Origin of Obligatory Oratory in Church Meetings (Let’s Get Back To The Future)

Greek oratory

In the new church, ordinary people (not the Apostles) spoke about Jesus wherever they went.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”  –Acts 8:1-4

“Note the broad distinction which exists between what in the primitive churches was known as ‘prophesying,’ and that which in subsequent times came to be known as ‘preaching.’ [Prophets] were not church officers appointed to discharge certain functions. They did not practice beforehand how or what they should say. . . . Their language was often, from the point of view of the rhetorical schools, barbarous. They were ignorant of the rules both of style and dialectic. They paid no heed to refinements of expression. The greatest ‘preacher’ of them all (Paul of Tarsus) claimed to have come among his converts, in a city in which rhetoric flourished, not with the persuasiveness of human logic, but with the demonstration which was afforded by Spiritual power.In the course of the second century, this original spontaneity of utterance died almost entirely away. It may almost be said to have died a violent death. The dominant parties in the Church set their faces against it. ”  –Edwin Hatch in The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1970)

Spirit-prompted sharing was gradually replaced in the church by formal oratory based on the rhetorical principles of Aristotle and Cicero for several reasons:

* As the first and second generations of Christ-followers died, the younger generations didn’t have the same level of Spirit-inspired passion and excitement about Jesus.

* As the church began to establish more formal structures, leadership and speaking ministry began to be confined to fewer and fewer people.

* As many converts came out of Greek culture, the church began to be overly influenced by the Greek concept of highly trained and skilled oratory.  (However, the church moved away from the Greek concept of ekklesia which is the Greek word the New Testament uses for church.)

* As the church began to institutionalize, local churches began to move away from a plural leadership to hierarchical, one-man leadership, under a regional bishop.

* The local “priest” eventually became the only person in a local church who was considered to be qualified to speak to the congregation.

* The best speakers among the “priests” began to be praised and glorified in the church in the same way that the best Greek orators were in society.

* By the late 300s,  the priest, John Chrysostom, was considered to be one of the most powerful orators in the ancient world.  His last name means: “golden mouth.”

In the Orthodox and Roman churches, oratory had to share the focus in worship services with the eucharist.  The altar table was usually in the center of the platform and the pulpit was off to one side.  However, during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, put the pulpit in the center, denied the “real presence” of Christ in the elements, and made the weekly sermon the main focus of church meetings.

Since that time (especially among Protestants), a weekly one-man oration has become the essential element of a church service.

Anyone who has ever attended a church service is familiar with the sermon concept, but most of us are completely unaware of the biblical concept of mutual ministry, one to another, presented in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 14:26.  Many centuries have made us forget this powerful New Testament way of doing church.

I believe that God is calling His church back to the future — back to the Spirit-led sharing of the Gospel that turned the world upside down — back to 1 Corinthians 14:26.  Are we willing to go there?

If you want to see this in action, visit The Salvation Army Berry Street, 225 Berry St., Nashville, Tennessee 37207 on Sunday mornings at 10:45.

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About Steve Simms

I like to look and think outside the box. In college I encountered Jesus Christ and I have been passionate about trying to get to know Him better ever since. My wife and I co-lead a non-traditional expression of the body of Christ in Nashville based on open participation and Spirit-led sharing. We long to see the power and passion of the first Christ-followers come to life in our time. I have written a book about our experiences called, "Beyond Church: An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible--Ekklesia" that is available in Kindle & paperback @ http://amzn.to/2nCr5dP
This entry was posted in 1 Corinthians 14:26, Aristotle, book of Acts, Cicero, Edwin Hatch, ekklesia, participatory church, public speaking, rhetoric, Spirit-led and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Origin of Obligatory Oratory in Church Meetings (Let’s Get Back To The Future)

  1. Bill Samuel says:

    Amen! Thanks for your research on this. Many people in the churches don’t realize that there’s no New Testament basis for a laity.

  2. Pingback: de Gaulle or de Bible? | Free Gas For Your Think Tank (A blog to jog your mind and unclog your heart . . .)

  3. whitebart says:

    I’ve read it before, but reading again how we Protestants have centered our services around the work of men (oratory and liturgy) rather than the work of Christ (the Eucharist) makes us no better – and maybe worse – than our Catholic brothers and sisters who we have criticized for years.

  4. Pingback: Are You Lost In A Lonely Crowd | Free Gas For Your Think Tank (A blog to jog your mind and unclog your heart . . .)

  5. Dayna says:

    Wow! Thank you for the historical references and the prophetic words. I have enjoyed this post! Keep them coming!

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