To Convert or to Teach Doctrine?

Can it be that we have been seeking to make Seventh-day Adventists more than to make Christians?

By Dorothy Whitney Conklin, Bible Instructor, Southern New England Conference

The problem of apostasies and those back-door losses has greatly agitated the minds, hearts, and pens of our ablest men and women, as evidenced in recent issues of the Ministry. Can it be that we have been seeking to make Seventh-day Adventists more than to make Christians ? Are we, like Hezekiah, giving a "dusty answer" to the ambassadors who come to our door, asking us if God still intervenes in the affairs of men? Are we displaying to their envious eyes the riches of Scriptural research and admirable organization for world evangelism, but neglecting to show them the Lord Jesus Christ who made these possessions ours?

A successful evangelist tells this significant in­cident from his youthful experiences. It was his first effort, and he was laboring tirelessly to ham­mer home the Sabbath truth and the judgment message, with Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, and tithing and health reform. His audiences had been flatteringly large, and night after night he had observed with satisfaction two of the town's well-known businessmen paying rapt attention. Then the Methodists brought an evangelist to town and opened revival meetings. To his chagrin, the two leading citizens disappeared from his audience. Doubtless he consoled himself with the usual "paci­fier"—the testing truths were too much for them.

In due time the Methodist meetings closed, and the next evening the two men reappeared in his audience. That night he made a point of greet­ing them and remarking that he had missed them for some time. He has never forgotten their re­ply : "We went over to the Methodists and got con­verted. Now we've come back to the Seventh-clay Adventists to learn more about the Bible." I ask you, Are we mere pedagogues, to be con­tent with the accolade, "My, he certainly knows his Bible" ? Or do we know the Author of the Book sufficiently well to introduce people to Him?

"How many church members do you think we'll get out of this effort ?" I am challenged by zeal­ous brethren and sisters time and time again. "How many are going to take their stand?" they query week after week. "What do they say about the Sabbath?" they ask me after my second visit with a new Bible student. Finally, in desperation I state flatly, "I don't have any idea ! I'm not here simply to recruit new members for the church. My commission is to teach people to know Jesus; to love Him for what He has done for them.; to know and follow the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit ; to read and understand His Book as their only rule of right, comfort, and hope. Such is my duty. The Holy Spirit takes over from there, if I have done my work aright. He drives home the truths I have pointed out. He urges the ne­cessity of obedience if communion with Him is to continue. He leads them to seek church mem­bership."

What use is there for me to din into my readers' ears the fact that the seventh day is the Bible Sabbath, the seal of the living God; that persist­ence in Sunday keeping will result in reception of the mark of the beast ; that the Roman Catholic Church changed the Sabbath of the Creator to the Sunday of sun-worshiping pagans ; that God will one day pour out His wrath, unmixed with mercy, upon those who receive the mark of the beast ; that the judgment may even now be deciding their fate for eternity ?

The world today has no founda­tion upon which to base such beliefs. Any con­tractor knows that before he can erect a well-built house, he must first lay a firm foundation. How can we expect to impress men and women that Christ is coming back in our day, when even church people have only the vaguest idea why He came in the first place? They do not know that Michael, Crown Prince of the universe, created this planet in the beginning; that He saw His creatures play into the hands of His archenemy, yet refused to abandon them to their just deserts. They have not the slightest idea of the counsel of peace in heaven when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit settled the reclamation of this world; that Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New never occurred to most of them.

They have not been walking all the way home with Him, as did Enoch. They have not talked with Him under the oaks of Mamre as did Abra­ham, nor pleaded with Him for the salvation of guilty Sodom because a beloved Lot lived there. They never spent forty days with Him on Mount Sinai as Moses did. They did not march through the wilderness under the cloud of His presence as did Israel, and drink of the Rock that was Christ. They did not know what it is to throw themselves, nakedly sinful, upon His mercies, as did David, and learn the thrill of full pardon and sweet cleanliness from every stain of sin.

When He was here on earth, He said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." But how can they love Him when they do not know Him? True, the seventh day is the Sabbath. True, it is as binding for spiritual Israel today as when it was given to ancient Israel. True, all are going to be judged by the perfect law of liberty—the ten commandments. But they do not think it makes any difference which day you dedicate to God, so long as you manage one in seven (and then you may have to work on it). And until they think otherwise, we can hammer in vain on the incontrovertible fact that there is not a shred of evidence for Sunday observance in the New Testament, and wave in their faces Father En-right's offer for that missing text. They simply say, "Much ado about nothing."

To past generations the doctrines were the im­portant issue. They already had Christ. This generation has nothing. We have to "start from scratch," and we must strike with consummate skill to make even that scratch on the hard pol­ished surface of public indifference. Today, when we preach the doctrines before we preach Christ, we run the risk of closing over the wounds that sin has made with a sort of proud flesh that pre­vents the cleansing blood from doing its healing work. Such converts will be sickly individuals with the poison of selfishness still festering under a self-righteous surface, robbing them and the cause of true Christian vitality. Yet they will recognize no need of the Great Physician.

He said, "And I, if I be lifted up, . . . will draw all men unto Me." Surely we cannot improve on that ! They have esteemed Him the classical Christ with melancholy mien and scanty growth of beard—a womanish, frustrated sort of man. Small wonder that they are reluctant to rely on such an inadequate conception of a Redeemer !

Let us lift up Michael, the glorious One who gave up His throne and the adulation of celestial beings, that He might lift us up and establish us, with Him, in heavenly places. Let us give Him rightful heritage—that virile young man who, as Jesus, trod the dusty paths of Galilee, at home alike with prince or peasant, priest or publican. Let us reveal to them the real Christ—our Crea­tor, our Friend and Counselor, our Lawgiver at Sinai, our Teacher in Galilee, our Sacrifice at Golgotha, our High Priest in the sanctuary, our coming King of kings and Lord of lords. Let these be the things that we acquaint them with first, and after that teach them what things He asks of them in return.

We must carefully lay the founda­tion in the apostles and prophets, being sure that Jesus Himself is the chief cornerstone. With Him in place, we may safely proceed to nail down the entire structure with our own distinctive doc­trines, that it may be a safe and secure platform for unsteady feet. But make sure that He is in place first, lest we find no room for Him when the structure is completed. How else can we hope to safeguard against that pharisaical pride in cor­rectness of doctrine that recognizes no need of humility, and wields the truth as a bludgeon to smite those whose surface conformity does not suit one's personal standards?

One may be ever so sure, with chapter and verse to back him up, that Saturday is the Bible Sab­bath; that all signs point to Christ's return in his day ; that the millennium is a dreary period when the earth will be depopulated; that the dead sleep in their graves until the resurrection ; that he owes God one tenth of his increase ; that we should eat to live, not live to eat, and thus be convinced that he ought to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It seems to be the only logical thing to do under the circumstances, and besides, the evangelist and the Bible instructor seem to expect it. So he receives the rite of bap­tism and becomes a member in good and regular standing. But what reason has he to believe that his logical, reasonable stand is going to hold him true to the kingdom ? "Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge ; and have not charity ["love," R. V.], I am nothing."

Having resolved to steer a course away from the "sawdust trail" type of evangelism, are we per­haps veering too sharply to the right and missing the heart of the matter? True, Mrs. White has told us that everything depends on the right action of the will. But unless that will is actuated by the heart, what is to hold it on its course?

Our churches today are filled with dilettante members, hesitating to surrender their amateur standing, and step out on a full professional basis. Their minds are convinced that we are one hun­dred per cent right, but their hearts know nothing of that allegiance to Jesus that leads them to give up everything that hinders wholehearted service for Him—in other words, to sacrifice for Him as He did for them. They just do not know Him. Yet, we were their teachers.

Henceforth, I am resolved to show them first the Way, the Truth, and the Life, believing that once they have seen Him as He is, they cannot help loving Him and desiring to follow Him wher­ever He leads. Fellow workers, if this be heresy —then make the most of it !

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By Dorothy Whitney Conklin, Bible Instructor, Southern New England Conference

December 1944

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