Do I sound a bit like a Donatist? The Donatists of the 4th century put too much emphasis on the character of the clergy. They believed that if the priest administering the sacrament of Communion was a spiritual weakling, then the sacrament would not be efficacious for the recipient. Augustine was among the chief opponents of the Donatists. He asserted that the grace of God comes through the sacrament regardless of the spiritual state of the person serving the sacrament. This historical controversy begs some pressing contemporary questions? If we over-emphasize the person of the preacher might we become homiletic donatists? Do we really want to suggest that the preacher’s character has significant bearing on the effectiveness of the sermon? Can a preacher’s sinfulness really inhibit the power of God that comes through the preaching event?
Clearly, we need to avoid extreme homiletic donatism. But, we must be just as suspicious of homiletic docetism. Docetism was a heretical belief of the 2nd century that denied the physicality of Christ. Docetism under-emphasized the humanity, or personhood, of Christ. Homiletic docetism, then, is an extreme neglect of the person of the preacher. A homiletic docetic thinks preaching is entirely dependent on divinity and that humanity, or the preacher, doesn’t matter at all to the dynamics of preaching. As long as God shows up through the preaching, nothing else matters-not even the preacher!
So, what do you think? Are you more prone to be a homiletic donatist who is so enamored with the holiness of the preacher that the sovereign power of God through preaching is ignored? Or, are you more likely to struggle with a homiletic docetism that ignores the role and person of the preacher in the preaching event? Does your theological tradition lead you toward one of these homiletic heresies? Most importantly, how can you avoid both extremes through your development and delivery of sermons?
You are invited to the Festival on Preaching!
The human hunger for life-giving, hope-inducing, and identity-shaping good news has never been more intense. Yet the complexities of preaching today are more significant than ever. The Festival on Preaching is designed to inspire and equip preachers to meet these challenges and maximize the opportunities of preaching today. On May 20-21, Wesley Seminary and College Wesleyan Church are co-hosting what we pray will be a significant investment in your preaching ministry. For more information and to register click on the following link: Festival on Preaching.