Throughout our entire history our consistent approach to the public has been the urging of the truths of the Word of God, as against the traditions and departures of men in the nominal churches about us. It has been to stress the message of God rather than the messenger who conveys it. Our appeal has been wholesomely based on the sovereign claims of Scripture rather than on the learning, eloquence, attainments, or degrees of the preacher who heralds it.
The reason is obvious: The churches of the world, which God solemnly denominates "Babylon," in their confusion and rejection of truth, have oratorkal power, learning, and degrees aplenty. But they are neither bearing nor heeding God's testing message of truth due the world today. The mere possession of these intellectual attainments does not therefore stamp them as having or giving the truth of God. More than that, they militantly oppose that message of truth with all their erudition, training, and facilities. Therefore scholastic training and degreesdo not constitute an evidence of truth, nor does their display afford a sound basis of approach and appeal to the religious world we must reach. 0&asionally some have tried to employ the appeals of Babylon. But this has been frowned upon by our leaders and by the ministry at large, and it has been rebuked by the Spirit of prophecy.
Periodically, however, there are attempts, on the part of some, to reverse the historic denominational: approach and play up the man rather than the message—to exploit his experience, travel, achievements, eloquence, and in some instances a complimentary D.D. degree, as the basis for a hearing by the public. In the publicity the message is subordinate to the qualifications of the messenger, which are urged as the primary reason for coming to the evangelistic meetings—to hear and see the man. .
The issue raised by this reversal of approach and appeal is not a light or trifling one. Instead, the principle involved is far-reaching and fundamental. It is not a matter of varying tastes or personalities. Nor is it a mere matter of individual likes or preferences. This discussion, consequently, concerns that underlying principle, and not some personality or particular incident. We therefore ask, Is an appeal to the public on the basis of a D.D. degree a sound, true, and rightful appeal for the evangelist of the advent movementf
The D.D.'s of the world have not infrequently been the ones to lead the populace away from the claims of the Word of God. This is true as regards departures on the Sunday-sabbath, sprinkling for baptism, innate immortality, postmillennialism, higher criticism, futurism, and modernism. The religious world is what the religious leaders have made it. And the world's great churches are filled with holders of degrees fighting the truth of God. Any number of preachers have them. Therefore their possession indicates neither soundness nor safety, nor does it indicate the cherishing of the truth that we are commissioned to emphasize. God's unadulterated Word femains the true and only sound basis of appeal. It constitutes the credentials that cannot be gainsaid by mankind. It is the true Protestant platform. It is our historical platform.
We have a divine commission, and we do not need the accouterments of Babylon that have become her substitute for truth. Instead of making ourselves as much like her as possible, we should present a clear and wholesome contrast—a different spirit, approach, and emphasis. The worldly churches boast of their numbers, power, training, titles, and degrees. We cannot match them, and do not wish to. But such are not the criteria of truth. Therefore the use of Babylon's habiliments is like David trying to wear the armor of Saul. And like David, we need to put them off for simple weapons appropriate to our message.
Unsoundness and Impropriety Apparent
The unsoundness and impropriety of the degree appeal in proclaiming our distinctive message—designed to call men and women out of the churches of the world cluttered with highly degreed ministers—must be apparent. Paul tried the Athens method once at Athens, but quickly turned back to the simple preaching and exaltation of Christ. We cannot improve upon Paul.
Yes, the world's pulpits are filled with degree holders—any number of preachers hold them. In fact, they are so common that many highly educated men do not wish- to be called "Doctor." There are many conspicuous scientists and scholars who prefer to be called "Mister," leaving the "Doctor" title to the lesser lights. In England a specialist is "Mister," while an ordinary practitioner in medicine or dentistry is "Doctor." When a sick bulletin for the king of England appears, it is frequently signed by "Mr. ___________ ," who will be one of the most competent physicians in the realm. The same is true of certain outstanding professors in some universities. Nearly all our own prominent preachers are called "Doctor" by strangers or passing acquaintances, either to flatter them or on the supposition that most preachers are doctors. But that is wholly another matter. We are not responsible for the expressions of others.
There were plenty of doctors of religion in Christ's day. And if anyone in heaven above or earth beneath could justifiably have used the title, that one was Jesus Christ. But He never did. Nor did He ever authorize or permit His own disciples to apply it to Him. And there is no better example for the preacher of the advent message of today to follow. We may then pertinently ask: If Jesus were here today would He employ the title "Dr. Jesus" ? And would He condone its use by His remnant preacher band? He counseled against the use of the religious titles of His day. (Matt. 23: 8-1o.) Would He reverse this principle now? The mere asking of the question provides its answer.
There is yet another more delicate and personal, but nonetheless relevent, factor—the ethics of playing up a conferred, complimentary degree by one who may not have completed a regular college course, as has at times been done. The folly of such a practice must be apparent. Apart from the ethical aspect, the unfavorable reaction of the public and the probable attack and exposure that would be invited from the popular clergy upon discovery of the facts should be sufficient deterrent.
In former times a D.D. degree was academically earned, and involved years of graduate work beyond the bachelor's degree, which is the primary prerequisite for all graduate work. The complimentary D.D. degree of today is usually a recognition of conspicuous achievement in ministerial leadership, research, or religious authorship, together with ripened experience. It is customarily conferred upon men whose long record calls for recognition in this way. When received from an accredited institution, it implies possession of standard basic educational prerequisites, or their equivalent. It has not infrequently been conferred along with the B.D. degree, which involves two or three years of graduate work beyond college.
There are, of course, small institutions where these standards are disregarded, and whose D.D. degrees do not count for much. Men usually prefer not to display such honors, as too much scrutiny would prove them not to be much of an asset. That type of D.D. degree has a bit of similarity to diplomas from an institution where, for a consideration, one can secure a so-called Ph.D. in a short time. But such do not stand the test of scrutiny and are not accepted in accredited institutions.
If one has earned the standard Ph.D., M.D., D.D.S., or a similar degree, such has been obtained by years of graduate study and research beyond college. This possession is an achievement that is purely scholastic and professional, and such use is proper. But D.D. degrees have little regulation. Those from creditable institutions are sparingly bestowed. Others are easily obtained and do not stand for much. To so serve and achieve as to be recognized with a degree is commendable. But to use that degree in Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic publicity is wholly another matter. Let us hold to sound Adventist principles of approach, playing up the message and not the man.
L. E. F.