Preachers of the everlasting gospel should be fearless and courageous. The message they present should be universal, holistic, cosmic, and celebratory. In this article, part two of “Characteristics of Contemporary Preaching,” we will also see preaching as an event that meets all life’s situations. Apart from being situational, it is also incarnational, Pentecostal, and personal. These last features, which should be part and parcel of the everlasting gospel, will be discussed below.
COURAGEOUS AND FEARLESS
Courage and fearlessness characterized the messages of biblical preachers such as Moses, John the Baptist, Elijah, and Paul. Courage should be demonstrated not only in pointing out the sins of humanity; it should also be evident in the face of danger. For instance, two missionaries—Reverend and Mrs. R. W. Porteous—were taken prisoner in the spring of 1931 by bandits in the Communist Republic of China. After leading the husband and wife through a winding, lonely trail to a secluded spot on top of a hill, the commanding officer announced, “This is the place of execution.” All movement stopped as the executioner took a sword from its holder. He examined the knife carefully from its handle to the sharpened, glittering blade and finally raised it above the necks of the courageous couple. With no mortals to intervene on their behalf, certain death seemed imminent; however, instead of cringing, crying, and begging for mercy, the husband and wife began to sing that famous song, “Face to Face with Christ My Savior,” composed by Mrs. Frank A. Break.
As they sang, it seemed that the whole hilltop was filled with an unseen choir made up of thousands and thousands of angels. Suddenly the commanding officer instructed, “Untie them!” No order was given for their deaths; on the contrary, the executioner returned the sword to its sheath, and Rev. Porteous and his wife were released.1
The gospel, which every preacher has been invited to proclaim, is not only everlasting but universal. Revelation 14:6 says the gospel should be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people on earth. In line with the Great Commission, this proclamation is to be made to all nations (Matt. 28:19). So the universality of the message must be recognized by each preacher and should influence what, how, and when he or she preaches.2
Messages that see man as a whole and not as distinctive parts are needed for our contemporary time. Every preacher is looked upon to preach messages that will benefit the whole man. Messages should address the mental, physical, social, and spiritual well-being of the parishioners. The sanctity of marriage and the stewardship of time, talents, temple, and treasure should be addressed in our sermons. Love and the brotherhood of all men should also characterize our messages. Sermons should prepare people for joy and happiness in this world and in the world to come.
In this case, “cosmic” means the proclamation of a message that is characterized by extra-terrestrial beings, extraterrestrial journeys, and extra-terrestrial (heavenly) judgments. Today’s preachers are called upon to proclaim the cosmic Christ to cosmic Christians. The prophetic messages of Daniel and John the Revelator are cosmic in nature. In an era of growing cosmic consciousness, the cosmic gospel must be preached. Some doctrines which are closely attached to the cosmic gospel include:
• The creation of the cosmic order in six literal days.
• The existence of the cosmic, unfallen world from which the sons of God sang at the creation of the earth.
• The announcement by cosmic angels of the birth of Jesus Christ.
• The visit of cosmic beings at the Mount of Transfiguration.
• The ascension of Christ after His resurrection.
• The second advent of Christ.
• The translation of the righteous at the parousia.
C. Raymond Holmes suggests that the greatest act of celebration is the worship of God. To make such worship possible, God ordained the weekly Sabbath. The day itself celebrates creation, recreation, communion, and redemption and provides a sacred opportunity for worship and a glorious opportunity to proclaim the good news of salvation. Today our preaching and worship are celebrated when the Word of God is taken seriously by ministers and members.3
Contemporary preaching should be concerned not only with problems; it should also offer solutions to the many challenges facing humanity. At the end of the sermon, people should not go home empty; their hearts should be filled with hope. What must we do to be saved? Acts 16:30 tells us to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (KJV). This is the solution which every sermon must provide in every setting. What will prevent me from being baptized? The full story of how Phillip interacted with the Ethiopian eunuch, as well as how the question raised by the eunuch was handled (as recorded in Acts 8:27-39), is an important object lesson for all contemporary preachers.
The term “situational” means that good news comes to men and women in any situation in which they find themselves. This takes into account people’s challenges in life as well as their interests, concerns, hopes, fears, disappointments, successes, frustrations, unfulfilled dreams, and everything else about them. The purpose of the gospel, then, is not to leave people in those situations but to offer them something better. To be effective, the preacher must apply intentional contextualization to achieve great success while presenting the message anywhere in the world. How we communicate the gospel—in principle and in practice— must be biblical and legitimate. Without intentional contextualization, the preacher might face the danger of misunderstanding or miscommunicating the gospel. We may also lose our unique identity and may even risk blending religious truth with error. Therefore, the situation must not prevent the preacher from sharing the complete gospel; the good news is applicable to all situations!
Another feature that must characterize our message is the humanity of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of man must be presented as a hero who overcame through His complete dependence on God. He was tempted in all respects but did not sin. In Hebrews 1:1, 2, we read that the God who reveals Himself, Deus Revelatus, has spoken to us through Jesus Christ in these last days. God did not just speak; He became a man as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 7:14). Matthew reported that when the virgin gave birth to a Son, His name was called Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Preaching is an incarnational event because a human being prepares and delivers a message to a congregation of fellow human beings. The focus of the message is about a Man who calls God “My Father which is in heaven,” thereby reminding every preacher that God is linked with humanity in their trials and sufferings. According to John Scott, the sermon should be a revelation of God’s message to His erring children, not just a showcase for the preacher’s own ideas.
It was Karl Barth who opined that every sermon must have a thrust. This thrust does not come from the preacher’s energy, conviction, earnestness, eloquence, or preparation (although these virtues are important). The thrust is in the fact that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” He is therefore our perfect example in daily living. Our preaching will equally be tested with this statement: “Beloved, believe not every spirit but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God. Every Spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:1, 2).
We use the term “Pentecostal” simply to emphasize the immediate presence of God through the Holy Spirit during the proclamation of the Good News. The Spirit of the Lord works on the minister and through the message to the hearts of the members. Ellen G. White made it clear that it s the efficiency of the Holy Spirit that makes the ministry of the Word effective.4 The Holy Spirit was also manifested in the life of the Messiah in the following ways:
• The conception and birth of Jesus Christ.
• Jesus’ boyhood and youth.
• His baptism and temptation.
• Christ’s teaching, healing, and preaching.
• His death and resurrection.
• His ascension.
• The fulfillment of the promised Comforter to the disciples.
If contemporary preachers must proclaim Christ-centered and Bible-based messages, then the power, presence, and personality of the Holy Spirit as manifested in the ministry of Jesus Christ must characterize what we preach today. In any gathering where the words of Jesus Christ are taken seriously, God is prepared to do what He did for His people so long ago—so long as the requirements are met. “The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the church is looked forward to as in the future; but it is the privilege of the church to have it now. Seek for it, pray for it, believe for it. We must have it, and Heaven is waiting to bestow it.”5
Preachers and listeners need the Pentecostal power. Over and over in the book of Acts, we are told of preachers “being filled with the Holy Spirit.” They proclaimed their message as the Holy Spirit enabled them. Their message and deliverance were under the control of the Spirit of the Lord. The Holy Spirit had baptized them when they first believed, and they had been filled on many occasions since then. One baptism/ many fillings is still a biblical truth for every preacher to experience anew on a daily basis.
How do we know when we have the anointing? The apostle Paul said, “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance” (1 Thess. 1:5). Who gives the assurance and the power? Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But it is not just the preacher who needs to be under the control of the Holy Spirit. His desire is to fill ordinary people with extraordinary power. Every anointed preacher of the Word longs to have anointed listeners.6
Another characteristic of the everlasting gospel is that it must be personal. The message must be Person-oriented and person-centered. In this context, the first individual to be made personal is the cynosure of the good news: Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind. The second person is the sinner whose sins have led to the death of the Savior. The second person here includes all people, irrespective of gender, educational status, age, nationality, socio-economic position, and other demographic particulars. The good news being presented should also be manifested in the life of the person who is preaching. Ellen G. White said: “The preaching the world needs is not only that which comes from the pulpit, but that which is seen in the everyday life; not only Bible precepts, but Christlike characters and heaven-born practices; the living, loving disciples of Jesus who have felt that it was more precious to commune with Jesus than to have the most exalted positions and praise of men. . . . In our ministry we must reveal Christ to the people, for they have heard Christless sermons all their lives.”7
The good news we preach must scratch where the personal-spiritual life of the congregation is itching. Until all hearts in the audience are touched, people might not wake up from their spiritual slumber. We must note that preaching at its best is Person/person-oriented rather than doctrine-oriented. People will either be saved or lost as individuals. The personal nature of preaching confronts each individual with the question, “Why have I chosen to be destroyed when I have the opportunity to choose everlasting life?” This special feature of preaching reminds every child of God that as far as heaven is concerned, he or she is a persona grata. Until every person in the congregation is confronted with this truth—that he or she is personally welcomed and accepted to the throne of God through Jesus Christ—then the preacher still has a long way to go.
1 Elizabeth George, Experiencing God’s Peace (Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2000), 49.
2 Raymond Holmes, The Last Word (Michigan: Andrews University Press, 1987), 13.
3 Ibid., 58, 59.
4 White, Gospel Workers, 155.
5 White, Evangelism, 701.
7 White, Manuscript Releases, 17:73.
Philemon O. Amanze, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in the Religious Studies Department and director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre at Babcock University in Nigeria.