A Fair Homiletic Standard

When we deal with 2 Clement as a sermon, or at least as the text of a sermon that was likely preserved by an appreciative congregation of Hellenistic Christians in Corinth, it is of the utmost importance that we have a fair view of its merits as a text.  Those merits are best appreciated by those who have sat attentively while someone is delivering a fine sermon urging upright and godly living on the part of the audience.  Have you not sat while listening to such messages?  I know I have [1].  What, then, would you think if the decent sermon on decent living that you listened to one Sabbath was turned into a book, and that the book was preserved alongside the letters that the congregation had received as part of the congregational library?  Is it a sermon you would ever read again?  It is possible that you would, or that from time to time people who were visiting the area or young people raised up in the faith or people who had moved to the area would read such a work if they were so inclined, and from that general fondness we have 2 Clement.

But what does it say?  Here is a brief summary of the contents of 2 Clement:  The author begins by comment that Jesus Christ is God (a very high Christology, it should be noted) and praises Jesus Christ for his generosity to us and the fact that we can give God nothing that He has not first given us.  After this the author uses some texts to demonstrate that we must help save those who are perishing.  Then the author points out that as a result of the mercy of God in saving us that we should avoid worshiping other Gods and that we should obey God’s commandments and not do what God forbids us to do.  The author points out that simply calling Jesus Christ Lord is insufficient if we do not obey Him.  As a result we should walk in holiness and not forget that we are pilgrims and strangers in this world.  The author points out that our obligation to serve God requires a single-minded focus, and that there are dire results to us if we engage in the Christian walk corruptly, as there is for athletes in athletic competitions.  The author avers that we can only repent in this physical life, a common belief of many contemporary Hellenistic Christians.  The author points out the reality of eternal judgment, and that we should serve Him and wait for His kingdom.  In this light we should live soberly and in self-control, and that we should repent for our continued weaknesses in our lives.  He then closes with a comment on the fact that everyone faces temptation but that we should still live obediently.

What is a fair homiletic standard for this message?  Messages like this one are given pretty regularly in more serious-minded churches, and for those who share the author’s approach, which focuses on citations of the New Testament and calls to live obediently that are remarkably light on the details of God’s commandments, this message is almost to the point of being commonplace.  Yet even though there are considerable shortcomings with the message in light of the author’s ignorance and lack of interest in the law which provides specificity to the commandment-keeping obligations of believers, this is by no means a bad message.  If the message is not controversial nor does it deal with issues of textual criticism, it is precisely the sort of message that one would figure to be the bread and butter of a congregation’s life, and even a good example of a homiletic message of its kind.  I would certainly have some questions for the speaker afterwards, which I often do when it comes to seeing if what was said was meant to be said and what the speaker’s perspective on the resurrections was, but by and large this is a message that is easy to endorse and appreciate.  If it does not rise to a high degree of rhetoric it at least manages to be straightforward and sincere, and that counts for a lot when one is dealing with a sermon message.

It is likely because it was viewed as a decent sermon from a local speaker that the message survived as it is.  How many sermons that you have heard have made their way into books?  How many sermon transcripts have been saved and how many messages that you have heard have you recommended to others and shared?  I happen to be acquainted with quite a few people who preserve and pass on messages to others, and I have found my own spiritual life enriched and deepened by the messages that have been shared with me.  While I am not sure that this specific message would appeal to me as much as some others I have heard, it is likely that this message was thought of highly by its original audience, and rather telling that the speaker wrote out the message at considerable length so that it could be read over and over again afterward.  There are messages that I view that highly, apart from my interest in controversies, simply because they strike at a key aspect of my own personal practice of God’s ways which sometimes needs to be pointed out rather forcefully if that example falls glaringly short of the biblical standard [2].

In the end, when we look at 2 Clement as a writing, we should not judge it as an exercise in dogmatics or of speculative philosophy.  This is a message that was likely delivered for an appreciative congregation in Corinth and was prepared by someone who took his job as a presbyter or speaker in the congregation seriously.  The message shows some knowledge of the biblical text, but is clearly given by someone whose background with the law of God is slight and second-hand, at best.  Such people regularly speak from pulpits in the United States and around the world to this day in Christendom, and it is likely that a majority of the sermons that are delivered on a weekly basis that one would hear would be lesser or equal efforts to the one recorded as 2 Clement.  Perhaps a few very excellent messages from people whose knowledge of the Bible and its proper application is profound could consider themselves superior authors, but most ministers would feel accomplished to have given a message of the power and focus of 2 Clement.  Any fair standard of homiletics would have to conclude that if 2 Clement is not an amazing work, it is certainly is a work that is well worth acquainting oneself with, and something that deserves to be seen as part of the larger context of the Apostolic Fathers and the sort of Christianity that became more pronounced over the century or so after the death of the Apostles and other leaders of the early Church of God.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/08/31/in-the-integrity-of-my-heart-i-have-done-this/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/07/the-relationship-between-pietism-and-leaving-egypt/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/12/no-prophesying-without-confession/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/02/05/the-point-of-a-mind-like-a-mouth-is-to-close-on-something/

[2] This was the case, for example, when I listened to a series of messages on the biblical standard of reconciliation, referred to me by a fellow member of my congregation with whom my personal interactions have ranged from the merely awkward and uncomfortable to mutually traumatic:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/30/some-observations-on-the-ministry-of-reconciliation-part-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/01/some-observations-on-the-ministry-of-reconciliation-part-two/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/02/some-observations-on-the-ministry-of-reconciliation-part-three/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/03/some-thoughts-on-the-ministry-of-reconciliation-part-four/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/04/some-thoughts-on-the-ministry-of-reconciliation-part-five/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/05/some-thoughts-on-the-ministry-of-reconciliation-part-six/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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