"The church of God in all its parts and working is intended for the manifesting of His invisible presence (1 Cor. 12:7). With intention it is so constructed as to be unworkable save as He is present, and is free to maintain and employ it. Evangelistic labour is not intended to be fruitful save as the Spirit of God is its power; public worship is meant to be a fiasco apart from His immediate impelling and restraining...
"But when the Holy Spirit is grieved, when failure appears and edification is ceasing, it is the changeless tendency of the human heart to resort to visible, material and mechanical measures in order to maintain a semblance of the real. It is not till subapostolic literature that we first read of a person unknown to the New Testament, a presiding officer at public worship. That Paul as an evangelist should have a preaching station (Acts 19:9) where he habitually taught truth that he alone in that place knew is one thing, and it may be held to justify gatherings specially for the ministry of the Word by acknowledged teachers and preachers; that on the occasion of a rare and farewell visit (Acts 20:7,11) the apostle, in assembly, might occupy almost the whole time with priceless exposition is fully comprehensible; but never did even an apostle regularly "conduct" and monopolize the exercises of the assembly of saints as if the Lord were absent and His Spirit not there to lead as He saw fit. This was a device resorted to as the Spirit's power was withheld on account of tolerated evil and waning faith."
Here is a kindred spirit of mine! I have long said–and not as a matter of opinion but of New Testament evidence–that the problem with "sermons" is the institutionalization of these as the centerpiece of public worship and a justifier of the clergy system.
The word "sermon" appears nowhere in the New Testament. What we do find is teaching and expounding of the Word both by the Lord and His apostles. Expounding simply means explaining, and this is indeed necessary. But it does not follow from this that the churches require "expository teaching" every Sunday in perpetuity. The purported need for "expository teaching" is justification for the sermon, which in turn justifies the clergy system.
This is the essence of "displacement theology" by which is simply meant that the regular Romans 12 and I Corinthians 14 ministry of the saints is displaced, with the hearty approval of the people.
As the author Lang wrote, those churches which were vitiated spiritually in the post-apostolic (or as Lang writes, subapostolic) age fell into the church order and polity known as the clergy system. From this system there is rarely recovery (except for the few saints who may separate from it) for the simple reason that it appears to be alive when it is dead. I do not say there are not believers there. Far from it. But the system itself is dead. By contrast, where there is poverty of spirit under the prescribed New Testament principles of meeting, the people may feel it and be grieved and humbled by it. This, at least, affords opportunity for revival, for it is humility and not pride which gives occasion for the Lord to really work in us and in His churches. But if we say we are rich and have need of nothing...
The tendency of all of us saints is to revert to the flesh after beginning in the Spirit. This was the Galatian error. What is required to resist this? Vigilance. Standing firm in the faith. It is possible. It is necessary. It is something the Lord requires of us, not in order to salvation, but to our sanctification.
And when we revert to the flesh, collectively, as the Galatians apparently did, we alter our principles of meeting to cover it up and make it appear as if our church remains alive spiritually. I refer again to the analogy of the crustacean, which appears to us the same whether dead or alive.
Itinerant teachers and evangelists, the kind of traveling teachers actually found in the New Testament, can and should speak at length as occasion requires or avails. But this is not the regular ministry of the saints one to another. It is not "the work of the ministry," that is, the regular ministry of the saints, found in Ephesians 4. The occasion for sermons is either temporary (as with evangelists, though this may mean several years) or occasional or as needed.
This teaching seems strange in the West, where Christianity has been systematized, preachers and teachers are paid professionals, and there is hardly any occasion for itinerant teaching because, after all, the pastor has already prepared his sermon for this Sunday.