Category Archives: meeting together

Is systematic expository preaching all it’s cracked up to be?

In my circles it’s a cliche to say that you’re committed to ‘systematic, expository preaching’ – preaching through whole books or sections of books passage by passage, or perhaps verse by verse.

Here are two articles from respected conservative evangelical Christian writers (both called Iain) who are questioning that practice.

Expository Preaching (pdf) – Iain H Murray

This is not an argument that the whole concept of consecutive preaching through a passage is wrong, simply that it must not be allowed to have an exclusive place in pulpit ministry. Let each preacher find what he is best able to do, and let it be ever remembered that, whatever the method of presenting the truth, it is men filled with faith and the Holy Spirit who are needed most at this hour. More than correct teaching is needed: we need messages that will move congregations and even sway communities.

Some thoughts on pulpit method – Iain D Campbell

I am not trying to advocate a method, simply to raise questions about what appears to me to be the prevailing methodology in contemporary evangelical ministry. I am also wanting to ask whether it is possible that the power which attended Spurgeon’s preaching might just be related to his methodology? Might there be some added benefit for our congregations if they came to church next Sunday wondering in what part of the fields of their Redeemer they might be gleaning?

In my estimation, this is not a question about method, but about style. Both writers are advocating a lively ‘preached’ style, as opposed to what they see as the more ‘lecture’ style of some systematic expository preachers.

What do you think?

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One true earthly church, or a heavenly assembly?

I’ve found this question keeps coming up. Essentially your thinking about how much should we work for visible unity between local churches depends on your answer to this question.

Some links I’ve found helpful:

The One, True Church – John Frame in ‘Evangelical Reunion’

We must first be assured that Jesus Christ established on earth one church, not many denominations. Further, the unity of the church is not merely “spiritual,” but also organizational.

The Church and Denominations – David Broughton Knox

The Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear that the assembly, or church, which Christ is building now is primarily a supernal heavenly assembly.

The Locus of the Church: Heaven or Earth? – David Peterson

Most seriously, I believe, Giles has played down or denied the heavenly locus of the church as it emerges from certain key passages in the New Testament. This is a failure to highlight the way the ascended and enthroned Christ is at the centre of the church, gathering people to himself on the basis of his redemptive work to form a community whose citizenship is in heaven. It is a failure to see how the inaugurated eschatology of the New Testament should be applied to the church concept to deliver us from the earth-bound and organizational focus of much contemporary ecclesiology.

Assembled in Heaven? – Andrew Errington

In the twentieth century, the notion that the basic reality of the church is “assembly” was articulated by Sydney Anglican evangelicals Donald Robinson and D. Broughton Knox in response to the world ecumenical movement. They, and others who have since followed, argued that church fundamentally involves actual gathering, such that the church finally exists in two basic ways in the present—as the one heavenly gathering around the ascended Lord Jesus, which is in “continuous assembly”, and in local assemblies of believers, which “come and go” (Robinson 1965, 14). The notion of the present heavenly gathering is, however, highly problematic, and I would like here to offer a critique.

Any others?

Because saying ‘no’ to a bacon sarnie isn’t sinful, apparently

Dave Bish has been considering the issue of women teaching in student Christian Unions. He says that where CUs are divided on this issue, the majority should lovingly submit to the minority. For example, in a CU where the majority hold to the complementarian position (they believe that women are equal in status but not in role, and believe it is exclusively a man’s role to lead through teaching), they should allow women to teach so that the minority don’t feel oppressed. Or vice versa, in a majority egalitarian CU, the majority should not impose women teachers on the complementarian minority.

Dave distinguishes between the position in a CU, which is an evangelistic organisation with a small shared doctrinal basis, and a church, where decisions have to be made about how to teach about marriage and whether to appoint female elders.

I want to make a couple of points in response.

Firstly, a lot of what Dave is saying seems to be an application of Romans 14, correct?

A quick sample:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

(ESV)

An egalitarian CU ought to welcome a complementarian person (whom they would judge weak in faith), by not putting the hinderance of a female speaker in front of the complementarian.

That’s fine, but when we looked at Romans 14 in our small groups earlier this year, we noted that Paul specifically talks to those who are ‘strong’ in faith – those who are happy to eat anything or drink anything. He tells those people not to destroy the work of God by what they eat or drink. So in essence, the strong should love the weak by being willing to give up their bacon sandwiches or their beer so that the weak people don’t feel that they are in sin or unwelcome.

What he doesn’t say is that the weak people should act like the strong to welcome the strong. So if the house church contained a majority of people who felt eating pork was not right, Paul’s not saying they should start serving bacon sandwiches before church just so the people who feel that eating them is ok feel welcome.

No, because for the person who thinks eating bacon sarnies is wrong, eating them really is a sin. Verse 23:

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

But for the person who thinks it’s ok to eat bacon sandwiches, it is not a sin for them not to eat them. (NOTE: THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT ANYTHING YOU THINK IS ‘OK’ IS NOT A SIN!!)

So basically, as well as being loving, Christian communities should default to the “least sin” position. It is the strong who have an obligation to the weak.

I’d argue that in the complementarian/egalitarian debate in CUs, it is the complementarians who are more obviously weak. That’s because everyone agrees that male speakers are ok, it’s just whether female speakers are ok or not.

When a male speaker speaks, both complementarians and egalitarians are happy. No one is sinning. The egalitarians might be thinking it would be great to get that really excellent female speaker in sometime, but like missing out on bacon sandwiches, they’ll just have to put up with it for the sake of their weaker brothers and sisters.

However when a female speaker speaks, often complementarians are sinning. If they really are convinced it is wrong to sit under a woman’s teaching then they are sinning, and we’ve just mucked up our application of Romans 14.

An egalitarian CU leader might feel that he’s sinning by not allowing women to have their God-given right to teach, but I think we can agree that this is a less obvious sin than the complementarian’s.

Ok, that was point 1.

Point 2 is much more brief. Which is to consider how CUs and churches are different in this respect. I think they are, but possibly not for quite the same reason as Dave.

The “minimal doctrinal basis so we can have a shared mission” point is fair enough, but it’s quite a pragmatic argument that is prone to a ‘where do you draw the line?’ response.

I think the reason churches can be a bit more inflexible on this is that they have elders who have authority and responsibility for those decisions. If I’m not sure whether someone should or shouldn’t teach in my local church, I am happy to sit under that teaching regardless, because I defer to the authority of my elders, knowing their God given role is to make those kinds of decisions and to bear the responsibility for them. In a CU it’s not quite the same, because I’m not convinced that a CU leader has quite the same authority to make those kinds of decisions.

Additionally, I would think that a convinced egalitarian church leadership would probably be sinning if they didn’t appoint a woman they considered suitable to the eldership since the nature of church leadership is quite different to an occasional CU speaking engagement. So in a church the egalitarian/complementarian positions become a bit harder to classify into weak/strong.

It’s complicated stuff, and I haven’t had a coffee yet, so please don’t take this as anything other than tentative. If you think what I’ve said is wrong, or has dangerous implications let me know. With that, I’m off for a bacon sarnie!

Many mustard seeds better than one acorn?

One of the biggest trends in evangelical circles at the moment is the idea of missional church plants. Instead of one large church, create lots of small churches that each individually grow quicker than a larger church because they have a more welcoming culture, a more dynamic culture of evangelism, and innovate more quickly. Examples from the US of tiny church plants to megachurches like Mars Hill have gotten a lot of people very excited by the idea.

I have to say it’s an idea that appeals to me personally. I like the idea of finding things out for myself without too many established structures, and coming from the background of working for an internet start-up in London, I’m interested in how lessons from entreprenurial start-up culture could be applied to the church.

However, it is important to consider how central the ‘missional church plant’ model should be in our tactics for church growth here in the UK. How strong is the evidence that it works? If it worked there, will it work here?

Tony Payne of Matthias Media has some interesting thoughts on how the missional church planting model may be a better solution for church growth in America than in Australia:

I am grossly simplifying, but in most parts of the US, it is far easier to put up your shingle and gather a reasonable crowd than it is in most parts of Australia. The society is just more ‘churched’, with a vastly greater number of vaguely or culturally Christianized people who are willing to come to church if presented with the right package. In this context, starting a new church can be an excellent way to evangelize because you are drawing in unconverted people who are nevertheless quite willing to come to church.

In a more pagan, unchurched country like Australia, there may be many contexts in which ‘getting people to church’ is not the wisest way to evangelize them. Evangelism will happen in the workplace, at the pub, through personal relationships, in the neighbourhood, at school, in the marketplace. In this context, planting a new congregation may well provide a good home-base for reaching out to new people, but how we reach those people will almost certainly require a willingness to think outside our traditional structures and methodologies of ‘getting people to church’.

The question is, what about the UK?