Friday, March 21, 2008

Preaching The Word Or Mere Application?

This will be the last of the "distinctions" articles I've been on for a while, but I think it provides a good transition to some discussions about expository preaching which I would like to get into next.

It is possible to not be preaching an exposition of the biblical text, but instead be preaching your exegesis of the text. Thus, a very cognitive, fact-oriented presentation of what is in the text may be given (assuming you got your exegesis right), but not with much power or vital spiritual/conceptual insight. Sometimes this has even degenerated into the preaching of old college/seminary classroom notes. Such a preacher may truly be working very hard and being very faithful to the text of Scripture, but seeing little progress in terms of growth into Christlikeness in the lives of his listeners.

Reacting, perhaps, to the above "dry as dust" kind of preaching, others can tend to go rather far the other direction. Some do not even do any exegesis of the biblical text in preparation for their messages. Maybe they only use a text that they feel says what they want to say to their church. Maybe they get their messages from some other source, like downloading them from their favorite big-name impersonal mentor's website, or from a homiletical lectionary, or book of sermons. Maybe they don't even crack a Bible in their church at all. Maybe they resort to "skyscraper sermons", one story after another. At worst, these may not be preaching the Bible in any real sense at all, and at best they are merely preaching applications (whether legitimate or illegitimate) of the Bible, either of their own choosing or from borrowing.

I'm not about to propose a middle-ground approach, but rather suggest that true expository preaching is a 3rd way, or different way, from the two scenarios I have described above.

Expository preaching is not a lecture about your exegesis of the text. Neither is expository preaching a lack of exegesis that just relates application and stories without serious attention to the text. Expository preaching is the proclamation of the results of your biblical exegesis done in a way that exposes the listener to the accurate meaning of the text in context, and is the proclamation of the results of humble, Holy Spirit controlled meditation that has already produced the results of faith and obedience to the text in the life/application of the preacher.

Study and prayer should not be separated. Exegesis and application should not be separated. Preaching and obedience should not be separated. Doctrine and concept should not be separated. Biblical accuracy and loving, compassionate, bold, warmhearted spiritual fervency should not be separated. Expository preaching is biblical truth set on fire by the Spirit through the lips of a godly man. Those who think they do not like expository preaching have probably never really heard any. Expository preaching is truth, love, beauty, power, holiness, grace, salvation, conviction, wonder, and praise all flowing as one stream out of the heart of a Christ-enthralled man. If you know Christ, what is there to not like about that?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Grace and Church Discipline

As I listen to pastors and church leaders, I hear (or don't hear) a few things that continue to concern me deeply in relation to the topic of church discipline. Things like, "I always want to err on the side of grace." Well who doesn't? But what does this mean? Or, "We don't do church discipline because only legalistic churches do this." Or, "What do I do about this problem situation (often a person sinning) that is dividing my church?" - when actually church discipline would stop the problem. Or, more commonly I just hear nothing on the topic. I guess discipline has been replaced by people-pleasing.

On the other side, I am also concerned about some who seem to "discover" church discipline, and end up becoming so narrow that suddenly a huge group of people in the church are put under discipline without appropriate biblical instruction. If discipline has been neglected in a church ( and in many cases it has been), careful instruction and patience must be given in implementing biblical teaching on discipline. Sometimes, rather than rushing to discipline, a pastor may need to realize he has inherited a flock of goats instead of a flock of sheep. The answer to this will be the consistent preaching of the Gospel through expository preaching before one starts the disciplinary process. The Word of God and the Spirit of God will sort out the goats until you can see what you are truly dealing with.

The Brethren movement has as its main historic distinctive the loving exercise of church discipline. As I have stated in Childlike Faith (p.30; <>), "page after page in (Alexander) Mack's writing, and in writings over the the next century and more after him, make allusions to Matthew chapter 18 as the description of Jesus' teaching concerning living in spiritual community with mutual accountability to one another in church discipline." The establishment of "mutual accountability" will need to precede the implementation of a formal or official disciplinary process.

A book that was helpful to me years ago was Disciplined by Grace by J.R. Strombeck (Strombeck Agency, 2nd ed. 1947). Even the title should suggest that grace and discipline go together. We are not operating in grace when we overlook or even give tacit approval of ongoing sin in the life of a professed brother/sister in Christ by our unloving silence. Neither are we operating in grace when we become harsh, legalistic, or self-serving (i.e. "win-lose" attitudes instead of "win-win").

Quite often disciplinary experiences do not end up the way we desire. Our desire is for forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus predicted that sometimes the final step will be to "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt.18:17). Even then the door should be left open for future forgiveness (Matt.18:21ff.). But we must not allow the realities that church discipline can be difficult, is sometimes very uncomfortable, and often does not end up as we desire, to prevent us from doing it the way Jesus taught us. What is at stake if we do not? - marriages, families, personal testimonies, evangelism, truth, the church herself.

Of course we must do this in grace and love. But in these days of apostasy and pseudo-tolerance, the greater danger is that we may not be doing it at all.