It is not easy to find a suitable name for the vehicle by which the gospel minister conveys the truth of God to a public audience, whose individuals have come for various reasons, and in response to various types of advertising. Their presence is a challenge to the speaker to impart to them a desire to hear more of the truth at some later time; to search the Scriptures for themselves; and most of all, to know Jesus for themselves.
The choice of a title for the series of dis courses will play an important part in the development of this response. The distinction in the dictionary appraisal of the two terms lecture and sermon is slight, but there is a wide difference in their meanings for the man on the street, the man whose presence is desired in the tent, tabernacle, hall, or church.
Lecture sounds heavily weighted down on the intellectual side, a hangover from the lyceum days of chautauqua memory, happy or unhappy, depending on the individual viewpoint. A lecture is good for those who circulate in high society and tour the world of geography, science, music, arts, literature, or politics via the lecturer.
On the other hand, the persons who can be attracted by the use of the word sermon are also rare specimens. Sermon suggests church, preacher, religion, and to many a man on the street, merely a form of religion that is all right on Sunday but not at all necessary on Tuesday.
The first, lecture, is a far cry from the business of the herald of the everlasting gospel who seeks to catch men standing on the brink of eternity. The second, sermon, has no attraction at all for the man who has held religion at arm's length, dreading the day when he will be forced into contact with it at wedding or funeral.
Webster says a lecture is "a formal discourse for instruction." Of the sermon the dictionary says: "A discourse delivered in public for the purpose of religious instruction, and grounded in a passage of Scripture." This is closer. We can well set our aim in the direction of "dis course," "religious instruction," and "grounded in a passage of Scripture." But we need another meaning like "appeal" or "invitation," and both words, "lecture" and "sermon," in the area of evangelism, leave much to be desired as advertising media.
The Term "Address"
The good features of both words and the desirability of attractive advertising are gathered together in a third word that without any of the inhibitive factors of the first two says what the evangelist is trying to do. The word is address. Webster says that an address is a "for mal communication, application, or statement; speech; petition."
Our efforts to bring the truth to the attention of the public are "formal," they bear the hallmark of heavenly order, they are organized, they are characterized by the amazing precision of infallible prophecy. They should be the efforts of preachers who know how to teach.
Our discourses are "communications." They bear the information heaven has dispatched for the ears of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. God waits at the other end of the line of communications to meet every need of the human heart.
The word "application" applies here (with a slight shift of meaning) to the work carried on by the Holy Ghost in fitting to the listening heart the words spoken by the human instrument in the "foolishness of preaching," and making sure that God's word does not return unto Him void.
"Statement" we need too, for this is a recital of God's special message for these special times. We are not given to fantasy, to speculation, to interpretation, to storytelling. Every public dis course must be a clear, Heaven-powered "statement" of truth. If the truth makes men free, the "statement" of that truth becomes the business to be carried on by the human evangel.
The gospel message uses "speech." It must be clean speech, and pure, and careful. The speech of the spokesman for God must approximate as closely as possible the beauty and correctness, yes, the majesty, of the truth itself.
And we must constantly use the technique of "petition." We are beseeching men to be reconciled to God. We are calling men to follow our Lord. We are appealing for heart surrender. We are asking men to forsake the world and its ways.
This word address fits what we are trying to do. For Christ's sake we address ourselves to men, their burdens, their needs, their salvation. We may have been to Siam or Guatemala, we may know something about astronomy or shells, we may have made a study of bacteriology, or we may have kept bees. But even though we have, we are not thus qualified to announce ourselves as lecturers. The very word suggests that we think we know at least one or two things more than Christ and Him crucified. The Adventist minister has only one rightful role. He is a divinely commissioned agent of salvation. He must learn to speak, as Jesus did, with authority. Lecturing is out of bounds. James M. Gray has stated it well on page 39 of his book The Teaching and Preaching That Counts:
"Let the world ridicule him; let philosophers sneer at him; let the rich or gay deride him; let the socialists and communists condemn and threaten him, it matters not. The preaching of the cross is the only kind of preaching that will be attended with ultimate and eternal success, and hence the only kind that counts. . . .
"Christ is God's great ordinance for the salvation of the world. The preaching of Christ is the only thing that can meet lawlessness and crime, the only thing that can alleviate human woes, the only thing that can pour consolation into the hearts of men. It is the only thing that can hold in leash the blood hounds of the powers of darkness on this earth until they shall meet the Prince of Peace in the valley of Jehoshaphat." (New York, Revell, 1934.)
As for me, I have no ambition to be known as a lecturer. God help me to win men for Christ!