On Church gathering: preaching, rights, the sacraments, and authority

Hopefully this is the last in a series of long posts responding to John Dickson’s book “Hearing Her Voice.”

The other posts include:

If none of this interests you – have you watched this lip reading of NFL players? It’s funny.

A tl:dr;* introduction/summary of what follows

*too long, didn’t read

In what follows I argue that if the sermon is preaching (not teaching), and preaching, in the context of the gathering (not preaching outside the gathering – essentially to non-believers), is:

  • a piece of cross-shaped persuasion proclaiming the crucified Lord Jesus and the message of the gospel,
  • something of greater magnitude than the sacraments, in that the sacraments support the preaching,
  • where God speaks through those he provides with gifts,
  • so long as they too submit to the authority of Scripture, and their sermon is based on the authority of God’s revealed word.

If these points are true, then the sermon is the ultimate act of authority in the church, and at the center of preaching – which is a corporate activity of the church (not an individual act).

So if one is a complementarian the sermon should be:

  • a clear proclamation of the gospel,
  • based on the authority of God’s revealed word,
  • given by a man who meets the Biblical ethos guidelines for a preacher (assuming they’re the same as those for an elder),
  • who is appropriately gifted to carry out the logos and pathos elements of the delivery of a sermon,
  • which sits in the context of a church gathering where all the members sacrificially exercise their gifts, as one body,
  • to preach the gospel, corporately (in an act of worship).

And therefore, those who preach should be:

  • Sacrificial in their approach to preaching,
  • not speaking as an ego exercise, but a genuine act of service to others,

which means being mindful of who they are preaching to, and how their preaching style and content relates to and serves those in the gathering.

While the structure of the gathering, and the life of the church outside the gathering, should be such that all members of the church can function as part of the body and use their gifts in the preaching of the gospel (outside of the context of the gathering).

If you disagree with any of that, and want to tell me about it – feel free to jump to the comments and tell me why – this is another pretty big post. I feel like I can justify most of these positions from the Bible, and from various “authorities” throughout church history – but I haven’t always done this because some of the points assume things I’ve argued previously, and other times it’s just too hard to list all the proof texts, and I prefer proof vibe, and theological coherence and cogency, anyway.

Thinking about this issue has been fun because it has forced me to consider some things that appear to be contradictory in my thinking about church and ministry. I’m trying to reconcile the beliefs that all people are equal, but genders are inherently different, and all believers are “priests,” while some specific roles exist, and some of these roles aren’t available to sets of equal people.

On a simplistic level – if you’re comfortable with the idea that somebody who is tone deaf but passionate about singing shouldn’t be leading the singing at church, and that they might willingly forgo this role because they understand it’s for the good of others without losing any sense of their own value or the value of their singing to God, you’ve already started reconciling these tension.

Want to read more. Like 5,000 words more… then click the “read more” link…

Preaching in the church gathering

Right – so if John Dickson is right that the sermon, in a church gathering, isn’t “teaching” (the Greek word didasko), and I’m right that preaching is the proclamation of the gospel (kerusso), so the sermon is the proclamation of the gospel in the context of the church gathering, then the question remains 1 Timothy 2, or not, can and should a woman preach in this context?

I’ve argued elsewhere that preaching, in general, is a mix of pathos, logos, and ethos that isn’t just the sermon, but everything we do in the church gathering, and probably, ideally, everything we do as Christians interacting with the world where we, corporately, are the body of Christ.

Our existence is (or hopefully is), in that sense preaching – so long as all three components (logos, ethos, and pathos) are present and coupled with some sort of intention (which I’d hope would be a fundamental intention behind everything someone who owns Jesus as Lord does, because his Lordship should reach every aspect of our lives (even the stuff we do wrong is a testimony to the truth of the gospel, provided we acknowledge it, and our need for Jesus)). I’ve also argued elsewhere that worship and preaching/participating in mission are essentially the same actions simultaneously oriented horizontally and vertically.

This means the gathering of God’s people is also, hopefully, an act of preaching – as a group of people whose lives are preaching, gather as one, to encourage one another, with the gospel. Our gatherings are especially preaching if they are designed, from start to finish, as an act of communication.

In this sense all the Christians who attend a gathering, as they love and serve each other with their gifts, are preaching. And part of the problem here is that there’s a bit of individual, rather than corporate, thinking about roles and responsibilities within the church… we’ll get there a bit below.

But what about the sermon, the preaching that happens in the context of the gathering? Is it different to the preaching that happens in the rest of life? (Or the worship that happens in the rest of life)?

If we don’t go to church, but rather we are the church, and if we really are all equal under Jesus, and if the church really is a priesthood of all believers, then:

how can we mark one part of our gatherings out as something that only a certain type or subset of believers can perform (explicitly excluding another type) – where that exclusion isn’t just based on the Spiritual gifts God has dished out to the body, but on something like gender?

Equality, preaching, and a question of rights?

This is the million dollar question. Even former US President Jimmy Carter thinks so… he’s leaving the Southern Baptists to pursue the religion of “equality,” though he appears to bring some pretty biased assumptions to the text.

By the by, I’m not sure “egalitarian” is really the opposite of “complementarian,” I certainly don’t think I’m more equal than any of the women I know, or the women I don’t… and I think part of the problem is that we’ve bought into the secular idea that submission is a dirty word, and any submission is necessarily either oppressive or a negative limitation of God given freedom or right.

And why are we thinking of exercising any role in the church as a sign of something other than “equality” anyway? Here’s how Paul describes functions within the church…

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Why are we equating submission and authority within the church with equality, or a lack of it? Why does voluntary subordination within a relationship imply a lack of equality? I know it can, if it’s abused – but a football player is not of less value than the referee. It’s not a question of equality there… They’re just different roles that are necessary for a game of football. The perceived lack of equality seems to be tied up in the question of whether a football player should be ruled out of being a player and the referee at the same time…

Paul can speak of a hierarchy of functions within the church (1 Cor 12:28), and then elsewhere say that we’re all one in Christ Jesus. Holding different roles doesn’t seem to challenge an understanding that we’re all equal.

I guess another question – separate to the question of authority is a question of “rights,” feel free to discuss this in the comments – this other question is:

Does every Christian have the “right” to preach a sermon in the context of the gathering?

I reckon it’s the wrong question to be asking.

As soon as you turn Christianity and serving the crucified king into a question of your rights, I reckon you’re doing it wrong (I say that aware that I’m in a complete position of privilege as a white, educated, man who is training for a leadership position in the church – the honus then, is on me to make sure I do these things sacrificially and motivated by love for, and the desire to serve, God and others).

I’d suggest that even if you hold to a “priesthood of all believers” there’s nothing to suggest that this means all believers, or all types of believers, or all believers with particular gifts, should do the same thing, or exercise those gifts in every context as a question of “right”… Paul seems to explicitly rule this out in the passage above.

The very notion of a cross-shaped ethos is that one gives up their rights in service of the body, and the gospel, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:12…

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

And I’d argue that this giving up of rights, paradigmatic for Paul’s ministry, is an essential part of how he sees himself imitating Jesus, and what he calls Christians to imitate (1 Cor 11:1, cf Philippians 2).

Part of this might be recognising the created order, including different genders – which would seem to be part of the full counsel of God, and thus part of how we frame the gospel when we present it corporately.

This, like the suggesting that preaching is preaching (not simply teaching or exhorting) doesn’t necessarily rule out women preaching. It’s possible to be a complementarian think women can preach sermons – John Dickson is in this position and I have great respect for some complementarian women who, given the right mix of parameters, are willing to preach.

I think we’re all called to preach. Absolutely. In whatever mix of ethos, logos, and pathos we can muster. With our whole lives – words, actions, character… but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all called to preach in the gathering of the church, where the act of gathering, and how we gather, is itself be part of the act of preaching – corporately. That seems to be something that can be rightly inferred from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14, which come up below, where “everyone” is prophesying. I don’t think, given that passage spends a fair bit of time talking about order in the gathering, that he means that everybody is speaking at once.

Part of the problem with this debate is that we’re thinking in terms of what we do as individuals, rather than what we do together as one body.

How we relate to one another and structure our gatherings is part of our corporate ethos, and our communication of the gospel and all the truths it encompasses.

So I wonder, like I speculated the other day, if voluntarily choosing to make a statement about the created order by appointing particular men to preach – as an act of freedom, and a willing giving up of rights, a sacrifice of using one’s own gifts – men who we then free up to work hard at preaching and teaching – might be a valuable ethos driven approach to communicating with our world.

I also want to argue that there’s something really special about the sermon – and that we should be a little choosy about who preaches it – I’d say that the character qualifications outlined for elders are part of making sure the preacher’s ethos is unimpeachable, and gifts, and authority are also part of the picture.

So the question then is:

Can a woman of character, who is a gifted preacher, hold authority, and give a sermon to the gathered church?

That’s really the question that follows the conclusion of the previous posts in this little discussion, and is the necessary question to answer if Dickson is right that the sermon is not “teaching” (by the by, while I think he’s potentially right about “teaching” – I do think 1 Timothy 2, especially the authority bit, is relevant to this discussion).

I’d say there are three interweaving concepts that help us answer this question – what the significance of the gathering of believers is, what authority actually is in the church (what it looks like, where it comes from, and who wields it), and, for something a little bit left field – how we understand what the sacraments are in relation to preaching (broadly), the gathering, and the sermon.

What is the church gathering (is it special)?

The idea that church isn’t this thing you go to but it’s what you belong to is, I think, meant to raise the importance of the rest of life – not make the gathering unimportant. Gathering seems to be something that is essential to the Christian life (it’s the same with “worship” being all of life – that’s not meant to make corporate worship something less than worship)… see Hebrews 10…

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Perhaps more importantly, even than this passage about the value of meeting together in terms of the encouragement that provides and the assistance that is in holding to the gospel, is this promise from Jesus… in Matthew 18:20…

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Paul’s aim for the gathering, as he spells it out in 1 Corinthians 14, is that God’s presence be obvious to unbelievers – or at least, he assumes God will be present in the gathering:

24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!””

This passage seems to push for prophecy in the context of the gathering, and others point out that doesn’t rule out women speaking – there are women who are prophets – however Paul does explicitly rule out women speaking “in church” at this point (I’m aware that there are various constructions that may make this something less than the 1 Timothy 2 command)…

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up… 34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

The gathering is important, and I’d say attending a gathering is, if you can manage it, just about the closest thing to “essential” (in that it is part of the essence of being the body of Christ) to being a Christian outside of following Jesus as Lord, and without straying into some form of legalism. The trend of being a “Christ follower” but not going to church is a stupid product of western individualism. Jesus wasn’t really known for being a hermit, or simply surrounding himself with non-believers (though he did hang out with them).

The act of gathering, as the body of Christ, is something “incarnational” – it’s a physical representation of Jesus in the world.

I’d argue this happens in the whole gathering, and in the sermon, as he is preached – I reckon that’s where the “in my name” element of the Matthew 18 promise kicks in. The logical flow seems to be:

  1. People gather.
  2. In Jesus name.
  3. He is there.

I can’t figure out how else you do 2. Other than in the broad definition of preaching (an act of proclaiming the Christ) – but I’m open to suggestions. Especially since there’s such a tight link between Jesus and the word. I suggest that there’s something almost vicarious in the preaching of the gospel that means the “he is there” bit happens in and through the sermon.

So this, I would argue, makes the sermon the ultimate act of authority in the life of the church – because it’s the ultimate incarnational act – but we’ll get there in what follows…

The sacraments as preaching, preaching as a sacrament…

The essential bits of church as outlined by an aggregate of Reformed confessions, the non-debatable bits, are the preaching of the word and the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper). These seem to be where authority is found and exercised in the reformed picture of the church gathering – because they’re the context, especially the sermon, in which God’s word is brought to bear on people’s lives in a corporate setting – and you’d expect this to include some teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). This model assumes that preaching will be based on expositing the Bible…

It’s interesting too, that Calvin, for one, saw the sacraments as an aid to preaching – events that made the gospel clearer to participants. I’d argue that the sacraments are actually a form of preaching, given the definition I argued for the other day, and form part of the pathos (and logos, because they don’t happen without words), of a church service that faithfully preaches the gospel. They, like music, and other stuff we do, exist to make the gospel more clearly understood. They communicate truths about the gospel.

Calvin also believed Christ was spiritually present in the sacraments, though they were serving the preaching of the word, and arguably that Christ was present in much the same way in the preaching.

But this is where I think we’re pretty weak as Aussie evangelicals, generally, we have such a low view of the sacraments – because I think they’re a bit bigger than the above passage – they do that communication thing, but they also do more. We’ve, I think, run so far from the debate about how Christ is present in the sacraments that was being fought out in the Reformation and its aftermath, that we’re not sure he is present in the sacraments at all. We don’t like spooky stuff – “spiritual presence” sounds like something out of that show where that girl who’s too skinny sees dead people. Our rational and enlightened minds can cope with the idea that Jesus exists in the words of Scripture, and that explaining them properly, as they point to him, is sufficiently demystical.

Traditionally – at the Reformation (and before it) – the presence of Jesus in the gathering was more or less held to happen in the sacraments. He’s also present in the life of each Christian – via the Holy Spirit, and if part of being a Christian is meaningfully being united with Christ, he’s present in that sense too. But he’s those things when you’re by yourself – so there has to be something different happening in the context of the gathering.

But I think you can make a pretty solid case linking word, and sacrament, and Jesus’ presence – because of the logic of that promise from Matthew that we looked at above… and the relationship between Jesus and the “word”…

God’s word is very closely linked to the arrival of Jesus on the scene… so Hebrews 1:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

And John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodHe was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind… 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I do wonder if this is part of what John has in mind when he reports Jesus saying:

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is how Jesus continues dwelling in us after he leaves – so that what happens in 1:14 doesn’t cease, so that we are now the word, in the world.

Which must be part of why the word is at the heart of the reformed understanding of the church. Here’s a neat little summary of the roots of reformed thinking, and a little diagnosis of the problem from an article that tries to get close to Calvin’s thinking on what church and preaching is (and it’s relevance to the ecumenical movement).

“In the first period of the Reformation, Luther, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Melanchthon came along with their vigorous challenges to sacramental practice and papal authority, and they laid the foundations of Protestant ecclesiology by asserting the inextricable link between church, word and sacraments.”

This article goes on to say:

“The ecumenical exchanges of the past century have brought an awareness of the sense of churchly reality that lay at the heart of these sentences and at same time of that singular phenomenon of logo-centrism which so often undergirds present-day Reformed ecclesiology… Reformed theology has emphasized the centrality of the Word, but what about sacraments? Has it focused sufficient time and energy to due consideration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as marks of the church?”

Translation: modern “reformed” churches focus so much on the word part that we forget the sacraments – and I think this is true, and I think this in turn weakens how we think of the preaching part. We dumb it down – so it’s not spooky or mystical either.

Here’s Calvin on the communication value of the Lord’s supper:

“[it was instituted so] Christians might have it in frequent use, and frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ, thereby sustaining and confirming their faith: stirring themselves up to sing the praises of God, and proclaim his goodness; cherishing and testifying towards each other that mutual charity, the bond of which they see in the unity of the body of Christ.”

Both Calvin and Luther – through various theological links – held that Jesus was present in some way in preaching – for Calvin it happened through preaching being tied to Scripture (God’s revealed word) and the believer’s heart being stirred by the Spirit while they listened to the preaching, for Luther it was a natural extension of what he thought was happening in the sacraments, so long as preaching was faithful to Scripture.

Here’s a cool thing Bonhoeffer says, along these lines…

The proclaimed word is the incarnate Christ himself. As little as the incarnation is the outward shape of God, just so little does the proclaimed word present the outward form of a reality; rather, it is the thing itself. The preached Christ is both the Historical One and the Present One… Therefore the proclaimed word is not a medium of expression for something else, something which lies behind it, but rather it is the Christ himself walking through his congregation as the Word.

This, if true, seems to be the ultimate act of authority for the church. Which raises questions about how we structure the church body around that sort of authority, and who we appoint to carry it out. The answer to these questions is a bit of a no brainer for the complementarian – even those complementarians who want to let women preach (well, at the very least this is true for John Dickson, who says that it’s not about where authority is located) in some cases they want to locate the authority with a person who is in an office – rather than with the duty the office bearer carries out. That seems a little too human, and not quite egalitarian enough, for my liking.

Where does authority rest? And how is it exercised?

I think, with my egalitarian bent – and assuming that we are actually all one in Christ, and all one body with one purpose – that submission to authority within the body is a conscious decision, and it must be voluntary to be a legitimate witness to others. It can’t be coercive – but it can be given willingly to somebody who is using it wrongly (so submitting to governments even when they’re making life pretty hard for Christians is part of our testimony).

Paul says the type of people we’re to submit to are those who are sacrificially serving the gospel (1 Cor 16)…

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.”

Authority seems to be tied up in sacrificial service – in cross-shaped service (there is a bit of an analogy here with Paul’s argument about marriage in Ephesians 5, and about proper conduct in the gathering in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16).

I reckon the threads of Paul’s argument about the gathering in 1 Corinthians 14 are tied up in the clear communication of the gospel being the purpose of the gathering, and the location of authority (based on service) is tied up with that goal. I’ll bold the bits I think support this in the early parts of his argument in 1 Corinthians 14…

Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?

Presumably this “good” and the results of this good, are tied up with an understanding of the gospel – that seems to fit with the rest of the letter…

Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

How can you lovingly serve somebody – and the body – with your gifts (which seems to be the thrust of chapters 12-13) if you’re not making the gospel clear to them…

If authority is an act of service, then anybody can wield it, in the church, most of the time – but not everybody is appointed to be an elder of the New Testament church, or a “minister of the word” (see Acts 7), so there’s some sort of distinction going on.

I wonder if the nature of the church gathering, and the nature of the sermon, combines with this framework. If the church gathering is essentially essential for the Christian, then listening to, and submitting to, the sermon (so long as it is faithful to Scripture), is simultaneously compulsory and voluntary. Which is a bit of a paradox. You have no choice but to choose to submit to the presence of Jesus in the preached word, or to leave, and leaving seems like a bad idea. This is, I think, part of what makes preaching authoritative – other than it’s done as a vicarious demonstration of God’s authority, relying on his authoritative word.

This makes sermons a bit different to books and music – which while they teach, and convey God’s word, don’t do so with the promise of his presence, and do so in a relational context where there’s no authority but the truth of what is written or sung. The ethos of the writer comes into the equation when it comes to how much weight you give their work – but they are not standing in front of you essentially representing Jesus as they speak or write.

You can learn things from all sorts of people – female, male, old, young, that I think is part of the priesthood of all believers, which does essentially produce a church of equals. That’s why I’m happy to argue with my senior ministers and lecturers during meetings or in the classroom (hopefully with love and respect) – but I’m not prepared to stand up and disagree as they preach at church or in chapel. Authority and submission, are tied up in the function, a little bit in the nature of the relationship, not the person – and it has to be guided by Scripture.

At this point I’d need to be convinced of a few, or any of these, things in order to think that there’s a theological legitimacy for women preaching:

1. That there is no essential difference between the genders, a positive difference not a “one is less than the other” difference – and that this difference isn’t part of the logic behind the structures for the church outlined in the New Testament.

2. That it is impossible for preaching to adequately achieve its purposes without women preaching.

3. That the New Testament supports the idea of women functioning as “ruling elders” or the ultimate authority within a congregation that is a mix of genders – proving that 1 Timothy 2:12 groups “teaching or having authority” as one act, that isn’t the sermon, would be a start.

4. That limiting authority to a particular type of people necessarily means those people are “more equal” than others.

5. That we’re not “all preaching” corporately, whenever we gather, and all meant to be preaching corporately, and individually, everywhere, anyway.

Any of the first four would challenge my ecclesiology of equality in a way that would push me towards letting any suitably gifted person, with the appropriate character, present God’s word in the pulpit, or remove some of the basis for thinking that a male preacher is part of our testimony to the God who created the world, and created us gendered, equally, as people who bear his image.

Wrapping up

A really important question. The ultimate question. If all these points hold – and even if they don’t – is:

How can we have Christ like, sacrificial, authoritative preaching that is sacrificial and Christlike not just in its content, but in the way that it is exercised?

If this goal is achieved, then the argument goes something like the correctly balanced Ephesians 5 marriage – if the husband is being Christlike, there should be no pain, but maximum pleasure, in submitting.

On an ethos based aside – if one party is not living up to their side of the relationship there is maximum communication value in the other party joyfully sacrificing, or joyfully submitting – a bit like God’s ongoing commitment to Israel in their unfaithfulness, and the call for slaves to submit to bad slave masters.

This is a sacrifice of rights. It’s a cross-shaped approach.

But faithful preaching of the sermon – for those called and gifted to perform that roll in the gathering – must mean preaching in a way that nobody sits there feeling like they should be preaching instead. Which must mean preaching as an act of love and sacrifice, in a way that points all the attention to Jesus, and away from the preacher’s gender, personal characteristics, and foibles (the preacher must decrease so Jesus can increase…). Especially if the sacrament/incarnation thing holds – so that those listening to the sermon feel loved and served by the one who is preaching, preaching in a way that means they’re helping us experience Christ. Vicariously representing Christ to us.

That’s a massive responsibility – not a right – for those of us who would be preachers, and it’s a massive responsibility for the body to give to anybody.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

2 thoughts on “On Church gathering: preaching, rights, the sacraments, and authority”

  1. Thanks for bringing this area into your considerations.
    Here’s some random statements which probably relate to bits and pieces of what you’ve been writing.
    In terms of engaging with historical formulations (and biblical data) and expressing a complementarian position I think it’s helpful to maintain that it is not being male which qualifies one for pastoral ministry or preaching function. It is calling. A set of male reproductive organs is not enough. The question is not then, who is the most knowledgeable and gifted communicator in the room, it’s who is called by God to preach and pastor.
    Which underlines the difference between the priesthood of all believers and the pastor/teacherhood of all believers. Whatever 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 mean in practice the point of them is that God has set up the church so we don’t all do the same things. And that’s His decision, not ours.
    Perhaps you might interact with the concept of the ordinary means of grace; preaching, sacraments, reading and prayer in corporate worship. Outside of corporate worship they are still formative to our understanding of Gospel communication.
    In conception God conveys his saving and strengthening grace through them. These were not heralded by the various confessions as being important for the church because they represented the most efficient communication means of the time, but because they were believed to be the only means by which God had indicated that he was ordinarily pleased to communicate grace. Other means may seem attractive, and grace may occur, but we have no reason to expect it.
    God graciously grows and nourishes faith through the sacraments. The sacraments themselves belong in corporate setting.
    If you think about the historic placement of the sacraments after the preaching of the word, as part of the covenant community’s action of obedience and testimony, their reception of Christ as response to Christ revealed in the word you can see the linking.

    1. Hi Gary,

      I agree with most, if not all, probably all, of what you’ve said…

      I guess I want to equate:

      “It is calling.”

      With Spiritual gifts.

      Because I think God calls all of us, as the body, to work corporately to accomplish his purposes, with Christ as our head – I think we’re all called to do ministry, all the time. But I don’t think we’re all gifted to hold particular roles within the body. I think this is consistent both with what you’ve outlined above, and the passages in question. It works particularly nicely with the “he gave some to be” language of Ephesians 4.

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