Can You Teach Me To Do An Adventist Sermon?

Photo by Jeremy C. Schultz
That is an interesting question that came to my box a little while ago. The preacher had visited my Soul Preaching website where I seek to teach the fundamentals of the Black Preaching Tradition. The questioner was an Adventist local elder who wanted to improve his sermons, but wondered where can he plug the “Adventism” into them. The questioner rightly noted that the Soul Preaching website is an interdenominational resource that does not teach the doctrines of any body.

But the question remained. It was an interesting one for me who has studied homiletics. I immediately began asking some interesting questions and interacted with some assumptions that many have. First, how many Adventists have you heard condeming thsoe who are not of that faith for preaching sermons that “don’t say anything.”

What is it to preach something? Some people think that a lecture on religious themes is a sermon. How many of you have listened to a preacher of that school. You end up with a long 60 minute distilling of a doctrine that is meant to enlighten the mind. Yet the heart is unstirred. Often these lectures have very little practical value. At the end of the day, tell me how this doctrine you are preaching makes a difference in my daily life. That is your job preacher.

Another issue that might be going on is that the questioner might be thinking that the worship sermon is the only time to teach doctrines. So we must do it then. It is very problematic to try to have the preaching moment to be your whole training. What about Sabbath School? Do you use that as a traning opportunity or simply a preaching opportunity for your local elders? What about Wednesday Night Prayer meeting. I like how our Baptist sisters and brothers normally call this Wednesday Bible study. Do you have prayer? Do you have study?

I am actually hearing about churches around doing training of their members. Here in Nashville Riverside SDA Church under Furman Fordham seems to have a training program to get people on the right track. The point that I am making is that it is unreasonable to expect the one hour worship sermon to bear the brunt of the theological training in a church.

But more than that, should it even be. I would argue that the sermon should foster an encounter between the people, God, and scripture. It should not be simply to learn facts for the mind. It should be an encounter that is informed by theology and the other things that we have learned, but no it is more than that. It is a time for the intellect and the emotions to celebrate the good news of God’s reign on this Sabbath day.

So know and understand your theological understandings which includes Biblical wholeness (State of the Dead). Yes, go head on and get a deeper understanding of the theology of Sabbath and its great need at this time. Yes understand your theology, but don’t just preach it. Yes preach it, but then always take the time to Celebrate it. Turn the page. Be the Cheif celebrator of the implications of the truth you have presented in the sermons.

AT the end of the day. You are not preaching an “Adventist sermon” merely when you give the facts of the Sabbath as being the Seventh Day. You are preaching an “Adventist sermon” when you use the principle of Sabbath rest to inform how you treat people on this day and the rest of the week. you are preaching an Adventist sermon when you use the princple of Sabbath rest as a theological tool to interpret what it means to live a faithful life in a world that is trying to remove all our rest.

Yes, I am calling for you to tell your people what these doctrines mean. Don’t just tell them to me and tell me I better beleive them and sit down as if you have done something. No work to foster an experience with the Lord whom we understand better because of something about the Sabbath.

So step one…stop thinking that an Adventist sermon is a Bible study that gives proof texts for a doctrine….

So I would argue that the whole idea of a sermon as merely a lecture is preoblematic. But then we have the other side where doctrine plays no part in the

Should We Be Celebrating?

Photo by mattbuck.
A little while ago the Religious News Service put out an article about Seventh-day Adventism being the fastest growing church in North America. On Facebook it appeared that a huge percentage of Adventists were sending links to this article all over the place.

Here is a link to that article.

Well it turns out that while Adventism is growing…it was not as much as originally thought. In addition, it appears that it might be based in immigrants. Here is the Christian Century’s article. It appears as though the 4.3% growth rate has been fixed in the original articles to 2.5%.

Growing But Not As Fast

At any rate, Adventists are still growing…aren’t they? Well they are growing, but like everyone else, we are trying to figure out where our converts are. In addition, like everyone else, we are trying to keep our youth.

Whenever we talked about retention the fingers start coming out. The evangelists point to the pastors for not watering the growth. The pastors point to the elders for not doing their job. Finally, the elders point to the other members for not being loving.

Pointing Fingers Or Fixing The Problem?

I know we have a book come out every so often. we have a discussion every so often about retaining members. But when you have a system where you barely tell people what they are getting into when you dunk them…and then leave them to fend for themselves….What do we expect?

What do we expect when church growth is measured in terms of membership transfer and tithe increase (based largely in membership transfer)? Certainly growth is happening, don’t get me wrong, but much of our growth (not all…but much of it) is simply based in where a particular members will consume her or his religious entertainment. The mega churches are growing because they got the best show in town.

Good News?

But more than that, what is very interesting to me is how quickly we want to jump on “good news.” I mean we were giddy about this. One Facebook friend said “this is surely a sign of the end” as he forwarded this article. We know what it looks like in our particular congregation. We know how the growth looks. We know that 15 of the 20 baptisms in the last evangelistic meeting were gone before they could warm the pew. And yet we jumped at this. “we are important…we are significant…God is using us.”

Growth is fine…but for many of us, We don’t keep our converts. they leave.

I realize this is anecdotal. I hope I am wrong. But, I see baptismal numbers all the time. I see growth numbers all the time. But at the end of the day. where are all these people because they sure ain’t at church? Now some of you will give the exception to the rule. Some of you will condemn me for saying it. That’s fine. I hear you. But maybe we need to stop yelling amen about how well we are doing and come to terms with the facts that our growth is going out the same door they came in on. Spectrum Magazine Blog has a discussion of this topic at this link.

What Is A Legalist?

Legalism is a common word in Adventist discourse. Whether certain evangelicals are calling Adventists legalists for talking about Sabbath or Adventists are calling each other legalists for various reasons, the word is a very common one in any discussion of Adventism. For that reason, we should address, what does it even mean?

What is interesting is that much of the time the word means different things to different people. Now please don’t read me wrong. I am not saying that there is no such thing as legalism. I am saying that we have to define it before we can discuss it.

I remember having a discussion about some issue a while back with someone. After much time I realized that we had different definitions of the core terms we were discussing. I believe this happens often in discussions about legalism.

Obeying the Law Very Closely

So what do people mean when they say legalist or legalism? Well the first definition might come from Websters. Some people mean “Strict Adherence to a valid or invalid law.” A good example of this might be the 70 mile per hour speed limit. You are a legalist according to this definition if you say you must always fall under that 70 miles per hour. Some of us kind of fudge this by going 75 or 77 miles per hour. They are keeping the law, but strictly speaking are breaking the law.

Another example would be the people who say that you must keep the Sabbath from the very second the sun goes down on Friday till the sunset on Saturday. Some would say that is legalism. But according to this definition, it is legalism to condemn one for strictly keeping the Sabbath hours. Others would simply call this obedience.

Now I doubt many Christians would argue that strictly keeping a valid law is legalism. So the question at this point is not how strictly you keep it, but whether the law is valid or not. That brings us to our next variety of ways to define legalism.

Keeping a law that has been done away or is not valid

Now the next way that some folks define legalism is to keep a law that is not valid. This seems to be a very common method of definition. The Evangelicals sometimes seem to use this argument. The Sabbath has been down away, so you are a legalist in keeping it.

Some Adventists use this against the folks who keep the feast days. The Adventist argues that it has been done away so you are a legalist if you keep it.

Sometimes it demonstrates itself in other ways. Like the folks who get accused of making up rules that you must follow. You are a legalist if you say make up rules about what you should or shouldn’t do on the Sabbath for example. Or whether Christians should wear certain things. Or whether they should or should not look at certain things on TV or at the movies. People are seen as legalist, according to this definition, if they do those things.

The key question is whether the law is valid. So the discussion centers around whether the law is valid if this is the definition of legalism that those who are having the discussion take.

Hold People To Your Understanding

Now the next definition is not about what you do or don’t do, but whether you attempt to hold others to your standards. So it is not in what you do, but in judging others by your standards. So you keep the Sabbath, this definition would call you a legalist to judge others by whether they keep the Sabbath or how they keep the Sabbath.

It is in the judging that makes it legalism in this definition. This does seem to be a common definition, but one wonders how one can suggest any behavioral improvement if any such suggestion is legalism?

The vast majority of Christians will judge folks by some law. Whether it is “love your neighbor as yourself” as our liberal friends would argue, or some other definition, we all believe that humanity should follow some rule or law. So really this makes all of Christianity legalists.

Keeping The Law To Gain Or Retain Salvation

This is the definition used to keep or retain salvation through law-keeping. What is different about this definition is that it is about motive and not about practice. You may keep the law very strictly and precisely and not be doing it to gain or retain salvation.

Then again you may be keeping it very sloppily, but still believe that your salvation is tied into your sloppy keeping of that law. Then you are still a legalist according to this definition. Theoretically, it is possible therefore to be seen as “liberal” in practice and yet still be a legalist according to this definition.

In addition, it is not possible to really know who is or who is not a legalist according to this definition. I mean someone can look at you to see if you are strictly keeping a law, but one can’t know whether you are or are not keeping it to gain or retain salvation. So if someone calls you a legalist according to this definition, then you might want to ask them what number you are thinking because they obviously know how to read minds…


I didn’t write this to attempt to prove which is the valid or invalid definition of “legalism.” Words connect us to concepts. Discussing concepts is more important than battling over semantics. No, I wrote this to remind you that when we have our discussions that we often have very different meanings of core terms. It is important to understand what we mean by core terms before we can move on to understanding.

So, before you get in an argument with someone about whether you are or are not a legalist, it might be helpful to define what you mean and what the other means by the term.

but more than this, I think we Christians (especially Adventists) throw around that term with certainty. As with many issues, people “looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)