Needed: biblical preaching

The General Conference president shares his conviction and concerns in a three-part serial on preaching.

Robert S. Folkenberg is the former president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

We need biblical preaching. "Preach the Word," wrote the apostle Paul. "Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2).* These words are my hope and prayer for Adventists today. If they would become a reality in our midst, our people everywhere would be energized, nurtured, and motivated to live for Christ and serve Him.

What is biblical preaching?

Biblical preaching puts the Word at the center, not psychology or cur rent events, not a story or illustration. Sometimes sermon illustrations are so captivating that they are all the people remember. They take away the stories but not what they were supposed to teach!

No, we must make the Bible and its authority central to our preaching. From a sermon's beginning to end, from its preparation to presentation, Scripture must be the focus. Only then should we seek illustrations for our topic. We shouldn't start with illustrative material and then hunt for a text to give it validity. Such use of Scripture is but a pretense for preaching.

Biblical preaching is rooted and grounded in the Word. It may be expository—that is, it may take a particular passage and let that passage unfold point by point, showing its meaning and application to life. Or it may be topical—that is, built around several texts or passages rather than one, but proceeding from the Word, and focusing the Word on a particular subject. Other sermon forms are possible, such as the narrative approach. But whatever the type of sermon, the Word shapes the presentation in biblical preaching.

Biblical preaching means that we bow before a Higher Authority. The preacher doesn't try to show how much he or she knows about a certain topic, doesn't seek to impress by clever words or entertain by amusing anecdotes. Not the preacher but the Word occupies center stage. Ellen White comments: "Let no minister suppose that he can convert souls by eloquent sermons.... Flowery speeches, pleasing tales, or inappropriate anecdotes do not convict the sinner."1

But please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying preaching should be dull. I'm not advocating colorless sermons. Biblical preaching can and should be lively, animated, and interesting. It can and should grip both preacher and hearers. The Bible is alive! It deals with life! And biblical preaching will be down-to-earth, practical, relevant. It will show that it takes the Bible seriously and applies it to life in today's world.

Why biblical preaching?

We need biblical preaching for three reasons. First, because the Word, not the world, must shape our values, attitudes, and motives. We live in a society that bombards us with secular, materialistic philosophy. We cannot avoid this all pervasive fallout, no matter how hard we try. The answer is that we must fortify ourselves through studying God's Word.

The apostle Peter tells us: "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). The Word brings new life. The Word sustains that life. Protected and nurtured by the Word, we can stand securely amid the perils of the last days.

One of the closing chapters of The Great Controversy is entitled "The Scriptures a Safeguard." In it Ellen White writes:

"But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain 'Thus saith the Lord' in its support."2

We need today preaching that not merely encourages Seventh-day Adventists to study the Bible, but is truly biblical itself. Let the preacher model the admonition!

Second, we need biblical preaching because we are the church, the remnant church. We aren't just an other charitable organization, or a social club for international fellow ship, or a mere business corporation with multinational objectives. We are the people of God. Our Chief is in heaven, and we look for His soon return.

The Bible tells us who we are, what God wants us to do, and how He wants us to live. The Bible helps us establish and maintain our identity in a world that sees reality quite differently from the way we do. The Bible keeps us straight, keeps us balanced.

Seventh-day Adventist preaching must build and reinforce the identity of God's people. It can do so only if it comes directly from the Word itself.

And third, we need biblical preaching because it alone is power.

In American society late-night television personalities attract large audiences and command huge salaries. Such people of quick mind, nimble tongue, and excellent timing move their studio audiences and millions of TV viewers to action at their whim.

But the power of our preaching must have a different source. "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.... For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:17,21).

Ellen White explains: "In the sermons from many pulpits of today there is not that divine manifestation which awakens the conscience and brings life to the soul. The hearers cannot say, 'Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?' (Luke 24:32, KIV). There are many who are crying out for the living God, longing for the divine presence. . . . Let the word of God speak to the people."3

Biblical preaching leads to changed lives. God works through men and women to bring His mes sages, but the glory and the power aren't from human resources and skill. The Holy Spirit, who gave birth to the Word in the beginning, comes to nurture the Word as it is brought before the people.

What has been said of prayer holds true for preaching also: much Word, much power. Little Word, little power. No Word, no power.

Biblical preaching leaves the listener with a blessing that can be readily recalled to refresh the soul. When a preacher holds up Scripture before a congregation and applies it to every day life, the inspiration and instruction of the sermon often lasts for years as individual members encounter the same text in their personal Bible studies and recall the preacher's message.

Becoming biblical preachers

We become biblical preachers only by spending time with the Word until it shapes and molds us, until its view of God and life becomes our view, until our spirit resonates with its Spirit. There is no other way. There is no shortcut. "The preaching of the Word will be of no avail without the continual presence and aid of the Holy Spirit."4

Some Seventh-day Adventists claim they sense a lack of solid preaching in some of our congregations. Could the reason be that some preachers do not spend enough personal time with the Word? Might some preach on psychology or sociology or some other "ology" because that is what they know better than God's Word?

When our lives are saturated with the Word, it will be at our right hand for every situation. We won't have a problem to find something to preach about, because the Bible supplies an endless source of possibilities.

A great teacher of homiletics once remarked that all powerful sermons spring from one of two sources: the preacher's own experience, or some need the preacher has observed in the lives of the people. Thus strong preaching is never a theoretical dis course. It rings with experience with which we can identify as the Word addresses the hopes and fears, the struggles and hurts, of God's people.

Once Seventh-day Adventists were known as the people of the Book. I don't hear it said of us much anymore, and I am sorry for that. May each of us determine to reverse the trend! May we determine to make the Scriptures central in our lives and study. And may every Seventh-day Adventist, minister or layperson, who preaches feed the flock with the solid food of the Word.

* Unless otherwise noted, Scripture passages are from the New International Version.

1. Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1970), p. 189.

2. ____, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 595.

3. ____, Christ's Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1941), p. 40.

4. ____, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 671.

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Robert S. Folkenberg is the former president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

April 1994

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