While endeavoring to communicate the gospel faith fully, many well-intentioned preachers fail to grasp the higher, transcendent purpose of preaching. Consequently, Christian preaching has often focused on various aspects of the Christian faith, such as morals, ethics, lifestyles, doctrines, law, and judgment. Those who hear this kind of preaching have often been converted to rational, propositional truths. Many Christian churches and members fail to experience the power of the gospel in their lives because of this hazy focus in preaching.
Propositional truth must be preached and taught, but it must be the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel must have a rational, objective content; however, our hearers must not be led to believe that the gospel consists simply of rules, regulations, and cerebral expressions of truth that if believed and obeyed will assure them of eternal life. We must see that Christ was not just another lawgiver like Moses, albeit on another mountain, promising God's blessing if only human beings would obey.
To be Christian is to know Christ and to have an intimate and saving relationship with Him. True biblical preaching, then, whether it is done in the church's regular worship services or in a public hall, is the uplifting of Christ and inviting men and women to come to know Him as Saviour, Lord, and friend.
The testimony of Scripture
The Bible is unequivocal on this point. Luke describes the disciples "daily in the temple, and in every house, . . . [ceasing] not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42). He under scores this foundational point when he writes that Philip went down to Samaria and "preached Christ unto them" (Acts 8:5). A few days later we find Philip in the desert witnessing to the Ethiopian official and "preaching unto him Jesus" (verse 35).
Paul, in writing to the Corinthian church, assures them that it is the preaching of Jesus Christ that will establish the Corinthian church in the Christian faith (1 Cor. 1:30). It is everywhere apparent in Paul's ministry that the teaching and preaching of Christ is the wisdom and power of God and the God-ordained means by which people are saved (verses 21-30).
Paul underscores the importance of defining the Christian ministry as the preaching of Christ by contrasting it with the so-called wisdom of this world. He argues eloquently that the light, the glory, the knowledge, and the salvation of God are to be found only in Jesus Christ. Consequently, we are not just to preach tenets or precepts that tell us about Christ, but to preach "Christ Jesus the Lord" Himself (2 Cor. 4:1-6).
Certainly this is synonymous with preaching the Word of God. But that Word at its heart is Jesus. The Bible is a revelation of Christ, and only as we understand the Scriptures in this light can the preaching of the Word of God become the "power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16). Our preaching must hold up Jesus Christ before the people. We must show the people who Christ is, what He has done in the past, what He is doing now, and what He will do in the future.
It is true that to be effective the preaching of Christ and His work must be set in the context of a biblical worldview, a worldview that explains the human predicament and best answers the ultimate questions of life. This enables preaching to connect with the consciousness of contemporary people, making it meaningful and relevant. And it should be obvious that this will necessitate developing and presenting prepositional truths.
However, if this truth is to go beyond cognitive understanding and mental assent to become a life-giving principle, it must be the truth as it is in Jesus, truth that reveals and exalts the Lord Himself. The gospel must have an objective content; however, that content must not be simply a well-reasoned argument, but a revelation of the crucified and risen Lord.
Biblical preaching, then, is the preaching of Jesus Christ. He must be the preeminent and enduring focus in our proclamation. Yes, of course, our worship services and evangelistic meetings must include the preaching of the law and judgment, but only to reveal the character and work of Jesus Christ.
Ellen White underscores this point when she writes that the ritual of our worship services is "of no value, unless connected with Christ by living faith." 1 She indicates that doctrines are helpful only as they enable us to understand more of Christ and His work. "Even the moral law," she says, "fails of its purpose, unless it is understood in its relation to the Saviour."2
God's gift to us is Christ Himself
Only when people come to know Christ personally can they properly understand His teachings. Martin Luther saw this point clearly when he wrote: "Before you can take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize Him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own."3
The power of Christian preaching, then, is that it ministers the very life of Christ to the people. It brings them the gift of God Himself.
Richard Lescher, in his excellent book A Theology of Preaching, agrees with Luther when he writes that "a biblical sermon is an exposition of the Scripture, which is an exposition of the gospel, which is an exposition of the life of God Himself."4 Again Luther underscores this foundational truth with the thought that "the preaching of the gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to Him."5
Preaching Christ brings a new dynamic
When the preacher internalizes this truth, the hearers will experience a new dynamic, that dynamic being nothing less than the presence of Christ Himself in the proclamation! Preaching of this quality then becomes a means by which the life of Jesus Christ, who alone is the power of God unto salvation, is mediated to the believer. If our preaching fails to bring Christ to the people and the people to Christ, it is not Christian preaching.
However, if our hearers receive Christ as their Saviour and Lord as a gift of God, they will receive the wealth, wisdom, and power of God in Christ Jesus. They will know that they have passed from death to life. It is this fact that makes preaching the "dynamite" of God. It breaks the chains of fear, guilt, and sin that have in the past imprisoned the respondents. Christ-centered preaching sets them free to love and to serve Him with the joy of sons and daughters.
The New Testament shows that the lives of those who believed the gospel and opened themselves up to Christ experienced this dynamic change. Salvation became a present and living reality to them. These dynamic, all-encompassing changes in the daily experience of the New Testament believers opened the door for others who followed after to know similar transformations. The experience of the demoniac, the Ethiopian eunuch, Peter, Nicodemus, and others who found salvation in and through Jesus Christ became "normative" for all who in the future would accept Christ.6
While our embracing of Jesus brings salvation to us, we must hold before us the reality that the way the Christian lives his or her life is the fruit of what was accomplished at the cross. Our assurance, our hope, our joy, our power, our wisdom, are to be found in the crucified and risen Saviour. Jesus is our greatest need. And that need can be exposed only by preaching that uplifts Christ.
Salvation does not come to us through human logic or reason, argument or eloquence. It comes by beholding the Lamb of God. This is why Paul said after his disappointing encounter with the Greeks on Mars' Hill, "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).
Ellen White affirms the transcendent power of preaching when she urges preachers to "let all your powers be directed to pointing souls, confused, bewildered, lost, to the 'Lamb of God.'"7 She assures us that Christ-centered preaching will "touch invisible chords, whose vibrations will ring to the ends of the earth, and make melody through eternal ages."8 This kind of preaching will consistently win people to Christ and His church. It will rekindle the dynamics of the Protestant Reformation.
All great revivals have followed a vanguard of preaching that brings people to Christ and Christ to people. John explained the power of this kind of preaching when he wrote: "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1 John 5:12).
John Wesley's conversion experience illustrates beautifully the dynamic that Christ-centered preaching brings into our work. Wesley was called and trained to be a preacher, but for years he never personally experienced a complete bonding with Christ. Consequently, he had no personal assurance of acceptance or of sins forgiven or of salvation.
One evening Wesley was invited to a Christian society meeting on Aldersgate Street. "I went very unwillingly," he later wrote, "to hear one who was reading Luther's preface to Romans." Wesley describes how his life was changed when Christ came to him. "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.... I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation."9
What an honor and privilege it is to preach Christ. John Wycliffe expressed this well when he said, "The highest service that men may attain to on earth is to preach the Word of God."10
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), p. 608.
3 In Richard Lescher, Theories of Preaching
(Durham, N.C.: Labyrinth Press, 1987), p. 97.
4 Richard Lescher, A Theology of Preaching
(Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Preachers' Library,
1981), p. 78.
5 Theories of Preaching, p. 98.
6 See V. Norskov Olsen, Man in the Image of
God (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub.
Assn., 1988), p. 93.
7 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington,
D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1948), p. 160.
8 Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 823.
9 See James C. Hefley, How Great Christians
Met Christ (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute,
1973), pp. 38, 39.
10 John Wycliffe, Contra Fratres, in Fant and
Pinson, vol. l,p. 234.