I remember growing-up in a good Baptist church. The church building was small, but we had a good pastor and faithful members who had a heart for our community. Our church grew and we purchased a building from the Lutheran church in town. They had built a building their ministry couldn’t afford. (Sounds like many of our Baptist churches today, huh?) In those days many great fundamental preachers stood behind our pulpit and preached the Word of God convincingly (with conviction and passion), courageously (with power from the Holy Spirit), and carefully (with proper use of hermeneutics-interpreting rightly). They were great expositors of God’s Word. There can be no greater education for the Christian than that given through the consistent teaching and preaching ministry of the local church. I thank the Lord for that small church and the many good men God allowed to add not only to my knowledge of His Word, but more importantly, to change my life through His Word. I’ve not mentioned any of the names of those great fundamental preachers for a reason. Their names alone are unimportant. How God used them through the method of their exposition of God’s Word, however, is most important. Many of those preachers have since taken their homes in Glory, but I often wonder if they were to return to our churches today, how would they assess the preaching style and substance in our pulpits? Would they appreciate the carnival atmosphere in some of our churches? Would they appreciate the dog-and-pony shows behind the pulpits in some churches? Would they appreciate the read-a-verse-and-have-a-fit style of the more veneer in our midst? I would venture to guess they would react as many Christians have in saying, ‘Give us a little more exposition and a little less exhibition!’
I listen to a radio station in my area which carries the Fundamental Broadcasting Network. I find their programming of music and messages to be a genuine source of blessing. One evening after work I heard Dr. Ron Comfort preaching his message on ‘Imitators.’ I have heard this message a few times, but one illustration caught my attention. When I arrived home that night, I spoke with Dr. Comfort about his message. The illustration dealt with the shift in Christian broadcasting from preaching ministries to teaching and entertaining. I concurred with his thoughts, and since I have a marked interest in Christian communications, I took his thoughts to heart. He explained that teaching speaks to the intellect and preaching speaks to the spirit. The spirit is the center of man’s communicative link to God. He said further that preaching God’s Word brings about conviction and change. I agree.
Certainly the role of a pastor, missionary or evangelist is multifaceted. Each must be a teacher and a preacher. He must effectively perform each to help Christians grow. Teaching gives man the knowledge, but preaching brings conviction to cause the Christian to implement that knowledge. Many sermons today are delivered in such excited fashion with great energy but little or no power. The power of exposition of God’s Word becomes lost in the excitement of the exhibition. Preachers seem more concerned with their delivery than the substance of their messages. Further many messages today are little more than teaching. How will people be convicted of sin without preaching? You see, the exhibitionist finds teaching more conducive, and the expositor finds preaching more conducive. Some may say, ‘I’ve heard exposition, and its boring!’ To that I say, that statement says more about the lack of maturity in our churches than the failure of exposition to hold the ears of the masses.
A pastor friend of mine, James Bouslog, said once, ‘People come to church and want to be comfortable with sin and not convicted of sin.’ Here the exhibitionist can energize the masses with great showmanship while allowing his people their comfort but do little convincing. Exposition is convincing in that it passionately convicts people of their sin and produces changed lives.
In our Christian circles we’ve grown accustomed to measuring results by reducing them to statistics. We hear that this church has this many members, this school has this many students, or this church baptized 1,000 this year. Our method of assessment is wholly faulty in determining the external results and not the internal results. As God told Samuel that he could see into the soul of man, we too need to judge the externals of man’s religion by applying God’s Word as a sieve to remove the chaff. Exposition preaching, when used in the power of the Holy Spirit, always separates the wheat from the chaff because the man of God relies on the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit to work in men’s hearts. These statistics cannot be found in the church bulletin, found in the school’s collateral pieces, nor found in chit-chat at the annual association fellowship dinners.
My home church hears some of the finest preachers from all over the world, and at every invocation our pastor prays that the man of God may received power from the Holy Spirit to preach. An exhibitionist, on the other hand, will need little help. His well planned show-sermon leaves little room for the working of the power of the Holy Spirit. Expositional preaching simply unleashes the dividing asunder of man’s soul and spirit by imparting the Word. Total control of the message has been given to the Holy Spirit power to work.
There’s the story of an individual who attended a conference and heard a well-known midwestern preacher speak. He relates how the preacher ‘tore the pulpit apart,’ yelled at the top of his lungs, and threw things on and off the stage. When this young man was asked what the sermon was about, he couldn’t recall the main outline, much less the topic. We have all heard at least one exhibition of read-a-verse-and- have-a-fit sermon. (I kindly use the word ‘sermon.’) The preacher was excited, the people were excited, emotions were high, many made decisions that lasted ’till the exit sign, but few made spiritual decisions that caused change in their life’s direction. Why? Because the sermon was famined of power. Expositional preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit yields a bountiful feast for the believer and non-believer to partake. I enjoy very much sermons that leave my mind swimming in God’s Word. My pastor’s sermons always include much scripture and follow and expositional outline. There can be little wonder why his exposition of the Scriptures has yielded so many good works. When one thinks of the ‘prince of preachers,’ Charles Spurgeon and the great power of his expositional preaching, one comes away understanding the lasting results and approval when one uses God’s method.
Finally, those who by calling or choice must open the Scriptures interpreting them rightly with God’s guidance from the Holy Spirit. Too often we find that the Scriptures do not fit well with the mode of showmanship. Everyone has heard of the one preparing for a sermon saying, ‘If I can only find some Scripture to go with my sermon, it’ll be a ‘good one.” Exhibitionists concern themselves more with the presentation than the substance of their message. ‘If I say this, I know that’ll get applause or at least a hearty Amen.’ Because of this faulty preaching method our churches have become little more than animations.
The expositor confines his message to the Word which leaves little room for his personal interpretation or lack of interpretation. He delves into every crevasse of the passage finding nearly every ‘golden nugget’ the Scriptures yield to the studious. When Paul spoke of the ‘spiritual man’ in the New Testament, he referred to someone who not only read the Scriptures and lived by them, but he also meant one who studied and understood the Scriptures. I believe that most all expositors are spiritual men since their goal is only to impart the truth which the Holy Spirit has revealed.
I believe the time-honored, God-honoring tradition of exposition should be retooled in our preachers, and the purging of exhibition must commence immediately if Christians are to be the ‘salt’ that God wants us to be. We have pulpits starving congregations by giving them milk when meat is what’s needed to satisfy. The expositor must continue to boldly proclaim God’s Word as it is written, and the exhibitionist must commence to do the same. Our people need more courageous, convicting, careful preaching of the Word of God if the church has any hope of being the wonderful bride for whom Christ will soon come to take.