The Necessity of Expositional Preaching

Christianity in America is now, quite famously, in decline. As a burgeoning church historian, I’m alarmed by the erosion of certain staples of the Christian Church. One of the great hallmarks of the historical Church has been a relentless commitment to expositional preaching–that is preaching that seeks to explain and expound on the meaning of Scripture. The marriage of the Church to consumerism, has lead to many American pastors forfeiting a commitment to expositional preaching in favor of things irredeemably different that they suppose will be more readily received and agreeable to the people of their communities. In defense of the historical Church’s commitment to expositional preaching, I hereafter consider the severe consequences that come as a result of non-expositional preaching.

Non-Expositional Preaching Usurps the Authority of God:

If a pastor has come to his congregation, preached, and failed to explain a particular text of Scripture, then Scripture has been replaced by whatever else has just taken place. The question of whether pastors should be committed to preaching expositionally is a question of authority. Who has a right to address the people of God? Who has a right to tell people how they ought to live? The answer, of course, is only God. Pastors must consider whether their congregation would be more benefited by hearing from themselves, or from God. And to those who are called to be pastors, the truth that only God has the authority to speak to the Church is good news! This means that giftedness, communication skills, and education do not determine the qualifications of a pastor. A pastor’s authority can not be earned or worked for, because there is no such authority. All authority in the Church is God’s authority, exercised through pastors, but only when their hearts and minds are one with God, and when they act authoritatively on the basis of a proper understanding of Scripture.

Non-Expositional Preaching Undermines the Lordship of Christ:

The question here is not very different from that of the previous point. Who is the head of the Church? The one through whom we as Christian are united, the one who has accomplished salvation for us. Christ is the head of the Church. In Colossians Paul writes:

“He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.  He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything.”

Who should address the Church except for her head? The point again is that headship and authority does not reside in any human being. Authority is all God’s, lordship is all Christ’s. The one who has authority is the only one who can speak to the Church. It has become popular, not least because of the rise and acceptance of Charismatics into orthodoxy, for preachers to say things like, “are you listening for the voice of God?” The incredible thing being that God already has spoken, and what remains is for pastors to faithfully commit themselves to preaching these words to the people God has entrusted to them.

Non-Expositional Preaching Squelches the Work of the Spirit:

This is perhaps where the point is seen most clearly. Consumerism has convinced some pastors that what they need to grow their church is enthusiasm, emotional stimulation, lot’s of humor, lot’s of personal relatable stories, etc. Dry sermon series through books of the Bible and detailed exegetical presentations of Scripture will drive people away. There are many problems with the “seeker-sensitive” movement as it has been called, but perhaps the most crucial is the error in foundation. Scripture is clear: no person has ever or will ever seek Christ. Paul writes in Ephesians:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens,the spirit now working in the disobedient.We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us,  made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!”

So it is not that men are seeking, but God. This shatters the ornate construct of so many seeker friendly mega churches. Dead people do not seek life, they have to be raised to it by the only one who can give it. We believe that this life cannot be earned, it is given freely by grace–through faith. How does a person come to faith? Paul answers in Romans:

But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message?So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.

Perhaps the most ironic and deeply tragic part in all of this is that the people who claim to have the highest priority of bringing people in and making them Christians have lost sight of the crucial work of the Spirit through preaching–faith that comes by hearing the Word. To be truly seeker-sensitive then, demands an unhampered commitment to preaching the word–the declared vehicle through which the Spirit brings faith. Don’t try and stimulate people, or emotionalize them to bring about “decisions for Christ.” Don’t minimize the Word of God in your preaching by crowding a sermon with anecdotal stories, or application, or illustrations. The job of the preacher is to explain God’s word; the Spirit will do the application. Paul never once uses extra-biblical illustrations in his sermon-letters. Any time he is looking to communicate a spiritual truth, he does so by echoing a text from the Old Testament, the Scripture that he knew. If it’s good enough for the Apostle Paul to only do cross referencing illustrations, it should be good enough for us. Every preacher should strive to preach like Paul, and herein lies another important point: we should not just be committed to expositional preaching, we should be committed to expositional preaching that finds and glorifies Christ–as he is the topic of every text. Paul encourages the church in Corinth saying:

“For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

This sounds so like the leaders of seeker-friendly topical-sermon churches today. “These people don’t want all this theology and scripture yet, they want more practical stuff that will improve their lives, help them raise their kids, and do well at work. Preaching expositionally through scripture will be over their heads.” Indeed! Foolishness to the person who is dead in sins, but how will they be risen to life apart from the faith that comes only through hearing the Word? Let us be determined to get out of the Spirit’s way in bringing faith and sanctification. No amount of human cleverness, or humor, or application, or “down to earth” devotional homiletic, or “what this text means to me” nonsense will ever give life to a dead person.

Non-Expositional Preaching is Pride:

Ask a topical preacher that spends the least amount of their sermon preparation doing thorough, Christ-glorifying exegesis, what they think about Scripture. They may tell you that it is free from error, the supreme authority for godly living. However, their actions and the shape of their sermon speaks differently. Whatever they think about Scripture, they must think more of themselves. To spend more time being funny, telling personal stories or giving advice in a sermon than you do on explaining the meaning of a given part of God’s word is to value your own intellect and experiences over God’s word. Any preacher that is not wholly committed to explaining the meaning of a text is more concerned with self-glorification and popularity than they are with God’s authority. You will not give sight to a blind person. But if you will only speak God’s speech, you have a far greater power. Your finite mind and experiences can’t give answers or healing to a world completely corrupted by sin’s curse. But God has answered the curse, and is bringing healing to the world by his son, and through his people who speak his truth. So speak truth!

Conclusion:

Worldly preachers seek approval and success by the world’s standards. Popularity, fame, and the number of people in your church are not the validation of ministry. Are the people God has given you changing and becoming more like Christ? Do the people in your church love one another? Are the people in your church burdened to share Christ with their neighbors? It’s an incredibly perilous thing for the preacher to spend time preparing to address God’s people by doing anything other than studying the meaning of what God has said. What did this passage mean to the original audience? What is the heart of God in this text? It’s a form of high-imperialism to think that we should make God’s word fit our culture when we’re preaching. Yes the Bible is for us, but it was not written to us. The task of the preacher (and scholar) is to place this Scripture back into its original context, guiding contemporary readers to hear as Jews, or Greeks, or Romans. Case in point, why did God through Mark include the story about the healing of the paralyzed man in chapter two of Mark’s gospel? I heard it preached recently that the point of this text was that we need to “get in the game” and be like those men, “they weren’t passive, they were in the game!” The heroes of Mark chapter two are, apparently, these anonymous men who aren’t even named and who are given three verses. A tragically stupid presentation of the text. They are not the stars of the play, or act, or even the scene! This message was preached without much reference to Christ, let alone his authority to heal, his claim to be the Son of God (particularly important to Mark’s Roman audience), or his forgiveness of sins. The Gospel was screened out of this sermon, and the people there that night left, emotionally charged to “get in the game.” To this day I mourn for the time that was wasted on that night by that preacher. Martyn Lloyd Jones describes a preacher in his book on the subject like this:

“You are a man ‘possessed’, you are taken hold of, and taken up. I put it like this–and I know of nothing on the Earth that is comparable to this feeling–that when this happens you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching, you are looking on.”

Preacher, my prayer is that God will speak through you as you commit yourself to saying what he has said.

Grace and Peace,

Austin Holmes

Homosexuality: The Evangelical Divide

“Homosexuality is God giving definite illustration and imagery to man’s idolization and worship of himself.” -John Piper

Homosexuality has been catapulted to the forefront of moral indignation in America, largely due to the fact that several states now recognize gay marriages as legitimate. Opinions have been formed and the lines have been drawn in the dirt. As the tumbleweed starts its roll through our battlefield and the old western duel tunes cue, I would like to establish this issue in a gospel centered way, and then argue, in what I believe to be a biblical way, what homosexuality is, and how we ought to respond to it. It is unfortunate in my view that so many in the Evangelical community, which I consider myself to be a part of, have formed opinions that cause them to be bigoted or hateful towards homosexuals. This particular post, and several essays I’ve written on the subject, are most often times prompted in response to questions and statements of and by the people in my life, like classmates and family members. I will labor to be clear and concise in presenting my own opinion and evidence for my argument, but would warn that this issue, regardless of what you’ve been taught or persuaded to believe, is not as cut and dry as some with opinions like to say it is. Especially not for the Christian, who must seek to form an opinion and respond in a way that is pleasing to God, consistent with His character and word. I would encourage you to read all the way through to the end.

Firstly, and critical to this discussion, it must be asserted that homosexuality is sin, and the Bible is clear about this. Anything contrary to God’s plan, has always been sin, and the covenant of marriage is explicitly reserved for a man and woman. I Corinthians 6:9 counts homosexuals among those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, so to be clear, I will not be arguing from the secular position that homosexuality is morally correct, or acceptable, or heterosexuality’s equivalent. It’s very discouraging that some claiming to be in Christ’s church have conformed to this view. I begin with this though, because I believe a proper understanding of sin and recognition of it is the foundation that every Christian requires to form an opinion on this matter.

In Reformed Theology we would consider man’s condition, upon the moment of conception, to be totally depraved. The doctrine of Total Depravity speaks to every aspect of man as being fallen. There is no neutrality when it comes to man’s ability to make decisions, he is incapable of committing anything other than sin, and most critically, he is cut off from He who made him in His image. We would also believe that man is unable to change anything about this condition, without the intervention and regenerating work of God. Without God bringing man to faith in Himself, he is unable to recognize his sin and fallen condition. What needs to be realized here, for this discussion, is that in light of the fall, in light of depravity inherited by all mankind, there is no part of ourselves and all of creation that isn’t susceptible to sin’s curse. It seems foolish then, to conceive that genetics, biology, and neuroscience get some sort of “out” and cannot contract the malicious effects of depravity. Hence, I think its clear that because the “total” of total depravity as taught in the Bible, speaks to depravity as affecting every part of creation, including all parts of man, that genetics, biology, and neuroscience can, and indeed often times are affected. This brings us to what may be the most divisive part of the debate. The question, is homosexuality a choice or not? Proponents of the genetic, biological, and neurological basis for homosexuality will argue no.  Many in the evangelical community will argue yes, it is merely a sinful lifestyle choice. In light of what we’ve just seen, that is depravity’s relationship to the three mentioned sciences, it does seem as if both arguments are plausible, and indeed may both be true.

If homosexuality is only a choice, and a willful abandonment of natural tendencies, as some argue passages in Romans suggest, then it is sin. If homosexuality is in some cases, not a choice, and a person is predisposed to homosexual desires and tendencies due to genetic, biological, or neurological conditions, that is they are “born gay”, it is sin. I believe that in many cases those on both sides of this discussion are correct in different instances. It must be agreed that some make a very clear choice, independent of a predisposition, to pursue homosexuality. And others, because of a predisposition, also pursue homosexuality. Both instances are perceived as sin by God, because both are the result of man’s depravity, and find their foundation in man’s idolatrous rebellion against holiness in the Garden of Eden. So although I would believe that a homosexual, in most cases, is a person that is predisposed to this sin, no different than someone is born predisposed to anger or alcoholism, I can also assert that this has no grounds to change the way God and His people should view it as wicked.(In my view homosexuality is a much deeper issue than the pursuit of homosexual acts, however. I do not want to reduce it any further than it should be.) Furthermore, in discussing whether or not its a choice. Let me invite you, to ask yourself if you make a conscious choice in your cerebral net-workings to be attracted to those you’re attracted to, or if something more independent of your will is at work? Are the features you find desirable in a spouse because you have chosen them to be so, or are you predisposed to liking these things? Do you make a conscious effort to lust, or become angry, or have pride? Or do these sins come about as a result of your condition as a fallen human being?

This suggests something interesting though. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on,(and as I’ve claimed, I believe both are correct in different instances) you believe the basis for homosexuality to be man’s condition. On the one hand, modern evangelicals, for the most part, believe it to be a choice. This choice is made because man is wicked, and this condition is what enables him to make this choice. On the other hand, some believe it to be a result of depraved genetics, biology, etc., but this also speaks to a condition. It seems that the fundamental question is how far does depravity deprave? And what, if anything, is off limits?

However you “choose” to answer those questions is irrelevant to how we as redeemed members of Christ’s church should treat homosexuals, and any who are struggling with sin. It is our duty to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ, recognizing that it is the power of God, and no matter the circumstances, can change lives. Regardless of the sin, or its habitualness, God’s work to redeem His children cannot be thwarted, and it is our highest privilege and calling as men and women of God, to spread the redeeming news of His son to the world. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “all scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” I would encourage all of you to remember this, and with the love of Christ, go forth in peace, prepared to be a testimony and encouragement to all.

In closing, so that I may be abundantly clear: I believe that a homosexual orientation is a result of the fall of humanity into a sinful condition which pervades every person. Whatever genetic, biological or neurological roots of homosexuality may be, or already have been discovered, I do not believe that these would sanction or appropriate homosexual behavior, though it would deepen my compassion and patience for those who are struggling to be free from sexual temptations.

*Be sure to comment on this post, or email A.J. at reformedcal1517@yahoo.com