In Church we do things for a variety or reasons. Some of them are because we think that these things ‘constitute’ Church as Church. There are indeed different opinions of this among different traditions based upon theological understandings and ways in which we interpret the bible. To be honest I am less interested contesting with ‘other’ traditions and more interested in learning to think through what we mean in our own traditions which on their own can be a place of contest and difference.
In my branch (Scottish) of my tradition (Baptist) we used to talk about having two ordinances. This does not necessarily mean that they could not be seen as sacraments (although often were not!!!) but is more that we did these two things because Jesus ordained them as something that the Church should do. These two ordinances were ‘Baptism’ and the ‘Lord’s Supper’.
In class the other day I pondered…is preaching an inherited practice that can be replaced (like we replaced hymn books, with overhead projectors, with multi-media projectors as part of responding to contemporary culture and understandings of communication) – or is preaching as a form (forms actually) something we do and or should do because it is part of what it means to be Church rather than say what it means to be part of the the sailing club (I know nothing about sailing but since I am a preacher I am allowed to talk about things I know nothing about…!!!).
Everywhere I go whenever preaching is mentioned the weaknesses of it are highlighted. Here I do not mean that people complain about bad preaching although it appears that there is much of it about, but rather complain about the continuance of the thing itself. To put that differently, the complaint is not simply that it is not fit for purpose but actually seems to serve little purpose at all.
In part along with the question of what actually do we think the Church is whether we think that preaching is a somehow a God ordained practice for the internal and external life of the Church seems to me pretty crucial as to what place it has in the future. (If we simply stopped doing things in Baptist churches that can be done badly we would have stopped doing communion a long time ago).
I stand with those who think that there is something ordained about this practice that means that it is meant to be a regular part of our life together. This does not mean that I do not think that this position needs to be defined and defended, nor that what we mean by and how we carry out preaching has to be constantly examined. It just means I think it is in there as a practice that defines who we are along with the Lord’s Supper and Baptism as somehow an ordinance – somehow at very least an ordinance.