Needed: gospel preaching
The Seventh-day Adventist Church needs biblical preach ing now more than ever, and the focus must be on the gospel.
Why gospel preaching?
Recently the General Conference completed the most thorough survey of Seventh-day Adventists ever attempted on a worldwide basis. More than 18,500 members drawn from almost every part of the globe were asked about their beliefs, practices, and convictions. The results provide us with invaluable in formation about the status and spiritual needs of our church.
The survey brought plenty of good news. By and large, our members show solid support for our fundamental beliefs. They understand well the plan of salvation---in theory. However, only a small percentage reports having assurance of eternal life. The assurance scale ranges from a high of 84 percent in one union conference to only 52 percent in one division. It seems evident that while many Seventh-day Adventists know the doctrine of the gospel, they have yet to experience it.
The gap between understanding salvation and experiencing its power can be closed only by gospel preaching that will bring every member into the calm, joyful confidence of salvation in Jesus.
We need gospel preaching for an other reason as well: our proclamation to the world. Did you notice how the first angel's message sums up the work that the Lord has committed to us? "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6, KJV).*
We do not have a new message to give to the world something startling or sensational. It's the old, old story of Jesus and His love. God has always had just one way of salvation. Only by grace, only by His loving provision, only by His free gift this is the good news. It's the same gospel from Adam to Moses, from Moses to Paul, and from the apostles to the second coming of Jesus.
We cannot assume that all of us know the gospel as a living experience. Every one of us may have heard it, but too many of us have not experienced it. We cannot assume that those who come to our evangelistic meetings know the gospel story. We must present it to them clearly and forcibly, seeking to make it real in terms of life in these times. We must point out the awful fact of sin, and their need for the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Ellen White writes: "Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world. The proclamation of the third angel's message calls for the presentation of the Sabbath truth. This truth, with others included in the mes sage, is to be proclaimed; but the great center of attraction, Christ Jesus, must not be left out. It is at the cross of Christ that mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other. The sinner must be led to look to Calvary; with the simple faith of a little child he must trust in the merits of the Saviour, accepting His righteousness, believing in His mercy."1
It is tragic if people learn about the importance of the law at our evangelistic meetings but have to go down the street to a church of another denomination to learn about the assurance of salvation through Christ. The Lord has given this church a clear mandate: preach the everlasting gospel.
Somehow we have had a problem in carrying out this mandate. Even our pioneers, sincere Christians though they were, too often preferred argument and debate. They wanted to prove they were right and their opponents were wrong. Ellen White said their formal, set discourses were as dry as the hills of Gilboa.2
But into this desert came the soft rain of the message of righteousness by faith. At the 1888 General Conference session in Minneapolis, God used two young preachers, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, to bring Seventh-day Adventists back to the everlasting gospel. Although some veteran leaders opposed the message, Ellen White endorsed it, and the church took a turn that influences us to this day, and from which we must not depart.
Why are we reluctant?
The gospel is God's incredible good news. It's so unlike the way in which humans deal with one another that we find it difficult to accept just as it is. We seek to dilute it or distort it. Or, having accepted it, we fall back into a works mode, like the Galatians.
The world operates on this principle: You get what you earn. Nothing is really free. There's no free lunch. If this were the way God dealt with us, no one would ever make it through to the eternal kingdom. For we "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23),* and "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6).
But God doesn't deal with us like that! He treats us, not as we deserve, but as Christ deserves: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Ellen White comments: "Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share.
He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. 'With His stripes we are healed.' "3
Some Seventh-day Adventists think that preaching this good news just as it stands without any ifs or buts is dangerous. It makes salvation too easy, they say. It makes grace too cheap. They are afraid that people will be lulled into a false sense of security, and that careless behavior will result.
Thus, they tend to hedge or qualify the gospel. By one means or another they introduce human works into the equation so salvation no longer shines as God's totally free gift. And the hearers go away robbed of the assurance of salvation, left to wander in uncertainty, doubting and fearing.
It's time for change! Let's preach as the Lord has summoned us. Let's pro claim the everlasting gospel!
Preach the biblical gospel
However, not every message that people call gospel is the biblical gospel, the everlasting gospel. Paul told the Galatian believers: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all" (Gal. 1:6, 7). The false gospel was adding human works---specifically, circumcision---to God's free gift of salvation (Gal. 3:1, 2; 5:2-6).
Note what the false gospel does. It makes place for human pride. It gives us some part in earning our salvation. It leads us to presume on God's gracious provision by willfully rationalizing our sinful conduct.
The same apostle Paul who so emphatically speaks against the false gospel and against adding our works to God's free provision also exhorts Christians to holy living. God provides freely; we accept gratefully. We do not spurn His offer, nor do we take it for granted. Grace is free, but it isn't cheap. Grace emptied heaven for us.
Paul's two great treatises on the gospel, Romans and Galatians, set out the implications of the gospel for daily living. The apostle exhorts the Romans: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Rom. 6:1,2). "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (verses 12-14).
Likewise to the Galatians: "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal. 5:13, 16-18, 24, 25).
When we preach the everlasting gospel as Paul preached it, we Seventh-day Adventists will find both assurance of salvation and power for victorious daily living. We will not go away feeling beaten down. We will walk from church with a spring in our steps, rejoicing in God's free gift. And we will not leave feeling that the gospel gives us license to live carelessly. We will seek to live victoriously by the power of the indwelling Spirit, as we try to honor our Lord in all that we do and say.
The everlasting gospel! It's still good news, the best news around, the only news that counts. May it resound from every Seventh-day Adventist pulpit from New Guinea to New Orleans and from Berlin to Buenos Aires!
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* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.
1. Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1948), pp. 156, 157.
2. Ibid., p. 165.
3. ____, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 25.