A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries

A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries

A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries

A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries


It might be assumed that Christian preachers have always proclaimed the same unchanging message in the same unchanging way to similarly comprised and receptive congregations. But this assumption is far from accurate. Throughout history the style and subject matter of sermons have repeatedly changed to meet the shifting needs of congregations molded by contemporary events. "A Mirror for the Church" explores this dynamic as it developed in the early church.

In examining sermons preached during the first five centuries of church history, David Dunn-Wilson answers some important questions: Who were the first preachers? What did they preach about, and what methods did they use? What kinds of people made up the first congregations, and how did they relate to the world around them? In the process, Dunn-Wilson uncovers the homiletic themes that remained constant in early church history and shows how preachers and their churches adapted to waves of social change. He also suggests ways in which the priorities of the early church might inform preaching and Christian practice today.


Preaching has never existed as a discrete and separate discipline. It has always functioned in context. Barth may overstate the case when he claims that "preaching can take place, meaningfully, only in church," but there is no doubt that preachers and congregations need one another. Their existence has always been symbiotic, and long before they were segregated in pews and pulpits, a strange, oscillating "love-hate" relationship developed between them. Throughout the centuries, that relationship generated its own inner dynamic as preachers had to adapt their style and themes to congregations' changing needs. Consequently, in every age, the sermons that are preached reveal the preoccupations both of those who preach and those who listen, illuminating the interaction between them.

When we consider the preacher-congregation relationship during the first five centuries of the church's history, we discover that there are significant questions to be asked. Who are the first preachers? What do we learn when we listen to familiar figures of church history functioning as preachers? What do they preach about and what methods do they use? What kinds of people form the early congregations? What issues are uppermost in their minds, and how do they relate to the world around them?

The choice of material within such a broad subject must be selective, and inevitably there will be characters and events that remain untouched. Nevertheless, it is clear that besides the common concerns which dominate the preaching of all ages, each ecclesiastical era has its own specific, homiletic priorities. New demands, at first almost imperceptible, grow in force until they bring about veritable sea changes in the church's life. The major . . .

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