The Right to Investigation
Is it proper for a worker in ordinary responsibility to search critically but reverently into the historic evidences for our prophetic positions to satisfy his own mind as to their surety? One well-meaning fellow laborer told me recently that it would unsettle my faith, and that instead I should accept unquestioningly the findings of the pioneers and the scholars of this movement. Is that really the attitude we should hold?
In the first place, no one can speak with the full weight of profound conviction if he has not thoroughly investigated and been convicted in his own mind and conscience of the absolute verity and trustworthiness of the positions we proclaim. He who depends blindly upon the researches of other men, will, if they waver or are discovered to be mistaken at some point, be tempted to query their other positions, which may be perfectly sound. And for our presentations to be really effective in convincing and convicting others, they must first stand the test of our own conscientious conclusions, reached by adequate personal research. And any other basis cuts the nerve of conviction in presentation. More and more do we need and want men of assurance.
Second, if the truths of our message will not stand the test of thorough, fair, and candid investigation, it is time we found it out. And every honest man wishes to discard any questionable argument or unreliable quotation upon its discovery. (See " Gospel Workers," p. 299.) Nor is this a dangerous principle. Truth is not advanced by error. Truth has nothing to fear. It will not only stand all legitimate tests, but will shine forth with added luster because of the process. Only error or partial truth seeks to hide behind the screen of prohibitive silence or closure upon free investigation.
Third, we have no doctrinal oligarchy or prophetic hierarchy in this movement, before whom all other minds bow. There is no episcopal authority that supersedes personal accountability and individual privilege of investigation and conclusion. Thus it has been from our denominational inception, and thus, by the grace of God, must our attitude continue.
Concerning the investigation of the early days, we read: " In 1844, when anything came to our attention that we did not understand, we kneeled down and asked God to help us take the right position; and then we were able to come to a right understanding and see eye to eye. . . . We would search the Scriptures with much prayer, and the Holy Spirit would bring the truth to our minds. . . We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit."—" Gospel Workers," p. 302. We do not admit that only a small coterie of super-minds are capable of understanding the deeper things. God pity the rank and file of us if such were the case. Truth is for all its lovers and searchers. " All the light of the past, all the light which shines in the present and reaches forth into the future, as revealed in the word of God, is for every soul who will receive it."—" Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 11. (The inquirer is earnestly invited to study " Testimonies to Ministers," pp. 105-111; " Testimonies," Vol. V, pp. 703-711; " Gospel Workers," p. 301.)
Fourth, the proper procedure in case of discovery of new gems of light and truth is to lay it before brethren of experience, in a humble, teachable spirit. " When a brother receives new light upon the Scriptures, he should frankly explain his position, and every minister should search the Scriptures with the spirit of candor, to see if the points presented can be substantiated by the inspired word. . . . Every soul must look to God with contrition and humility, that He may guide and lead and bless."—" Gospel Workers," p. 303. Thus extremes will be modified, and balance prevail. " In the multitude of counselors there is safety." This is safe, sound, and indispensable counsel. It will test the reliability of our findings. It will constitute a blessing to others and a safeguard to ourselves.
So let there be freedom of discussion and research. Such is the spirit of this message, and such is the groundwork of all true unity therein. Only let there be a scholarly reserve as to finalities on points that have been variously interpreted by equally loyal and learned men, and which are not yet settled. Sound conclusions come only out of a balanced weighing of all the factors and evidences. This our brethren will help us to do. Let us ever respect the men with whom we differ in our conclusions, extending to them the same honesty of motive and conviction that we desire for ourselves. In essentials there will come ultimate unity. In nonessen• tials, differences are not vital. Again we say, Let there be freedom and encouragement of reverent individual study.
L. E. F.