Our proportionately small Roman Catholic accessions in Protestant lands has led us to ask a representative of Catholic South America, where a large number of converts are an actuality, to suggest possible reasons for these two situations. His observations are here presented for study, as in some Protestant lands overseas it has already been deemed necessary to make certain changes in methods.—Editor.
In answer to these questions, we might say that, although they do not receive special prominence, the subjects mentioned are treated in public meetings by the majority of our evangelists in South America. In some countries overseas, these subjects are reserved for more private study. One method consists in publicly presenting Daniel 7 without explaining which power fulfilled the work of the little horn. At the next meeting a question appears in the question box, asking for an explanation of the symbol. The evangelist then tells his audience that it would not be wise to give it in a public meeting, and invites all those who are really interested to come to a more private meeting, to be held on Saturday afternoon at our church. And the results in actual souls won justifies the wisdom of this procedure in Catholic lands.
Circumstances differ with the various countries and with the various evangelistic talents, and no fast rule can be given that says exactly which is the best method. But one principle holds good everywhere, and that is that "one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar." We sincerely believe that in both Protestant and Catholic countries, the best results will be obtained by presenting the truth in a positive, constructive way. We can make so clear what the Bible teaches on the state of the dead, or the Sabbath, for instance, that our audiences do not need to hear us comment on erroneous beliefs about these questions. They will make the comparison in their own minds. "Hold to the affirmative." we are admonished. ("Testimonies," Vol. IX, p. 147.) "God requires us to proclaim the truth, and let it discover error." (Id., Vol. VI, p. 38.)
More than once, when hearing some of our preachers, I have been unable to escape the conviction that a little more historic precision, and a little more care in avoiding offensive expressions, would have greatly helped in retaining the attention of Catholics, without reducing the interest of Protestants. We are thinking especially of those oft-repeated statements that make the Roman Catholic Church responsible for all the perversions of the gospel, when, as a matter of fact, history would permit their champions to dispute the accusation.
Some might question, for instance, that the Papacy changed the Sabbath, and claim that it was done long before the Papacy was really formed. The Papacy sanctioned the fact, it is true, and assumed the responsibility, claiming an apostolic succession that passed through the fathers who adopted the change. But can we accuse the Roman Catholic Church of actions taken before Constantine and the Council of Nicea? Even if we do so on the basis that she accepted all the changes and continued to enlarge the list of them, what will we say about the Greek Orthodox Church? As far as we know, she did not revert to the pure gospel when she separated from Rome in 1054, on the occasion of the great schism.
We must remember that Greek ecclesiasticism contributed not a little to the corruption of the true doctrine. Mariolatry, transubstantiation, belief in the immortality of the soul, were some of its specific contributions. And the first fathers who spiritualized the Sabbath away and substituted the first day of the week for it, spoke and wrote in Greek, not in Latin. All this is history, and if we give its details correctly, if we keep to the scholarly way instead of resorting to the sensational in our presentation of the truth, we will attain two objectives: our hearers will be impressed and convinced by the precision of our historical data, and Roman Catholics will have less ground to take offense.
Of course, there are things for which the Catholic Church is responsible, and they must be presented. But, don't we often say that the personal work, the Bible studies given in private homes, constitutes the most effective part of our evangelism? Might it not also be the most effective way to present these delicate subjects ? It is along these lines that our successful evangelists work in Catholic countries. Perhaps it would pay to try them even in a Protestant country like the United States, where, after all, twenty or more million Catholics offer not only a strong religious front, but also a vast quarry for souls to be fashioned as precious stones for the living temple of God.