Monday, October 15, 2007

Mark One

Our pastor is preaching through the book of Revelation right now and the sermon on Sunday covered Revelation 3:14-22, where Jesus addresses The Church at Laodicea.

Preaching through a book of the bible means that no verse is left uncovered. There are no divisive doctrines that are skipped, in order to avoid the all-too-often expressed fear of offending seekers. Because there is complete solace in the truth that God alone transforms lives and converts sinners we (the church) can rest assured that while we are accountable for preaching the truth we are not responsible for bringing others to salvation. Salvation belongs to God.

To preach expositionally and to place God's Word central in the church should be the first priority in any church. Mark Dever lists expository preaching as the first of 9 marks of a Healthy Church.

I want to say that I first heard the phrase, expository preaching, probably five or six years ago when we attended a different church than where we are now, and I required a layman's definition then....and then again....and one more time, please.

So often it was defined as, "the way a pastor preaches when they preach through the Word" or "when a pastor preaches verse by verse". While these definitions are not false, they do not bear the complete truth of what I have come to understand as expository teaching or preaching.

Dever uses the comparison of topical preaching versus expository preaching and I think this gives a clearer view of both. Rather than muddle up his words, I'll just quote him directly (and I will probably do this a few more times for good measure).

Topical preaching- "The topical sermon begins with a particular matter that the preacher wants to preach about. Having established the topic, the preacher then assembles various texts from various parts of the Bible and combines them with illustrative stories and anecdotes....The topical sermon is not built around one text of Scripture but around this one chosen theme or idea."

Expositional preaching-"Preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. That's it. The preacher opens the Word and unfolds it for the people of God. Expositional preaching is preaching in service to the Word.It presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture--that the Bible is actually God's Word; but it is something much more than that. A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God's Word--not just to affirm that it is god's Word but to actually submit yourself to it."

I found myself (5 years ago) saying, "Well, doesn't our preacher do that?" I mean, he was going through the book of Ephesians. Isn't that what was meant by preaching the Word or preaching verse by verse? The difference was that he had developed a topic before choosing what passage of scripture to support that topic.

Just because a sermon is topical doesn't mean that it cannot be expositional as well, but choosing the topic before choosing the Word would the make the sermon first and foremost...topical. Dever says, "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."

That part was the most confusing as we were in the process of leaving our old church and finding a new one. Certainly on any given Sunday and at any given church in our area, you would find a pastor who would use the bible in his sermon and sometimes even preach through the text, verse by verse. It was not until I actually heard expositionally preaching that I understood the complete difference.

Our current church, Grace Fellowship, spent 17 months in the Book of Romans. Our pastor preached verse by verse, sometimes covering only 2 or three verses per Sunday. Truly exposing the Word of God and never avoiding the difficult doctrines of grace that are almost always glazed over from the pulpit.

Certainly man would be hard pressed to find a topic to hold fast and firm to for 17 months if it were up him. Thankfully, God's Word does not ever come up short in the way of providing wisdom, clarity, conviction, and change.

So the good about expository preaching seems obvious, but why is topical preaching not the most biblical method for churches to adhere to? Because that method is a man-driven, culture-led, congregation-pleasing method. It feeds the hunger for what either the people want to hear or what the pastor wants to say. Either way, you have sinful man trying to decipher what God wants preached. It just doesn't make sense.

Dever says, "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....There's nothing new being added to their understanding....To charge someone with the spiritual oversight of a church who doesn't in practice show a commitment to hear and to teach God's Word is to hamper the growth of the church, in essence allowing it to grow only to the level of the pastor. The church will slowly be conformed to the pastor's mind rather than to God's mind. And what we want, what as Christians we crave, are God's words. We want to hear and know in our souls what He has said.

Now, with that said I think there are appropriate times for topical preaching and I am certain that our pastors have chosen topics for relevancy on at least a couple of occasions, but I can attest that it is the exception and not the norm.

If pastors all over this country begin to preach in an expository way, will their members head for the doors? Will their fears of "offending" be founded by a mass exodus of church attenders?


Not all those sitting in the pews or standing in the lofts or swaying in aisles have be justified by faith. Not all of those included in the head count have been converted and made alive in Christ. Their membership is really just that. Membership. But is it true communion with Holy God? A life that has been forever changed by the Lord of heaven & earth reaching down and reviving a dead heart?

If not, then certainly, God's Word... the sword of the spirit, could cause extreme discomfort in heart of the unredeemed and therefore result in offense. The scripture that I memorized for last week's catechism was from Hebrews 4:12...

"For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

The church at Lacodicea could serve as a very accurate reflection of the church in America today. Wealthy.... therefore healthy. Large in number and in status, therefore whatever pragmatic method in place must be the right one. Jesus had a few things to say about that church:

"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked....He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Revelation 3:15-17 & 22


Jenn said...

I would argue too that a topical sermon can and should also be expositional, 'exposing' the truth from God's Word. Even though a Pastor may start a sermon based on a topic, he can still expose the meaning in the same way he does when he is going verse-by-verse.

Jenn said...

I enjoyed reading this tonight. God has done some amazing things in the last 5 years. Are you going to talk about all 9 marks? I hope so. I am going to try and have Brian do more guest posts - because that will for sure be the only thought-provoking posts on my blog right now!!

Kim said...

I could not agree more! Our pastor is in Romans has been about 4 years and we are on Chapter 14. I agree with all you have stated and am so thankful for men who are gifted and committed to teaching the whole counsel of God week in and week out...Romans has been so rich.

Our pastor has done a few topical type had to do with church about godly wives and on Biblical marriages...for different occasions in our church.

I appreciated this post very much.

5honeybunns said...

That just explained it so perfectly. I can see the difference and the diffence is good. My kids will remember a sermon preached from Grace, where they only vaguely remembered anything from MPBC. That is God at work in their little hearts--no other explanation.

Tracy said...

Expository preaching...that is exactally what my dad does. He did Revelation and it took him, I can't remember but it was a LONG time and he did Genesis a few years ago. He has told me a lot of what you said in this post. Sometimes it can be really tough. You have to preach a verse, no skipping because the verse is tough or controversial.

When you pick a topic (which every once in a special occasion he will do this) you can pick what YOU want and the scripture YOU want and avoid anything YOU want.

Sometimes he does only get through a few verses, sometimes it is a bunch. Right now he is doing Philippians because he is teaching the book at the Bible Institute in Hungary in January. It is so encouraging.

I have heard people "discuss" this who do NOT like expository preaching. It is interesting to hear why they don't like it.

... And I agree with the last comment. I like that my kids are being taught scripture verse by verse (and by their grandpa!) when they are listening to the sermon.

Thanks for posting this.

Kelly said...

Thanks for sharing- it made it so much easier to understand:-)

Very insightful!

Christina said...

I thought you made a really good point about going through a book of the Bible and yet not preaching expositionally.

The church that we left last year started out as a solid Bible teaching church. One of the main reasons we went there initially was for the pastors thoughtful, expositional preaching. Then about 3 years ago, the sermons started coming with "themes".

The pastor preached through Colossians with a tag about community. They were pushing for everyone to get involved in community groups at the time and just about every message had some tie in to a community group and how beneficial it was for you or how to operate within one. I'm not slamming community groups, but I was bothered that we went through so fast and with such emphasis on community.

When we left, we told curious friends why- that the preaching had changed. (For awhile he had been preaching based off of books like 40 days of Purpose etc.) They said, "Pastor T. is teaching expostionally! He's going through a book of the Bible now." But there was another tag. Another agenda.

Thank you so much for pointing out why that is not expositional teaching! We are very blessed now to be going to a church where the Word is preached faithfully verse by verse.

kittyhox said...

I could never understand when I would read or hear people urging readers/listeners to find a minister who gives Bible-based or expsoitory sermons, etc. "Don't they all do that?" I wondered.

Now I get it!

And I'm happy to report that at our Presbyterian church, that's exactly what our Pastor does. Case in point? Genesis. For 17 months. A couple of weeks off here or there. But 95% Genesis. Verse by verse.

And I love it! Because I had questions when I read through Genesis and it would be pretty unlikely that those particular verses would be used in a topical sermon!

My parent's pastor is more topical and his sermons are very entertaining and interesting, but sometimes feel a little like self-help with a Bible verse tacked on for good measure. :)