There are several grave weaknesses that need to be brought definitely to the attention of our ministry; and in bringing them we do so humbly, with a prayer that through God's Holy Spirit we may have impressed upon us our need for greater love and kindness, and a positive desire to speak and labor as Jesus did.
Without doubt we are God's ambassadors, chosen to represent Him before the world. Therefore, we must not speak and act as others do. If we would be true, we must show forth His loving-kindness. We must be willing to go the extra mile. We must see every man in the light of the cross, and remember ever arid always that we are undershepherds for Him who came to seek and save the lost. Let us consider briefly some faults, or weaknesses, that cry out for correction.
ATTITUDE TOWARD OTHER MINISTERS AND CHURCHES.—First there is the attitude, spoken or unspoken, that only Seventh-day Adventists are honest ; that all other churches and their ministers belong to Babylon or her daughters, and are therefore lost; that they are enemies against whom we are to fight ; that ministers of other churches know the truth, and having rejected it, are not to be trusted or considered as other than hypocrites, and that they sell their souls for hire, and are in a sense mere blind leaders of the blind from whom no good can come.
This is not only unfair but unjust, and there is small wonder that they in turn consider us enemies. Most of us who have ever had any real contact with ministers of other denominations will have to confess that they are men of God, men who love souls and know the power of salvation through Jesus Christ. That they do not see the truth as we see it is perhaps more our fault than theirs. It is possible that we have appeared to them as sheepstealers, rather than as shepherds. Would we not do well to look upon them as brethren, pray for them and with them, and bring the truth forward in the light of the cross of Calvary, not in burnings of Sinai —in the kindness, patience, and love of Jesus Christ rather than the judging harshness of legalism?
USING "MARK OF BEAST" AS A CLUB.—Second, we should not condemn all Sundaykeepers to the lake of fire prepared for the beast and his image and those who receive his mark. This is being done by both ministry and laity. All over the world people are being told that they cannot be saved if they keep Sunday. The subject, "The Mark of the Beast," is a headliner in most evangelistic efforts, but often the curious Christian comes to hear the answer to a question that has been a curiosity and bother to him, only to be told that he, a Sundaykeeper, has the mark of the beast. The proof is submitted, and the listener either shivers in fear or turns away with questioning and doubt—doubt that grows larger with further thought, and drives him to reject the whole message.
The truth of the matter is that we know what the mark is, but do not know who has it. We do not win friends and influence people in the right way by giving them a punch in the jaw or a slap in the face. Nowhere do we find a record of the Master's using such tactics. Many, many tirpes have we noticed how the attendance during a series of meetings has immediately taken a drop when the mark of the beast has been presented. Are we justified in saying that they could not stand the strong meat? Would we endure such if they turned the tables on us ? Brethren, where have kindness, love, and tact gone to ? Could we not do just as well and perhaps better if we forgot the drawing power of the headline subject, and remembered that it is not only against the law but very unsportsmanlike to dynamite fish—and are we not fishermen? Could we not give the subject better after the people have accepted the truth, in a Bible-study class conducted for those who desire baptism? What think you?
CAUSTIC CRITICISM OVER DIET.—Third, interested people brought to our churches are confused by the spirit of criticism which they often find when one member questions an-other's integrity in the matter of diet, for instance. Many earnest workers honestly dissent from the belief that the use of clean animal foods is inherently wrong ; others brand as dire sinners all persons who partake of any kind of flesh. This caustic spirit finds its way into other fields as well.
If there is to be successful soul winning, those evangelized and brought into our churches must see more love and hear less criticism—less criticism about our dress, our diet, and our habits. Some Seventh-day Adventists are very skillful in faultfinding. They find fault with our ministry, our church officers, our schools, and with everything Adventist. This has been caused or built up by someone's placing overemphasis upon certain of our peculiar teachings.
It is possible to make people critical, rather than to convert them, by continually stressing material and outward manifestations instead of dwelling upon inward spiritual values out of which the true external grows. We, as Seventh-day Adventist workers, need to manifest more love, more patience, and more kindness of heart. In all too many instances we are cold, austere, and dictatorial. How can we bring salvation to others unless our hearts are tender, our spirits meek, and our tongues tolerant?
COLDNESS VS. CORDIALITY IN C HURCHES.— Fourth, our churches should be made places of warmth and cordial greetings. Why need strangers enter a Seventh-day Adventist house of worship and depart without being cordially greeted and made to feel at home? Yet this situation obtains. It is folly to close our eyes to it or seek to excuse it. Some system for making visitors welcome must be inaugurated among us if our soul-winning efforts are to be as successful as they should be. What is left to everybody is nobody's business. Here is a positive need in many, many of our churches. Deacons and deaconnesses, with missionary officers carefully trained in this feature of soul winning, may do much in adding to local congregations.
REACHING THE MIND THROUGH THE HEART. —Fifth, let us more fully preach Christ. Show His love, His tenderness, His yearning after sinners, and His eager desire to forgive transgressors. This will win back backslidden Seventh-day Adventists. Stern, cold warnings may appeal to a few and strike terror to others, but terror does not save. "God so loved the world." The Elijah message is to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." Evangelistic preaching must be heart touching, heart reaching, and heart changing. It is true, we dare not neglect the mind, but the mind may be reached after the heart has been touched.
DISFELLOWSH IPING TO MAINTAIN GOALS.—What is our objective—a high per capita, or souls? Can it be possible that workers are judged by their ability to raise money rather than by their zeal for souls ? Should there not be a greater concern among us to 'develop as successful soul winners, rather than merely to be known for our high per capitas ? Is it not a sad fact that in some of our congregations discouragement is brought to many because of the willingness on the part of certain workers and church officers to withdraw church fellowship from the erring and discouraged ones, or from negligent persons, in order that the church per capitas may be kept up ? Are these per capitas the reason we exist as a church ? Can it be that we are more interested in money than in souls ? Is that where God wants the emphasis? Do we find justification for that anywhere in the Scriptures, or in the Spirit of prophecy? Is it possible that there may be too much concern over clearing church records, and not enough real, positive interest in rescuing lost church members ? Herein lies one of the grave dangers.
Our business as church leaders is to bring people into the church, but the responsibility does not end there. After they are brought in they must be fed, nourished, and cared for. It is necessary to bring in multitudes, but it is more necessary to keep those in who have already been won. True, some grow cold, but what father or mother cuts a child off when he is stricken down with some grave malady? Those who grow cold and indifferent and become more or less discouraged in our churches are sick spiritually, and it is our duty and privilege to care for them—to bind up the brokenhearted, to lift the fallen, to minister to the weary and discouraged, and to feed the hungry. My heart goes out to the churches which are just one of five or more churches in the district, cared for by one worker (of necessity) whose every visit means the promotion of some campaign. May God help us to be pastors of the flock, to feed them, to love and sustain them, and not to think solely of shearing wool.
LACK OF PASTORAL VISITATION.—AS an aid to this end, a system should be inaugurated which will make it possible for ministers, district leaders, pastors, conference executives, and departmental secretaries to devote more time to their congregations and to personal visits so that they can go into the homes of the members, sit down by their firesides, discuss their problems, read the Word of God, and lead these dear souls in prayer in their own homes. We have been informed time and time again by various Seventh-day Adventist members that years have elapsed without the presence of any of our ministers in their homes. One dear soul said to me some time ago, "Elder, I have been a member of the church twenty years, and you are the first minister who has ever called on me." An isolated case? Well, hardly.
We have been trained to believe that our work as ministers is to preach, to evangelize, to warn the world, and to press on, and have overlooked the great fact that we are shepherds, and have been definitely commissioned to feed the sheep and the lambs. Talk about evangelism ! Here is a fruitful field for it. If this work were given careful attention, you would find that many of our members would receive courage, and there would go forth from our churches such a mighty company of lay preachers as would stir our communities. Evangelism is to be accomplished, not merely by the preaching of some few eloquent, especially trained men, but it will be done and that quickly, if all the latent forces of God's remnant church are pressed into service, with our laymen emulating the examples set forth by the apostolic church, and with our ministers directing their labors.
These are strenuous times. Great opportunities are before us. Let us lay aside every weight, and run with patience the race before us, looking ever unto Jesus, who alone can save us from our shortcomings.