The Place of Scholarship
Failure on the part of some to distinguish between sound, reverent, loyal, Christian scholarship and subversive religious liberalism is responsible for charges of Modernism which are sometimes hurled against fundamentally sound men in our ranks. It is hard for those who know little of the problems and processes of scholarship to sense the viewpoint and moderation of the scholar. Ofttimes those who know the least assert the most. It is difficult for one who has scarcely dug beneath the surface in the vast mine of truth—as found in the tomes of history, the ancient Scripture texts, the findings of science, and the disclosures of archeology—to appreciate the real point and place of reverent scholarship in this movement, if he must take everything from the findings of others.
Our positions are being scrutinized with growing severity by a world which is taking increasing notice of us. We must not tolerate riding on the momentum of mere assertion. We cannot afford to condone inaccuracies, or to repeat generalities that do not prove up. We must have exact and reliable evidence for every point of truth. We must learn to be more accurate in our statements. This message has nothing to fear except from unwise friends, content with the superficial.
Where a man with trivial knowledge of a subject may make sweeping and quite unwarranted statements, the man with thorough acquaintance with the question is more reserved and exact. He cannot indulge in sweeping generalities that he knows are not borne out by precise facts. Because of this, his impetuous brother may be inclined to think him wabbly or uncertain, whereas the reverse may be more nearly true. It is the superficial dogmatist who goes beyond the warrants of the case, and then looks askance at his better-informed brother who refuses thus to prostitute his allegiance to truth and loyalty to fact. This is particularly true of complicated and debatable historical matters, and of difficult prophetic and exegetic expositions.
This movement would never command the respect and allegiance of the trained mind, whom we must reach, were the superficial attitude of some allowed to predominate. But such a situation is unthinkable. It must never dominate. We have a message not only for the untrained masses, but for the most highly trained intellects as well. And this message will appeal, as nothing else will, when presented to such, in harmony with the mandates of careful scholarship. We must never lose our bearings, or muffle our witness in this transition hour. We must not be stampeded into unsound positions, or frightened into reactionism. Reverent, loyal scholarship is the handmaiden of truth. Let us encourage true, sound, reverent, confirmatory scholarship that exalts truth and buttresses her positions. Let us stand behind men with a clear vision.
Misuse of the counsels of the Spirit of prophecy, by unwise friends, is one of the very real perils to the welfare of the advent movement. Many strange teachings seek support through citing groups of extracts, or even a single statement, from the writings of the gift. But the assemblage of statements upon one aspect of a question, without due cognizance as to setting and governing circumstances, and without weighing all the instruction in the writings bearing thereupon, constitutes a violation of two of the clearest principles of sound procedure in investigation, study, and exegesis.
Time and place must be considered," we are specifically admonished by Mrs. E. G. White ("The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church," p. 25), in discussing this very principle.
When circumstances are similar, the counsel is, perforce, similarly applicable. But when conditions have materially or entirely changed, to continue to apply to the changed and corrected situation the statements of perhaps fifty years ago, which were directed specifically to local conditions—thus assuming such statements to be inflexibly and universally applicable for all time and circumstance—is a violation of the most elemental principle of citation. Running all through the writings there are fundamental principles of incontestably universal application. But interspersed among these, there are those specific counsels meeting local and immediate situations which were never designed to be applied to all conditions. This misuse of the writings is unequivocally condemned by such citations as the following:
"They have made selections from the 'Testimonies,' and have inserted them in the pamphlet they have published, to make it appear that my writings sustain and approve the position they advocate. In doing this, they have done that which is not justice or righteousness. Through taking unwarrantable liberties, they have presented to the people a theory that is of a character to deceive and destroy. In times past many others have done this same thing, and have made it appear that the 'Testimonies' sustained positions that were untenable and false."—"Testimonies to Ministers," pp. 32, 33.
Furthermore, all that has been presented through the gift upon a given point should be assembled and studied, if one is to obtain a true, fair, and balanced understanding of its counsels thereupon. Fanaticism and extremism on the part of professed believers in the gift always involves violation of this principle. It is always based upon a one-sided assemblage of statements taken without their balancing, modifying corollaries, and without respect to local conditions. And this one-sided assemblage invariably leads to positions at variance with the church at large—yet seemingly supported, in the eyes of the assembler and his followers, by Spirit of prophecy authority.
There needs to be recognition and sedulous application of these twin principles of "time and place." We condemn, and rightly so, practices on the part of other religious groups, which involve a one-sided presentation of Biblical statements on the Sabbath or the nature of man, for example. Let us not think that we can ignore controlling principles with reference to the right use of the Spirit of prophecy without deleterious effects, or that we can reach sound conclusions while flouting them.
L. E. F.