The successful church program demands that all public services of the church, as well as the missionary activities of the individual members, be motivated by an intelligent understanding of God's purpose. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." In his public services the pastor should constantly endeavor to keep before his people the vision of God's purpose to be accomplished through His church. It goes without saying that before this vision can be constantly kept before the church, the pastor himself must have such a vision.
Immediately after Satan was cast out from heaven, the Father and the Son hastened to create the earth and man in their image. God had a definite purpose in this creation, which can be understood only in the light of the controversy between Christ and Satan. From the time of Adam's failure, God has sought repeatedly to accomplish His original purpose in the creation of man. It is the business of the pastor to lead his people to an understanding of this purpose, and to co-operate with God in teaching them how to respond to His divine purpose.
Generally speaking, the weekly program of the church is made up of the Sabbath school, the church service, and the midweek prayer meeting. At the Battle Creek Tabernacle we have added two other regular weekly services which we feel are definitely helpful in the progressive education of the membership of the church in the understanding and accomplishment of God's original purpose. Our weekly program is as follows : Sabbath school, 9:15 A. M. ; preaching service, 10:45 A. M.; question-and-answer service, 3 P. M.; vesper service, one hour before sunset on Sabbath afternoon ; midweek prayer meeting, Wednesday at 8 P. M.; young people's meeting, Friday at 7:45 P. M.
When we first begin this program in a new church, we start with building up the midweek prayer meeting attendance through a special series of studies based on the Spirit of prophecy, which emphasize the order of events in the closing scenes as set forth in "The Great Controversy" and "Early Writings." For a few weeks we dispense with the established prayer meeting formula, and devote the whole hour to a line-byline study of the first vision given to Sister White. This has never failed to increase greatly the prayer meeting attendance. During the past year here in Battle Creek the attendance at the midweek service has consistently averaged from three hundred to four hundred. A blackboard is used, the events clearly indicated are put down, and their relationship to past and future events is carefully studied.
We endeavor to show that God is preparing for the accomplishment of His original purpose in the creation of man through the people of the advent movement. At each study, the people are encouraged to ask questions and to voice their opinions of the passage studied. In addition to bringing to the minds of the people a vision of the meaning of this movement, this method will also show them that God has placed within their hands source materials which will make them independent of any other human agent in coming to an understanding of the meaning of present-day conditions and the correct interpretation of prophecy yet to be fulfilled. It encourages people to think for themselves, and teaches them to study for themselves. (It goes without saying that the one who conducts such a course of study must himself have covered the ground thoroughly beforehand, and must be able ever to keep in mind the great fundamental principles of truth which stretch from eternity in the past to eternity in the future.)
Question Service for Intensive Study
We do not neglect the periods of special prayer. At the beginning of each service, opportunity is given for personal requests for special prayer in behalf of individuals, for themselves, for loved ones, and for friends. As this type of service is conducted over a period of weeks, there will gradually develop a new spirit in the prayer and testimony service, and there will also develop a freedom of expression among the people in questioning. When the questions seem to indicate a demand for it, announcement is made of a new service to be held Sabbath afternoon. The people are invited to bring their questions to this service, and the questions are handed in each week on slips of paper and are discussed immediately. The people are encouraged to assemble all the facts they have been learning in the midweek service in the solving of the problems presented in the questions.
The leader of this service should, of course, be fortified with a wide knowledge of the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy, and must be prepared to answer every question in the light of the great fundamentals of truth as they have been revealed in the controversy between Christ and Satan. This service, introduced in the Battle Creek Tabernacle in the summer of 1941, has enjoyed from the first meeting an attendance equal to, and on many occasions greater than, the attendance at the midweek study. Our motto in these question-and-answer services is, "To the law and to the testimony : if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." The answer to the question must be based on the clear, consistent teaching of the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy. This is an interesting and instructive service, and many consider it one of the best services of the week.
Worship Predominant in Vesper Service
Following the question-and-answer service, the people are invited to come to the main auditorium where they find an atmosphere of quietness and rest introduced by fifteen minutes of organ music. In this service we attempt to teach the people the true meaning of worship in quiet meditation and communion with God. The organist is encouraged to select appropriate music which will create the desired atmosphere. At exactly one hour before sundown, the organist signals the minister by playing "Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus." As the members bow their heads in silent prayer, the minister quietly kneels in the pulpit. As he rises to his feet, the congregation unites in singing softly the same chorus. The opening theme hymn is read, and a few appropriate remarks are made.
When the vesper service is conducted on Friday evening, which is also a very appropriate time, we read the words of No. 430 in "Christ and Song," "Another Six Days' Work Is Done." At the present time here in the tabernacle, we are using for our opening hymn, No. 325 in the new hymnal, "My God, Is Any Hour So Sweet?" The congregation remains seated during this entire service. Following the singing of all the stanzas of the hymn, the congregation is invited to join in a responsive reading selected from the hymnal.
Then comes one of the most beautiful and impressive parts of the service. A period of silent prayer is introduced by inviting the members to follow Jesus and His disciples through the gates of old Jerusalem, down the narrow path, across the brook Kidron, up the gentle slope of the Mount of Olives, into the Garden of Prayer. This is the signal for the strings group, made up of three or four violins and a cello, to begin softly playing an appropriate selection. All bow their heads in silent prayer until the musical number is almost completed; then the minister offers a short, audible prayer. At the present time, we are using for this silent prayer the refrain of the hymn, "The Beautiful Garden of Prayer." Any other appropriate music might be selected. This should not be long, perhaps not more than one minute.
Following the period of silent prayer and music, an appropriate prayer poem is read. We have found the poems of Grace Noll Crowell to be very effective. She has a series of books of prayer poems, some of which are : "Songs of Hope," "Light of the Years," "Songs for Courage," and "Songs of Faith." A list of all her poems can be secured from her publishers, Harper Brothers, of New York and London.
This prayer poem is generally followed by a hymn story and the singing of the hymn by the congregation. One of the finest collections of hymn stories is entitled "Lyric Religion ; The Romance of Immortal Hymns," by H. Augustine Smith. It was published in 1931 by D. Appleton-Century Company, New York City and London. This collection gives not only the hymn story and the hymn, but also the hymn tune. Another helpful book in this field is the volume, "The Story of the Hymns and Tunes," by Butterworth and Brown, published in 1906 by Doran, New York City. There are, of course, other helpful books of similar character.
At each vesper service a special instrumental number is played either on the organ or by the strings group ; there is also a special vocal number, which may be a solo, a duet, a quartet, or a ladies' trio. Occasionally, we enjoy special music by various music groups of the church, such as the girls' glee club, the junior choir, or the ladies' sextet. A short talk of not more than ten to fifteen minutes, generally continuing the spiritual lesson of the sermon of the morning, brings the service to a close, and just as the sun is setting, the sexton tolls the sunset bell. As the bell is rung, the congregation sits in absolute quietness with bowed heads. This usually concludes the service, and the congregation quietly disperses as the organ plays softly. Oil some occasions a closing hymn is selected, such as No. 51 in the hymnal, "Day Is Dying in the West," or No. 52, "Now the Day Is Over."
The purpose of the vesper service is to emphasize the beauty of reverence and meditation, and its effect is noticeable in all the other services of the week, especially in the Sabbath school and preaching service. It promotes reverence for the house of God. The individual is encouraged to discover God within the quietness of his own thinking and heart.
The eleven o'clock service on Sabbath morning is reserved for a special feeding of the, flock. No campaign or promotional work is permitted at this hour. Taking subscriptions for periodicals, promotion of the Ingathering and other campaigns, are largely cared for at the time of the midweek service. Aside from brief announcements, no promoting of these special campaigns is intruded into the eleven-o'clock hour. Here, again, the entire service is planned to produce the effect of worship and reverence. From the playing of the opening prelude, the entrance of the ministers, and special numbers by the choir, on to the closing response by the choir, the benediction, and the postlude, the entire service is one unit, carefully planned to produce a definite effect. No campaign sermons are permitted.
Following the closing response by the choir, the congregation is seated, and as the organ plays, the deacons dismiss the congregation, beginning at the rear, row by row. This eliminates the confusion of visiting and the disorder that generally follows the benediction. Members quietly file from their seats into the aisles and directly into the foyer. Once a month the minister and elders step to the rear of the church during the closing song, and shake hands with the people as they leave.
In the minds of the congregation every service is definitely connected with every other service of the week. Thus, the Sabbath morning sermon should present questions that would bring the people to the question-and-answer service in the afternoon ; and the question-andanswer service, coming approximately one hour before the vesper service, brings a large group together for the sundown vesper service. The midweek prayer meeting study gives the people a background of knowledge that will enable them to derive greater benefit from the Sabbath morning sermon and the Sabbath afternoon service. If in this entire program free communion between the individual and his God is restored, he will then be led to co-operate with God in demonstrating the accomplishment of His original purpose in his ministry to his fellow men.
Such a program will definitely increase the tithe income of the church, as well as the Sabbath school and mission offerings. It will also stimulate home missionary activities, for, as the missionary leader of the tabernacle recently stated, "Every sermon and study is a home missionary sermon and study." In fact, every activity of the church is strengthened and improved if these several services are rightly conducted.