Mark 1 – Expository Preaching – Part 1
What is a healthy church? What marks it out as being faithful to what God has commanded and established in His Word?
Well, the first mark, Expository Preaching, is this week’s topic. So, a few articles may be helpful to set the stage and to draw our attention to God’s clear call to “Preach the Word.” In this article, however, I want to take a snapshot of the kind of preaching that takes place in churches every Sunday. I hope that you will understand that I am only seeking to paint a picture of the reasons why God centered preaching is so needed. Listen to what Alistair Begg has said in his excellent little resource, Preaching for God’s Glory.
“Large sections of the church are oblivious to the fact that they are being administered a placebo rather than the medicine they need. They are satisfied with the feeling that it has done them some good, a feeling that disguises the seriousness of the situation. In the absence of bread the population grows accustomed to cake! Pulpits are for preachers. We build stages for performers.” pg. 11
So, what are these placebo’s?
- The Cheerleader – This particular pastor desperately wants to be liked and accepted. No matter the text of Scripture he is going to find some way to positively inspirational. As he reflects on his sermon he is more concerned as to whether people laughed a lot, were affirmed or went away more self-assured than when they arrived. His goal is not holiness, but wholeness.
- The Conjurer – This pastor has the great ability to get out of Scripture truths that others seemed to have neglected or simply have not seen. People often leave the service saying to themselves, “Wow, it is amazing what he got out of that text.” Sadly, this is not due to a careful exegesis, but a manipulation of the text to say exactly what he wants it to say.
- The Storyteller – He has been convinced that “since people won’t listen to preaching anymore, and since they will listen to a good story” that he should stop trying to preach and, in stead, develop his storytelling gifts so as to convey God’s truth. The subtlety here is that biblical preaching does include telling stories, but not to the neglect of careful and clear exegesis.
- The Entertainer – For this pastor, the preaching moment is a performance utilizing his varied gifts to impress the gathering that has been trained to sit back, relax and assess the effectiveness of his communication. “He was a good communicator” is the common anthem in such cases.
- The Systematizer – This man uses the text of Scripture as a regular springboard into his specific theological or doctrinal system. He speaks more to defend and define his system than to affect the hearts of his listeners.
- The Psychologist – This man can often have helpful and practical insights into life and how we live it, but he is usually not speaking with authority from the Word of God. He is often mixing secular psychology with Scripture and coming to unscriptural, yet plausible conclusions such as “Man’s greatest problem is not his sin, but his low self-esteem.”
- The Naked Preacher – This teacher has as his core value the need to be authentic and “bare all” because he believes that it is the only way, or the best way, to be relevant. His is the “real” deal, so to speak. He is hiding nothing. In taking this stance, however, he is neglecting to focus on God, His character and His glory. It doesn’t take long for people to know that we are sinners struggling our way through our Christian lives.
- The Politician – This man can find the USA and the Republican Party in many texts of Scripture. Depending on his culture he can be more concerned with the support of our president, the plight of minorities, standing up and marching for a particular agenda and our need to vote on proposition XYZ. There is always a place for fair and healthy discussion regarding our country’s politics, but too often this preacher has saturated his role and every text with this concern.
- The End Time Guru – This specialist can find Israel, Russia, Lebanon and Gorbachev under every rock and bush of every Bible verse. He is preoccupied with the “coming of the Lord” and is often quick to pounce on conspiracy theories. Again, we are called to live in light of His coming, but not to neglect the rest of Scripture as we wait. Neither are we called to force a passage to say something that it clearly isn’t.
- The Hobby Horse Rider – This man is stuck on one or two issues. No matter where he may be in a text of Scripture he will always find a way to get back to his favorite topic. In years past it has been things like KJV Onlyism, the evils of Rock-n-Roll, Y2K, etc.
Now, as I reflect on this list I am humbled to realize that I can so easily drift into one of these modes if I am not firmly and seriously committed to preaching the Word. As a pastor I have often been under great pressure to shift my stance to accommodate someone or a group of disgruntled people in the church, yet, I have had Paul’s words to Timothy firmly screaming in my ear….
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)
“Lord, help me to be that man!”
(Thanks Alistair Begg for your insights on this in Preaching for God’s Glory)