Reading the WSJ article that Dave linked in his thread, Backlash against tithing, I was particularly tickled at the picture:
Quite theatrical, no? But why must this be so? In his book Pagan Christianity, Frank Viola makes a good argument that the Greek sophists are the forerunners of the modern pastor. I've added some excerpts below.
To find the headwaters of the sermon, we must go back to the fifth century B.C. with a group of wandering teachers called sophists. The sophists are credited for inventing rhetoric (the art of persuasive speaking). They recruited disciples and demanded payment for delivering their orations.
The sophists were expert debaters. They were masters at using emotional appeals, physical appearance, and clever language to "sell" their arguments." In time, the style, form, and oratorical skill of the sophists became more prized than their accuracy." This spawned a class of men who became masters of fine phrases, "cultivating style for style's sake." The truths they preached were abstract rather than truths that were practiced in their own lives. They were experts at imitating form rather than substance."
The sophists identified themselves by the special clothing they wore. Some of them had a fixed residence where they gave regular sermons to the same audience. Others traveled to deliver their polished orations."(They made a good deal of money when they did.)" Sometimes the Greek orator would enter his speaking forum "already robed in his pulpit-gown." He would then mount the steps to his professional chair to sit before he brought his sermon.
The Greeks were intoxicated with rhetoric. So the sophists faired well. When Rome took over Greece, the Romans fell under the Greek spell of being obsessed with rhetoric." Consequently, Greco-Roman culture developed an insatiable lust to hear someone give an eloquent oration. This was so fashionable that a "sermonette" From a professional philosopher after dinner was a regular form of entertainment.
How did the Greek sermon find its way into the Christian church? Around the third century a vacuum was created when mutual ministry faded from the Body of Christ. At this time the traveling worker who spoke out of a spontaneous burden left the pages of church history. To fill his absence, the clergy-caste began to emerge. Open meetings began to die out, and church gatherings became more and more liturgical.
As this was happening, many pagan orators were becoming Christians. As a result, pagan philosophical ideas unwittingly made their way into the Christian community" Some of the new converts at this time happened to be former pagan philosophers and orators" Regrettably, many of these men became the theologians of the early Christian church. They are known as the "church fathers," and some of their writings are still with us.
Thus the pagan notion of a trained professional speaker who delivers orations for a fee moved straight into the Christian bloodstream. Note that the concept of the "paid teaching specialist" did not come from Judaism. It came from Greece. It was the custom of Jewish rabbis to take up a trade so as to not charge a fee for their teaching.
The upshot of the story is that these former pagan orators (now turned Christian) began to use their Greco-Roman oratorical skills for Christian purposes. They would sit in their official chair and "expound the sacred text of Scripture, just as the sophist would supply an exegesis of the near-sacred text of Homer... " If you compare a third-century pagan sermon with a sermon given by one of the church fathers, you will find both the structure and the phraseology to be shockingly similar.
In a word, the Greco-Roman sermon replaced prophesying, open sharing, and Spirit-inspired teaching." The sermon became the elitist privilege of church officials, particularly the bishops." Such people had to be educated in the schools of rhetoric to learn how to speak. Without such education, a Christian was not permitted to speak to God's people.