One of the most thrillingly interesting and dramatic meetings it has ever been my pleasure to attend was a gathering of some four hundred Protestant missionaries in Central China. While the question of Christian unity and cooperation was being considered, a minister arose and with deep feeling inquired: "I would like to know what the Seventh-day Adventists are doing here anyway, that they should come to agitate and disturb the minds of our simple Christian believers?"
Numerous voices shouted their accord, and considerable excitement prevailed. But when quiet was restored, I felt impressed to reply, and being recognized by the chairman, I spoke substantially as follows: "Brethren and friends, we honor and esteem these pioneer missionaries who for many decades have been blazing the trail of Christian service in this dark land; and we are not here to oppose any good work. But as we read the Scriptures we are convinced in our souls that there are certain vital and essential truths that are not being taught or sufficiently emphasized by the majority of missionaries. If they did teach a complete gospel as we understand it, there would be no excuse for our entering China as a separate organization. Nevertheless, since we sincerely feel this is not being done, we sense it as our Christian duty to go forth in China and into all lands with the simple gospel of Christ. And instead of being limited by agreement regarding areas we may or may not enter, we feel compelled to take our stand with John Wesley, who declared, 'The world is my parish.' "
Forty years have elapsed since that stirring episode; yet the question propounded by that missionary, though in a different sense, is pertinent to our workers today. What are Seventh-day Adventists doing here?
What Is the Message of Our Sermons?
Not long ago I attended a Sabbath morning church service and listened to a sermonet by a young minister. His theme, "A Happy Home," was presented with faultless rhetoric and beauty of expression, yet there was no mention of any Scripture text, of religion, of divine help, or of family worship. I was told that the young man had recently been pursuing certain courses at a nearby university.
A few weeks ago I received a letter from a friend living in a Seventh-day Adventist college community. He wrote of a Week of Prayer series presented at that place by one who interpreted Christian experience in terms of mind and psychology. I too have heard a few such sermons. With their modernistic approach and scholastic phraseology they carried a certain intellectual appeal; yet to most of the listeners I am confident they were as devoid of spiritual uplift as the proverbial hills of Gilboa were devoid of verdure.
The experience of the apostle Paul conveys valuable lessons for God's messengers today. At Athens he had delivered a superbly polished and scholarly address, meeting "logic with logic, science with science, philosophy with philosophy."----The Acts of the Apostles, p. 244. Yet this oratorical effort was productive of but little fruit; and as he proceeded to Corinth "he determined to avoid elaborate arguments and discussions, and 'not to know anything' among the Corinthians, 'save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.' He would preach to them 'not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.' "—Ibid.
As a result of this simple, earnest preaching of the gospel a large Christian church was established at Corinth. Concerning the ministry of Christ, it is stated that He "did not employ long and difficult words in His discourses, but used plain language, adapted to the minds of the common people."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 260. His teachings could be clearly understood by the peasant as well as by the prince, by the uneducated as well as by the intellectual. The common people heard Him gladly, for this is the form of speech that touches the heart and converts the soul.
It is essential that we often ask ourselves the question, What are we doing here? This church and people have been raised up of God to do a specific work in this auspicious hour, and we should preach such sermons as no other ministers in the world are preaching. The servant of the Lord declares:
"There are many precious truths contained in the Word of God, but it is 'present truth' that the flock needs now. I have seen the danger of the messengers running off from the important points of present truth, to dwell upon subjects that are not calculated to unite the flock and sanctify the soul. Satan will here take every possible advantage to injure the cause.
"But such subjects as the sanctuary, in connection with the 2300 days, the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, are perfectly calculated to explain the past Advent movement and show what our present position is, establish the faith of the doubting, and give certainty to the glorious future. These, I have frequently seen, were the principal subjects on which the messengers should dwell."—Early Writings, p. 63.
What Are We Ordained to Preach?
Brethren, we were not ordained to preach sociology, culture, ethics, psychology, or anything else "save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," as revealed and exalted in the great gospel message. This is the kind of preaching that developed Seventh-day Adventists; this is the kind of preaching that will establish them in the faith and prepare a people for translation.
Ellen G. White says:
"O that I could command language of sufficient force to make the impression that I wish to make upon my fellow-laborers in the gospel. My brethren, you are handling the words of life; you are dealing with minds that are capable of the highest development. Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ ascended into the heavens, Christ coming again, should so soften, gladden, and fill the mind of the minister that he will present these truths to the people in love and deep earnestness. The minister will then be lost sight of, and Jesus will be made manifest.
"Lift up Jesus, you that teach the people, lift Him up in sermon, in song, in prayer. . . . Bring nothing into your preaching to supplement Christ, the wisdom and power of God."—Gospel Workers, pp. 159, 160.
"Will our brethren bear in mind that we are living amid the perils of the last days? Read Revelation in connection with Daniel. Teach these things. Let discourses be short, spiritual, elevated. Let the preacher be full of the word of the Lord. . . .
"The Word is the preacher's light, and as the golden oil flows from the heavenly olive trees into the bowl, it makes the lamp of life flash with a clearness and power that all will discern. . , . The bread of life will satisfy every soul-hunger."---Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 337-340.
The man of God will frequently ponder those penetrating words, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" Then with the spirit and power of an Elijah, the loyalty of a Daniel, and the indomitable faith and courage of a Paul, he will declare the whole counsel of God, omitting no vital or essential truths of the threefold message.
My brethren, let us preach the Word!