Religion

Does a sermon have authority?

A preacher has an intriguing job. Weekly, at least, he stands in front of a group of people and tells them what to do and think. Who else (besides Third World dictators) gets to do that?And who else gets to do that with such immediate feedback? The feedback is, however, coded: “Good sermon” may mean no more than “I agree.”But do we expect others to believe or agree with what preachers say? Why should preachers have any more inherent authority than, say, Rush Limbaugh?Clearly, if the authority of the preacher resides solely in him, then his words occupy no unique space and can be embraced or discounted.Perhaps the preacher derives his authority from the church in whose pulpit he stands. For a church to set a man apart implies that the body is granting to that man some authority to speak in its name. Is that sufficient? Should we accept and believe what the preacher says because of the eminence of the church behind him?Yes, to some degree. It is better to hear from a man who has the approbation of others. But is it the church that gives the preacher’s words their ultimate authority? No.What makes the preacher unique is that he is not rehearsing his own clever ideas to impress an audience. He is, rather, seeking to represent and explain the Bible.I remember standingbefore a group ofKenyan pastors who had come to hear me speak. My thought was that Ihad nothing to say to these fine men. Only if what I said accurately reflected Biblical truth would my words have any significance.But even to see this is not to have climbed the ladder far enough. The preacher’s authority is grounded in the Bible only if we understand that this book’s author has authority.To think this way has huge implications for the humility of the preacher. It has implications as well for those who hear sermons. When we hear a message whose roots are in scripture, we are not hearing a mere man speaking mere words. We are, in a very real sense, listening to God speak to us.If I believed that, I would, as a preacher, be very careful about what I say. And if I believed that, I would, as a listener, be very excited about getting to a church on Sunday!Rev. Randy Greenwald, senior pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, 4455 30th St. E., Bradenton, writes a blog at somberanddull.blogspot.com. For more information about the church, visit www.gohope.net. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Herald, written by local clergy members.

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