9 Marks of a Health Church: #1, Expositional Preaching
God's Word is the word we need to hear today. We live in a strange day, when even Christians who claim to be born again and churches that claim to be evangelical ignore God's Word.
-Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (p. 54)
Four years ago I blogged through Mark Dever's book. I've decided to revisit those posts. The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching.
Why expositional preaching rather than topical? An expositional sermon is focused upon the Word, whereas - as you might have guessed - a topical sermon is centered upon the topic itself. A topical sermon might be replete with Scripture, but there is an inherent danger of misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture if a verse or a passage is taken out of its context merely to support the preacher's sermon. I have found that topical preaching encourages me to place myself in the passage, to make the Word of God about me and my problems. My friend Persis has written about why this practice is unwise and reckless.
Expositional preaching, on the other hand, doesn't pull Scripture out of context; it assumes that there is value in each word of the Bible. A preacher committed to preaching expositionally will grow along with his congregation because he doesn't skip over hard-to-tackle passages. He studies the Scripture to find its point rather than to make his own. A pastor and dear friend once said that if something appears in Scripture, it's there for a reason; he wants to help his congregation understand the importance of its inclusion. How wonderful!
Expositional preaching is predicated upon the belief that the congregation should hear the Word of God in its entirety and is capable of understanding it. In The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash writes
...from the seventh century to the twelfth century there was a movement that said that ordinary people could not understand preaching, so the best way to communicate with them was by statues, stained-glass windows and pictures. But, as the Reformers discovered, it failed. '(I)t produced people who knew the gospel stories, but did not know the gospel; people who knew what had happened, but who did not know the meaning of it.' (page 29)
Topical preaching runs this risk.To quote Dever,
A preacher should have his mind increasingly shaped by Scripture. He shouldn't just use Scripture as an excuse for what he already knows he wants to say. When that happens, when someone regularly preaches in a way that is not expositional, the sermons tend to be only on the topics that interest the preacher. 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. (p. 41)
Preachers and congregations with a steady diet of topical preaching may unwittingly limit themselves to certain stories that seem easy to understand, and never fully grasp the overarching themes of Scripture and the place each story has within those themes. Worst of all, they might never gain a true understanding of God or the gospel.
Expositional preaching is the first mark of a healthy church; the one that all others spring from. It is vitally important that a church preach the whole counsel of God in order for it to be healthy.