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  • Caleb Harrelson

Why expository preaching makes healthy churches

Updated: Dec 19, 2022




I believe expository preaching should be the regular diet of preaching in order for a church to be healthy. The 19th century Anglican bishop, J.C. Ryle, affirms this truth when he says that, "The preaching of the pure Word of God is the first mark of a healthy Church."


What is expository preaching? Below are a few definitions:


  • “Unfolding the text of Scripture in such a way that it makes contact with the listener’s world while exalting Christ and confronting them with the need for action.” Alistair Begg [1]

  • "Expository preaching is as old as the Torah. In Deuteronomy, Moses stands before the people of God and exposits the Word of God, explaining what God meant by what He had said to the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus’s ministry was expositional, always revealing the true meaning of the Old Testament. Other New Testament expositors include men like the martyr Stephen, who explained Israel’s redemptive history to a crowd of the nation’s hostile religious leaders, and the apostle Paul, who committed his letters to the exposition of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Since the Canon closed, men of God have devoted their lives to understanding and explaining all 66 books. Below are a few definitions of expository preaching from church history, as well as ten reasons why John MacArthur is committed to expository preaching." Dr. John Macarthur [2]

Further explanation:


The intended meaning of the Biblical text is what God wants his saints to know and understand. Thus, the main the point of the text should be the main meaning of your sermon.


The preacher should not start with his topic and then throw in a bunch of verses to support his point. Sure, an occasional topical sermon that pulls together the systematic teaching scripture on, for example, God fulfilling his promises, can both honor the intended meaning and beneficial. However, it should not be the main diet in the pulpit preaching. 2 Timothy 3:15-16 says ALL scripture is profitable for teaching, correcting and training in righteousness. Thus, why would any preacher try to improve on expositing and presenting the full counsel of God to the saints. To not tell people what God says and explain it to them is a failure to do your charged duty as a pastor of the church. Can you improve upon what God has prescribed to grow his church? Can you improve upon his perfect Word?


To the pastor....

  • You are not to be a life coach that happens to use scriptures in your message.

  • You are not there to give self help messages with scriptures sprinkled throughout.

  • You are not present Christ as merely a Savior from our sadness or lack of success in life.

  • You are not to preach a message about scripture that takes it out of context.

  • You are not to exalt your own charismatic ideas on how to grow a church or teach the Word.

  • You are not to focus on what the "goats" want in a church service and sermon.


The church pastor is to....


  • Preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2)..not your thoughts or ideas for church growth or how to draw a crowd. Preach the word

  • Preach the whole truth of what God has said and not your ideas, whether or not the goats or hardened believer want to hear it. (Jeremiah 23; Acts 20:27).

  • Point your congregation to the Biblical text and encourage an environment that leads to their Bibles being open during the service and where they can read. I don't recommend having the lights so dim that your congregation can't follow your sermon along with their Bibles open.

The power in a church service is not in a certain mood created through the worship environment, but in the power of the Spirit working through the proclamation of the Word. [3]

You want the congregation to develop a love for opening and analyzing the text of scripture with you and not a dependence upon your ingenuity on how you incorporate scripture into YOUR messages. It's not your message to mess with, you are called to be a faithful heralder and ambassador of God's message. Faithfully proclaim GOD'S message and leave the results up to Him. (Ezra 7:10; Nehemiah 8:1-18; Galatians 1:11-24)

  • Exalt Christ in your message and show how all of scripture directly or indirectly points to Him and our need for him (John 5:39-34; Luke 24:44)

  • He must teach Christ as a Savior from sin and the wrath of God against rebellious sinners to a holy God (Isaiah 6: 1 John 2:2). A christ that just offers our "best life now" or general hope or "a good example", is not the Biblical savior. We need to be have our sin atoned for. Jesus isn't just there for those that have a "felt need" for him (i.e. "come to jesus just to get happy or feel fulfilled). Whether or not others "feel" like they need him, all people are guilty before God and the reality is they stand condemned before him (John 3:18; Romans 3:23).


As MacArthur has said recently, "soft teaching makes hard hearts but hard preaching makes soft hearts."


Why is this?


The pure Word of God is sufficient to correct, rebuke and train the believer for righteousness. If your preacher rejects expository preaching he is essentially saying (though he may not openly admit it) that "God's undiluted Word is not sufficient to grow the church...it needs my help."


Building a church around what the unbeliever wants or feels comfortable with will inevitable lead to compromise and watering down the message. Just be faithful and Christ will build his church.


Preach the word, make disciples and give up gimmicks.


But one may say, "these non expository lessons have been helpful to me..so what's the problem?"


Well, for one, pragmatism can't be the ultimate standard of what is right. Of course a message can still be helpful if scripture is mentioned, explained or applied. The issue is not merely "does this message help me some?" But rather "what is faithful to God and honors him and thus makes a healthy believer and church?"


Again, I think that occasional topical lessons can be good and helpful at times. I'm not against that....occasionally. However, I DO believe that the REGULAR diet of the church should be expository preaching. Through expository preaching, the church is the healthiest because they learn to personally read and understand the text and how to clearly apply God's word in response to what they have read.


Furthermore, if a church just looks like a family friendly social club with a few scriptures sprinkled in, then it can easily become driven more by the desire to make the social club members happy "customers" instead of exposing them to hard truths in Scripture....cause that may drive them away. Plus, what happens when another community makes someone "feel" more welcome and accepted? If you communicate that the most important thing is that one feels comfortable instead of challenged to repent, trust in Christ and pursue holiness, it's easy for unbelievers and immature believers to miss the point of what is supposed to happen at church. They will fail to see the full distinct nature of the church, which is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15) and they can begin to think the church is mainly about them and what they want.


(Yes, we should try to make people feel welcome that attend...please don't straw man my point. Being kind to others is a fruit of the Spirit, but centering church around what unbelievers want is what I'm talking about and that's unbiblical.)


Train men and women to know the word, defend the Word and invest in others through disciple making. We don't have to come up with super creative ways to build a healthy church, we just need to be faithful to what God's Word says we should do: preach the word, practice church discipline, make disciples, train and equip the church in Biblical apologetics, go evangelization lost and live all of the life before the face of God.

(No I'm not against occasional special events at a church, but I do not think that should be the main strategy for evangelism. Believers should be equipped to go ENGAGE with the lost outside of the church)


Doing this doesn't always look glamorous by the "attractional church model" standards but keep in mind they are a mile wide and an inch deep. Go deep and it will bear fruit in God's timing. This leads to a church built around the Word of God and not spectacular events or a charismatic topical preacher. It's about God's Word shaping His people.


Pastors, I urge you to simply trust the word and the Spirit to do the work (2 Timothy 3:15-15; Isaiah 55:11; John12:32: 16:8). His Word is sufficient.


 

[1] Alistair Begg, Preaching for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 23.


[2] MacArthur, John, https://macarthurcenter.org/about/expository-preaching/, accessed December 18th, 2022.


[3] See this article by David De Bruyn for more on how a Pentecostal approach to worship in many evangelical churches led to a minimizing of the power and suifficiency of the Word of God: https://g3min.org/strange-lyre-a-radical-departure-from-historic-worship/?fbclid=IwAR1XydMbisy0zHFEgzDFuhvv9clSV3vwezSauSDc2mWiJV1hYNiCJqEUuZg


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