The Expanding Needs of Our Work

Closing Address, Autumn Council, Fort Worth, Texas, October, 1936

BY J. L. McElhany

Before concluding this session of the Autumn Council, there are some fea­tures of our work which I should like to lay before you, which I feel are of vital importance. From my recent correspondence it is evident that in some quarters there are those who have, it seems to me, very inadequate ideas regarding the demands and the needs of our work today. In one of our committees yester­day I mentioned this. The brethren felt that I should speak of some of these things to the entire Council. I have had no time to make any special preparation for presenting these things to you, but will speak for a few moments regarding them.

Many years ago I heard one of my esteemed predecessors say that while acting as president of the General Conference he also served as president of the Wisconsin Conference, and that while carrying those two offices he went out to a crossroad in the country, held a tent effort, and raised up a church. I gather from the correspondence that comes to me, that there are those among our people who feel that our work is still carried forward on about that scale. But at the time of which my predecessor spoke, our total membership numbered but a few thousand, while today the demands upon the leadership of this movement have changed, and we face an altogether different situation. I believe, brethren, that it is in your hands to help our people generally to understand some of these changed conditions. I think that you ought to understand these changes, and that possibly in your understanding of them you can help others also to an understanding.

The problems of the work today are vastly different from what they were fifty or sixty years ago. Today we have in this country approximately one third of our total member­ship. From Labrador to San Diego, from Brit­ish Columbia to Florida, in the two great Eng­lish-speaking nations, Canada and the United States, we are dealing in the main with just one language. It is true that there are small language groups in these countries, but in the main we are dealing with one language. We are dealing also with a membership that has come to a knowledge of this truth with centuries of Christian background—men and women who for generations have had a knowl­edge of the Bible and who are acquainted with the great principles of the gospel, people who have Christian vocabularies and who speak in terms of the gospel. Yet, despite that, we feel it necessary to have our annual camp meetings and other general gatherings at which we bring these members together. We think no expense too great to bring to these members a spiritual uplift and every encouragement that we can. My friends, I believe in that. I believe it is good policy.

But I wish to point out to you today another very important thing; namely, that approxi­mately two thirds of our world membership is out in other lands, and that it is among that part of our membership today that we are using 578 languages and dialects. We need to think of that membership as divided into all these language groups. Remember too, in this con­nection, that today the most dominant, the most prevailing sentiment in the world is that of nationalism. I do not believe that there is any universal sentiment in the world today that is so outstanding as the spirit of national­ism. Yet to this people there has been com­mitted a message that is to be carried to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. We must carry this message notwithstanding the strong prevailing spirit of nationalism.

What does that impose upon. us from the standpoint of leadership? It imposes upon us an altogether new situation, such as the leaders of this movement were unacquainted with fifty years ago. We raise up large constituencies among some of these language groups. Those constituencies are pastored by a ministry raised up from the people of that group, and in many cases they are literally walled in by barriers of language and custom. Remember too, in this connection, whence these people come. Many of them come to us from sheer, rank savagery and from heathenism,—from Hindu­ism, Buddhism, Shintoism; from devil worship, Voodooism and other forms and varieties of heathen religions; but there are also many from Greek and Roman Catholicism, from Prot­estantism, and from Judaism. It is our re­sponsibility to take all these elements coming from all the national groups and from all these different religions, and transform them into a composite, unified body of advent believers.

May I call your attention to another very important fact, namely, that the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is the only Protestant body in all the world that is attempting to carry on a world-wide work as one unified church organization. What problem does that fact bring to us from the standpoint of leader­ship? On Sabbath some of you heard me read extracts from a letter that I had just received from Brother Wright in Africa. He set before us the picture of over 102,000 people flocking to our camp meetings during the summer of 1936, and of the small body of workers they had—pitifully small, inadequately small—try­ing to cope with that great situation, and ap­pealing for help. What can they do with a group of people like that, coming as they do by thousands and tens of thousands to hear this message? Brother Wright asks us to send them two representatives from the General Conference to be with them in their summer camp meetings in 1937.

Yet, my friends, right along with an appeal of that kind, there comes to my desk corre­spondence from some of those who live in your fields, censuring us for engaging in what they term "junketing expeditions,"—sending men out to Africa, to China, and other lands, on trips of that kind. Brethren, it is time our people were being instructed in regard to what we really face today in connection with our world situation. They have a right to know. I think that an answer is due them. Really,, they are not informed of the facts of the situation today. I would not take a moment of your time just now but for the hope I have that perhaps you will be able to help our people understand the conditions with which we are having to deal.

Should we send help to Africa? My friends, think of it! We send two men over there to help that little body of missionaries who are struggling with a problem of such magnitude. One man goes over the eastern part of the field, the other the western part, and their paths never cross the whole summer long. Yet they are helping those missionaries reach over a hundred thousand people in the hope of build­ing them up spiritually, leading them on into a fuller knowledge of this message, and trans­forming them from rank heathen into Seventh-day Adventist believers ready for the coming of the Lord.. Two men to help in a problem of such proportions! Why, my friends, we would send several times that many to attend a camp meeting here in North America, and the very people who criticize us would sit and listen to the preaching of those men and enjoy it! I believe that it is the responsibility of the Gen­eral Conference to reach out to the ends of the earth and send help to these fields. Our people ought to be led to realize that there is a great need for such help.

Now in the very growth that we are making, there is inherent danger. Every language group that we add to this movement multiplies the risk and the danger. Why is that so? Well, as I have said, these groups are walled in, as it were, by barriers of language. In many cases they are unable to read the lan­guages in which the most of our literature is produced. I myself have been in some fields like that, and I have seen difficult situations arising because of these language barriers. The ministry in some of- these- lands- do Trot read English or German or French or Spanish or any other of the principal languages in which we produce literature. Perhaps just one or two books and a few tracts comprise all the literature they have. These men are shut away from contacts with those of other nationalities, perhaps. The influences that come through an interchange of workers are lacking.

My friends, if those leaders, those workers, become to any degree tainted with fanaticism or with a spirit of alienation or of rebellion, how easy it would be, and is, for these same men to lead their groups away from the truth. The first thing we realize here, perhaps several thousand believers in this or that field are actually in danger of being led into apostasy. I point out to you today, my friends, as a very solemn fact, the danger of this movement's breaking up into segments unless we do every­thing that God can help us and will help us to do to bind this whole world-wide movement together in unity. This is a world message, a world movement, and our people ought to be world-conscious as well as message-conscious. I believe that as leaders among our people we ought to present these facts to them. We ought to help them to understand the problems we face today.

Fifty or sixty years ago the General Confer­ence was a very simple organization. It is very interesting for me to take some of the old Year Books and study them. I took the Year Book of 1888, and looked up the treasurer's report. It was all on a half-page, and not more than half a dozen entries were required to give the entire report of the Treasurer of the Gen­eral Conference for that year. Back in those early days it was an easy matter to call a ses­sion of the General Conference Committee, for it was made up of only seven men, and still earlier, of only three. Some people are afraid that with our growth we have built up in Washington a bureaucracy, and they would like to see the whole organization changed. When I first became connected with the General Con­ference, we had a smaller staff than we have now. The present one is much larger; but seriously, my brethren, even with the staff we have today we shall be unable to give to all these world divisions or to the home fields, the assistance that they are calling for and really need.

I have come back from my visits to many of the fields abroad with the conviction deepened in my own mind that instead of doing less to help them with men from headquarters, we must do more. We must make more frequent contacts. These division leaders are facing great and serious problems. They are often at their wits' end to know how to meet the situ­ations that develop. If they call for someone to assist them in counsel, should we refuse to grant the help lest someone say that we were going off on a "junketing expedition.".! I don't believe, my friends, it would be good leadership to back down before that kind of criticism. Do you think it would? [Voices: No!] Do you think it would be good leader­ship to be swung away by that kind of criti­cism? [Voices Again: No]

I have felt, brethren, that these are principles that all our leaders ought to understand. You will be able to help many of our people to understand them. I am not sure but that it would be a good thing for every conference president, at a workers' meeting or at a camp meeting, or at some such opportune time, to make an explanation of some of the demands that are made upon us today as a people and as leaders. As this message presses on, as new territory is added, as new groups of be­lievers are raised up, the needs will increase beyond those of the present hour.

Really, brethren, as I look out over the fields, as I think of the needs, as I think of what we face as a people, and of the demands that are made upon us,—often beyond our capacity to respond to them,—I am more and more con­vinced of our great need of a fuller outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this movement. Just over yonder are the shores of the eternal world, and already we see the gleams of the golden morning. We are leading a people through the evils and the sins of this last generation on toward the city of God. May God help us to make sure that our leadership is true, that we are leading in the right direction, that we are always giving the trumpet a certain sound, and that we shall not fail in these crucial hours of the world's history to give a true lead to the people and the cause of God.

I cannot leave with you anything that would be more expressive of my heart's desire than that we should all earnestly and continuously pray for an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit upon us. I want you to pray for these men who go out to the ends of the earth. They are facing difficulties beyond anything we know about here. Let us remember them before the throne of grace. I wish we could lead our people to habits of prayer that would cause them to include in their daily intercessions before the throne of grace, the missionaries that are out on the firing line throughout the whole world field. Brethren, if we are to suc­ceed as a people, we must do it upon our knees. We must pray as we work, that God may grant us the fullness of divine power for the respon­sibilities that are before us. May God bless you all, and help you as you go forth from this Council.

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BY J. L. McElhany

December 1936

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