Responsible preaching

It is Thursday. My sermon for the coming Sabbath is ready. In fact, I put the finishing touch to it already a few days ago. I consistently avoid having to work on my sermon at the very last moment. It is something I find far too stressful. I like preaching and have always considered it as a privilege, but also as a great responsibility. Communicating the Word requires faith and commitment, but also knowledge and communicative skills. Sermons have influence, often far beyond the expectations of the preacher. This influence is supposed to be positive. The sermon must be inspiring and uplifting—-helping the listeners to face the challenges of another week.

But sermons can also have a negative impact and even lead the listeners astray. This week two examples of such negative influence caught my attention—one in my own denomination (the Adventist Church) and one in another faith community in the Netherlands.

An Adventist pastor in the New York Conference got into trouble after he told his congregation that a wife is the property of her husband and that the only kind of rape that is justified is that of a wife by her husband. The reaction of the various Adventist church bodies in the USA was as quick as it was required. Someone who feels he can include this horrible (even criminal) idea in his sermon can no longer be a pastor and must no longer have access to the pulpit.

A Dutch minister who is employed by an evangelical organization suddenly became a well-known personality. He preached a sermon entitled “The Great Reset,” a term he borrowed from the World Economic Forum which promotes a new world order. In less than two weeks the sermon has been listened to by some 800.000 people. The sermon was based on Revelation 13—which is about the beast, the image of the beast and the mark of the beast. There was no reference to the powers and phenomena that are usually mentioned in Adventist interpretations of this chapter of the Bible. The Dutch pastor warned his audience that they should keep their eyes wide open and be aware of what is going on in the world. There are, he says, dubious powers operating that will take away our freedom. Recent events in the Corona-era have shown how easily this may happen. The sermon received a lot of publicity—-most of it negative. The organization which employs the pastor has now apologized and made clear that the message this pastor preached was biblically unsound.

Two examples of sermons that should not have been preached! Two examples of preachers who shared a dubious kind of theology. The Adventist pastor was infected by the so-called “headship theology” that not only has convinced many Adventists that female pastors should not be ordained, but that eventually leads to the belief that women are the property of their husbands and can be treated as such. The evangelical pastor in the Netherlands ignored one of the ground rules of preaching, i.e. that a sermon must always be based on the careful exegesis of a biblical passage and not on his own creative ideas. He simply took a few verses of Scripture and linked these to the feelings of unease that he observed in society, and on that basis wildly speculated about possible future developments in society. These speculations contained elements that can only be defined as conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, this is a trend that is present in a major part of evangelical Christianity and—also in the Netherlands, in a growing number of main-line protestant congregations.

Sound theology that refrains from speculation and sensationalism must remain the basis of responsible preaching. It is something the individual preacher should always remember and his/her employing organization must constantly emphasize and demand.