The question service has long been recognized by our evangelists as a valuable aid in bringing people into the truth. At the Battle Creek Tabernacle we have also found that it has become one of the most helpful services of the weekly program in keeping people in the truth, and progressively growing in their understanding of its worth and beauty. As a result of our series of prayer meeting studies on the closing events of earth, many questions were raised which could not be dealt with at that time. For some time we conducted an aftermeeting for questions, but this was not satisfactory because of the lateness of the hour. One Sabbath morning I announced an experimental question service for the afternoon. We began it an hour and fifteen minutes before the weekly vesper service, which is always just one hour before sundown. From the beginning the results were most encouraging. Now, after two years, the attendance at this service is second only to the eleven o'clock service on Sabbath morning.
The procedure is informal. When I arrive, I go at once to the desk, where I find from six to a dozen written questions. These are carefully scanned, and arranged in the order of their intelligence, timeliness, and significance. Someone is asked to offer a word of prayer, but no hymn is sung. The first question is read, followed by the question, "What do you think?" Invariably there are two opinions expressed, which give us the opportunity to discuss both sides of the question. Each person who wishes to contribute to the discussion is asked to stand so that all may see and hear who is speaking. After a reasonable time is allowed for discussion, the chairman then summarizes the answers, and gives the congregation opportunity to vote on the conclusions. No dogmatism or arbitrary statements are permitted. The Bible is the final authority. One who attempts, to conduct such a service will soon learn the wisdom of letting the people make the final conclusion.
The questions cover every field of religious experience and doctrine—discussions on the Wednesday or Friday crucifixion, Armageddon, the king of the north, Revelation 17, the sanctuary, diet, dress, tithing, labor unions, War Bonds, work in defense factories.
This service permits the pastor to meet new problems as they arise. A recent question will illustrate : "Since the Victory Tax [5% in U.S. A.] is deducted by the employer, should tithe be paid on the full amount of the salary, or on the amount received after the tax has been deducted ?"
When a question is introduced concerning which more than one view is held by recognized authorities, both views are presented and compared as to their value in the light of the Spirit of prophecy and the Bible. It is generally discovered that a careful knowledge of the Spirit of prophecy will lead to the support of one position and will point out the weakness of the other.
The need of a personal knowledge of God's word and the Spirit of prophecy is constantly emphasized. Individual study is encouraged. Several worth-while contributions have been made by laymen. A paper on the half hour of silence at the opening of the seventh seal and another paper on the four beasts and the four and twenty elders were handed to me. These papers were mentioned in public and the contribution evaluated. This encouraged the one who preoared the paper and stimulated others to action. The value of such efforts on the part of the laymen is readily recognized.
Is there not a tendency, even in our own denomination, to develop a theological hierarchy?
Our people are not the Bible students they once were. The development of an institution like the Seminary, where questions of theology can be discussed and studied in a prayerful attitude, reveals wisdom on the part of the leadership of this movement. This same principle must be carried by an informed ministry into the churches. The seminar principle in the church is the only safeguard against creeds, dogmatism, and cold formality. It is the business of the pastor to keep his members so mentally alert that he can safely submit any problem for their consideration which may arise. While there are always a few who are narrow and who tend to radicalism and shallowness of thought, there are plenty of well-balanced, intelligent minds to support the logical, reasonable approach to every problem. The future of this denomination is in the hands of an informed laity.
I personally find this service most stimulating and challenging to my own thinking. It helps me to keep my finger on the pulse of the congregation. From the questions received, I discover undercurrent trends of thought or disaffection. These are carefully brought out in the open, and the majority sentiment expressed relieves me of a possible personal reaction. Thus the individual discovers what the church thinks, not what the pastor dictates.