The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. Mark Dever believes this is “far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow.” So what is expositional preaching? Instead of starting with a favorite topic and finding passages to support the preacher’s view, the expositor starts with the text of Scripture and makes that his topic. It is important to mention that it is possible to preach topical sermons in an expositional way, but the preacher has to work hard to keep the original meaning of the author in focus instead of cherry-picking verses that support his view of the topic.
The benefit of expositional preaching is that the preacher often discovers things in the passage that he was not expecting to find. Take Philippians 4:13 for instance. It says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The expositional preacher will discover that the context is focused on Paul being able to endure great suffering with the help of God’s sustaining power. This is very different than giving a motivational speech about how you can do anything you set your mind to accomplishing.
The second mark of a healthy church is Biblical Theology. Pastor Mark argues that this is needed because we live in a culture where some oppose finding any meaning in history. Healthy churches need a framework for understanding how the Christian life fits into the greater meta narrative of God’s work in human history. Biblical theology teachers that God is a creating God. He is holy and faithful. He is loving and sovereign over all the work of men and women on the earth.
Trusting in the sovereignty of God is incredibly important for healthy churches because God never promises that the life of the church is going to be easy. Trials are going to come and if a church family does not trust in God’s foreknowledge and power then people in the church will lose hope and the body of Christ will falter. But if the church family believes that “God works all things together for good for those who are called according to his purpose” then they will be able to endure the storms that are bound to come.
The third mark of a healthy church is the Gospel. The leadership of local churches must be committed to preaching and teaching a biblical explanation of the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel starts with the holiness of God. His perfection reveals the existence of a huge chasm created by human sin. Each person is born in sin and must have their sin paid for by Jesus Christ. He is the only one able to take the punishment for our sin by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He ascended to heaven and completed the work demanded by the Father. The Spirit of God is sent out to call people to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for forgiveness. Mark Dever writes, “If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.”
Teaching a clear explanation of the gospel is foundational for a healthy church because it guards the purity of the church. Unhealthy churches are those that simply teach that the gospel means we are all okay. Unhealthy churches simply teach that God is love. Unhealthy churches shy away from the truth of God’s wrath and emphasize that Jesus simply wants to be our friend. The gospel is hard to hear because it reveals the cancer of sin. The gospel also reveals the cure that can only come through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.
Churches that are committed to these three truths are headed in the right direction to being faithful bodies of Christ where God is glorified and people are changed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).