In an organization such as ours a minister may be called to serve in many different branches of the work. Promotion, administration, public evangelism, youth guidance, finance, teaching, pastoral work all these come within the scope of the ministry, but whatever our particular work, as individuals we must each be men of the Word.
Adventists early earned the reputation of being real students of the Scriptures. We came into being as a people out of a deep study of the Book. Not only the prophetic, but also the doctrinal and devotional, portions of the Word challenged our response.
In our earlier days everyone carried a Bible to church, and he turned to the Scriptures as the preacher unfolded his message. But today there is a trend in the opposite direction. In some places it seems that the great majority in church are there without their Bibles. And if one inquires the reason, this is something of the answer he will get: "Oh, well, it's only occasionally that we ever need our Bibles, and so we just don't bother to bring them." And the tragedy is that it is all too true.
We attended a Sabbath morning worship service in one of our largest churches not long ago and were not only disappointed but shocked when the preacher never so much as opened his Bible. He never even read a text, and except for a brief reference to an experience in the New Testament, the Word of God had absolutely no place whatever in that particular service. It was not the custom in that church to have a Scripture reading as part of the worship service, so for that day, at least, the people went away unfed. Many stories were told, all interesting, and some of them told with telling effect; but there was no sermon and no exposition of the Word.
Sometimes I have visited a church as a guest speaker, and some have actually said, "Don't give us a travelog; we get lots of those. Give us a real sermon. We want to hear a message from God." How tragic! Should there ever be a church service where the Word of God is not expounded?
Are We Content With Surface Truths?
When Protestantism broke away from the established church of the Middle Ages, the Bible became the center of its thinking and the rallying point of its forces. For that reason the pulpit was placed in the center of the rostrum. Worship, which had been altar centered, suddenly became pulpit centered or Bible centered a symbol of the change in emphasis. The great churches of the Reformation sprang into existence out of a study of the Word of God. We all lament the fact today that Protestantism is in too many instances just an "ism" without the real "protest." It must, of course, also be more than just a protest. But the only effective way that we can protest against the man of sin and the encroachments of worldliness is by the open Word.
How many times the messenger of the Lord has urged us to study that Word! Statements like these should startle us: "Let us give more time to the study of the Bible. We do not understand the Word as we should." Testimonies to Ministers, p. 113. Again, "We do not go deep enough in our search for truth." Ibid., p. 119. And again, "We should fear to skim the surface of the word of God." Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 407.
Even more challenging is this statement: "Nine tenths of our people, including many of our ministers and teachers, are content with surface truths." Review and Herald, April 21, 1903. Notice it does not say "some" or "many," but ninety per cent "are content with surface truths."
But why should we be content to be mere surface skimmers? We are told that "the truth, as it is in Jesus, is capable of constant expansion, of new development. ... It will constantly reveal deeper significance." Ibid., Oct. 21, 1890.
The urge all the time is for deeper study. Much of our preaching is topical. Yet perhaps the strongest method, that which builds up the flock in spiritual strength, is expository. This is more difficult, requiring much more study and research. But Adventist ministers should excel in this, for the Word of God must be more than a but tress for an argument. It needs to glow and gleam with a new radiance that will in spire our hearers. When we can set the prophet in the background of his own life and times and then unfold his message, making its application to the problems of the present, it is then that for many, life takes on new meaning, and they go from the service of worship with the Word of God in their hearts. How much easier it is to have a few pet talks and perhaps pep them up by fantastic titles! But that is not preaching. Nor will it ever make us true men of the Word.
Our People Are Hungry for the Word
Some years ago Dr. G. Campbell Morgan was visiting a church where the pastor, a young but rather brilliant man, was drawing large audiences with such topics as "Popping the Question," "Two Lumps of Sugar, Please," or "That's My Weakness Now," et cetera. By some misfortune Dr. Morgan's name was placed in the church bulletin opposite one of those titles. The youthful pastor, in introducing the guest speaker of the evening, explained that the visitor would not preach on that topic, but that he himself would do so on the following Sunday. This caused a ripple of laughter all over the church. In the midst of it all Dr. Morgan stood up, and looking over the great audience, said with appropriate reverence, "Hear the Word of God." No apology, no pleasantries, no jokes, no explanations. All sensed that here was a man who was bringing them a message from God.
Why should we seek for new or novel ways of entertaining? Our people are hungry for the Word. True, we have a great program requiring tremendous promotion, but we must not forget that we also have a great God to worship. Our message will have power only when it leaps fresh and vibrant from the Word of God. If as preachers we have been drinking from the living fountain and feeding upon the living bread, then, like our Master's, our messages will be with power.
"Those who in their preaching pass by the great truths of God's word to speak of minor matters, are not preaching the gospel, but are dealing in idle sophistry. Let not our ministers spend time in the discussion of such matters." Gospel Workers, p. 313.
It is to a higher standard of preaching and leadership that God calls us through such statements as these. Should we not heed His counsel?
"Many of our young men might to-day be intellectual giants, had they not been content to reach a low level." "The true minister of Christ should make continual improvement." Review and Herald, April 6, 1886.
Then, lest any minister feel he is too far along in years to change his methods, the Lord gives us this lovely promise:
"The afternoon sun of his life may be more mellow and productive of fruit than the morning sun. It may continue to increase in size and brightness until it drops behind the western hills." Ibid.
Surely nothing is more needed in the work of God today than men who are truly men of the Word.