Today there is an ever-increasing interest in religions. It is not confined to one's personal views, for the whole trend is to learn what other groups believe and practice. Incidentally, it is very unpopular to think negatively about any group. The undocumented diatribes on heresy, and the malicious criticisms of the novice in church history and church practice, do not fit into our times. Whether our denomination can always go the full length of this new way in human relationships is another matter. Special counsel came to us, however, to try to agree with other religious thinkers as long as this is possible without sacrificing principle. Whether these stressed attitudes today should be considered a by-product of war, with its frenzy to learn to live peaceably among ourselves as Christians, may require more time to discover. There is much said about ushering in the Prince of Peace, and on this point Adventists can surely be in the vanguard.
We are led to wonder at times at how the more established, and might we add kindly, the more sophisticated, Christians recognize the worth of rugged individualism even in groups that a decade or two ago became the brunt of uninformed and often sarcastic critics. Admitting that there have been just occasions for questioning some of the strange ways of those under scrutiny, we have made headway in practicing fairness and tolerance toward one another, a principle indeed of the Prince of Peace. An open-mind policy may be the result of education; it is more the fruit of the Spirit. Truth can bear investigation; though crushed to earth it will rise again. It is not a mere coincidence that right in our day the historian and the archeologist's spade are the best defenders of eternal truth. Our Adventist ministry will do well to keep informed on the latter. We have always valued history, and the Bible, of course, is our greatest tool.
While it is urgent that our ministry be intelligent on doctrines that set us apart from other religious bodies, it is equally important that we inform ourselves on the teachings, practices, and work of other groups. The Ministerial Association has therefore included in the 1956 Book Club a book of merit. A Guide to the Religions of America is a recent compilation of the celebrated Look magazine series, edited by Leo Rosten. Its nineteen distinguished presentations on our leading faiths, with an addition of 105 pages of new facts and figures on religion, is authentic and up to date. Every evangelistic worker, teacher, and doctor will want this handbook. Many who have been longingly looking toward our Theological Seminary for a class in apologetics in evangelism will appreciate this information. True, it handles only a small fraction of what such a class provides, but it will stimulate an appetite for more. We feel confident that this book will be well received and in constant use in the future.
To make the study of A Guide to Religions more practical, we have been asked to give some direction in meeting these different religious groups in our evangelism. Herewith we begin a brief series by considering some of the current problems involved. At least it will be a lead to personally discover our approaches. Beginning with a general statement on Protestantism, we note what alert observers have to say.
Protestants at Large
Protestantism seems to be conscious of having lost its protest. Several writers indicate a modern connotation of the term "Protestant." The idea is not that of opposing, but rather of declaring and witnessing for the faith in a creative way. We might observe what Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen considers to be the points held by all Protestants:
"Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour;
"The Bible as the primary source of what is true and right;
"The loving concern of God for every human being;
"Direct and constant fellowship between God and each believer;
"God's forgiveness in response to each person's penitence and faith;
"The Church as the community of followers of Christ;
"The responsibility of every Christian for his faith and life (the 'priesthood of all believers');
"The duty to discover and do God's will in his daily work (the 'divine significance of every "calling" ');
"The obligation to seek to advance the Kingdom of God in the world;
"Eternal life with God in the 'communion of saints.' "
In this listing, however, we hardly detect from the statement of seeking to "advance the Kingdom of God" the aggressive spirit of Reformation days. Nor would an Adventist worker fit into this type of evangelism. We greatly question whether exposing the antichrist as prophecy reveals him would be conducive to ecumenical unity as Protestantism sees it today. The message of the imminent return of Christ, if not altogether lacking, lacks challenge. In the meantime, Rome is making her strides and expects to be listened to. Adventists, however, cannot be asleep on these issues, for to us has been committed a warning message. We dare not be seeking a platform of agreement with Catholicism; we must expose Satan's plot in modern Babylon; we must challenge all Protestantism to complete the arrested Reformation of the sixteenth century. That should be our approach. The study of church history makes the worker conscious of the great issues that have centered around important church councils, for instance Nicea and the Council of Trent. Reaching down the stream of time, we grasp the fact that even the great Reformation could- not handle all the accumulated problems that gave rise to the controversies of that day. Again we might suggest in point the divided thinking, which necessitated the Synod of Dort, 1618, a century after Luther. The occasion became the battleground for the age-old discussion of "divine decrees" in predestination, then accentuated in Calvinism and opposed by Arminius and his followers. But the Arminianism of Dort's controversy still needed refining and expansion. In the light of our judgment-hour message, and with a deeper understanding of God's purpose in Christ's atonement, the perpetuity of God's law takes on added significance. The sinner becomes a rebel against His government, and God must yet be vindicated. A study of what we term the sanctuary truth throws light on the destruction of Satan and all his followers. On these issues Adventism differs somewhat from our evangelical brethren. But today differing may also be considered a sign of strength. We hope to make it that and still maintain friendly understanding with Protestants at large.
In meeting Calvinistic groups we should become intelligent on statements such as Dr. John Sutherland Bonnell, Presbyterian, makes in A Guide to Religions, page 107. We recognize that this is a modified interpretation of the predestination of Calvin's day as declared in his Institutes. There are still those of the "old school," but we must take into account that Dr. Bonnell speaks for his group with authority. Again there are religious groups hardly classified as Calvinistic who are definitely the "old school" type. Again various cults stress a somewhat distorted Calvinism.
The human mind cannot readily grasp all the mysteries of God. But Adventism, through the sanctuary types and especially the significance of the Day of Atonement, sees the foreshadowing of sin's annihilation. Fundamental is the teaching of God's eternal purpose in Christ our Redeemer. This doctrine reveals God's character and His divine foreknowledge. The individual man is not circumscribed by "decrees"; he is an intelligent creature who can exercise his choice to be saved. Adventism declares the eternal deity of Christ and longingly awaits His return to bring an end to sin. This is our approach to our message as we prepare men everywhere for this great event. The beautiful resurrection truth with a clear-cut stand on man's present conditional immortality is included in our message.
L. C. K.