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Sermon ( Latin praedicatio ) is a speech in the context of a religious celebration, usually with a religious content. The sermon has a special place in the New Testament and in Christian worship . In Christian theology, the doctrine of preaching is called homiletics .

In English and French, sermon is called sermon (from the Latin sermo : exchange speech, conversation; lecture).

Sermon in a Danish church
Sermon in a Protestant service in Germany
The pulpit clock was supposed to regulate the time of the preaching pastor's sermon in the 18th century. (Copy from 1776, Museum für Thüringer Volkskunde Erfurt )
Jacob Albert's sermon in Hallig Gröde

Sermon in the Bible

In the Old Testament, the prophets in particular appear as preachers. In doing so, they address themselves in a public proclamation to the people of Israel. For this they see themselves called by God (e.g. Isa 40,6  LUT ).

Public speech played a major role in ancient Greece. Aristotle names three types of speech in his rhetoric : the court speech, the political speech and the ceremonial speech. Persuasive speeches in the field of religion hardly existed in Greece at that time. That changed with the spread of Christianity.

According to the New Testament, Jesus instructed his disciples to preach ( Mt 10,7 LUT ).

  • The gospel must be preached among all peoples ( Mk 13.10 LUT ).
  • Jesus preached with authority ( Lk 4,32 LUT ).
  • They preached that one should repent and cast out many evil spirits ( Mk 6.12 LUT ).
  • Faith comes from preaching, but preaching comes through the word of Christ ( Rom 10:17 LUT ).
  • The sermon took place not only in the word, but also in power and in the holy spirit and in great certainty ( 1 Thessalonians 1,5 LUT ).

In Christian theology, the concept of sermon is mainly shaped by the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of the Apostle Paul . The Greek expressions "keryssein" / "kerygma" used there stand for the preaching by Jesus himself, who called people to repent . On the other hand - especially in the New Testament letters - the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus by the apostles is meant.

If preaching is the preaching of the Gospel for non-believers (“ Jews and Gentiles ”), especially since Martin Luther , for whom the “word” gained central importance, the proclamation of faith in church services has often been understood in the same way. That is why in the Evangelical Church the “preaching of the gospel” ( docere evangelium ) as a service to the word is the “greatest, holiest, most necessary, highest worship service ( praecipuus cultus Dei ), ... because the preaching office is the highest office in the churches . "

Sermon in Church History

Sermons have been important throughout church history. Insofar as they have been preserved in written form, they offer valuable insights into the thinking of their time as historical sources.


In ancient times there were quick writers ( called stenographers ) who took notes on sermons of valued teachers. Two preachers who were already prominent during their lifetime worked around AD 400: Augustine wrote the first doctrine of preaching, as part of his work De doctrina christiana . He saw the rhetoric as helpful, which until then had been suspected of being “pagan”. For Augustine, the task of the sermon was to teach and to move (i.e. motivate) the audience. The sermons of the then Bishop of Constantinople were also very much appreciated: John Chrysostom - this nickname, which means "golden mouth", was only given posthumously in the 6th century. This epithet referred to his sermons, which continued to work in writing.

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the sermon was less important than the sacraments. In the center of the divine service (the “mass”) stood the Eucharist, i. H. the Lord's Supper. Around 1200 AD, reform movements emerged that saw preaching as an important task, such as the "lay movement" of the Waldensians . The Catholic Church did not allow the laity to preach. The consequence was that the Waldensians were excluded from the church. In addition, there were ecclesiastically accepted orders of preachers, namely the mendicant orders (especially Dominicans and Franciscans ), which also emphasized preaching. The founding of universities in the late Middle Ages also promoted the education of the “ secular priests ”, who thus had better conditions for preaching. The sermon as part of the church service was generally held in the respective national language, not e.g. B. in Latin.

Modern times

Sermon book, Augsburg 1774 (title page)
Sermon book, Strasbourg 1818 (title page)
Title page of the German edition of Reinhold Niebuhr's sermons from 1948

More than 2000 sermons from Martin Luther and more than 1200 sermons from Johannes Calvin have been preserved . A Protestant pastor around 1600 preached several times a week, each sermon lasting one to two hours.

The denominational issues connected with the split in Western Christianity were also dealt with in sermons - by "controversial preachers", but also by "mediating theologians".

Sermons were often published in book form in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The Enlightenment of the 18th century also affected the content of sermons. Those "enlighteners" who clung to Christianity wanted to make religion understandable to people who emphasized reason. For this purpose, the listener's horizon of experience was raised as a yardstick, and miracle reports were left aside or reinterpreted. As a result of literacy, many people were now able to read themselves, including the Bible, so they no longer had to rely so heavily on hearing sermons (and on the pictures in churches, depicting individual events reported in the Gospels).

Before and around 1800 there were revivals in which sermons participated: Jonathan Edwards in North America , John Wesley and George Whitefield in England . They preached several sermons a day, often outdoors. In the 19th century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon's sermons were heard by many people in London, eventually in a 5,000-seat Baptist church. He trained young preachers (which resulted in his book Advice for Preachers , in the original Lectures to my Students ).

The Evangelical Movement in the 20th century tried to mediate between the concerns of the Bible and the lives of the audience through preaching. The evangelical pastor Wilhelm Busch belonged to her , from whom some sermons for the widely spread book Jesus our fate were put together. Busch had a realistic, anecdotal style. Perhaps the most famous preacher of the 20th century was Helmut Thielicke , whose sermons contain many original, sometimes poetic formulations.

In free churches, the main task of the “full-time employee” was to preach, which is why he was called “preacher” until the 1970s, and only then was the term “pastor” preferred. The link between preaching and politics is known as political preaching in Left Protestantism. Political preaching can also result from an apocalyptic view of current affairs.

Current tendencies in preaching

The 20th century saw several new developments affecting sermon design. Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer describes these developments as mechanization, duplication, medialization, academization, psychologization and internationalization.

  • Mechanization : The voice of the preacher in worship is amplified by a microphone and loudspeaker.
  • Reproduction : The sermon can be recorded on tape or digital storage and then redistributed.
  • Medialization : People are increasingly used to media, and their expectations of the sermon design are rising. Sermons are complemented by visual impressions. TV preachers can also be found in America.
  • Academisation : The proportion of people with a degree is growing. The congregation members have more practice in dealing with difficult texts, so they are no longer so heavily dependent on the Bible-reading instructions from the preacher. And the selection of suitable lay preachers is growing.
  • Psychologization : Psychological topics are often dealt with in sermons.
  • Internationalization : Since the 1980s there have been an increasing number of English-speaking congregations in the German-speaking area, and since the 1990s there have been many migration churches with other languages. As a result, many people hear sermons in a different language at the weekend than the one they use during the week, e.g. B. are confronted at work.

Wilfried Engemann criticizes that today's sermons are profaned . The sermon treats the listener like a confirmand instead of taking him seriously. “It engages in vague appeals to humanity” or “bores him with hollow theological speculations”. Pastors would be advised to focus more on the presentation than on the content; and that one should orientate oneself more towards the entertainment media and " African American preaching ".

Catholic and Protestant sermons

Evangelical sermons are usually based on a passage from the Bible. For this, there is the space of the EKD , the lectionary , which sets the rhythm of six Bible texts for each Sunday and holiday.

Catholic theologians emphasize the difference between a missionary sermon ("basic preaching") and an internal Christian interpretation of faith, often referred to as a homily (Greek for "persuasion").

According to the Catholic understanding of a sermon, like an address, the topic can be chosen more freely (in contrast to a homily), and it can take place independently of a service.

In Protestant churches the focus is on the proclamation and explanation of the word of God, while in the Catholic church the sacrifice of the Mass has a higher meaning than the sermon.

Generally, a sermon takes the form of a monologue. But there are also more creative forms in which questions are asked to the audience in between (with the option to answer), or by incorporating a sketch or a short film into the sermon.

The duration of a sermon has decreased significantly over the past few decades. Today a sermon in a Catholic church lasts about ten minutes, in a Protestant church about twenty minutes and in a free church about 30 minutes (these are rough guidelines that are more likely to be exceeded than exceeded).

Legal requirements for preaching

The Federal Administrative Court stated in a decision dated August 2011 that "even as far as a sermon, the religious freedom of expression is no absolute priority over the interests of the personality and honor guard" enjoys. The general right of personality is not guaranteed unconditionally either and is restricted by the constitutional order, including the rights of others. In addition to freedom of expression, these rights also include the uniform fundamental right to freedom of religion. This includes what is said in a sermon. The history of the judgment was a legal dispute between Michael Schmidt-Salomon from the Giordano Bruno Foundation and the Regensburg Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller . He had given a sermon in 2008 in which he criticized two critics of religion, but Schmidt-Salomon denied their justification. However , Müller rejected a declaration of cease and desist with reference to his special position as bishop of the Catholic Church. The dispute was ended by the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court.

Other word meanings

Colloquially, "sermon" is also used as an expression for moralizing speech. The term "sermon" is also used colloquially for boring, lengthy talk.

See also

Wikiquote: Sermon  - Quotes


Web links

Wiktionary: Sermon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Stowasser , Latin-German school dictionary, edition 1998, entry "sermo"
  2. ^ Apology = Confessio Augustana XV, BSLK, 305, 9f.
  3. Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer offers an overview : Changes in preaching in the course of church history , in: Christian Bensel, Jonathan Mauerhofer (ed.): Sermon between claim and reality. VTR, Nuremberg 2016, pp. 69-77.
  4. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Changes in preaching in the course of church history , in: Christian Bensel, Jonathan Mauerhofer (ed.): Sermon between claim and reality. Nuremberg 2016, pp. 69–77, there 76f.
  5. Evelyn Finger: No more chatter! In: Die Zeit (Ed.): ZEIT ONLINE . No. 51 , 2007, p. 49 ( [accessed on June 9, 2018]).
  6. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Basis preach. Basics of the Christian faith in sermons, plus a didactic homiletics for advanced students . Publishing house for theology and religious studies, Nuremberg 2010.
  7. BVerwG, decision of August 8, 2011 - 7 B 41.11 -
  8. Humanistic press service .