The Foolishness of Preaching
THE preacher determines to a large degree whether preaching is dubbed as "foolishness" or is acclaimed as "the voice of God." It is indeed the height of folly to take one hour of someone's time on a Saturday morning and waste it on clerical vocalization.
Preaching is a moral debt not only to God but to our fellow men. Each member of the congregation invests precious time when he comes to listen to the preacher week after week, and he deserves to hear something worth his while. When a preacher subjects his hearers to nothing but a mouthful of cliches, a potpourri of statistics, or a session of pious purges as some self-styled Jeremiahs love to do, preaching is reduced to highway robbery of some sort.
As the late President Dwight Eisenhower once said: "Hitting people on the head is not leadership; that is assault." The Reader's Digest, October 1970, Quotable Quotes. When the apostle Paul declared that "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:18), he prefaced that with the thought that the "wisdom of words" (verse 17) was a major causative factor.
The preacher's motive for preaching deserves acute scrutiny. If we are not careful our own ulterior motives can play tricks on us. Paradoxically, one can use the "cloth" as a screen for projecting deepseated personality conflicts. 2 Corinthians 13:5 applies as much to the preacher as to the laity. As Satan took Christ to the "pinnacle of the temple" (Matt. 4:5), he also takes preachers to the heights of the "high calling" (Phil. 3:14), only to goad them to leap into the precipice of presumptive efforts. The apostle Paul expressed two opposing motives for preaching. (See Philippians 1:15 and 2 Corinthians 4:5.)
Symbolically, preachers come in different shapes, sizes, and calibre. We shall discuss four types here.
A. The Sounding Brass: This is the man who is equipped with the tongue of men and of angels (1 Cor. 13:1), but his ultimate accomplishment is to emit sound waves. As one writer puts it:
There can be no real eloquence without great ideas. . . . And woe to the world when an orator gains great skill in the use of techniques but has no constructive message to convey. It is inevitable that he should become a dictator or a demigod, enticing multitudes toward emptiness or destruction like a modem pied piper. W. B. Garrison, --The Preacher and His Audience.
The principal cause in this particular case is mental lethargy. He is just too lazy for original and creative thought.
B. The Tranquilizing Genius: This is the "walking encyclopedia," the "human computer." This is the man who understands all mysteries, and all knowledge (1 Cor. 13:1). There is no fact or figure that he does not know. He has authored many books, and his prolific mind and pen are always at full throttle. After his name are rows of earned and honorary titles, sufficient to fill his tombstone back to back. But alas, half of his audience is already yawning before he has even started, and the other half who managed to stay awake did not know what hit them.
C. The Weeping Prophet: This is the man with the dark goggles. He sees nothing right with the church and nothing right with the world. Every person he looks at is sick from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet. The world is a ball of moral and material pollution, heading for an inevitable clash with an angry God, who is at the doors waiting to pulverize the transgressors under the wheel of divine justice. His favorite watchword is Repent with a heavy R.
D. The Ear Tickler: This is the suave and smooth-talking artist who for fear of the "high and the mighty" would rather call sin "social maladjustment," worldliness, "the process of growing up," yoking with unbelievers, "ecumenism, or brother hood." His favorite apostle is Sigmund Freud, and his favorite gospel is psychoanalysis.
With these four horsemen of homiletics, it is but proper to dismiss preaching as foolishness indeed. But there remains one more portrait with which Seventh-day Adventist preachers may safely identify.
The Master's Preacher
This man is not the Master. He is not a master preacher. He is the Master's preacher God's man, doing God's work, in God's way. All of God's spokesmen of the past were the Master's preachers. They were God-called, God-trained, and God-sent. Their lips were sanctified by the coals from heaven's altar (Isa. 6:6, 7); their minds were infused with the "wisdom that is from above" (James 3:17; 2 Cor. 1:12); and they spoke "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21).
No human being can rightly claim the title of master preacher. Paul, who is ac claimed by religious historians as the evangelist of all time, conceded that we only "see through a glass, darkly" and that we "know in part" (1 Cor. 13:12). In truth, we have barely tapped the boundless resources of Omnipotence. No man can safely boast that he has attained. This is what makes true preaching the highest calling.
But it is the privilege of every Seventh-day Adventist preacher to put himself under the Master's touch. The road is open to "press toward the mark ... of the high calling" (Phil. 3:14). There must be no room for mediocrity. While God has chosen the "weak" and the "foolish" to confound the "wise" and the "mighty" (1 Cor. 1:27), still, the "foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (verse 25).
The Preacher's Commission
The Master's commission to His spokes men is twofold: To "preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15) and to "feed the church of God" (Acts 20:28). The word gospel means "good news." Good news is some thing that provides the hearer with joy, hope, rejuvenation, courage, and optimism. Anything short of these is a pseudogospel. The principal aim of preaching is to create a favorable attitude toward God, for we are told:
The enemy of good blinded the minds of men, so that they looked upon God with fear; they thought of Him as severe and unforgiving. Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice, one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them. --Steps to Christ, pp. 10, 11.
Concerning His work as a preacher, the Master declared:
He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).
It is the high privilege of every preacher to effect the reconciliation of men to God via a love relationship. You can frighten some into a kind of reform but that is only transitory and superficial. Everyone who makes it through the pearly gates will be there only because he has learned to love God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength.
Jesus did not suppress one word of truth, but He uttered it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact, and thoughtful, kind attention, in His inter course with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He spoke the truth, but always in love. --Steps to Christ, p. 12.
Prophecies may fail, tongues may cease, and knowledge may vanish away (1 Cor. 13:8), but love will carry us through.
Feeding the flock is the other half of the great commission. This means more than stringing together a handful of related texts or references and dressing it with a couple of illustrations and a sprinkle of poetry. We live in an age of diet specialists, and these knowledgeable people will tell you that in the preparation and in the subsequent serving of food, the primary and paramount consideration is the nutritional need of the person or persons as the case may be. By the same token, spiritual food must meet and satisfy the nutritional need of the spirit. A menu might fill the stomach and ease the pain of hunger and that is about all. The body remains under nourished and consequently folds up under the onslaught of disease. How many of the flock die spiritually due to a lack of proper nourishment!
At this point a significant question arises: Does the preacher know the needs of his flock? One thing is certain, a preacher who does not regularly visit his flock in their homes is in no position to objectively evaluate their needs. It is only in the privacy of their homes that people truly reveal what is "bugging" them. Only as the preacher follows the footprints of his Lord, who lived and dwelt among men, can he truly feed his flock. The preacher must come down from his perch and walk among his sheep in the valley. Then he can truly lead them up onto the mountaintop of spiritual fulfillment.
The time is now when preaching must be snatched from the abyss of foolishness and be restored as the "voice of God." Would to God that each Seventh-day Adventist minister will indeed be "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). For "how shall they hear without a preacher" (Rom. 10:14)?
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