The leading denominational editors from nine of our world divisions recently assembled in a memorable seven-day council at our General Conference headquarters in Washington, D.C., August 23-29. It was a unique meeting of far-reaching importance—the first of its kind in twenty years. Its timeliness may well be indicated by the fact that upon this editorial fraternity rests the weighty responsibility of the public representation of this all-important message in a world surcharged with increasing complexity, hostility, and restriction.
The council was under the direct chairmanship of Elders J. L. McElhany, L. H. Christian, and M. N. Campbell, with F. D. Nichol serving as secretary. The sixteen comprehensive topics listed on the agenda disclose the well-rounded scope of the presentations and the objectives of the attendant discussions. The topics were as follows:
1. Importance and Place of Editorial Work in the Advent Movement.
2. Editorial Qualifications and Background of Experience.
3. The Editor's Study and Gathering of Material.
4. The Editorial Library.
5. The Character and Content of Our Missionary Periodicals.
6. Proper Attitudes in Our Missionary Periodicals.
7. Ideals of Presentation.
8. Editorial Relationships.
9. Editorial Policies. so. Method and Style. II. Illustrating Religious Periodicals.
10. Editing Church Papers.
11. Health Journals.
12. Advertising Policies. 55. Book and Tract Editing. i6. Statistical Survey.
This gathering is destined to have far-reaching results, not only in increased technical efficiency in the science and art of editing, but in giving and maintaining a clear vision of our huge, intricate task, in unifying our endeavors the world around, and in bringing into bold relief the principles that heaven desires shall govern in shaping the public utterances of this movement in these critical times. The spiritual foundation of all true service and relationship was kept sharply and continually in the forefront.
Searching devotional studies, thought-provocative papers, followed by frank and highly practical discussions, marked these crowded, profitable days that are now history. The leading conclusions were crystallized into a series of actions that will surely prove most helpful in days to come, with the climax in the form of a solemn dedication which is here shared with our readers. A stenographic record was taken of the proceedings, and a printed report of 288 pages has preserved all the essential features of this noteworthy gathering. But since these full reports will have but a limited distribution, certain sections of the leading discussions of most general interest will appear in this and succeeding issues of THE MINISTRY. Portions of five presentations to the council comprise the initial report appearing in this issue.—Editor.
Chairman McElhany's Welcome
There comes to a fulfillment today a plan that has been in the minds of our General Conference leaders for some time, a .plan for our editors to assemble to counsel together regarding the problems that have to do especially with this line of our work. April 25-29, 1919, twenty years ago, there was held in this place an editorial council. That was the last meeting of its kind that has been held. We are thankful that in the good providence of the Lord we can gather here today in a meeting of this nature to consider especially the problems connected with the preparation of our literature. Very frequently the men who are responsible for the circulation of our literature come together and have conventions to study ways and mean's and methods of circulating it, but, as I say, it has been twenty years since any serious effort was made to gather the men who have especially to do with the preparation of it—the editorial phase of our literature work.
And I wish today to express my own personal pleasure and satisfaction over the fact that so many of our brethren can gather here for this purpose. I am sure that in saying this I speak also for my associates in the General Conference, for we recognize this as, being a very important phase of our service, and we are glad to plan for a meeting of this kind. We are glad to welcome here today a number of our teachers from our schools who specialize in journalism, and in the teaching of English. We are glad that circumstances have made it possible for some of these workers to be with us. And then there are others here today who are present because of their general interest in the work. We are glad to welcome them. We cordially welcome our brethren from our North American publishing houses, but I take special pleasure in extending a welcome to our brethren and to our fellow workers who have come to us from overseas. We recognize that many of these men labor under circumstances of perplexity and difficulty, and we are especially happy to have with us a number of these brethren. Some of you have come from distant parts. Some of you are separated from your fellow workers in this kind of work by long distances, or by national boundaries, or perhaps by language barriers.
It seems to me that it is a good thing indeed to have so many of our editorial workers together where we can mingle and exchange ideas and experiences, and seek to profit from the collective experience of a group like this. So in behalf of the General Conference Committee, I welcome you all cordially, and invite you to take part in the study and in the discussion of the topics that are to be considered.
This council has not been authorized or called by the General Conference to study or change or revise the doctrines of the denomination. It is not intended to be a doctrinal council or anything approaching that. Such a program, if it were to be undertaken, could hardly be committed to a special group of this kind. But we are here to study ways and means of preparing literature to meet the needs of the world at this special hour in the history of the world. I believe you will all agree with me when I say that we gather here at a very critical time. We are here to give emphasis to the need of our literature's being so prepared that it will be a mighty factor in the proclamation of the advent message.
Method And Style in Writing
By W. A. SPICER, Associate Editor of the Review and Herald
These comments will be kept more clearly within bounds if I repeat each suggestive heading under this section of the agenda on the topic assigned to me.
a. "While erroneous statements must be refuted, be careful to avoid overdevelopment of the critical spirit; avoid language which savors of sharpness, and keep to the positive as much as possible."
With error lifting its head, unashamed, on every side, every editor knows that he must keep the editorial sword sharp. But the sharper the surgeon's knife, the more delicately and kindly can he work. Within the walls of an editor's room it is perhaps easy for the writer to forget how words sound outside among the people. For that reason it is good for the editor to mingle much with the people, speaking the message to living souls in a way to correct error and convert the heart. Our aim is to convert men, not merely to controvert them. We must name the wrong doctrine plainly, and meet it. Truth shines brightest in contrast with falsehood. The public are hearing the untrue sayings all the time, and we must turn the spotlight of truth upon error. In it all, however, it is essential that we take to ourselves the inspired counsel:
"The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves ; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." 2 Tim. 2 :24, 25.
In speaking from the platform, one may soften the necessarily decisive and straightforward word by a tone of kindly appeal. We are told that when Jesus spoke severe words of censure there were "tears in His voice." In writing, there can be no such accompanying tone to soften the challenging message. Therefore we need to look over carefully what we write when we review a man's argument. It is good to lay such matter aside for a day or two, and go over it quietly when it is cold, to determine how it will sound to the reader. We dare not evade the duty of declaring faithfully the whole counsel of God; but let us try to do it in the spirit of kindness, attacking the error and not the man.
Well may the writer recall the instruction to the ministry : "Duty, stern duty, has a twin sister, which is kindness."—"Testimonies," Vol. III, p. 105. Let us keep the twins in service together.
Naturally, when we deal negatively with error, we do it only to set forth the positive more fully. We must quote enough to be fair in stating the erroneous view, but the less of the false we print, the better. We must not in our own or in contributors' matter allow ourselves to give unnecessary publicity to untruthful teachings. We must pour out the living, positive truths of the word of God.
b. "Study to hold to plainness and simplicity of style in writing, avoiding the heavy, outmoded literary style of long ago."
Of all people, we Seventh-day Adventists, carrying a decisive message to men in this most critical hour, ought to tell that message in the plainest language. In any calling, the more a man knows, the more simply he can tell it. In the beginnings of the real revival of modern literature, masters of language were leading toward simplicity. "Pomp and ostentation of reading," said John Milton, "is admired among the vulgar ; but doubtless, in matters of religion, he is learnedest who is plainest."—"On Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes."
Inspiration sets us the example. "Two thousand years ago no one," says Politeyan, "would have considered it correct to write a book except in literary Greek. In New Testament times Polybius, Plutarch, and Lucian each. wrote in it; and even Jewish writers of that period, as Josephus and Philo, did not deign to use the vernacular of the day." But it was otherwise when the very message of life was to be delivered by inspiration in writing. Politeyan says again:
"When the apostles came to pen the message of the gospel, no doubt they realized that they had a subject which was different from the topics of all other writers. They were not mere authors, they were the ambassadors of a King, with glad tidings for all mankind, for rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, educated and uneducated. Had these. Jewish messengers written in the home language of the Jew, Aramaic, it would have appealed to or have been understood by the few! Had they written in the literary style, it would have appealed only to men of letters. But they put the universal message in the universal language, 'Koine,' a language plain and unadorned, a language of the people; and why? Because the New Testament was intended to be a Book for the people."—"New Testament Archeology," pp. .ro, 19.
In retelling this message in these modern days we surely shall gain by trying to keep to the plainest style of expression. How awkwardly it comes when the simple truths of the gospel are put into ornamental literary style. For instance, Harwood's New Testament translation, of 1768, seems to have aimed to put the story of the prodigal son in language to impress the genteel reader. It opens thus : "A gentleman of a splendid family and opulent fortune had two sons." Compare that with the stately English of the Authorized Version. No, as we are told in "Christ's Object Lessons," the success of the gospel message does not depend upon the ornamental:
"It depends upon the simplicity of the message and its adaptation to the souls that are hungering for the bread of life. . . .
"Thousands can be reached in the most simple and humble way. The most intellectual, those who are looked upon as the world's most gifted men and women, are often refreshed by the simple words of one who loves God, and who can speak of that love as naturally as the worldling speaks of the things that interest him most deeply."—Pages 231, 232.
And the plain language can be made the most eloquent and the most graphic in telling the message of life. A converted Metlakatla Indian of the Canadian Northwest had run fast to bring Missionary Simpson to the bedside of a dying heathen. "Tell him quick," the Indian cried, "but make it plain ! Make it very plain !" There is no superlatively powerful way of telling it. As our Mrs. White in vision was shown the judgments soon to fall, she begged the angel to speak in his language to the people:
"Said he, 'All the thunders and lightnings of Mt. Sinai would not move those who will not be moved by the plain truths of the word of God, neither would an angel's message awaken them.' "—"Early Writings," p. 52.
In the writing of the message, then, the one thing is to present over and over the plain truths of the word of God.
c. "Constant effort to do better work, to make better choice of words in order to make the truth clearer and more desirable."
The call to plainness means no release from the call to earnest effort. Solomon, to whom God gave the, gift of special wisdom, found need of constant study in writing: "The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth." Eccl. 12:1o. Jesus, our example, was awakened morning by morning to be taught, that He might "know how" to speak the right words to those who were weary. Isa. 50:4, 5. "Study !" is the command to one who writes as well as to one who speaks. (See 2 Tim. 2:15.) The writer in our cause is a minister, and it is truly spoken of his work:
"A minister should never think that he has learned enough, and may now relax his efforts. His education should continue throughout his lifetime."—"Gospel Workers," p. 94.
Who that has ever written anything in this work of Ours has not seen, in reading it in print afterward, place after place where he could have said it better? We can always do better. For that we must struggle from youth to old age. The finest writer on English history that I know of lies buried in Italy—John Richard Green. One line for his tombstone was left in writing by himself. It is this: "He died learning." We admire that student spirit. Yet the work of a student of history, writing of the past, is not to be compared with the responsibility of the writer, who is telling the saving message of eternal life to come. We are told,
"Not with tame, lifeless utterance is the message to be given, but with clear, decided, stirring utterances. Hundreds are waiting for the warning to escape for their lives."—"Testimonies," Vol. VIII, p. 16.
There is no better humanly set motto for the Seventh-day Adventist editorial worker, it seems to me, than the words by James White, our first editor, on the front page of our first paper. The Spirit of prophecy had called him to "Write, write, write," and wait no longer to earn more money in the hayfield for publishing. He wrote:
"I tremble at the word of the Lord, and the importance of this time. . . . My spirit is drawn out after the scattered remnant. May God help them to receive the truth, and be established in it. May they haste to take shelter beneath the 'covering of Almighty God,' is my prayer."—Present Truth, No. July, 1849.
Our first editor trembled at the word of God as he took that pen in hand. In that spirit of solemn and urgent responsibility we today must do our work. Many and various subjects must be dealt with. Our periodicals must minister to home and health interests, and to children and youth, with writings of general and informing interest for all. But every number of our periodicals as a whole, we may say, should be as a net cast out to draw readers to Christ and to obedience to the definite message that God has given us for this hour. We may well keep as our aim in every issue the purpose expressed in an old Review and Herald, by Uriah Smith, pioneer editor:
"When the Review goes out, it goes with an object, it goes out to teach truths that are definite and distinct, truths which are to prepare men for the great crisis before us, ripening them for the harvest of the earth, truths upon which God has set His seal."—May 21, 1861.
d. "Avoid prosy introductions, endeavor to say something in, the first sentences that will catch the reader's attention."
The Spirit of prophecy says to gospel workers: "They should leave preliminaries, and come to the subject at once."—"Testimonies," Vol. II, p. 117. That was written upward of seventy years ago, when prosy preliminaries were quite the custom. Progress in journalism today has developed the idea of telling the heart of the story in the first paragraph, then later going into details. The lesson of it for us is, to open an article with something that may arrest attention. Perhaps the most quoted preacher today in America is Harry Emerson Fosdick, of New York. He has written this counsel for the preacher who writes his sermon: "Within a paragraph or two after the sermon has started, wide areas of any congregation ought to begin recognizing that the preacher is tackling something of vital concern to them."
That emphasizes this idea upon which journalism has seized in this age, when a reader's attention must be arrested as quickly as possible. We are to start off strongly, follow the main idea through, and not scatter. Hold the interest to the main issue. Note the counsel of Mrs. White to one old-time preacher:
"Present only a few vital points, and keep your mind concentrated on these points. . . By wandering from straight lines . . you weaken all that you have previously said."—"Testimonies to Ministers," p. 309,
Not often does the speaker or writer have in his audience so frank a counselor as a former dean of St. Paul's Cathedral once had in London, in the days of Queen Elizabeth. The queen herself called to him from the royal stall: "Leave your ungodly digression, and return to your text." As we are counseled to leave out prosy preliminaries, .so we are to end our sermon and articles in a way that does not leave the impression that our presentation is running down on our hands. We "should study to close the discourse while the interest is the greatest."—"Testimonies," Vol. II, p. 117. I leave with you Matthew Arnold's dictum on style: "What is all this talk about style? I do not know anything about it, except that a man should have something to say, and then say it as briefly as possible, in language suited to the occasion."
Editors' Resolution of Education
(Unanimously adopted August 29, 1939)
We, the editors of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, assembled in council at Washington, D.C., from many parts of the world, being deeply impressed with the seriousness of the present world situation, and sensing anew our solemn responsibility as custodians of the sacred literature of the advent movement—that by this literature the world is to be warned and by it the church is judged—heartily unite upon the following pronouncement of our convictions:
1. That the world today, distressed and saddened by many sorrows, stands in urgent need of a fresh presentation of the love of God in the blessed gospel of Christ ; not in feeble platitudes, but in words of power ; not in vacillating phrases, but in a vital, distinct message, declaring the whole counsel of God.
2. That the hopelessness of the multitudes about us, as they view the increasing threats of war, revolution, and universal chaos, demands a vigorous, powerful, and sympathetic restatement of the blessed hope of the soon return of our Lord.
3. That the waning faith of Christendom in its fundamental beliefs, in the inspiration of the Bible, in the creative power of God, in the spiritual message of Christ, and in the efficacy of His vicarious sacrifice on Calvary, calls for a bold reassertion of these essential truths so vital to men's present happiness and eternal salvation.
4. That the declining respect for moral standards and the growing disregard for truth and purity, cry out for a courageous championing of the claims of God's eternal law of righteousness as found in the ten commandments.
5. That the revival of paganism and false religions, and the spread of many false philosophies and doctrines, challenge the church of Christ to rekindle the fading fires of its enthusiasms and reaffirm its faith in its divine origin, its confidence in its inspired beliefs and teachings, its courage to go forth and do battle for the Lord.
6. That the divisions so prevalent in the modern world, sundering nation from nation, and class from class, thus leaving the people bewildered, confused, and terrified, and fostering widespread bitterness, jealousy, and hatred, call for a clear, unified, and unifying message, redolent with divine love and in harmony with the mind of God.
7. That, in the light of the foregoing, facing the tremendous issues of these terrible times, remembering that the judgment hour is upon us, and that millions are in peril of suffering eternal loss, we hereby rededicate ourselves to our sacred task of giving to mankind in our literature the glorious saving message of the everlasting gospel so urgently needed at this time.
8. We realize our paramount need of divine guidance wisely to deal with the momentous events of these last days, and rightly to evaluate and interpret them as signs of the times. We recognize our own spiritual peril in the midst of this hour of temptation and trial now gripping the world. We appreciate our constant need of God's sustaining grace in this "time of trouble such as never was ;" and we invite the prayers of God's people that our lives and labors may ever be pleasing in His sight, that our witness for righteousness may be bold and unflinching, that our loyalty to the fundamentals of the advent message may never waver, that our writings may be a savor of life unto life, that our publications may be both fountains and fortresses of divine truth, that we may indeed be "holy men of God" whose pens shall be "moved by the Holy Ghost."