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

Problems of Some SDA Preaching

Calvin Rock speaks about the necessity for Black Preachers to make use of their cultural experiences in their sermons as well as staying truly “Adventist” in their preaching. Then he notes that there are two problems that can stand in the way of a Black Adventist Preacher from doing this effectively.

Rock notes:

A primary problem with traditional Adventist preaching is its socially conservative interpretation of the Scripture, and that of Black Preaching is its acceptance of raw excitement as the definition of success and the user of arbitrary stimulation as a means of attaining that acclaim.

Socially Conservative Adventist Preaching

The first problem, according to Rock, that makes it difficult to preach both in the Black Tradition as well as in the Adventist Tradition is the tendency of Adventist preaching to be pro-status quo.

He notes that this comes from first a tendency to read the Bible in a “minimalist view of New Testament sociology.” Here they see in some of the actions of Jesus (not striking out against Roman oppression) and Paul (sending Omnesimus back to his slave master Philemon).

However Rock quotes Yoder who sees in both cases Paul and Jesus pushing the bounds of the status quo as much as possible. For example, Jesus called Herod “That fox.” (Luke 13:32) and Paul told Philemon to receive Omnesimus as a brother. Rock sees Ellen White in this tradition when she told Adventists to disobey the Fugitive Slave Act, because at that time one could push the bounds even further than in the time of Paul and Jesus.

Another Reason for the socially conservative reading is the idea that since there is no hope of overcoming societal evil we should not even try. We simply wait for Jesus to do it all at the Second Coming. I would encourage all to read my own series on that subject “The Second Advent and Passivity”).

A final reason why Socially Conservative preaching is considered normative in much Adventist preaching is because they often make a dichotomy between physical and spiritual and thus interpret the Bible’s insistence on choosing the spiritual as negating the physical. Because of this the physical needs of humanity are not a part of the work of the church of Christ. Even if you do address them, you address them as individuals and not corporate entities. Often you address them to “open the door to real evangelism.”

Some Adventists are challenging this notion by looking at how work for others is inextricably connected with preaching the Gospel. It is a fundamental disconnect to preach the Gospel of peace and say nothing about war. It is fundamentally inconsistent to preach the Gospel of Love and say nothing about the hate that is running rampant in the world. It is a fundamental problem to preach the Second Advent while living as if this present order will go on as is indefinitely.

Certainly All Adventist preaching does not fall into this trap. Also it is true that there are others outside of the Black Tradition that are teaching against this kind of preaching that promotes the status quo, but the African American Preaching Tradition provides a vehicle for a group of preachers to stand up against this and preach the Full gospel rather than a truncated version thereof.

In the next post we will look at what Rock considers problematic about some Black Preaching that makes it difficult to preach Adventism.

The Black Adventist Mandate – Unifying Culture and Adventism

After Rock speaks about Black preaching holding on to a prophetic vision on the scriptures, he notes that Adventist preaching is one of reform. He sees it as important for Adventist preaching to hold on to certain unique traits to be worthy of the name Adventist preaching.

Now Rock goes to his fundamental assertion that there are

Pitfalls of claiming Blackness but failing to articulate its justice concerns and professing Adventism but preaching without its prophetic essence. We need to do Black preaching because it resontates with our cultural past and present in ways that maximize the impact of truth. We must do Adventist preaching because that is our unique commission. Anything less is a denial of one’s oath, a tragedy for the people and a disappointment to God.

What we Must Do

Here the Black Adventist preacher is put in a position, according to Rock, where he or she MUST find a way to make explicit use of ones ethnic tradition as well as integrate and connect it to the mandate of being an Adventist preacher. Now some would argue that we simply give up our ethnic tradition, but to do so provides great problems in my estimation.

I believe that Rock is right that we must find a way to put our own stamp on Adventism as well as the fundamentals of the Gospel. If we provide that approach then perhaps we can see more of what Adventism has to say to the poor and the downtrodden which is the mandate of the black preacher. If we provide that angle, than perhaps we can emphasize more what are the “liberative aspects” of our message and the Gospel that may not have been emphasized as much in the past. If we can do that, perhaps we can provide a light to the social dimensions of the gospel that American Evangelical Christianity has not always emphasized.

But even if we accept that we must do both, the big question becomes how do we do this? I have written about this some at this link. You also might be interested in some other Black Preacher’s approaches to the question in my series on the book Preaching with Power by R. Clifford Jones. We will look at Calvin Rock’s suggestion as we continue this series and hopefully we will get to some practical examples as time goes on.