“Sermon: Expositional Preaching as a Mark of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. and author of Nine Marks of A Healthy Church. From: The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Volume 3, Summer, 1999. Available at http://www.sbts.edu/media/publications/sbjt/sbjt_1999summer6.pdf Accessed 07/20/2012
What makes a good church? Mark Dever begins this article by asking the question. There is certainly no shortage of scholarly answers, cultural assertions, and man on the street speculations. Nonetheless, it is a question that all Believer’s should ask, whether or not they are in a “good” church now or not. After all, even if we consider our church to be good, healthy, and relevant, there are always those who will venture in for a first experience, and retention is based on their feelings as well.
Dever answers his own question by telling the reader the most important mark of a health church is expositional preaching. The remaining article articulates his conclusions. Summarized, the idea is that while church growth strategist might make all sorts of suggestions, the bottom line is the respect of God’s Word among God’s people.
For Dever, honoring God through the Scriptures is paramount, and supplants many modern ideas on church grow, such as worship style, relevance or so-called “felt needs,” and such bane and trivial things as cleanliness of the women’s bathrooms. While all of these things are certainly important, they cannot be the most important issue in the life of the church, if the church is to be seen as “good” or as “healthy”.
Over the recent decades, the Worship Wars of style, format, and tolerability have caused many churches to decline, grow, split, or even fold. Worship is an important aspect, and one of Rick Warren’s five purposes of the church. Nevertheless, worship itself should flow from a proper understanding of God’s Word. As Dever points out, while a church that does not practice expositional preaching may have the marks of a healthy church, without the proper understanding of God’s Word, these might very well be accidental. Secure nurseries and sparkling bathrooms, contemporary worship, and wonderful service and fellowship can be a shell of mediocrity in the life changing aspect of the centrality of the Gospel message. In other words, do clean bathrooms change people for the eternal?
Dever delineates between expositional and topical sermons, including providing a well thought out definition for both. Topical preaching, for Dever is defined as a sermon that, “begins with a particular topic on which the preacher wants to preach and then assembles truth from various texts of the Bible.” The topical sermon can be expositional, but usually is not, characterized by Bible bouncing. Dever writes of his experiences with topical preaching. “I already knew what I wanted to say when I set out to prepare this sermon, as opposed to what is usually the case when I preach expositionally. In the latter instance I may be surprised by the message of the text.”
Expositional preaching is juxtaposed to topical preaching by Dever and he states that, “expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” In other words, the point of preaching is to find the point of the passage, then relate that to the modern church. By finding the nugget of truth in the passage itself, and not forcing of chipping away at the Bible passage to make it fit a topical point, we more faithful honor the Scripture as Authoritative for our personal lives and the life of the church. Ergo, expositional preaching is the mark of a healthy church.
Dever ends the article with another question: “So what is it that makes a really good church?” And He answers the question as a summation of the article; “(It is) more than the parking and pews and greeting and programs and nurseries and music, and even more than the preacher, it is what is preached—the Word
Dever’s article was right on target. The importance of these tertiary issues cannot be down played. Parents want to feel their children are safe. Mother’s want to have a sense of cleanliness in the church building (whether or not the bathroom should be the test is debatable) and things like parking and worship style are important to the membership and visitors. Ultimately; however, the bottom line is “why do we gather?” If not for the glory of God and the life changing message of the Gospel, then all is for naught anyway.