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A question concerning the authority of Scripture and expositional preaching

The other day I was listening to a conversation among some ministers and seminary educators. Among them, there was an assumption of sorts that expository preaching is a necessary activity in Christian churches. And I have noticed that many, indeed, appear to agree with these men on the importance of expository preaching.

And I agree with this. I love expository preaching. I would not want to be a part of a church where the pastor did not preach expository messages. I want to be a pastor who preaches expositionally. I affirm what I read one pastor say, “The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all.” I think this practice has historical precedent and is very wise (and Christians must be wise).

Here’s my question: does the affirmation of the importance or even necessity of expositional preaching stretch the bounds of “sola Scriptura” to the breaking point? I can’t think of a single passage of Scripture that explicitly tells us that we must preach expositionally. So why all the urging that we preach that way? Does it not seem to go beyond the authority of the scriptures alone? Is it even judgmental to insist on the importance of this practice?

I mean, just to set up the conversation, let me put it the way another fellow recently did on the question of music (with no animosity intended):

I think we need to be ruthlessly biblical when addressing the question of [expository preaching], especially if we are presuming to tell what kind of [preaching] glorifies God. Failure to do so will be disastrous. At best, those we teach will dismiss us when they see that we’re relying on arguments and authorities outside of the Scriptures. At worst, we’ll win a Pyrrhic victory, convincing those under our care of our position on the [expositional preaching] issue at the cost of undermining their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture.

I am not saying this to be cheeky or disrespectful. But let’s be frank. There are lots of churches and Christian pastors who don’t believe that expositional preaching is necessary or even important. I’m not pulling this out of nowhere.

Now, I am not one who thinks that the authority of Scripture is necessarily broken when we insist that a certain tradition of Christian worship and music be conserved in Christian churches. Nor am I one who thinks that the authority of Scripture is broken by affirming expositional preaching. But it strikes me as inconsistent to deny us the ability to affirm one but then affirm for ourselves the other.

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).