Raising the Standards of the Ministry
Listening-in on the Presidents' Council, Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 20-22, 1929
Most of the readers of this journal have received a copy of the " Appeal to ill Our Workers" formulated at the Columbus Autumn Council (1929), and transmitted through the various unions to the ministerial laboring force of the North American Division. Specific reference to the scope of this appeal is found in the editorial by Elder Daniells on page 3 of this issue. A glimpse into the preliminary Presidents' Council the afternoon of September 22 will give an illuminating background for those vital paragraphs of the " Appeal to Our Workers." Elder 0. Montgomery, general vice-president, was speaking on the question, " Raising the Standards of the Ministry," as we reported him. Following his earnest statement there was brief discussion, and then a sub-committee was named (Elders Fulton, Dickson, and Van Kirk), whose report was adopted by the Council, and its general distribution authorized. Now let us listen-in on Vice-President Montgomery:
There is evidence on every hand and In every land of a lowered ministerial standard. Carelessness and lightness are coming in. There is a falling away from the dignity, the carefulness in speech and manner, which ought to characterize ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in an age of change; the lure of the world is strong, and there is a tendency on the part of many of our ministers to pattern after the world. I believe that in many instances our church service is being cheapened by an effort on the part of some of our pastors to copy after the world in the use of an increased and elaborate ritual; and I am convinced that the development of material forms of religion and service is always the result of a lack of the power of the Holy Spirit, which leads to the seeking of substitutes.
It is apparent that a striking change has taken place in the dress of the minister of today. The " Prince Albert " coat of former years has given way to the more ordinary business suit. Now I am not criticizing or questioning the business suit. I wear a short coat on most occasions; so do you. I wear a gray suit, and I observe that many ministers do. I am simply trying to point out a tendency which prevails at this time; and to show that with that tendency there comes a lowered trend in many other directions, which weakens that distinctive carefulness in deportment and conversation which should mark the minister of God.
There is also a growing carelessness in regard to the matter of pleasure and pleasure seeking. I do not believe that a minister of this denomination, carrying credentials from any conference, should ever pass through the doors of a movie theater, or a theater of any kind, for the purpose of entertainment. For a minister to follow such a course, is sufficient cause for the annulment of his credentials, and for his being dropped from the work unless he repents with contrition of heart, makes proper confession, and demonstrates by his daily life that he has put away that evil practice.
We cannot help but see that today the ministry is not held in the same respect, confidence, and high regard in the mind of the individual, and in the home and the church, as it formerly was. There has been a sad breaking down in the proper attitude toward the ministry, and I believe that the ministry itself is very largely responsible for this situation, although I recognize that the influences all about us in the world have a distracting, lowering effect.
It is time that we appeal to our own hearts, as leaders, and to the ministry at large, to come up on higher ground, and lift the standard of the ministry to its proper place. We must never overlook the fact that the Lord has called us to a very sacred, a very exalted and holy place of service. I wish to call special attention to the following paragraphs:
" Since His ascension, Christ, the great head of the church, has carried forward His work in the world by chosen ambassadors, through whom He speaks to the children of men, and ministers to their needs. The position of those who have been called of God to labor in word and doctrine for the upbuilding of His church, is one of grave responsibility. In Christ's stead they are to beseech men and women to be reconciled to God; and they can fulfill their mission only as they receive wisdom and power from above.
" God's ministers are symbolized by the seven stars, which He who is the first and the last has under His special care and protection. The sweet influences that are to be abundant in the church are bound up with these ministers of God, who are to represent the love of Christ. The stars of heaven are under God's control. He fills them with light. He guides and directs their movements. If He did not, they would become fallen stars. So with His ministers. They are but instruments in His hands, and all the good they accomplish is done through His power.
" It is to the honor of Christ that He makes His ministers a greater blessing to the church, through the working of the Holy Spirit, than are the stars to the world. The Saviour is to be their efficiency. If they will look to Him as He looked to His Father, they will do His works. As they make God their dependence, He will give them His brightness to reflect to the world."—" Gospel Workers," pp. 13, 14.
It is clearly indicated that God requires the very best for the service of the sanctuary. In ancient times, animals which were maimed or bruised were not accepted as sacrificial offerings; and no individual who was maimed or lame or blind was permitted to minister in the sanctuary.
From this we may know that the spiritually halt and lame — those who are not true representatives of the Lord Jesus — cannot minister the fullness of His grace, cannot bring to His church the abundance of that power which should be shed abroad in the hearts of His people. So it becomes important that there should be very earnest and definite effort on the part of every leader to encourage and strengthen and build up the high-standard of the gospel ministry, as it is exemplified in Christ Jesus.
You may ask, How can this be done? First of all, I believe there must come into the heart of every minister of God a living experience, through which the right example and influence will reach to the young men and women who are preparing to engage in the Lord's work. It is a sad fact that there are many young men and women in our Seventh-day Adventist homes and institutions who are stumbling and staggering because of the lowered standard in the ministry which they cannot help but see manifested in one way or another. Some of our ministers are very light and trifling in their conversation; they are quick to indulge in telling stories which amuse and create a laugh. All such conduct lowers the standard of the ministry, and weakens the power of the truth proclaimed from the pulpit.
Not long ago I attended a meeting at which there were in attendance all the presidents of our senior and junior colleges, the principals of academies, and many of the union educational secretaries, and the testimony of some of these men furnished a sad comment on the ministry. It was stated that certain ministers of the gospel had visited the schools and had spoken in the chapel, but that their talk was so filled with amusing anecdotes, and so light and trifling in every way, that the dignity and sacred calling of the ministry was brought into disrepute. And it was made very clear that in the future that class of ministers would not be welcome at the schools, because their influence over the student body was difficult to overcome.
While I was visiting one of our schools, a delegation of earnest, dignified, devoted Christian young women of the senior class came to talk with me, and expressed a great longing for spiritual food. They told me of a worker who had visited the school a few weeks previous. They said, " He interspersed all his chapel talks with stories,— some were sob stories, and some were laughable stories. The students at one moment were in tears, and the next in smiles. He entertained, but he did not lift us spiritually. He left us just where we were before he came; in some cases the situation was worse than when he came." And these young women made a sober, serious appeal to us to send to the school workers who could lead them into a deeper Christian experience.
Looking at this from all these angles, I am led to feel that there is need of a greater degree of sanctified dignity in manner and speech on the part of our ministers, and that in all our ministerial institutes, workers' meetings, and camp meetings there should be a definite aim to bring this about. Presidents of unions and of conferences can do much by holding the standard high, and when they see men who are lowering the standards in any way, let them pass on a word of personal admonition, or of sympathetic, kindly rebuke.