Preaching is Ecclesial

March 31st, 2012| Topic: aBeLOG, Definition | 0

Preaching is Ecclesial

The Bible is, without doubt, the church’s book and, therefore, the arena of action of its exposition is the congregation of God’s people of all time, the church, “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Thus the primary locus for the preaching of Scripture is the church, the assembly of God’s people, a setting that provides the direction and thrust for its interpretation.

Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. … Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Nehemiah 8:2, 6

It is in the gathering of God’s people that Scripture is expounded. The word “assembly” (Hebrew: qahal; Greek: ekklesia) is most frequently used in the Old Testament of the gathering of the congregation of Israel in the presence of God. This assemblage of God’s people is mentioned sixteen times in the account, in different terms: “sons of Israel” (Nehemiah 7:73); “all the people” (8:1, 3, 5 [×2], 6, 9, 11, 12); “as one man” (8:1); “the assembly” (8:2); “men, women, and all who could listen with understanding” (8:2); “men and women, those who could understand” (8:3); and “the people” (8:7 [×2], 9). That Ezra was responding to the request of the people for the Torah to be read (8:1, 2) indicates the leader’s subordinate role as the “minister” who merely mediated the book of God to the community of God.

The balanced cascade of five verbs each for leader and for community (in 8:4–6) further emphasizes this occasion as having been for the body of God’s people: Ezra stood, opened the book (×2), was standing above, and blessed God. In parallel, “all the people” had made the podium, they stood, answered, bowed low, and worshiped. One led, the others responded. Flanked by thirteen “lay” leaders (8:4), Ezra does not act unilaterally—this is a joint event of leaders and the led, affirming the importance and communal nature of this significant episode in the life of the people. And this event is explicitly labeled as an act of worship, the proper context of the exposition of God’s word. With this milestone, the identity of the nation was rediscovered, and its standing before God reestablished. And in the process, the word of God was expounded.

The preaching of the word of God, the book of the people of God, is ecclesial.

That, of course, is not to deny validity to preaching outside an ecclesial context (even among unbelievers—evangelistic preaching). But I submit that preaching, in its “purest” form, belongs within the purview of the gathered people of God, in the context of their worship, and within the larger frame of the preachers’ shepherding of their flock (more about that another time).

(Picture: Iconostasis of the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul; the relics of John Chrysostom [347–407], one of the greatest preachers in the history of the church, are located here.)


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