IN THE interest of the consumer the Federal Government is requiring manufacturers and producers to label their products. Food processors especially must tell the people what is in the package. Vitamins, minerals, calories, fat, and minimum daily requirements are what nutrition-minded homemakers are conscious of. Some even want to know whether it was organically grown.
How would our sermons stand up if tests were applied as to spiritual content and spiritual nutritional value? It all depends on the source. We need a source that is authentic, accurate, and reliable.
Here is where the Seventh-day Adventist preacher is way out front. We acknowledge heartily that our primary sources are: (1) the Bible and (2) the Spirit of Prophecy. These are the norms whereby all else is tested. We acknowledge also that there are other sources: (1) the world of nature, (2) the product of men's minds (books), (3) our own experience in Christ.
Our first and best efforts should be given to the study of the primary sources. It seems almost unnecessary to say it, but say it I will at the risk of seeming prosaic Seventh-day Adventist preachers need to study the Bible more. Please note I did not say study about the Bible.
Most of us have received the message secondhand. We did not engage in that difficult mind-stretching investigation of Biblical truth that brought out the specific doctrines and prophecies like links in a chain, those precious beliefs that make Adventism what it is. We received the package after it was put together.
The best thing that could happen to some of us would be to have every book in our libraries stolen until we learned how to search the Scriptures.
Dr. Floyd Doud Shafer is using hyperbole and may seem a bit extreme, but we can all share his concern for the busy modern all-things-to-all-men pastor, when he says:
"Fling him into his office, tear the office sign from the door and nail on the sign, study. Take him off the mailing list, lock him up with . . . his typewriter and Bis Bible. . . . Shut his garrulous mouth spouting remarks and stop his tongue always tripping lightly over everything nonessential. Bend his knees to the lonesome valley, and fire him from the PTA and cancel his country club membership. Rip out his telephone, burn his ecclesiastical success sheets, refuse his glad hand, put water in the gas tank of his community buggy and compel him to be a minister of the Word." --GERALD KENNEDY, The Seven Worlds of the Minister, p. 95.
The Word of God needs to be read as a unit. It also needs to be read from various perspectives: as doctrine, as practical instruction, for inspiration, as history, and for spiritual comfort. It was to a preacher that Paul said, "All scripture is inspired by God and profit able for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16, 17, R.S.V.).
Must Be Food for the Soul
The Bible must be something more to the preacher than a hunting ground for texts, it must be food for his own soul. Halford Luccock says:
"The fruitful reading of the Bible, is a sort of brooding, not frantic reading; rather it is watching the narrative pass before one's mind, holding the mind loose, with no tension or tautness at all, not worrying whether one finds anything or not. The key point is that one is not working for a particular end. The mind broods over the page like a hawk over a chicken yard; then, from a leisurely wheel in the air, it swoops down on what looks like an idea. You don't always get a live chicken. Some times it turns out to be merely a hole in the ground. Don't fret about that. The chief thing is the habit, the procedure."---In the Minister's Workshop, p. 160.
The preacher must be able to declare what he has personally found. "Thy words were found, and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart" (Jer. 15:16, R.S.V.).
After the Bible, our other primary source is the writings of Ellen G. White. These writings are without peer when it comes to illuminating and amplifying the Scriptures. What a soul-building adventure it would be to read the Bible and the Conflict of the Ages books concurrently! A man's preaching would have to benefit.
I have a friend who undertook the ambitious task of reading his Bible and the SDA Bible Commentary through in a single year. He was immeasurably enriched by his task, and his preaching showed it.
Just as the Seventh-day Adventist preacher must develop a hermeneutic for the Bible, so he must develop one for the Spirit of Prophecy. While the Greeks were people of the eye, the Jews were people of the ear. We need to develop what someone has called charismatic hearing. There is a voice in the Bible, there is a voice in the writings of Ellen G. White.
One of Jesus' favorite expressions was "If any man has ears to hear, let him hear."
It will take discipline to train the ear to hear, but it will pay off big dividends.
Set up a reading program to include fields of study other than your own. Take a little excursion into astronomy or the life sciences, as biology is now called. The big question for the busy Seventh-day Adventist preacher is How can I find time for all this? You must make it and take it. Keep some good material at hand. In order to keep up and not waste time in wading through trivia, join a good book club, check the book reviews in professional journals, correspond with men who read widely. When you do get a book, make your own index on the blank pages in the back of the book as you read it through. I got this hint from W. E. Sangster, the great English preacher and teacher of preachers. You will thus be gathering up the fragments so that nothing will be lost. Even if you don't get to put it on index cards and file it away properly, at least you have noted it down. Remember, it is better to master a few books than skim through a vast library.
"Clearly, then, the preacher will be that rarest of men a thinker. He will not be just a wide reader, peddling other people's thoughts. After his devotions, the best hour of his day will be the hour given to sheer thinking: assembling the facts, facing their apparent contradiction, reaching up for the help of God and, then, driving his brain like a bulldozer through the apparent chaos to order and understanding at the last." --W. E. SANGSTER, The Craft of Sermon Construction, p. 157.
Mastery of the sources is prerequisite to effective preaching. Every one of us needs to establish a pattern of general and specific reading. We need to take time to do some hard theological thinking, and to commit portions of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy to memory. We must do this lest we be come part of that "race of clerical visionaries" that Phillips Brooks spoke about "who think vast, dim, vague thoughts and do no work." Or fall under the class indicted by Ernest Fremont Tittle when he said, "Too many preachers are lying down on the job. . . . The time which they do spend among their books, or to speak more accurately, in the same room with their books what do they do with it? Mostly they kill it."
Don't fall into the habit of studying for sermons alone. As P. T. Forsyth said, "Read at fountainheads." We may never become great systematic theologians, but we are, for all of that, practical theologians, because there can be no divorce between theology and preaching. Every pastor is a theologian in residence. Preaching is a sort of immediate theologizing. And, remember, if it won't preach, it's not good theology.
What are the fountainheads at which the Seventh-day Adventist preacher must fill his cup? Revelation/Inspiration and its streams and branches: divine communication, prophecy, history. Christology and the Godhead: angels and demons, Paul's principalities and powers. Soteriology: Creation and the Fall, the nature of man, the law of God, sin, the plan of redemption, atonement, eschatology, apocalypticism. Ecclesiology, and all that subsumes under this great division: God's purpose for man, the kingdom of God, the nature of the church, the church as servant, spiritual gifts, mission, the lord ship of Christ, and much more. But it has fallen to the modern church to have its problems focus on ecclesiology.
Fully Developed Framework
The gospel minister is urged to gather up diligently the jewels of truth, and place them in the framework of the gospel (Gospel Workers, p. 289). The preacher should have this frame work fully developed. I don't like the term systematic theology too much, be cause in some circles it suggests a sort of philosophical approach to theology apart from Biblical revelation. Nevertheless, our theology must have system, that firmly established framework that Ellen White speaks about. After the framework is set we can begin the life long task of discovery and recovery of those jewels that are "scattered over the field of revelation" (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 188).
Studying at fountainheads will help the preacher develop a world view, get back to the sources of theological thought, see the broad spectrum of truth and the relationship between its main branches. It will help him to avoid riding hobbyhorses and exalting minor matters as major doctrines.
Theology is still the queen of the sciences because it alone can answer the ultimate questions origin, identity, and destiny.
And Biblical preaching makes avail able to our people this knowledge of God, which is found most clearly in the Scriptures. Biblical preaching is the need of the hour. The parish preacher is the middleman who must take the thousand-dollar bills of academic theology and change them into the coin of the realm so that his people can make use of it in the market place of life.
Suddenly Discovered Man
There has been a swing toward psychological, personal-problem preaching in the Adventist Church of recent date. This was to be expected as a normal reaction to the heavy diet of doctrinal/ prophetic preaching of the thirties and forties. Great public evangelism campaigns were the order of the day, with large accessions to the faith. Since that time the intelligence level, or to state it more accurately, the education level, of the pulpit and pew has risen sharply. We suddenly discovered man, his problems and hangups. The Adventist community looked at itself critically for perhaps the first time. We began to hear arguments something like this: Doctrine must be related to life. Just to know the 2300 days is not enough. Something more is needed. The academicians warned the preachers: Your churches are full of problems. Your people need more than the usual Sabbath sermon, totally unrelated to life situations. A better-educated clergy agreed, and the swing was on.
I am not knocking sermons whose thrust is toward problem solving; I am against any approach to preaching that tends to become man-centered. There is a certain attraction in humanism, a subtle appeal in the new psychology or behavioral science. It is exciting to discover what makes man tick. Over and against the gloomy Puritan ethic, with its angry God and helpless man, Freud and Jung do have their appeal. But the swing may now have gone too far.
A New Church Audience
Today we have a whole new church audience. Most of them have never been through a long evangelistic campaign (three-week campaigns have been in for some time) and heard the full treatment of those special truths that make us a church separate and distinct. We must not take for granted that they know. With an increase in general literacy there seems to be a corresponding decrease in Biblical literacy. It is seen even in our children who have gone through our school system. In these critical times there must be no neglect of the didache function of our pulpit ministry.
My plea is for Biblical preaching, not sterile recitation of propositionally stated truths in the old rabbinic tradition. The task of the Seventh-day Adventist ministry today is to take these truths, make them come alive, demonstrate their relation to life, and show how they meet contemporary issues and human needs. The message is still present truth. Under the ministration of the Holy Spirit old truths can flash forth with new relevance. Skillful Biblical preaching releases the dynamic that is in the Word, and Scripture once again becomes profitable for "teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living" (2 Tim. 3:16, N.E.B.).*
A recent study conducted by Douglas W. Johnson and George W. Cornell is significant. Contrary to the predictions of the secular theologians, "the strong, steady note that sounded throughout this study was the over whelming, unshaken dedication to classic Christian beliefs, a plea for fuller teaching of them, and an insistence that they be plainly proclaimed in the cause of evangelizing the nations and winning others to faith in Christ." --Punctured Preconceptions, p. 188.
Ellen White speaks of the universal need, the heart cry of many in the world and in the church, "for the bread of life" (Evangelism, p. 501). This is precisely why Biblical preaching is so rewarding. Human needs are met, not only on the surface but at deepest levels of existence. And if the word preached in our churches speaks to the vital needs of church members, that same word will speak to the needs of those outside our ranks.
My recent contacts with young people reinforce the conviction that Biblical preaching is "in." The question that surfaces over and over again is "How can I come to grips with Bible study? Can you give me some hints as to how Bible study can be more fulfilling and satisfying on a personal basis?" I get this from new Christians, those of mature Christian experience, and even those who appear only casually interested in religion. They seem to sense that the Bible has something to say about life, the meaning of existence on this planet, but somehow it remains out of reach. To many the Book is like a safe filled with treasure. What they want to know is the combination, how to unlock the storehouse.
Jesus' words speak with tremendous relevance to the modern preacher. "Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old" (Matt, 13:52).
This leads me to conclude that Bible study good old-fashioned, firsthand Bible study should be our first work. We should bring to this exercise the very highest powers of the intellect.
*From The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1970. Eeprinted by permission.