Sermon-Free Church — Did It Begin At Pentecost? Thoughts for Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013
On Pentecost Sunday (May 19) the church in the Western world celebrates the beginning of sermon-free church. The events are recorded in Acts, chapter 2 in the New Testament.
About 120 of the first Christ-followers were gathered together in an upper room in Jerusalem to seek God and to wait for the Holy Spirit. Suddenly the Spirit came and they “all” began to speak praises to God. They were “all” filled with such passion, excitement, emotion, and enthusiasm, that they left the building and hit the streets “all” speaking about God.
Their commotion drew thousands of people. Then one of the on-fire Christ followers began to explain to the gathered crowd of curious, confused, and/or hostile unbelievers, what was going on.
This first exhibition of sermon-free church was so powerful that 3,000 unbelievers became Christ-followers that day. It helped establish the pattern of open-sharing, Spirit-led church meetings that is described in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and helped spread radical obedience to the living, resurrected Christ around the word, eventually even changing the Roman Empire.
Most Christians have been taught that Peter preached a sermon on Pentecost. However, I don’t see what he did that day as a sermon because: 1) It was spontaneous, not prepared. 2) It was shared to explain the demonstration of the Holy Spirit that was happening at the moment. 3) It was short. 4) It said “This is that,” not “This was that.” 4) It didn’t put everybody into the role of being passive listeners. 5) It was Spirit-prompted. 6) It was not a scheduled talk by the same person each week. 6) It didn’t take the place of the gathered believers having the freedom to share, testify, and minister to one one another. He preached (shared) the Gospel but not in a formal sermon.
So, what replaces the sermon (a talk about theology given by the same person week after week) in sermon-free church?
Answer: Various people, as prompted by the Spirit, share: testimonies, Scriptures, personal concerns and/or needs, words of encouragement, songs, gifts of the Spirit, teachings, prayers, etc.
Sermon-free church works great in small meetings, however, it also works very well in larger meetings with an open mike. However, this type of meeting is not leaderless. 1) The Holy Spirit is actually present and directing the meeting as He prompts people to share. 2) Human leadership is also involved as people the New Testament calls “overseers” (unfortunately often translated as “bishops”) operate like “officials” in basketball, American football, or soccer. Their job is to keep watch on the meeting and reinstate the Spirit’s leadership if someone says or does something out of line or inappropriate.