We here continue the discussion begun in the preceding number of THE MINISTRY on our approaches to other Protestant groups. This brief series ties in with a 1956 Book Club suggestion, A Guide to the Religions of America. In this interesting book by Leo Rosten, edited from the recent Look magazine series, we are informed on the main present-day beliefs and practices of these various Christian groups. The purpose of these reviews in our journal is to present a few points that may help the gospel worker to be tactful and helpful in his approaches to these groups.
The Episcopal Church has a large membership throughout the world. It is patterned after its Anglican mother overseas. We learn from W. Norman Pittenger, the Look historian for his denomination, that the group recognizes a "high," a "low," and a "broad" church, and also a variety of liberalism. "Episcopalians appeal to Scriptures, tradition, and personal experience, as well as reason, for vindication of the truth of the Christian faith. Differences of emphasis are welcomed in the Episcopal Church, as long as the central affirmations are maintained."—A Guide to the Religions of America, p. 54.
Although the Scriptures are a great testing ground of doctrine, the Episcopal Church does not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. Its priesthood and its polity generally are Catholic. There is a common loyalty with the see of Canterbury. However, it defines itself as being both Catholic and Protestant.
It is of interest to Adventists that the Episcopal stand on drinking and gambling is "non-puritanical." The Episcopal Church believes that God intends that men enjoy life. On this, as well as card playing and dancing, the church has been liberal in attitude.
Although some Episcopalians stress the second advent of Christ, their interpretation is hardly a message according to Adventist understanding.
Creedal in nature more than Bible centered, the church clings to orthodoxy on the Trinity and such doctrines as the virgin birth. Again, it neither stresses nor condemns auricular confession. To us this would suggest compromise. But there are also stronger elements in this denomination that we should recognize as we make contacts with its members. Such doctrines as the Trinity, the atonement, and the death and resurrection of Christ are points held in common, and suggest where the gospel worker may begin discussing the Bible. Instruction on baptism and the Lord's Supper requires restraint when teaching Episcopalians. In this case it helps to be informed on the historical and doctrinal background of the group.
The Episcopal Church is missionary-minded. It carried a prominent part in the early history of America. It has some just pride in its national traditions. Here we may find other points of contact.
Next we will consider the Methodist Church. Dr. Ralph W. Sockman was selected to discuss his group in Look magazine. As a recognized ministerial authority, with fame on the National Radio Pulpit for more than twenty-six years, he defines a Methodist as "a unique blend of New Testament Christianity, the Protestant Reformation, and the influence of John Wesley." Methodism's roots were in Anglicanism. The denomination is not as traditional as individualistic, which fact accounts for its founder, John Wesley. The movement began in the spirit of prayer and with an interest in the more neglected. This group, Oxford's Holy Club, stressed rules of conduct and religious observance. Its sincerity and zeal soon provided another religious body, which in America grew into a "Methodist Church" the name derived from its methodical precepts and habits of devotion.
Methodism introduced some changes and modifications of Anglicanism. Its emphasis on grace and holiness, its less ritualistic creedal ways, its lively interest in temperance and reform, in the New World developed various shadings of Methodism. Here was excellent soil where the rights and needs of the individual could find expansion. The 9,000,000 Methodists in the United States form a part of the 14,500,000 throughout the world. The group has contributed much to civilization. Here we might add that the Salvation Army was influenced by, and is a contemporary of, Methodism. As far as polity, Adventism absorbed much of Methodism. Also Methodism greatly encouraged us in our earlier reformatory interests.
We are likely to discover that our good friends the Methodists are in danger of losing their earlier zeal for important reforms, such as those to correct the liquor and tobacco habits. In the field of doctrine we recognize an overemphasis on grace as related to the law of God. It is here that we should seek to arrive at a better understanding with Methodists. They will claim that Adventism has "another gospel"—salvation by the keeping of the law. Our emphasis on obedience to all God's commandments must not eclipse the truth that man is saved by the atoning blood of Christ, not by the law. We believe with the Methodists that obedience is merely the fruit of salvation, through the spilled blood on Calvary. Akin to this doctrine is that of grace and holiness. True holiness is progressive Christian living on every point of revealed light. Methodism has holiness confused with perfectionism of an instantaneous nature. In teaching our message it pays to be understanding and more kind than dogmatic. Many Seventh-day Adventists had their roots in Methodism.
Before we leave Methodism in our discussions we should mention its dispensational teachings. Methodism today is alerted on Bible prophecy, but has adopted the Catholic Futurist interpretation, thereby losing the strength of prophecy. Strangely, the many shadings of these Futurist interpretations are confusing and contradictory to the Bible student who is aware of the historicist interpretation as being the only sound system. Rapturists look for Christ's soon return, but have sadly overlooked a study of Advent prophecies in their proper context. Methodists are not alone in this respect. Other fundamentalist groups have followed Dr. C. I. Scofield of Bible renown, an interpreter of prophecy. He borrowed his system from the Plymouth Brethren, who revived the Futurist system of the Counter Reformation during the early decades of the nineteenth century. In it church history is arbitrarily divided into convenient "dispensations." Chronology is definitely thrown out of alignment. Eschatological views center around the Antichrist of prophecy and the return of the Jews to their native Palestine. An elaborate rabbinism is to be reinstated after the "rapture," which will be seven )ears before the "revelation of Christ."
Most controversial is the antinomian teaching that the dispensation of law in the Old Testament is followed by the dispensation of grace in the New. Grace is interpreted as freedom from obedience to the Ten Commandments, and more specifically from observing the true seventh-day Sabbath. Intending to be fundamental, this system of interpretation courts modernism. We claim in all humility that Adventism has recognized the deceiving character of this confusion and has a strong prophetic message for the hour.
Today there is a new emphasis on miracles and the charismatic and healing gifts. However, the gift of the Holy Spirit has been interpreted in the "tongues movement," with its questionable confusions and often undignified desecrations of the house of God. Extremes of these "excitements" are still recognized in our American hinterland areas. "Independent" groups revel in their individualism and often disown their Methodist Christian ancestry. The gospel worker should never think of ridiculing such extremisms. Some sincere truth seekers may be readily led astray, but the Word of God still separates the chaff from the wheat. Adventism has some very sane, clear light on true holiness. We have a background of experience with specious types of holiness after the 1844 movement. Adventists stress that advancing in holiness also requires carefulness in diet, and that healthful living is important in the process of sanctification. There is greater power in living healthfully than in the claims of modern "faith healers." But we need not disparage the true gift of healing in the church. Again, a sanctified people will keep a sanctified rest day. Our teachings on the Christian Sabbath may have a real appeal for holiness seekers.
It is here convenient to bring the Quakers into our discussion of religious bodies. Quakerism became a nickname for the followers of George Fox in England. It was during the turbulent seventeenth century, at the magistrates' trial in Derby, that they "trembled at the Word of God." This quaint group has made its contributions to religion, especially in the New World. Quakers claim that they form a "third way," not being Protestant or Roman Catholic.
With Evangelicals and Adventists they strongly hold that God can be approached directly, without an intermediary priest or preacher.
Quakers hold that God is experienced through the "Inner Light." They were formerly called Children of the Light and Friends of the Truth because they keep an open mind to truth revealed, and yet to be revealed.
Simplicity in dress, piety in worship, and spiritual fellowship distinguish their faith. Their worthy reforms, their clean way of life, and their philanthropy suggest a common tie with Adventism. However, Quaker doctrines to us lack certainty. Quakerism needs a definite message of Christ's imminent return. Bible doctrines must be pointed out to the Quaker with new significance.
Again we note that "service," the Quaker term for missionary work, is a worthy endeavor for the church in these last days. It would seem to us that the hour will come when our friends the Quakers will respond to a message of the soon return of Christ in person. If the instructor is to share such a message with them they must see a quality of quiet sincerity in her.
L. C. K.
(Continued next month)