There is great emphasis among our Protestant brethren in the ministry—both liberals and fundamentalists—on Christ-centered preaching. They seek to honor Christ by making Him central in all their public utterances. But do they succeed in preaching Christ-centered sermons? Do we Adventist preachers succeed? The answer is to be found in a correct interpretation of the expression. So we ask, What is Christ-centered preaching?
Paul counseled young Timothy to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2). That Word is a revelation of Christ as Saviour and Lord. Said Jesus, "Search the scriptures; . . . they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). To preach the Word, then, is to preach Christ, the great saving character of the Book. Christ-centered preaching is simply Bible preaching with Christ central in every subject. But let us be more specific.
Notice that Paul's expression, "preach the word," as found in 2 Timothy 4:2 is linked with the words of the preceding chapter where the apostle states that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). The Scripture, according to Paul, is first of all "profitable for doctrine." This word "doctrine" means instruction or teaching. To whose doctrine did Paul refer? Evidently "the doctrine of Christ." Said the apostle John, "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, bath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he ha th both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).
The doctrine of Christ is our Lord's teaching through the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles and prophets of the New. Its clearest expression is in the word and work of Christ Himself in the four Gospels. Upon this "foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20), is built the strong superstructure of Christian faith.
Now if a minister of the gospel neglects the prophets (Old Testament), declaims against the moral law, ridicules the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation, and announces to his congregation that one must simply believe in Christ to find salvation, then we ask what kind of foundation is he building on? Certainly a flimsy one.
It is correct for the minister to urge people to believe in Christ and be saved. But what does it mean to believe in Christ? Primarily it means to believe in Him as God's Son sent from heaven to save us from sin. But also it means to believe and receive His doctrine. It means to accept His teaching on the state of the dead (John 11:11-14) and the two resurrections (John 5:28, 29). It means to receive His promise of the Second Advent (John 14:13) and His announcement of the signs preceding it (Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13). In short, it means to believe in everything that Christ taught and everything that He stood for. That doctrine only is Christian that comes from Christ. That preaching only is Christ centered that exalts Christ and His doctrine (Matt. 28:1820).
Many years ago our ministers were preaching the true doctrines of the Bible without much of Christ and His love in them, and their preaching was forceful but dry. Today we must watch the danger of preaching Christ without doctrine. This type of preaching is helpful, but it is not enough for the critical hours in which we live. People are hungry to know about the great facts of life and destiny. They need the central truths of the Bible to help them understand the meaning of life.
Preach the Doctrine of Christ
Let us associate the doctrine of Christ with the life and work of Christ as the sinner's Friend and as a loving Saviour. If we will do this, we will "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things" (Titus 2:10). Let us see how this can be done.
First of all, let us preach about Jesus Himself. "The life was manifested," said John, "and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 John 1:2). Christ as a divine-human Person who saves to the uttermost is the heart and core of the Christian message. "Christ is Christianity." —Gospel Workers, pp. 282, 283. And true Christianity is the portrayal of Christ. If the preacher knows this as a reality in his own experience, he may preach Christ as Lord and Saviour and also preach the great central truths of the Christian message.
We should choose great themes, brethren, and it is likely that we will preach great sermons. If the subject is powerful, it is likely that we shall have a powerful message. Great sermons are always conceived in the setting of great texts. Why cannot we have more sermons on John 3:16, John 14:1-3, 1 John 2:1-3, Genesis 3:15, Revelation 14:12, and Revelation 22:14?
We are, as Jesus said, to let the people "know of the doctrine" (John 7:17). On page 148 of Gospel Workers we have the following instruction:
"Ministers should present the sure word of prophecy. . . . The prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation should be carefully studied, and in connection with them the words, 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'"
Notice here the connection between the great prophecies and Christ, the Lamb of God. This is truly preaching the doctrine of Christ.
"The twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew is presented to me again and again as something that is to be brought to the attention of all. . . . Let our ministers and teachers explain these prophecies to those whom they instruct. Let them leave out of their discourses matters of minor consequence, and present the truths that will decide the destiny of souls. . . .
"God's ministers are to present the light on the Sabbath question. . . . Gather from the Scriptures the proofs that God has sanctified the seventh day, and let these proofs be read before the congregation."—Ibid.
"They [ministers] should warn the inhabitants of the world that Christ is soon to come with power and great glory. The last message of warning to the world is to lead men to see the importance that God attaches to His law."—Ibid.
Here the doctrine of the Second Advent, the law, the Sabbath, and the atonement through the Lamb of God are all suggested as great themes for sermons. And what valuable counsel this is for every preacher—especially for the intern fresh from college and the Seminary, who is eager to know what kind of preaching will bring the best results.
It is possible to make our sermons Christ centered by keeping a few practical questions in mind. "What did Jesus do?" or "What would Jesus do?" on this or that question—for example, baptism. "Why was Jesus baptized?" And again, on the Sabbath, "Which day did Christ keep?"
Christ a Kingdom Preacher
Now what did Christ Himself consider to be central to His doctrine? To know the doctrine of Christ or the teaching of Jesus we must follow Him through His ministry. Wrote Matthew: "Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people" (Matt. 4:23). In connection with His work as a medical evangelist Jesus preached "the gospel of the kingdom" (see Mark 1:14, 15).
Jesus was a powerful kingdom preacher. He came into the world at a time when all men were in expectation and looking for the Messiah. The age in which we live is similar to Christ's in many respects. Men are in expectation. All humanity is stirred. Something out of the ordinary is soon to occur, and people sense it intuitively. The kingdom is soon to be set up. In this unsettled time in which we live, our business as Adventist ministers is to announce that the kingdom of glory is soon to be set up. And that kingdom is for the subjects of the kingdom of grace. Jesus' commission to us is clear: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). We are to give attendance to kingdom preaching, for the doctrine that Christ taught was "the gospel of the kingdom."
Our special charter is found in the three angels' messages of Revelation 14. The first angel carries to the world the everlasting gospel, and associated with it the announcement of the judgment of the Christian church. The second angel's message is similar in some respects to the message of rebuke and warning that John the Baptist preached to the religious leaders of his day. It is ours to declare that "Babylon is fallen"; it was John's to cry out, "0 generation of vipers, who bath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matt. 3:7).
The truth must be spoken plainly. The people are to be startled into a consciousness of wrongdoing. The ministers of the Advent Movement cannot waste their time preaching sermons that tickle the ears, please the fancy, glorify the preacher, and display his talents. The true-hearted messenger of God will stand between the living and the dead and "shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa. 58:1). We have the example of Christ in this respect, who spoke the truth in love, weighing every word and rebuking sin with tears in His voice. One has only to read the twenty-third chapter of Matthew to understand what is meant by the command of Isaiah 58:1.
Let us remember that "the third angel's message is the gospel message for these last days." It is more than an exposé of a fallen religious hierarchy. It is a Christ-centered message of justification and sanctification through faith in Christ that leads to the keeping of the commandments of God. But a careful study of Revelation 14:9-11 makes very plain that the second coming of Christ, the law of God, and conditional immortality are vital doctrines to be declared along with the message of Christ's saving grace.
And where shall we preach the doctrine of the kingdom? And to whom? We may preach it to audiences in evangelistic halls, tabernacles, and rented theaters, over the radio, and on television (as opportunity presents itself). We ought to preach .it in our churches in regular Sunday night meetings, and declare it in our Sabbath morning services, keeping our people ever alerted to the fact that we are not just another church, but a movement divinely raised up to summon a lost world to the judgment of God and the rewards of grace that follow.
Our young people in our colleges and academies need to hear more of our distinctive doctrinal teaching. In our elementary schools these special truths ought to be heard again and again. "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts" (Isa. 28:9). Little children may hear again and again the precious doctrines of the Adventist faith. If Roman Catholics can enlarge their church membership by the thorough indoctrination of children in Catholic homes and schools, ought we to hesitate to give more emphasis to the wonderful truths of this message?
Let us be sure that the doctrine we impart is sound doctrine. "I give you good doctrine," said the wise man, "forsake ye not my law" (Prov. 4:2). Teachers and preachers of the Advent Movement ought in doctrine to show uncorruptness (Titus 2:7). By sound doctrine Paul said we are to exhort and convince (Titus 1:9). Those who are carried away with strange doctrine and theological notions that confuse and perplex the people (Heb. 13:9) ought to withdraw from the work. No Adventist preacher should consent to accept tithe money from Adventist people and at the same time teach conflicting doctrines.
The apostles filled Jerusalem with their doctrine (Acts 5:28), and those who believed were said to have continued in the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). The doctrine of Christ cured the ills of sinners in Jesus' day and in the apostles'. It will do the same today.
No other type of preaching will do so much good today as Adventist sermons, Christ-centered sermons about the kingdom so soon to come. This kind of preaching is surely meat in due season, present truth, Christ's doctrine preached by Christ's men in Christ's way in this the day of His power.