterances in church ie the sermon.
I have often asked myself about the value and effectiveness of the monologue we hear or speak in our services. I have often temporarily concluded that it is an outmoded form for today, but I have also had the view that it is also essential. I suppose it depends on the context, what is being proclaimed, and of course how open (or not) our congregations are. We seem to be in a very different world than Barth, especially regarding postmodernity, but then again many have tried to put Barth in that very same box. We do live in a western environment that receives via sound bites, a reliance on feelings and the visual – is this a bad thing?
This morning, Barth has impressed upon me the responsibility I, and other ministers have when we take to the front of the church and give of ourselves and God in a sermon. Barth writes:
”But what is this specially commissioned proclamation of the Church which it must accept as a commission to and for men? Our initial answer is purely descriptive.
1. This proclamation is preaching, I.e., the attempt by someone called hitherto in the Church, in the form of an exposition of some portion of the biblical witness to revelation, to express in his own words and to make intelligible to the men of his own generation the promise of the revelation, reconciliation and vocation of God as they are to be expected here and now.
2. This proclamation is the sacrament, I.e., the symbolic act which is carried through in the Church as directed by the biblical witness of revelation in accompaniment and confirmation of preaching and which is designed as such to attest the event of divine revelation, reconciliation and vocation which does not merely fulfil but underline the promise.”
Why is that so profound? Well, my denomination insists on Ordained Elders to have had a call to preaching, it is a requirement. I think this important, especially when Protestants put a high regard on the word of God. We emphasise the importance of exposition, whereas some (Anglicans for example) put more emphasis on the reading of the Scripture. I think both positions are good ones in different ways, but we Free Church denominations have become increasingly starved of the reading of the Scriptures in church services – very rarely do you here more than the single text being read.
To understand the sermon as being sacramental is very logical to me. We often in prayer prior to the sermon address the words as being God’s words… If only some preachers and most congregations would genuinely treat it as such. God is present, after all.
I may have changed my mind as to the value of genuine proclamation 🙂
Continuing to read……