Preaching as Kerygma: Proclaiming from the Example of the Earliest Believers

 |  June 8, 2020

Life seemingly gives us two manners of learning. The first way is learning from personal experiences. Lessons from our experiences yield both pros and cons. Positively, we have the satisfaction of figuring out the matter. However, negatively, we face the agony of experiencing and persevering through setbacks or even worst, never achieving the desired outcome. Contrastively, the second manner is learning from those that undertook the task first. The later way, unlike the former, allows for one to circumvent experiencing the error(s) of others.

The preachers of God’s word are not exempt. The option to choose one of the two manners presents itself to pastors and teachers weekly, if not daily, as they prepare homiletical messages. Thus, when determining, “What should today’s pastors or teachers offer as the kerygma,” they do well to utilize the examples of the earliest believers as the modus operandi.

The late theologian and Christian apologist, Michael Green, demonstrated his agreement with the previous concern as he gave considerable attention to the speeches found in the book of Acts, to determine the early church’s proclamation of the gospel.[1]For examples see Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1970); Evangelism Now and Then (Downers Grove: Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979); and Thirty Years that Changed the World: The Book of Acts for Today (Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans, 2004). He stated,

I am fascinated by the Acts of the Apostles. It is the only account we have of how the first Christians spread and multiplied during the thirty years following the death of Jesus…The book contains a tapestry of themes: the church, the ministry, the apostolic preaching…

Thus, according to Green, Acts gives us a reliable sample of the early church’s proclamation of the gospel. For this reason, I suggest at least the following four pivotal points found in the kerygma of the First Century believers’ from the book of Acts:

  1. The Earliest Believers Preached a Person: The first axiom of biblical proclamation is that the person, Christ is declared. Contrary to some today, the earliest believers did not form their message around a conceptualized theology. Rather, they consistently reported that God’s visitation to man and reconciliation with man is possible through Jesus Christ, exclusively. Peter announced, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Thus, their message was unapologetically Christocentric.
  1. The Earliest Believers Preached What Christ Did: The earliest believers’ proclamation consisted of Jesus’ earthly ministry at times, however, more often it emphasized His death and resurrection. For the hearers, Christ’s crucifixion demonstrated the depth and breadth of God’s love for the sinner. The resurrection substantiated His authority, and power over the world. These historical elements appeared without fail by those that believed in the Christ event, furthermore, serving as the essence of their message.
  1. The Earliest Believers Preached What Christ Provided: The infant church declared to men of the first century the forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Trespassers became sons and daughters of God. The dead in sin became alive in Christ. The helpless received the Helper. Thus, the early believers’ message proved to apply to its hearers’ need for reconciliation with God, salvation from sin, and guidance for their new life.
  1. The Earliest Believers Preached What Christ Wanted the Hearers to Do: The early followers of the first century were not timid in asking and sometimes demanding a response from their listeners. They unwaveringly declared that their hearers repent from sin and exercise faith in Jesus. Thus, they invited sinners to become disciples.

In the twenty-first century and beyond, the quest for an effective yet biblical proclamation will continue. However, if practitioners of evangelism desire to reap a harvest of souls similar to the first Christians in Acts, today’s preacher will face the task of formulating and offering a kerygma. Thus, what better place to look than the earliest believers’ examples, to preach Christ, what Christ did, what Christ provides, and a response to Him.


Carl Bradford is Assistant Professor of Evangelism in the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

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