New Testament Pattern

The origins of church sermons

/// The monologue culture

The following extract is taken from the book, Pagan Christianity...

Where did the Christian sermon come from?

The earliest recorded Christian source for regular sermonizing is found during the late second century.” Clement of Alexandria (150-215) lamented the fact that sermons did so little to change Christians.” Yet despite its recognized failure, the sermon became a standard practice among believers by the fourth century.

This raises a thorny question. If the first-century Christians were not noted for their sermonizing, from whom did the post-apostolic Christians pick up the sermon? The answer is telling: The Christian sermon was borrowed straight from the pagan pool of Greek culture!

To find the headwaters of the sermon, we must go back to the fifth century B.C. with a group of wandering teachers called sophists. The sophists are credited for inventing rhetoric (the art of persuasive speaking). They recruited disciples and demanded payment for delivering their orations.

The sophists were expert debaters. They were masters at using emotional appeals, physical appearance, and clever language to “sell” their arguments.” In time, the style, form, and oratorical skill of the sophists became more prized than their accuracy.” This spawned a class of men who became masters of fine phrases, “cultivating style for style’s sake.” The truths they preached were abstract rather than truths that were practiced in their own lives. They were experts at imitating form rather than substance.”

The sophists identified themselves by the special clothing they wore. Some of them had a fixed residence where they gave regular sermons to the same audience. Others traveled to deliver their polished orations.”(They made a good deal of money when they did.)” Sometimes the Greek orator would enter his speaking forum “already robed in his pulpit-gown.” He would then mount the steps to his professional chair to sit before he brought his sermon.

To make his points, he would quote Homer’s verses. (Some orators studied Homer so well that they could repeat him by heart.) So spell-binding was the sophist, that he would often incite his audience to clap their hands during his discourse. If his speaking was very well received, some would call his sermon “inspired.”

The sophists were the most distinguished men of their time. So much so that some lived at public expense. Others had public statues erected in their honor. (Does all this not remind you of many modem-day preachers?)

About a century later, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) gave to rhetoric the three-point speech. “A whole,” Aristotle, “must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.” In time, Greek orators implemented Aristotle’s three-point principle into their discourses.

The Greeks were intoxicated with rhetoric. So the sophists faired well. When Rome took over Greece, the Romans fell under the Greek spell of being obsessed with rhetoric.” Consequently, Greco-Roman culture developed an insatiable lust to hear someone give an eloquent oration. This was so fashionable that a “sermonette” From a professional philosopher after dinner was a regular form of entertainment.

The ancient Greeks and Romans viewed rhetoric as one of the greatest forms of art. Accordingly, the orators in the Roman. Empire were lauded with the same glamorous status that Americans assign to movie stars and professional athletes. They were the shining stars of their day. Orators could bring a crowd to a frenzy simply by their powerful speaking skills. Teachers of rhetoric, the leading science of the era, were the pride of every major city. The orators they produced were given celebrity status. In short, the Greeks and Romans were addicted to the pagan sermon-just like many modern Christians are addicted to the “Christian” sermon.



(The above extract is taken from Pagan Christianity. The next section of this chapter begins: How did the Greek sermon find its way into the Christian church?)

The Monologue Culture

The monologue culture