The preaching preacher—an endangered species?

Many seem to feel that because of dreaded irrelevance the preacher and his preaching belong in the same class as the whooping crane and the timber wolf.

Theodore Carcich, former vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, is now retired and living in Colton, Washington.

 

In these days when many consider it fashionable to lampoon preaching as an outdated occupation, both sermon and sermonizer are often the butt of jokesters, cartoonists, after-dinner speakers, and even at times of preachers themselves. It is an unusually dull day, indeed, that passes without some both within and without the church gleefully grasping any opportunity to make merry over the supposedly inept preacher.

Such bantering ridicule has caused some Christian preachers to crawl under a figurative juniper tree and start wailing with Elijah: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers" (1 Kings 19:4). Rather than permitting inane cynicism to erode his divine calling, the preacher needs to sense anew that no occupation in the New Testament is as clearly defined, commanded, and urged as is the preaching of the gospel.

Christ Himself made preaching an integral part of His earthly ministry. Ac cording to Luke, Jesus "went through out every city and village, preaching" (Luke 8:1). No sooner had He ordained the twelve than He sent them "through the towns, preaching" (chap. 9:6). After the resurrection Christ reminded His followers that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations" (chap. 24:47). The early church obeyed, going "every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). The great apostle Paul acknowledged "Christ sent me ... to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17). And Peter summed it all up for the apostles when he said: "He commanded us to preach" (Acts 10:42).

And preach those early heralds of the cross did! They cared little whether their preaching received a high rating. Flogging, stoning, jailing, to say nothing of adverse criticism, could not still their mighty messages. Neither threats nor ridicule caused them to lapse into ambiguity or equivocation. They stated their message of a crucified, risen, and ascended Saviour with singular clarity and conviction. What they had to say they said, and men understood what they said.

In fact, they were understood so well that the majority of them suffered martyrdom. We may be sure that pleasing platitudes, vague generalizations, and rambling discourses did not cause their death! John the Baptist, Stephen, James, Paul, and Peter (as well as others) lost their lives because their testimony was clear, explicit, and unanswerable. When commanded to refrain from teaching and preaching in Christ's name, Peter and John replied: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).

Although the apostles never posed as magnetic pulpit personalities, and certainly did not consider their sermons to be literary masterpieces, nevertheless their preaching stormed the cities of their day with the good news of salvation in Christ. Everywhere they called upon men to repent, believe, and be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Yet they toiled under no misapprehension as to which road—the narrow or wide—would be crowded be cause of their preaching. They were neither elated nor disheartened by either the presence or absence of extraordinary results, for they remembered their Lord's warning, "They will follow your teachings as little as they have followed mine" (John 15:20, N.E.B.).*

Obviously, the apostles and disciples were under high orders. For in spite of abuse, scorn, and vilification they continued to preach against overwhelming odds, succeeding in organizing churches in ever-widening circles from Jerusalem. As the culmination of their efforts, they planted the banner of Christ in the very heart of the empire Rome. They persisted until it was raised in the city's chief household—the household of Caesar. Triumphantly they relayed the mes sage: "All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:22). What faith! What boldness! Yea, more, what preaching! Such achievement underscores Paul's fervent charge to a young preacher of his day, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, . . . preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1, 2).

In like manner the gospel minister of today has been commissioned to preach. And lest we forget, such a charge was given us at our ordination service—a charge that has never been revoked by Christ or His church.

Some retort, "But what can preaching do for people today? We are no longer so dependent upon preachers for information. Why listen to someone laboring through a thirty-minute discourse on irrelevant themes?"

The excessive use of the word relevance has disturbed some preachers unduly. Trying to be "relevant" (which means little more than being related to matters at hand) panics some ministers into messages and projects wholly unrelated to the gospel. For one with a scoffing frame of mind, the "good news" of Christ is, of course, irrelevant. Surely it is better for the preacher to recognize this fact than to attempt to dilute the gospel's claims to a consistency that appeals to the self-assured. Such a course only assures the damnation of both preacher and hearer.

The Biblical record is clear that Christ knew how to relate to the people of His day. He spoke their common language, not some professional, religious jargon. He talked about fishing, planting, food, marriage, children, housework, taxes, hospitality, neighborliness, birth, death, and all the other things that made up the everyday life of those He lived with. Without question, He was relevant.

But Jesus also said things that made people uncomfortable and uneasy. He talked about such things as sin, repentance, confession, obedience, the judgment, hell, Satan, demons, perdition, righteousness, and purity. He said such strange things as "Love your enemies" and "Go the second mile." In so doing He was wholly indifferent to the prevailing opinion about Him. Consequently, the crowds began to melt away. But in stead of altering His message in a vain attempt to hold the crowds, His words grew more searching and penetrating. Even some of His close followers "from that time . . . went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66). Of this one thing we can be sure. Had Jesus responded to the kind of relevance the crowd demanded, there would have been no cross, no resurrection, no priestly mediation for sinners in heaven, no Second Coming, no future nothing but death and eternal loss for all of us.

Our day is no different. Millions today accept from the Scriptures only that which suits their fancy. They look upon much of the gospel as an anachronism. Considering themselves quite capable of running their lives without God's counsel, they view any call to submit them selves to the saving and disciplining grace of Christ as a sign of weakness. Of course such people find Bible preaching dull, even as some who prefer rock music find grand symphonies boring.

Likewise, the individual who has made the acquiring of wealth his supreme goal of life may indeed walk away from our preaching even as the rich young ruler turned from Christ. The self-satisfied and the pleasure-satiated will deem the gospel of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation sheer foolishness that is not required of sophisticated and informed folk. But shall we quit preaching because of the stubborn attitudes and hardness of heart that prevail?

All of us sense the frustrating impossibility of penetrating the mystery-world of man's mind without the aid of the Holy Spirit. On this point, Ellen White perceptively wrote, "The preaching of the word will be of no avail without the continual presence and aid of the Holy Spirit." —The Desire of Ages, p. 671. In describing the origin and development of the church in Thessalonica, Paul ob served: "We brought the good news to you, not with words only, but also with power and the Holy Spirit, and with complete conviction of its truth" (1 Thess. 1:5, T.E.V.).t Since the Holy Spirit is the great teacher of truth, only as the preacher is possessed by that divine Spirit can he break through the barriers sin has erected in human minds and hearts.

Another necessity in reaching modern minds is the preacher's complete conviction of what he is preaching. Unless the truth as it is in Jesus possesses him wholly, he is a nonconductor of the love of God and the grace of Christ. Can we stir men from sin to righteousness with messages from a Bible we doubt or only half believe? Can we invite men and women to accept the atonement of Cal vary in the same way that a TV commercialist offers a tonic for tired blood? Yet even those selling products they themselves never use sometimes do so with an enthusiasm and conviction that puts preachers to shame.

Furthermore, when we preach we want people to do more than merely think about what we have said. Far more than just arousing the imagination, provoking the feelings, or convincing the judgment, our preaching should cause those who listen to think and feel so deeply that they will resolve and act, taking their place among those described as "they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). If our preaching does not accomplish this, it has accomplished nothing. We have left people where we found them yea, worse than we found them. Using the cleaver of gospel truth, our task is to separate people from a death-doomed way of life and usher them into the company of the redeemed awaiting the coming of the Lord of life.

The commission to the church and its preachers is clear and specific: "And 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). This gospel of the kingdom exalts one Person, and only one—Christ crucified, Christ risen, and Christ corning again. Urgently it invites man kind to become reconciled to God by exercising faith in Jesus Christ. And millions still are responding the world over to such preaching!

Those millions testify that the gospel of Christ has dealt effectively with such distressingly "relevant" problems as sin, guilt, remorse, depression, loneliness, suffering, old age, sorrow, and death. Whatever else may be outdated, these human problems certainly are not, and the gospel's solution is equally cur rent. Formerly hopeless individuals, usually designated by society for the human slag pile, are being transformed into happy, useful, worthwhile beings by the "foolishness" of preaching Christ's saving and sustaining grace. As living epistles known and read of men, these born-again Christians bear witness to the fact that Christ is God's all-sufficient remedy for the sins, problems, and ills of humanity.

For all who believe, Heaven's emancipation proclamation breaks the dominating power of life-destroying habits and practices. Lust, sodomy, infidelity, drunkenness, gluttony, pride, greed, envy, covetousness, dishonesty, lying, bigotry, racism, hatred, and every sin can be cast off through Christ. Jubilantly the redeemed and reclaimed testify: "If a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new" (2 Cor. 5:17, Phillips), t Paul asks, "How then shall they [men] call on him in whom they have not believed? and shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14).

Therefore, take courage, man of God, called to preach this glorious gospel! You are not in an outdated profession; the gospel of Christ is not an outdated commodity. As the love of God is ever new, so is your appointed task. Keep on preaching. Your work is not in vain. Until the Lord returns in glory, He has given us the privilege—"Go thou and preach the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60).

Notes:

* From The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. Reprinted by permission.

+ From the Good News Bible—Old Testament: Copyright American Bible Society 1976; New Testament: Copyright American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976.

+ From The New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillips 1972. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.


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Theodore Carcich, former vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, is now retired and living in Colton, Washington.

August 1979

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