In giving the advent message to all the world today: we face three distinct perils, all of which are sure to increase in future years. First there is the danger that we will be too fearful and cautious, and tone down the message to please men. This danger is especially threatening in lands where there is censorship of the press and no religious freedom, or a very restricted freedom. The question in such places is: How much of the message dare we print? Shall we compromise and teach error? Shall we keep silent on such cardinal truths as the Sabbath and the second advent ? These are questions which can be answered only in the fields concerned. We know the message must be given even if it costs us our lives to give it. Press censorship is not always a matter of law, but often of caprice or prejudice. Sometimes it is absolute, and disobedience may mean that we can publish no more. Let us remember that God never commanded us to give all the message at all times. Even Jesus forbade His disciples for about a year to say that He was Christ. Yet they found the way and the time to make that truth known.
Second, there is danger that we become too harsh and critical, by attacking governments and prominent personalities, or by setting forth the truth in a manner that awakens needless prejudice and opposition. This danger is near in lands where liberty abounds and where people are given to very full and free speaking. Some will ask: How much about nations and governments should our papers print, and how can we produce vigorous, up-to-date, salable publications unless we feature these things? We will answer these questions later. Here we wish first to discuss the third danger, perhaps the greatest of all—the peril that in our preaching of the message we become too political and deal too much with outside, material events and conditions.
As an illustration of this third pitfall we would mention the many Adventist articles and sermons on the question of war. Now wars and rumors of war are a sign of the times, and as the papers are full of these things, it is easy to stress them in our own publications. While we would not be radical or oppose all preaching of the signs of war, we are convinced that this is greatly overdone among us today. Jesus prophesied of two great events—the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem. The latter event was right upon them in the early church; yet as far as the records go, the apostles never referred to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. It was made known in other ways, and when it came, it was an evidence to many that Jesus was a true prophet. That prophecy would have gained popularity with the Romans; yet in emphasizing the coming fate of Jerusalem it would have utterly destroyed any chance the early apostles might have had to win the Jews for Christ.
Is there not in this a lesson for us today ? Why should we in preaching the signs of the second coming of Christ make war so prominent, when the early Christians seemed to have said nothing at all in public about Jesus' prophecy regarding Jerusalem? Would not our message make a much stronger appeal to thoughtful people, and would it not give less offense, if we dwelt more on the spiritual signs and on prophecies already fulfilled and avoided setting forth sensational speculations concerning war and other world events, whether present or future? It is a sure sign of weakness when editors and writers depend on pictures and articles concerning prominent rulers and nations to make their paper succeed. We can write in a telling, captivating, compelling way. and not be fanciful or extreme. We should shun all slang and sensationalism, but remember that platitudes are like deadly poison.
In writing of the signs of our Lord's return our editors must necessarily discuss current events. This dissertation on current events should be such as to make plain that God rules and overrules in the affairs of men. We are never to accuse or rail at government authorities or leading personalities. We are to study current events in the light of the gospel, and tell the story in such an interesting way that people will trust in God and believe yet more firmly in the second advent. What we have said concerning the discussion of current events applies also to special questions such as trade-unions or capital and labor.
"Let not those who write for our papers make unkind thrusts and allusions that will certainly do harm, and that will hedge up the way and hinder us from doing the work that we should do in order to reach all classes, the Catholics included. It is our work to speak the truth in love, and not to mix in with the truth the unsanctified elements of the natural heart, and speak things that savor of the same spirit possessed by our enemies. All sharp thrusts will come back upon us in double measure when the power is in the hands of those who can exercise it for our injury. Over and over the message has been given to me that we are not to say one word, not to publish one sentence, especially by way of personalities, unless positively essential in vindicating the truth, that will stir up our enemies against us, and arouse their passions to a white heat. Our work will soon be closed up, and soon the time of trouble, such as never was, will come upon us, of which we have but little idea."--Testimonies, Vol. IX, p. 241.
The advent awakening is a movement of prophecy. The very contents of our message are such that the prophetic word becomes the basis of a large share of our teaching. For this reason we must give careful study to the best way to present the prophecies. There are in the advent message itself two outstanding prophecies concerning our time that are not yet fulfilled. One of these is the United States in prophecy. It is needful to teach this, but we submit that the less this prophecy is preached in the British Empire and in other countries, the better. We have heard many sermons on it overseas, but we never have found that they did much good. In America, too, we should be wise and careful in explaining this prophecy, for in the future it will no doubt stir up great hatred.
The other prophecy is the fall of Babylon. The question of how to tell of the failure and fall of other denominations is a very delicate one. While we have not been called as a people to interpret many prophecies concerning nations, we have been instructed to give the message that "Babylon is fallen." We know that Babylon includes mother and daughter ; that is, all the major churches of modern Christianity. There is today a large church-unity movement on, perhaps the largest religious activity of our day. To pass this by in silence would be to hide our light under a bushel. We are told that the time has come when the people in many lands will "in amazement . . . hear the testimony that Babylon is the church, fallen because of her errors and sins, because of her rejection of the truth sent to her from heaven."—"The Great Controversy," p. 607.
It seems that the testimony, "Babylon is fallen," will bring on the last persecution. But we would not be true to duty if we neglected this important part of the advent message. However, we are to remember that the purpose of this message is to call God's people out of Babylon, lest they be partakers of her sins and receive of her plagues. We should approach this question of the fall of Babylon in the same spirit of sincere regret and sorrow in which Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Many godly men in other churches today are discouraged. They see the state of the churches, and in a spirit of pessimism believe in the downfall of the present religious body.
In giving this message concerning the fall of Babylon, what should be our attitude toward the Catholic Church? To this question we would reply, No attack should ever be made on Catholics as men or women, or even on the Pope himself. We believe, too, that the less discussion there is of the political activity of the Papacy, the better we will serve the cause of God. Those Protestants who think of the Roman question as a political issue misunderstand the gospel. It seems to us further that we should avoid stories concerning the moral depravity of the priests, the escapades of nuns. Many of these stories are not true, and to tell them excites great opposition among the Catholics. The less we endeavor to believe in the human priesthood of any church, and the more we exalt the priesthood of Christ in His sanctuary service, the more godly, honest Catholics we will win.
In preaching Christ to mankind, our purpose is not social or political reform, nor is it neighborhood betterment or even education or culture, though all these good things might be by-products of accepting the message. This being true, we are not to deal with controverted political or international issues in our publications. We search the New Testament in vain for a single instance in which the apostles discussed such questions. While Adventists are to be loyal citizens of their respective countries, and while they have all the rights of good citizens, their calling is not to engage in party politics or struggles. In view of all this, it is very evident that all criticism of every government and every kind of government should be avoided. The apostle Paul exhorts us to pray for kings and for all who are in authority, but never in the Scriptures are we told to condemn governments. Even Christ when He stood before Pilate was most considerate, and won that unjust ruler by the kind words: "Thou couldst have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin." John 19:10, 11.
In dealing with governments and governn-tent officials, we should remember this respectful attitude of our Saviour. We would refer again to articles on the Bible prophecies. The remnant church itself is a fulfillment of many prophecies. In our writing we give much attention to prophetic exposition. It is fortunate that through the years we have dealt very little with the specific details of how future prophecies were to be fulfilled. The Adventist position is that no writer should ever do this unless he understands and accepts the Adventist principles of prophetic interpretation. We are to study prophecy, but we are never, ourselves, to prophesy. Nor are we ever to make literal prophecies symbolic, or symbolic prophecies literal.
No editor or preacher should ever indulge in speculative, detailed presentations of how prophecies will be fulfilled in the future. Such questions as the beast from the bottomless pit, certain aspects of Armageddon, parts of Revelation 17 or Daniel i 1, with other prophecies the fulfillment of which is yet future, should be handled with great reserve, and should never be made the basis of sensational accounts of things to come. What has been said applies also to prophecies concerning various Old Testament nations. How many unfortunate statements were made here and there, for instance, during the recent war between Italy and Ethiopia. We found some who took whole prophecies concerning Ethiopia that were fulfilled more than two thousand years ago, and applied them to our day. We should beware of all fads and all fanciful interpretations. Idle speculations concerning prophecies about such countries as Edom, Moab, and Tyrus, applied to modern nations like Japan, Great Britain, and others, are positively pernicious.
Another item that should be discussed is our relation to civilization in general, and especially to the ignorance, poverty, and superstition that are seen in many countries. We should make plain that every civilization is a fruit of religion. But while no civilization ever started aside from religion, the religion itself cannot be fully charged with all the crimes, poverty, and other evils of that civilization. Only editors who are citizens of the country concerning which they speak, should write about prevailing ignorance and poverty, and then only in a spirit of helpful sympathy. No editor should ever criticize the poverty or social conditions in other lands. This has been done all too often, and sometimes almost in a way that might lead people to think that editors delighted to reveal dark or muddy things.
Concerning the proper attitude of witnesses for the advent message, both today and hereafter, read "The Great Controversy," page 6o6. May God, through the guidance of His Spirit in His church, grant our faithful editors the wisdom and courage needed today.