On page 20 of Charles Bradford’s book Preaching to the Times he states:
Seventh-day Adventist preaching should be distinguished by something different. It must bring to the present situation those insights and understandings that are found only in the prophetic portions of the Bible. All true Seventh-day Adventist preaching has Revelation 14:6-12 as its frame of reference…all sermons and doctrines wind up somewhere in the neighborhood of this threefold message.
Again we come to the unique aspect. I have often said, if I go to a Baptist church I expect to hear a Christian sermon, but yes I expect to hear something that lets me know that this is a Baptist church. The same with a pentecostal or methodist or whatever. Also the same with an Adventist church. Here Bradford gets to the core of the Adventist preaching identity. What are we doing? What should we be doing?
Now in preaching our “unique commission” we should not fall into the trap of simply lecturing on the facts of these portions of scripture without making it relevant to the people. If you preach the Sabbath, then the Sabbath must be seen as more than just a day you go to church on or a day you get to take off from work. If we are going to preach the Sanctuary, then it has got to be more than chronology and celestial geography. And if you are going to preach the Second Coming, it has to be more than just a threat of hell to entice you to come to the alter.
Preach Adventism, yes we must. But always find a way to preach Jesus in it. And also find a way to preach Adventism’s connection to real life in it. Because in the end, it is better to hear a great sermon that will help to strengthen and empower than hear a lecture on facts that seem by our presentation to be irrelevant to real life.
I have come across two interesting quotes in my preparation for future blog posts. First is from Calvin Rock in the article Black SDA Preaching. He states:
Adventist preaching[‘s]…essence is clearly one of reform–Sabbath reform, health reform, dress reform, education reform, family reform, stewardship reform, etc. Preaching that does not ring with the certainties of Daniel and Revelation; that is not flavored with the symbols of the sanctuary; that does not uphold the law of God; that does not honor the prophetic gift of Ellen White; that does not extol justification by faith is not Adventist preaching. It may be truth, but it is not Present Truth; it may constitute an engaging performance, but it does not constitute the remnant proclamation.
This definitely sounds like a good classic definition of Adventist preaching. But is this a good definition of contemporary Adventist preaching? Is Adventist preaching still flavored with these apsects? What say you?
Adventist Preaching must be Adventist. Like all of God’s people, we do have a heaven-assigned job. But how do we do this? How do we preach this message and yet still remain relevant to the lives of our people? That is the question we must ask, for that is what God has called us to do.
As I begin this series looking at Calvin Rock’s seminal article “Black SDA Preaching: Balanced or betwixt and between?” I notice that the article begins with 3 important questions for consideration. These questions reach the heart of Black Preaching within an Adventist context.
- Is it possible to do genuine Black preaching when we are separated from the Black churches? In other words, must one be in a historically Black denomination to engage in true Black preaching? Related is the question of whether an “Anglo hermeneutic” has taken over our preaching which would be a detriment to Black preaching itself?
- How has the separation of Black Adventists from the historic Black denominations affected our preaching? Has it given us an “Anglo-emphasis?”
- Are we Black preachers with an Adventist doctrine or Adventist preachers with a Black emphasis? Or are we a hybrid “too theologically Anglicized for authentic Black preaching and too authentically ethnic to fit the Adventist prototype?”
Why Care about the Black Tradition?
A deeper question also emerges as I look at these questions. That question is should we even care or worry about an African American approach to preaching? Is it valuable in its own right or is it a relic of the past with no relevance for today?
Those are complicated questions. But in the end, Black preaching is valuable because of its emphasis on 3 important things that can enrich all preaching. The first of these is its “practicality.” Great Black preaching is not simply about teaching doctrine, but finding practical ways to make that doctrine relevant to daily living. The second important characteristic of Great black preaching is it is “communal.” Great Black preaching seeks to build a community of people who can make it through the difficulties of life. The emphasis is on community. The final is it is from the vantage point of the “least of these.” Black preaching looks at the Bible and the preaching moment as a means of celebrating the perspective of the least of these. This is a valuable hermeneutic in that a good portion of the Bible’s witness comes from the perspective of the least of these. Please see this link for an article I wrote on the Black Preaching Tradition.
Black Adventist or Adventist who happens to be Black?
So yes I think that the Black preaching tradition is important, even to Adventists. But this goes back to the question of whether we are Black Adventist preachers or Adventist preachers who happen to be Black. I don’t like the dichotomy between these two descriptions. But I will begin to answer this question this way. I refused to separate the two. I must preach as an African American who has engaged in the benefits and liabilities of being a part of the community. But I am Adventist. Both have demands on me as a preacher. I must look for what God is doing for the underdog when I look at the text. My African American perspective forces me to do that. But I also must look for the “Great controversy” theme and the connection to the consummation of all things at the Second Advent, because I am Adventist.
Unify the Two?
I must seek to “celebrate the good news” and attempt to have the people “experience the word” because so many in my African American tradition have done that, but I also must preach reform and the responsibilities of the Gospel because I am Adventist. In short, I must do both, and hopefully reflection on this article will help me retain this “dual-consciousness.”
Please stay around for our reflections on this important document.