Testing Times of Religious Movements

Different isms in religious movements

The time of test for any religious movement is not so much during the struggles of its formative period as in the days, of its later expansion as a continuing force. Its pioneers having passed from the stage of action, new and later hands are then guiding its course and controlling its destiny. That is when the graver problems arise—the perils of maturity. Then comes the real test as to its continuing unity, its ability to preserve and apply the pioneer spirit and to perpetuate and perfect its founding purpose.

In the creative, formative days of every Spirit-led movement the search for truth is paramount, and the quest for light is supreme. This overshadows all else. No hampering fears or restrictions obstruct the forward march. Neither the extreme of rigid reactionism on the one hand nor the blight of destructive liberalism on the other mars its unity or deflects from its holy quest. Mind and heart are open to the control of the Spirit of God, and responsive to the man dates of the Divine Word. A single truth, perceived and accepted, is regarded as of infinitely greater value than a hundred errors.

Misconceptions and erroneous details are un hesitatingly corrected as rapidly as recognized. No other course of action occurs to the mind. The earnest, united pursuit of truth constitutes the one all-absorbing task. And this conquest of truth is the constant burden of intensive, united, continuing prayer and study on the part of all. "Forward together!" is the gladsome watchword; walking in the light, the blessed rule. Though the number of adherents may be few comparatively, those are glorious, courageous, wondrous days of battle, of pioneering achievement, of fellowship, and of unity.

Thus it was in the Protestant Reformation times, as the student of church history well knows. Marvelous were the strides then made out of darkness into light. Thus it was also in the days of Wesley, as the records clearly re veal. Again there was distinct spiritual. advance. And so it was to a conspicuous degree in the founding days of this Advent Movement. This well-attested fact needs no expansion here. The pioneer period, when the foundation stones of present truth were being quarried from the immutable bedrock of Scripture truth, constitutes a glorious chapter in our history. Those foundations were securely and soundly laid, for which we all thank God.

I

As time passes, two disfiguring but opposite endencies begin to develop in every maturing religious movement. These two opposing tendencies become positive trends, each with its group of adherents. One trend leads its adopting group to become rigid and stationary—to feel that, come what may, they must maintain the status quo on their faith. Rigid conservatism may describe this attitude. So intensely does this group feel, that some would judge the orthodoxy of all their brethren by the particu lar form of their own personal faith.

In order to hold the growing body of adherents to the movement in needed unity, and to preserve its doctrinal integrity, such would drive in deeply their credal stakes. They take their stand upon their understanding of the teachings of the founding fathers, stopping just where they stopped, often bracing against fur- ,ther study, and opposing the acceptance of supplemental, clarifying light. They declare in sub stance, ''Thus far will we go, and no farther!"

Although theoretically assenting to the principle of ever unfolding and advancing light to the end of time, yet actually such eye with suspicion and resist with vigor any further correction of erroneous detail or any reception of unfolding truth that would automatically clarify or correct any previous limitation held in the days of pioneer struggle toward the fuller light. A blending of actual intolerance, along with intense zeal, is often characteristic. With such, the maintenance of a position which they have themselves already finalized to their own sat is faction supersedes the former pursuit and acceptance of increasing light and truth as received. A new spirit, a new burden, and a new concept supplant the old to the extent that these shift the emphasis from its former place.

Thus it was both in post-Reformation times and in the later days of Methodism. That was why God had to raise up a new movement in the nineteenth century, with a new and open attitude toward truth and light, in order to complete the arrested Reformation through the great Second Advent Movement. It would be but in line with all past history for this same rigidity to seek for a controlling place among us.

II

The opposite extreme is a destructive liberalism which, when it manifests itself in this movement, almost always strikes, first covertly and then openly, at the searching counsels of the Spirit of prophecy and at the fundamental specifications of the sanctuary truth. Those who lose their bearings on these two great distinguishing fundamentals ultimately repudiate the kindred essentials that make and keep us Seventh-day Adventists. And so they go out from us.

We differ, denominationally, from all other religious bodies in that destructive liberalism, when it appears among us, does not usually involve departure from the generally accepted Protestant platform as regards the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, and the vicarious, atoning sacrifice of His death. It may not even involve the denial of the Advent, the actual repudiation of the Sabbath, the doctrine of creation versus evolution, or even the essential outlines of prophetic interpretation. But destructive liberalism and actual apostasy in our ranks almost without exception involve aspects of the sanctuary truth, reservations or rejections as pertains to the Spirit of prophecy, and the soundness of the founding platform of the movement.

The occasional destructive liberal that arises in this movement is not long heard from, however, because such soon go out and walk no more with us. Comparatively, such are few in number. They are only conspicuous briefly at the time of their defection—because there is nothing in common between their attitude and the course and spirit or substance of Adventism. Such can be practically dismissed from the picture with this covering statement.

Ill

A third group—embracing the majority of our able, thoughtful, devoted leaders and workers—lies between and apart from these two extremes. This larger body is not to be identified or confused either with rigid though zealous reactionism on the one hand or tragic, destructive liberalism on the other. The dominant attitude of this body of true, sound Adventists may perhaps be denominated loyal progressivism. These loyal, God-fearing progressives hold unswervingly to the fundamental platform of the faith. Not one Spirit-of-prophecy-specified fundamental do they yield or compromise. These men 'would rather die than surrender a clear principle that would betray the faith. They are its soundest and most consistent adherents and effective champions.

This group has no sympathy or fellowship with departures from the Advent platform, which platform has been not only clearly laid and defined but delimited by inspired declaration in the only really authoritative writings of the church. Neither are they in sympathy with unreasoning rigidity. On the contrary, they long for and seek the increasing light that God has promised will shine with increasing power on to the dawn of the perfect day. They expect that this heavenly light will correct some present and former minor misconceptions, and at the same time strengthen, support, and harmonize with every previously attested fundamental of the faith. This, as is generally recognized, is the test of all advancing light.

These loyal progressives deprecate needless division and false issues. In an endeavor to keep the peace they say but little, comparatively speaking, on mooted, minor questions. Perhaps the gravest injustice, meeted out by some to these brethren lies in thrusting them into one common category with the disloyal liberals. Thus "distinction sometimes fails to be made between the friends and the foes of this message. This is most regrettable, and is naturally resented by our loyal men.

Destructive liberalism is but naturally and properly looked upon with grave concern by the rigid group. However, it is regarded with equal apprehension by the loyal progressive. Moreover, in bracing against destructive liberalism, the rigid tend to become increasingly rigid and reactionary. Orthodoxy takes the form of dogmatism, which in turn sometimes supplants sound reasoning and satisfying evidence. Most serious of all, this attitude sometimes goes far beyond the clear bounds, definitions, and limitations of the faith given by the Spirit of prophecy, and in so doing, virtually refuses to recognize all advancing light—chiefly because not avowedly held by the founding fathers. Loyal progressivism cannot join in such a stultifying stand. Hence at this point a difference of view and attitude tends to develop.

Even the most wholesome aspects and constructive contributions from the loyal moderates—contributions that do not in any sense modify, much less set aside any foundation stone in the founding platform—are not infrequently eyed with suspicion, and are sometimes resisted with tenacity. This injects a serious aspect into relationships. The tendency of the rigid group often serves as a stimulus to the opposite tendency of the moderate group, and vice versa. Thus clashes have sometimes en sued, and indulgence in personalities has sought to come into the picture to mar. Next, the rigid group, priding and proclaiming itself the orthodox body, sometimes charges those who differ with being subverters of the faith—dangerous and disloyal. The moderates naturally resent these untrue assumptions, of sole orthodoxy, and challenge the self-appointment of such to custodianship of the faith and judgeship of orthodoxy.

IV

Whether we relish it or not, and whether we wish to admit it or not, such a sobering situation as has proved the undoing of other religious bodies in the days of their maturity and later expansion will seek increasingly to inject itself into this movement. Feeling's, fomented by the situation, tend to divide good men into two camps. This is not only tragic but unnecessary, for to no small degree the divergencies are artificial, exaggerated, and in instances quite fictitious.

After all, we are a small people, despised by the world. We shall soon become the object of its concerted hatred and attack. It would therefore be suicidal for us to be drawn or driven into antagonistic camps. Instead, we must draw together, recognizing the mutual honesty of both attitudes, meeting and standing _together on the common platform of the acknowledged Spirit-of-prophecy-specified verities—a plat form upon which there is not, never has been, and cannot be, any rightful challenge or digression.

The points of divergence come outside of this inner basic circle, in the field of secondary items—details of interpretation—and usually in the category of points not discussed by the Spirit of prophecy. Their relative unimportance is thus revealed. Such points of difference are over secondary items, and not over the determining principles and precepts of the faith. They are minor matters, expressly declared to be secondary by the Spirit of prophecy, and consequently not justifying agitation, acrimony, or division.

The manifest call of the hour, as pertains to this great problem that comes to harass every mature religious movement, is to bury antagonistic attitudes, to drop all artificial charges, to credit one another with fundamental honesty and loyalty, to pull together in our great task, and to battle side by side against our great common adversaries. Charges that challenge the fidelity of men should resolutely be laid aside. We should simply be good Seventh-day Adventists—the most priceless privilege in this remnant hour of history.

The imperative urge of the hour is, first, for all of us sincerely and reverently to 'pledge anew unswerving loyalty to the great fundamentals upon which there ever has been, is now, and will continue to be, "unity. Second, to forgive and be forgiven for attitudes, words, or acts that have created needless variance and misunderstanding, and have hampered the unity and progress of the cause of God. Third, to allow, as did the pioneers, a safe and sensible latitude on nonessentials upon which there like wise has been and will continue to be rightful individual opinion—and this without ostracism, castigation, or suspicion. This latitude must cover the points which Spirit of prophecy counsels never saw fit to define, to correct, or even to attempt to bring unity upon. We must all realize our limitations—that none can rightfully go beyond the divinely guided Spirit of prophecy positions and emphasis, to attempt to control in minor matters, or to be conscience for other men.

Workers in the Advent Movement, let us put the united frown of disapproval upon everything that savers of schism and division. Let us throw the weight of our united strength behind the clear, invulnerable principles and positions of Adventism. Let this be our burden, our strength, and our rallying point. Those who agitate or alienate in the face of present conditions are weakening the very cause we all love, are assuming a grave responsibility for attacking within the lines, and are troublers of the movement of which we all, as workers, are equally an integral part.

 

 

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