Back to the Word

Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

Dear readers, this is my last editorial to you as the official editor of Elder's Digest. Since 1994 I have had the privilege to communicate with you through Elder's Digest. This is my last issue. Working in the preparation of it, I asked myself, "What should I write to the dear elders in this last issue? What kind of message should be so relevant as to be in my last editorial?" After meditation and much prayer I decided to write on the importance of bringing back Cod's Word into the Adventist pulpit.

My friend Henry Feyerabend was in London. On Sunday morning he decided to go to the church where the great theologian, Bible expositor and preacher, Dr. John Stott was preaching. H. Feyerabend decided to arrive early to be sure that he could get a convenient place. The church was almost full one hour before the worship started. Why do these people go to that specific church? Because John Stott preaches the Word and people want to hear the Word. H. Feyerabend said the sermon that morning was a solid exposition of the Bible.

Many times we hear some among us saying that the younger generation is not interested in Bible study anymore. It is the conviction of some preachers that to keep our young people coming to our church we need to put in the sermon different material. H. Feyerabend observed that morning, that there was a great representation of the new generation in John Stott's congregation. The church was full of young people. They came to hear Cod's Word. In the early Adventist days, the preacher earned the reputation of being a real student of the Scriptures. Not only the prophetic part, but also the doctrinal and devotional portions of the Word challenged our response.

In our early days the members carried a Bible to church and they turned to the Scriptures as the preacher unfolded his message. But today there is a trend in the opposite direction. In some places it seems that the great majority of members are there without their Bibles. And if one inquires the reason, the answer will be: "Oh, well, it's only occasionally that we ever need our Bible, and so we just don't bother to bring them." The tragedy is that it is all too true.

My wife and I attended a Sabbath morning worship service in one of our largest churches not long ago and were not only disappointed but shocked when the preacher never opened the Bible. He never even read a text, except for a brief reference to an experience in the New Testament. It seemed that the Word of God had absolutely no place whatever in that particular service. Many stories were told, all interesting, and some of them told with telling effects; but there was no real sermon and no exposition of the Word.

How many times the messenger of the Lord has urged us to study the Word! Statements like these should startle us: "Let us give more time to the study of the Bible. We do not understand the Word as we should." Testimonies, Vol. 6, p. 407. Again, "We should fear to skim the surface of the word of God." Testimonies, Vol. 6, p. 407.

Even more challenging is this statement: "Ninety percent of our people, including many of our ministers and teachers, are content with surface truths." Review and Herald, April 21, 1903. Notice it does not say "some" or "many", butninety percent "are content with surface truths."

Why should we as preachers be content to be mere surface skimmers? We are told that "the truth, as it is in Jesus, is capable of constant expansion, of new development. . . . It will constantly reveal deeper significance." Ibid., Oct. 21, 1890.

The need at all times is for deeper study. Much of our preaching is topical. Yet perhaps the strongest method, that which builds up the flock in spiritual strength, is expository. This is more difficult, requiring much more study and research. But Adventist preachers should excel in this, for the Word of God must be more than a buttress for an argument. It needs to glow and gleam with a new radiance that will inspire our hearers.

Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, some years ago was visiting a church where the pastor, a young but rather brilliant man, was drawing large audiences with such topics as "Popping the Question," "Two Lumps of Sugar, Please," or "That's My Weakness Now," etc. By some misfortune Dr. Morgan's name was placed in the church bulletin opposite of these titles. The young pastor, in introducing the guest speaker of the evening, explained that the visitor would not preach on that topic, but that he himself would do so on the following Sunday. This caused a ripple of laughter all over the church. In the midst of it all Dr. Morgan stood up, and looking over the great audience, said with appropriate reverence, "Hear the Word of God." No apology, no pleasantries, no jokes, no explanation. All sensed that here was a man who was bringing them the message from God.

Why should we seek for new or novel ways of entertaining? Our people are hungry for the Word. True, we have a great program requiring tremendous promotion, but we must not forget that we also have a great God to worship. Our message will have power only when it leaps fresh and vibrant from the Word of God.

If as preachers we have been drinking from the living fountain and feeding upon the living bread, then like our Master's, our messages will be with power. Surely nothing is more needed in the work of God today than men who are truly men of the Word.

Let us bring back God's Word in the pulpits of our congregation.