The group of workers can set the spiritual tone of a conference. It is no secret that there are church members who are not interested in upholding the high standards of the church. In a large conference and in a metropolitan territory our responsibility should be taken very seriously. The allurements of sin are perhaps more glamorized there than in some rural territory. Sin is, of course, everywhere, but every large city harbors sin in concentrated form. This makes our responsibility to give strong spiritual leadership all the more real. I believe our constituency will follow spiritual leadership.
"If the ministers do not utterly discourage them by their indolence and inefficiency, and by their any appeal that may be made that commends itself to their judgment and consciences. But they want to see fruit." Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 49. "To-day Satan is seeking opportunities to tear down the waymarks of truth, the monuments that have been raised up along the way." Gospel Workers, p. 103.
There are some members who say we need not preach standards as such, because "if the heart is right, our dress, our acts will all be right." Never were truer words spoken. The heart must be right, and it is right only when it is surrendered. The surrendered heart will not quibble over a few church do's and don'ts. If the heart is right, it will uphold standards. If the heart is right, a member will not create a church problem by refusing to take off jewelry or to refrain from going to the theater, nor will he be angry at or jealous of another. Always the trouble centers in the heart!
There is no more solemn and sacred occasion than when a man and a woman unite their lives in holy matrimony. The ceremony should always be one in keeping with the sacredness of the occasion. Much instruction has been given to us as a people along this line. It is not necessary to repeat it here, but only to urge that we have a service in harmony with the instruction given.
I fear that at times the reception following the ceremony may not be in keeping with Christian standards. Perhaps the minister has no control here, but his presence can have a good influence. He should not be the "life of the party." If he becomes a "regular fellow," the people lose confidence in him. If he goes to the other extreme and becomes a "sour note," they will not want him around. But if he is a man with a buoyant spirit, happy but not hilarious, they will be glad he is present. They will want him because he brings a certain dignity to the reception. Spurgeon says:
"A policeman or a soldier may be oft duty, but a minister never is. There is no position in which we may be placed but the Lord may come with the question, 'What doest thou here, Elijah?' and we ought to be able at once to answer, 'I have some thing to do for Thee even here, and I am trying to do it.' The bow, of course, must at times be unstrung, or else it will lose its elasticity; but there is no need to cut the string."—Lectures, p. 270. Mention should also be made of our standard on marrying believers with unbelievers. "Ministers should not perform the marriage ceremony of believers with unbelievers, because this is expressly contrary to the rules and teaching of the church." Manual for Ministers, p. 98. This rule should be followed by all, including those who are on sustentation. It has happened that a minister conscientiously followed this rule only to be told, ",We know an Adventist minister who will marry us." This certainly places the one who does break the rule in an unfavorable light. It is also a source of embarrassment for the one who conscientiously refuses to perform the ceremony.
Divorce and Remarriage
Divorce and remarriage is the most perplexing and bewildering problem facing the church today. I am sure we are all aware of the danger that the ungodly attitude in respect to the marriage contract manifested in the world may so influence the church that even Adventists may at times be affected by the falling standards of our time. According to our denominational rules and regulations, divorce, although a tragic experience, is allowed under some circumstances. So also is the remarriage of the innocent party. By thus allowing the innocent party to remarry we thereby admit that the marriage contract can be broken. If, because of adultery on the part of one or the other, the marriage contract is broken, then it follows logically that even if the guilty party does marry, he or she will really not be living in" continuous adultery. The church, recognizing this, and in fulfillment of her divine mission as a rescuer of the lost, provides~ for the re-establishment into full member ship of even the guilty party, on condition that he shows over a considerable period of time a true spirit of repentance, and is rebaptized. The Church Manual states this very important matter clearly.
"Hence, in a case where any endeavor by a genuinely repentant offender to bring his marital status into line with the divine ideal presents apparently insuperable problems, his (or her) plea for readmittance shall before final action is taken be brought by the church through the pastor or district leader to the conference committee for counsel and recommendation as to any possible steps that the repentant one, or ones, may take to secure such readmittance. "9. Readmittance to membership of those who have been disfellowshiped for reasons given in the foregoing sections, shall be on the basis of rebaptism." Pages 243, 244. This position has, however, created problems that are giving our ministry serious concern. I believe there are hundreds who are giving careful thought to this whole question of divorce and remarriage.
Personally, I feel it needs much more careful study. There is one thing we all know: Marriage is ordained of God. The contract is not for a day, month, or year it is for life. "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matt. 19:6). Every minister of God has a duty to perform in the matter of emphasizing again and again the importance of this life contract. Are we not a bit too silent on this important matter in our preaching? We know there are many in our congregations who have been divorced and are married again.
Perhaps we fear we might hurt their feelings. Yet do we not have a responsibility to "educate, educate, educate"? It is true that many denominations have eased up on their marriage discipline and are allowing divorced couples to remarry and remain members of the church without attempting much in the way of church discipline. Probably they feel helpless in the face of present-day social conditions. But dare we drift into the. same state of laxity? I doubt that we can escape our responsibility by saying, "There is nothing we can do about it."
Is it not our responsibility to give kind, sympathetic but firm counsel to our members? The church should know that we believe the marriage contract to be binding. The casual attitude of some of our own members to this problem is alarming. It is apparent-that there are those who feel it is quite legitimate to associate, up to a certain point, with another man's wife, or an other woman's husband. They say, "There is no danger as long as a man knows where to draw the line." Such reasoning shows a tragic lack of understanding, not only of Christian ethics, but of God's plan for the home. All the instruction we have in the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy is to the effect that such attitudes are ungodly. Such attitudes are seeds sown from which will be reaped a harvest for the already overcrowded divorce mills. We need a renewed emphasis of the sacredness of the marriage contract and the sanctity of the home. We should stress the fact that Christ's teaching about marriage was that the union is not a mechanical or legal one merely, but so complete a merging of two lives that the husband and wife become "one flesh" or, in more modern language, one organism. "Let this, God's institution of marriage, stand before you as firm as the Sabbath of the fourth commandment." Ellen G. White letter 8, 1888.
Most of our workers today, at least in the United States, were probably reared in Seventh-day Adventist homes where the Sabbath was observed rather strictly. Many of us remember how the shoes had to be polished, baths taken, Page 18 et cetera, all before sunset on Friday. Sabbath is still observed from sunset to sunset. We should be careful to guard its edges in our homes and in our churches. Our conversation on Sabbath should be above reproach. We can get so enthusiastic about our work that it is possible to even "build churches" on Sabbath. We may find ourselves carefully figuring up the price of lumber and doing all but putting up the rafters.
Too often precious time is spent at the eleven o'clock service announcing social gatherings, skating parties, suppers and pictures (some pictures which should never be shown). What inspiration and spiritual uplift can come to a minister or a congregation when the sermon is prefaced by a strong announcement about a rummage sale to be held on the corner of Sixth and Main?
Standards of Dress
The best general dress standards we can find are recorded in 1 Peter 3:3, 4: "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." From the Church Manual, I read: "Our habits of life must stem from principle and not from the example of the world about us. ... Dress is an important factor in Christian character. . . . "Christians should avoid gaudy display and 'pro fuse ornamentation.' Clothing should be, when possible, 'of good quality, of becoming colors, and suited for service. It should be chosen for durability rather than display.' Our attire should be characterized by 'beauty,' 'modest grace,' and 'appropriateness of natural simplicity.' ... "It is clearly taught in the Scriptures that the wearing of jewelry is contrary to the will of God. 'Not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array' is the admonition of the apostle Paul." Pages 201, 202.
This denomination has no definite legislation to disfellowship anyone wearing jewelry, and yet the above instruction is quite clear. Certainly it gives strong backing for a program of education. We should have no difficulty in knowing what counsel should be given. We should not shrug our shoulders and remain silent. Our counseling should be positive and in harmony with the instruction we have in the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy. Because the church does not have legislation on some of these matters it does not mean that we have no responsibility to educate our members on them. It gives me even greater concern to see a double standard coming in. Certain people use no questionable adornment when attending the church services, but when you see them on the street or in some social gathering with non-Adventists, they can hardly be recognized. If the world were as blind as Isaac was when Esau "pulled the wool over his eyes," we could get by. The world, however, has eyes to see! Do our members gain the respect of the world, or do they make themselves ridiculous? You be the judge. Such decorations are only an indication of a great lack in the heart, and they reveal immature behavior that is alarming indeed. It indicates a need for real spiritual help.
I have no way of knowing how many of our people attend the movies, but I have heard that the figure is high. No doubt there are altogether too many who attend frequently. When I was a boy we were taught not to attend because the pictures were made by people who, in most in stances, were unprincipled. I cannot believe that the pictures have greatly improved. Some probably have; however, many are much more subtle today, much more deceiving, even though they might appear more innocent. And the folks who make them have not necessarily improved. Is it not, possible that some of this theater-going problem might be laid at our own doors? Isn't it true that in many of our colleges, academies, churches, and evangelistic services we have shown about the same sort of pictures that Hollywood shows? The only difference is that by the time we "show them they are stale! Of course we argue that the 'different atmosphere sort of sanctifies it; the picture shown to saints be comes saintly! Does it? We disfellowship no one who attends the theater. However, should we fold our hands and say we have no responsibility in the matter of education? Let's not hesitate to give counsel in harmony with the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy. If pictures must be shown, let us stay with those that are not on the borderline. I believe we need to be careful in our evangelistic program. Let us stay as tar away from the borderline as possible. Unless we are willing to set our own house in order, let's not criticize our young people.