On Healthy Churches 3: Expositional Preaching (Mark 1)

This continues my weekly summary of our Wednesday night C-Groups' study of What Is A Healthy Church? by Mark Dever. What do most people look for in preaching? Funny jokes? Something short? Something inspirational? Something totally practical? Lots of people look for many different things. Countless books on the shelves tell you how to do it right so as to build a large church.

But, what should we look for in preaching? Dever argues that we should expect, and even demand, expositional preaching. First, though, what is preaching? And is it still relevant? Many today are forgoing sermons for dialogues, for conversations, saying preaching is outdated and doesn't work in today's world. But preaching is still a biblical concept. John Piper gives the best explanation I've heard. He calls it "expository exultation." You take the meaning of the text and exult in it or over it. In other words, you rejoice in the passage's meaning, in God's revelation. You herald it with joy to the people of God. Second, then, what is expositional preaching? Dever calls it simply "taking the points of the sermon from the points of the passage." We "expose" the meaning of the text. With expositional or expository sermons, we come to the text, trying to find a sermon. This differs from a topical sermon where we bring a sermon to the Bible, looking for texts. This is the idea given in Neh. 8:7-8, 12, where the people gathered before the Levites who helped them understand the "sense" of the text, and this led to great joy.

This method is preferred because it best encourages the naked, simple proclamation of God's word. This is important, because, as Dever argues so well, God has always given life through His word. Ezekiel 37:1-10 describes God bringing bones to life through the proclamation of the word. In the New Testament, Romans 10:1-17, ends by saying, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." God gives life through his word. He uses it to accomplish conversion. He saves people. Additionally, though, the Bible grows people. Jesus, when tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4; cf. Ephesians 5:25-26). The Bible is the instrument used by God for justification (being declared righteous), yet it is also God's chosen means for sanctification (becoming actually righteous). So, we do well to proclaim the word.

Next, we looked at two passages: 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Acts 6. The first gives the high calling of the minister to proclaim God's word in the face of opposition. Acts 6 describes the original creation of deacon ministry in the church. The apostles, so as to not neglect the preaching of the word and prayer, appointed deacons to meet physical needs of people. I am no apostle, true, but the same thing applies to elders or pastors, called in the Scriptures to lead and teach the flock. Flocks should grant pastors much time to labor over their sermons. And a key way they do this is by handling "hands-on" stuff so they can quit answering the phone and actually study.

We then discussed the following quotes (my additional thoughts in boldface):

“Someone may happily profess that God’s word is authoritative and that the Bible is inerrant. Yet if that person in practice (intentionally or not) does not preach expositionally, he denies his own claim.” We best display our commitment to inerrancy and the authority and sufficiency of Scripture by actually proclaiming Scripture.

“This should make sense as we think about every step of our Christian lives, from our initial call to repentance all the way to the Spirit’s most recent work of conviction. Has not every step of growth in grace occurred when we heard from God in ways we hadn’t heard from him before?” This is why pastors and congregations should be forced, through expositional preaching, to actually encounter new passages they haven't dealt with before.

“Expositional preaching presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture, but it is something more. A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God's Word.” We argue that when a preacher faithfully proclaims the word, the gathered church is actually hearing the word of God in power.

“As others have observed, expositional preaching is finally not so much about how we say what we say, but about how we decide what to say. It is not marked by a particular form, but by a Biblical content.” Expositional preaching can take different shapes. The key is the attitude. How do I get my sermon each week? From Kevin's head? Or from God's revelation?

“…many English Protestant Christians would have considered hearing God’s word in their own language and responding to it in their lives the essential part of their worship. Whether they had time to sing together would have been of comparatively little concern. Do we worship and then hear the preached word? NO! It's all worship!

In closing, consider these reasons I gave last night for why we should practice expositional preaching.

Why expositional preaching? • It moves the entire congregation under the authority of the Bible. • It allows the preached Word to cut through spiritual darkness and bring light, saving sinners. • It forces the pastor to grow and lead the people of God to growth. “The topical sermon begins with a particular matter that the preacher wants to preach about…” (39)… “the preacher knows what he wants to say and he is going into the Bible to see what he can find to say about it…” (40)… “In preparing my normal expositional sermon, I am often a bit surprised by the things I find in the passage as I study it…” (40)… ”The result is that the preacher and the congregation only hear in Scripture what they already thought when they came to the text…there’s nothing new being added to their understanding. They’re not continuing to be challenged by the Bible… (41)… Not preaching God’s Word expositionally will “hamper the growth of the church, in essence allowing it to grow only to the level of the pastor…” (42) • It forces the congregation to deal with difficult texts (Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Thess. 1:5-10). • It forces the church to rightly interpret texts in their context (Matthew 18:15-20). • It allows the Bible to shape the church, and not vice-versa. • It prevents the preaching of “hobby horses.” “When someone regularly preaches in a way that is not expositional, the sermons tend to be only on the topics that interest the preacher…” (41) • It brings glory to God and not the preacher. • It ensures that God ultimately is heard, not just a preacher. • It shows where the authority is ultimately found—God and His word, not the preacher. • It teaches believers how to study their Bibles. • It allows the body of Christ to hear from both testaments and all genres of Scripture. • It simplifies the process of choosing and preparing sermons. • It allows God to build His church in His way for His glory