A friend of mine is working on an indepedent study at seminary comparing Episcopal and Presbyterian sermons. As part of the course he’s asked friends (including me) from both traditions their thoughts on denominational dinstinctions in preaching. Here’s how I replied:
I’ve tried to think of what I would considered distinctive about Presbyterian preaching and I’ve got two:
1. I think there is a greater sense of weight, importance or expectation about Presbyterian preaching. Every church form in a pastor recruitment process I’ve ever seen where they rank the skills desired for the position has placed preaching at or very near number one. It is considered the main part, even the point, of worship services and many folks refer to ministers as Preachers.
2. If there is any distinction about style, approach or method I would say it is being strongly scripture guided. This might sound obvious but I mean traditionally the scriptures set the schedule for preaching i.e. Lectio Continua vs. Lectionary. Our current Book of Common Worship argues in favor of the Revised Common Lectionary because it does a better job of presenting scripture in order. Additionally a typical Presbyterian sermon starts with the text and develops based on that. I’ve heard a whole lot of sermons from other denominations, mostly Baptists who pick a topic or opinion and quote lots of verses to support it but the sermon’s foundation is not a biblical text. Many (but by no means all) of the Episcopal sermons I’ve heard preach the scripture as it relates to the church year: showing it’s relation to the other readings or the date instead of treating the sermon text on its own which adds to the what is guiding the sermon development.
Having said that I don’t think denominational distinctions are that strong, if I heard a recording of two sermons I probably couldn’t guess what tradition someone was from.
His question, like all good questions, got me thinking and I would like to hear your thoughts on this. Would you agree with my response? notice other things? Are there dinstinctions between different denominations approach to preaching? Do you think you could tell the difference between Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal or Presbyterian sermons? What distinctions (if any) do you notice? Should there be differences?
(Image is Preacher by niccolo2410: click image for link to the flickr site)