Personally I am embarrassed by the man who comes to church on Sabbath morning not having shaved since Wednesday, who has lint in his tousled hair, wears a soiled, crumpled gray shirt, a suit that has been neither brushed nor pressed, a ragged, unshapely tie, and shoes with three weeks of dried mud on them. Yet such a picture may not be uncommon in some areas. The tragedy is that he calls himself a Seventh-day Adventist.
Every pastor hesitates to have such a one doing missionary work, and even excuses him, because he knows that his appearance speaks so loudly that no one would hear anything he said. Frankly, he is a church "tramp." He does not even outwardly represent the Lord. He does not reveal the high standard of the cleansing, uplifting power of the gospel as taught by the remnant church. His appearance gives the lie to his profession.
The Tramp Church
But my heart is burdened with another type of church tramp the church that is "unshaven," untidy, unattractive, grossly crude, yet silently, day by day, professing to represent Seventh-day Adventists to the local community. And likewise, its missionary potential is a debit. I know a fine, discriminating young man who attends church regularly when he visits in a distant State, because the Adventists have a representative church structure. He does not attend when in his home town, because the church building does not represent his high ideal of the truth. He knows the truth, and his wife is a member, yet he has never joined. Perhaps he has too much pride, but I believe not. He does, however, have a keen mind, with higher expectations for the Lord's house than are represented by some of our structures.
"Many of our people have become narrowed in their views. Order, neatness, taste, and convenience are termed pride and love of the world. A mistake is made here." Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 258. Few "tramp" churches win converts. The few converts they do win are often church "tramps." Like begets like. "The house where God is worshiped should be in accordance with His character and majesty. There are small churches that ever will be small, because they place their own interests above the interests of God's cause. While they have large, convenient houses for themselves, and, are constantly improving their premises, they are content to have a most unsuitable place for the worship of God, where His holy presence is to dwell." Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 268, 269. This passage is somewhat reminiscent of the instruction given in the days of Ezra, when work on the Temple lagged far behind the Lord's expectation. It will be noted that the prosperity of the nation as well as the glory of the Lord was dependent upon Israel's degree of interest in building the house of God. "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built. Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and will be glorified, saith the Lord. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land" (Haggai 1:2-11).
Representative Church Structures
Some representative church structures have been built by our people and others have been purchased. This is a credit to the denomination. Generally, in planning a building program, our larger churches employ the services of a reputable architect and a competent builder. The smaller churches, however, to save money, endeavor to draw their own plans. Either the minister or some good interested layman draws a sketch, the local building committee votes on it, some money is raised, and building operations are under way. The product too often resembles a garage or tool house more than a church! The trouble is that we fail to realize that there is a vast difference between being able to select an attractive church and being able to design one ourselves.
A pastor told me recently of a church he now has under construction the plans of which were drawn by a supposed architect, but the window openings are so wide that no standard sash will fit. Unless great care is taken it will become another "tramp" church.
We lament the fact that many of our smaller churches have had no increase in membership for years. In fact, some are dying because they have failed to keep pace with a fast-moving, progressive world. "Horse and buggy" church buildings have little in common with today's "Fords" and "Buicks." Such a church is showing no signs of vital life, and people are not interested in a dying organization even though it be a church. We must dare to live, and that for God!1 Anemic churches must be given such a transformation of life that they will change their entire countenances, both within and without. But the small church has no money to repair, paint, re-decorate, or build! John R. Scotford has said, "The inclination to support a church becomes stronger as the church becomes more worth supporting. On the financial side, most gifts to the church have only a scanty relation to the total means of the giver. What they actually reflect is the value which the giver places upon his church. It is not the amount of money that he has but how strong the impression which the church makes on him which governs the size of his pledge."
We generally find money to do the things we really want to do. Consequently our first step must be to see the need for a remodeling or a building program. Not far from our home is a small, independent country church with no more than ten or twelve members. Yet it is kept spotless; it is well decorated, the lawn is mowed, Page 8 the sign is lighted, amplified music comes from the tower, and nearby is a well-kept cemetery. The wholehearted devotion of one man largely accounts for all this meticulous care.
Radio and television, along with other mediums of public relations, have placed the work of Seventh-day Adventists before the public as never before. Hundreds are beginning to look up the location of the nearest Adventist church. What are they finding?
A few months ago a young man stood before one of our congregations and told how he had studied the truth by correspondence. In response to his inquiry he was sent the address of the Adventist church in his city. He walked down a narrow, one-way street which led along behind more important streets on his way to the "Sabbath church," until he came to the address. His heart nearly stopped. There before him was a small frame building of the eighteenseventies sandwiched between two larger structures. Did this represent the glorious truth that had thrilled his heart? Hardly. Should he re turn home disappointed and give up the search for God's house? Many of lesser fortitude would have done so. Doubtless many have. It must have been like taking medicine. But he swallowed hard and entered. It is needless to speak of the other disappointments he faced. How ever, he has lived to tell the story, as a church member.
Fellow worker, your best silent witness is your house of worship. What witness does it bear?