Let's preach the distinctives

Adventist preaching finds its distinctiveness in the context of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.

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

In previous articles of this series I've shared two convictions about preaching: that it should be biblical and that it should present the gospel clearly and convincingly. Here I share another concern: we also should pro claim those truths that set us apart as a people.

Seventh-day Adventists are called to preach "the everlasting gospel" (Rev. 14:6, 7), but in a particular setting. Throughout history God's messengers have proclaimed His only way of saving humanity from sin. While the essential message hasn't changed, its context has. In Noah's time, the gospel came in the setting of the approaching flood. In Moses' day, the Exodus experience shaped it. For the people of John the Baptist's era, the message was cast in the expectation of the Messiah's appearance. Jesus, the Word made flesh, proclaimed the gospel in terms of the kingdom of heaven that was breaking through in His life and work.

So today God commissions us to preach the good news in the setting of a worldwide call to "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (verse 7). Seventh-day Adventist preaching, then, cannot be just like that of any others. We are a prophetic people with a prophetic message!

What are the Adventist distinctives?

The three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-14 give us our marching orders. For us, the everlasting gospel comes in the setting of:

1. A global mission. Every congregation, no matter how small in size or how humble in its meeting place, is part of our worldwide fellowship. Our message indeed is going to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. God has brought this church together in a unique blend of people of more than 200 countries. Seventh-day Adventist preaching should lift the sights of the people, helping them to think big, plan big, do big to be global in their out look. Further, our preaching should call us all to rejoice in the incredible diversity of God's people, as we respect and love one another regardless of color, race, language, age, gender, or social standing. We are one in Christ.

2. The judgment hour. This truth opens up the understanding of the heavenly sanctuary, with Jesus as our great high priest who represents us before the throne of God. It sweeps our minds away from the petty things of this earth to the very headquarters of the uni verse.

3. Worship of the Creator. In an age when men and women worship them selves, sex, sports, pleasure, or money, Seventh-day Adventist preaching must exalt God as the only true object of adoration. It must proclaim Him as the Creator and Source of all things, as well as our Redeemer and Lord.

4. The law of God. God's last-day people will love and follow Him, no matter what the cost. "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (verse 12). We are law-keepers, not in order to be saved, but because we have been saved. For us, obedience is the expression of who we are as children of the King of heaven.

5. The Sabbath. Of all the commandments, the Sabbath is the seal of our love and allegiance to our loving heavenly Father. By choosing to set aside for Him the day that He set aside and blessed, we honor Him as Creator and Lord of time and space. For us, Sabbath-keeping isn't a burden but a privilege and a blessing. More than ever, we look forward to its sacred, peaceful hours in the midst of the frantic pace of modern living.

6. The great controversy. We believe we are engaged in a cosmic struggle between good and evil. The "beast" mentioned in Revelation 14:9- 11 represents the forces that oppose God's last-day people. But we serve One who is far greater, One who holds the destiny of the world in His hands and who will bring us through any and all troubles. By His cross He has won the decisive battle in the struggle with the demonic powers, and His triumph is assured.

7. The second coming. "I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one 'like a son of man' with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand" (verse 14, NIV). We are Seventh-day Adventists—we believe Jesus will come again. We know He will keep His promise (John 14:1-3). We believe that the great prophetic time lines and the signs all around point to the climax of the ages when God will send forth His Son a second time, just as He sent Him to earth 2,000 years ago in "the fulness of the time" (Gal. 4:4).

8. The Spirit of Prophecy. Another Seventh-day Adventist distinctive, not found in the three angels' messages but identified in Revelation 12:17 and 19:10, is our belief that God has revealed Himself to His end-time church through the Spirit of Prophecy. We believe that God used Ellen White to bring His messages to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Her counsels do not add to or take the place of Scripture, but we accept them as a continuing source of guidance and nurture. While Adventist preaching should be utterly biblical in its foundation and content, it should not fail to affirm confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy.

What breathtaking themes are these! They speak powerfully to life in our times. Seventh-day Adventist preach ing cannot help being relevant!

In several places Ellen White describes our distinctive teachings as "the pillars," "the landmarks," or "the foundations." She specifically identifies them as the sanctuary and its cleansing, the three angels' messages, the law of God, the Sabbath, and the nonimmortality of the soul.1 "Let the truths that are the foundation of our faith be kept before the people," she urges. "We are now to understand what the pillars of our faith are the truths that have made us as a people what we are, leading us on step by step."2

She further counsels: "Ministers should present the sure word of prophecy as the foundation of the faith of Seventh-day Adventists. . . . 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. ... The time in which we are living calls for constant vigilance, and God's ministers are to present the light on the Sabbath question. They 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."3

How shall we present the distinctives?

We should present our distinctive truths only in terms of the everlasting gospel. This means that Christ will be the center of every doctrine, whether it be the sanctuary, the Sabbath, the law, or the state of the dead. Christ must not be added as an afterthought. He must be the foundation, the heart, the alpha and the omega, the first and the last.

Sometimes I find that some Seventh-day Adventists do not seem interested in doctrinal presentations. The reason, I think, isn't because our distinctives don't touch people's lives. What could be more relevant than the Sabbath and the Second Coming? Too often in the past we have preached these truths in a dry, theoretical, or argumentative manner. We haven't presented them with the love of Jesus. We haven't applied them to daily living so people can see the difference such doctrines can make.

So we must study much and pray much if we are to present our distinctive truths effectively. We must ask the Lord to set aside our pride. Our purpose isn't to prove that we're right and someone else is wrong. It isn't to put down someone we know, perhaps even one of our own members. We aren't called to preach at people but to pro claim the everlasting gospel, which is always good news no matter what the specific subject is.

Finally, if we want our preaching to have power, we' d better plead with the Holy Spirit for power to live the distinctives as well as speak about them.

We must treasure the Sabbath as a precious, gracious gift from our loving Father. The Second Coming must be "the blessed hope" when we will meet our Saviour face-to-face, not an event of terror and anxiety. The judgment must give us hope as we trust in the One who speaks on our behalf and frees us from all uncertainty and apprehension. The great controversy must focus on the power and victory of Jesus, not the deceptions of Satan and the trials of the last days.

What we are will mean more than what we preach. Our strongest sermon will be our lives overflowing with Christian love for all.

May the Lord send His Spirit to revive His people. May our preaching be biblical preaching that comes from the Word and centers in the Word. May our preaching be gospel preaching that points listeners to the Lamb of God that takes away our sins and gives us the assurance of salvation now. And may our preaching faithfully portray the Seventh-day Adventist distinctives that provide the setting for the proclamation of the everlasting gospel in our day.

1. Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors (Nashville, Southern Pub. Assn.,1946), pp. 30, 31.

2. Ibid., p. 29.

3. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub.. Assn., 1948), p. 148.

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

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