(This is the third post in a series concerning what principles we can learn about rebuilding the church in America as seen through the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).
“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. . . . They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” -Nehemiah 8.1-3, 8
It is my conviction that first and foremost, if the church is to be rebuilt among us, the primary concern for our people should be strong, expository, biblical preaching. And I mean that exactly as I said it, it should be the primary concern for our people. So many of us are want to put the onus for biblical teaching on the preacher and “his style,” but what is really needed is a culture which commands a faithful, thorough handling of the Word of God. As we see in Nehemiah 8, it was the people who “told Ezra . . . to bring the Book of the Law of Moses” to teach from. And moreover, it was the people who sat for 4 hours and listened as Ezra exposited from the text. The people desired strong preaching and they called forth a leader who would give it to them. We must share this desire if we are going to make a difference.
But, you may ask, Why is this type of preaching, namely exposition, so important? Well, as a first authority on this I want to refer you guys to Al Mohler’s new book He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. Most of my understanding of the importance of expository preaching has its roots in what Dr. Mohler has taught and so I will defer to him as a superior authority on the topic. However, I will give an argument for why I believe this way.
Expository preaching, as defined in Dr. Mohler’s text, is
” . . . that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other issues and concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text.” (p.65)
In other words, expository preaching is preaching which starts with God’s Word and radiates out to everything else. By preaching in an expository manner the preacher is bound solely to what the Bible says. This is important, though a seemingly trivial requisite until one observes that most congregations in America treat the Bible as only one among a number of central texts, of which may include other religious tomes, man-made religious studies, or even popular fiction (such as the case with The Shack). The people need to be crying out to hear what God has to say about himself and not what things William P. Young has to say about God (or “Papa” as he calls her, eek!). If we aren’t getting God’s Word first from the pages of Scripture then chances are, given the proportion of wackos to devout teachers, we are getting it with a lot of man-made philosophy attached.
This also makes a difference because if one is bound to the text then they are bound to whatever situations it may bring up. And since I do not know of a book in the Bible which is made up of just four chapters on how to avoid road rage (for real, I sat through a sermon on this once) then we will be forced to face theological questions and commandments which may not necessarily appeal to our laissez-faire desires for spirituality. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of applications to be found in the Bible, but those should be a secondary concern of ours to the raw message of Scripture as we encounter it. This is the role of the radiating out. We start with the text and what they show us and then, once we have addressed what God is saying, we begin to search for applications of it to our lives. Unfortunately, there are too many people, including preachers, who have their own ideal of a God they would be willing to serve, and thus only thumb through the Bible looking for passages which they can bend to justify their desires. Correcting ourselves to a right position of Scripture in our views will make a visible change in how we worship.
A third wonderful consequence of expository preaching is that when you take what comes without running it through the filter of seeker-sensitivity you are put in a place where many false teachings of Scripture are confronted. This is what I believe the Spirit meant through Paul when he wrote Titus 1.9 speaking of pastors, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” As is even visible on the comment board here (see comments on “I Choose Hell- CS Lewis and God’s Role in Condemning”), people can construct almost any argument they want using out-of-context Scripture. But when keep within the lines of the larger, coherent message, these heresies and misconstruals are more readily shown in the light for what they really are.
If we want to see the city of God rebuilt and the church to regain its influence and reputation in the culture, we must begin at the level of desiring solid biblical teaching and preaching. As 2 Timothy 3.16 says, the whole Bible is “profitable” to us, and as such we should not neglect any of it.