The Demands of the Westminster Standards for Expository Preaching

Jon Payne’s recent article on confessional preaching at the Gospel Reformation Network makes the case that expository preaching is taught by WLC 159. Flowing from this conviction, the vision of the GRN includes a resolve to practice “an unbending dedication to expository preaching.” The GRN does not define expository preaching, either in its vision or in Payne’s article, and perhaps that is intentional. In general, expository preaching is understood as a form of preaching that explains a particular passage of scripture, often working through a passage verse-by-verse. Payne provided an explanation of expository preaching on behalf of the GRN that fits this definition during a podcast interview this summer (timestamp 20:30-40).

Expository preaching is in contrast to others forms of preaching, such as sermons that are sociologically driven, therapeutic, topical, rely on non-scriptural illustrations as their basis, or whose foundations stems from the imagination of the preacher. However topical, or rather doctrinal, sermons can remain biblical in their form insofar as the Bible remains the foundation for the sermon. For example, a sermon on justification may not rely on a single passage, but a variety of passages informed by the whole scope of scripture. Normally such a sermon would not fit the conventional understanding of an expository sermon since it is not explaining a particular passage.

Yet, WLC 159 actually says this,

Q. 159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A. They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

Nothing about this demands exclusively preaching from one passage at a time or working through a single book. It is notable that Payne’s article does not include that ministers “are to preach sound doctrine diligently, in season and out of season”, but that the “Word must also be preached, ‘diligently, in season and out of season.’” Sound doctrine must be biblical, and in that sense must be an exposition of biblical teaching. But that is not the same thing as preaching from a particular passage. I agree with the GRN that preaching should be biblical, and think it wisest generally to use the lectio contiua method of preaching, but they overstate their case suggesting that our shared confession demands expository preaching. A resolute adherence to the Westminster Standards (part of their first distinctive) requires them to modify or clarify their unbending dedication to expository preaching.