The ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church face many problems in this trying age. But the problem that surpasses all others in importance is: How can the work of God be finished and the return of Jesus hastened? Nothing is to be gained by ignoring or repressing this problem. Absorbed as we are by the thousand and one daily duties, we must nevertheless give it first place in our planning, in our prayers, in our service. The church or the pastor that courageously faces this problem, and directs attention to finding the solution, is not far from the kingdom of heaven.
Evangelism is a real problem. Let us admit it frankly! If some sectors of the world field have made encouraging progress in baptisms, in other sectors the problem is far from being solved. Does not the present situation demand that we reconsider our methods and change our opinions as we confront the unfinished task? Let us not forget that that bark which during the night was driven farther and farther from shore despite the desperate efforts of the disciples, reached land immediately at the command of the Pilot. The Bible and the Spirit of prophecy tell us of extraordinary times when the Spirit of God will be poured out upon all flesh, and thousands will be converted in a day. But, like Gideon of old, we are inclined to exclaim, "If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of?" (Judges 6:13).
No one in Adventist ranks would pretend that we have exhausted all media to reach the masses of mankind. Until probation closes the chief concern of every evangelist must be to find new methods to save lost sinners.
Night after night I am unable to sleep, because of this burden resting upon me in behalf of the unwarned cities. Night after night I am praying and trying to devise methods by which we can enter these cities and give the warning message.—Evangelism, p. 62.
Evangelistic campaigns certainly have their place in God's work, and we must uphold and encourage them by our means, our prayers, and our presence. But, alas! good evangelists are not frequently found. We are also limited financially, and there is no liberty for public evangelism in many of our fields. How then will the work be finished?
The medical work, the literature ministry, the Bible correspondence course, radio and television, all are useful, fruitful, and necessary—and still the work advances slowly. Years go by, and the Lord does not return. The "few weeks" that would have sufficed for modern Israel to reach the Promised Land, have lengthened into many years. Surely this is not because God has been unfaithful in keeping His promises, but because the church has been slow to follow the divine plan. History repeats itself, and we would do well to reflect upon its lessons.
The Divine Solution
Let no one wait for the revelation of some great secret to solve this problem. The solution is written in plain letters in the history of the apostolic church. It consists of replacing the totally false idea that the priest or pastor must do all the work of the church by the true idea that the paastor, far from being the "soldier" who does all the fighting in the battle, is on the contrary, the "general" who directs the plans of action and rallies each one of his Christian soldiers to fulfill his role, and leads them unitedly into the conflict.
In an army, war is waged by soldiers. It is the workers in a factory that produce labor. But, extraordinary as it is, in the church of God we witness a most alarming inconsistency. The "general" does the fighting, and the "soldiers" look on complacently. Or, using another comparison, the pastor, or "foreman," wears himself out at the task, and his "employees," either admire or criticize him as they may choose. Here we face the most unbelievable paradox of Christianity—the masterpiece of the archenemy who seems to have succeeded in lulling the church to sleep on the very eve of its final, decisive battle.
The simple and logical solution to this problem is clearly outlined in the Sacred Writings. It was the church, or men and women from the common walks of life under the leadership of the apostles and evangelists, that proclaimed the good news to the then-known world. The first heralds of the gospel were men and women like Stephen, Philip, Aquila, and Priscilla, from all ranks of society, beginning with the slaves and reaching those of Caesar's household.
But in time apostasy and error forced their way into the church, and the church militant became more dead than alive. The Refoimation partially resurrected it, producing men who restored to the masses of the faithful their dignity and sense of responsibility. Then came the Wesleys, Moody, Spurgeon—those spiritual giants. These men are worthy of our admiration; but the false idea that the duty of the pastor is to preach, and the duty of the church is to listen to his preaching, continued to be the predominating weakness and tragic heritage of the modern church. Few indeed were the exceptions to this general opinion.
Deadly Danger of a Dormant Church
Near the middle of the past century God called a young woman, with a view to arousing the church to reassume her responsibilities. With declarations of extraordinary power, this servant of God denounced the deadly danger of a dormant church.
Truly these solemn statements are a challenge to all whose names are registered upon the church books:
The professed followers of Christ are no longer a separate and peculiar people. The line of demarcation is indistinct.—Christian Service, p. 45.
Today a large part of those who compose our congregations are dead in trespasses and sins. They come and go like the door upon its hinges.—Ibid., p. 44.
Church members ... are to be ever ready. . . . We have no time to lose.... Wake up, brethren and sisters, wake up. Sleep no longer. "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" Jesus calls you, saying: "Go work today in My vineyard."—Ibid., pp. 78-80.
How shall we face this situation? I have had occasion to observe closely the serious efforts to set the church to work. It has been my privilege to attend and take part in the conventions organized by the home missionary department of our division. These conventions have been seasons of great blessing to those who were present. But, alas! generally speaking,' they were attended by only a few church members. Aflame with enthusiasm and inspired, they returned home to find themselves in the midst of a majority of members in spiritual somnolence; and the convention became only a beautiful memory of a past experience. The great majority of the members had not warmed themselves with the spiritual fire of the Holy Spirit.
The Church at Work
These lines are being written from Angola, where we have held four conventions for African workers and lay members. I have been deeply impressed to learn that more than 50 per cent of the baptisms in this mission field are due to the missionary work of laymen. I have followed the practical work of these volunteers who, often with great difficulty, have tried to learn to prepare Bible studies to give to the people of their villages. I have seen them plead with village chiefs for permission to enter their territories. Often they were chased away. but they held on, insisting "in season and out of season," entreating—sometimes on their knees—and singing hymns. Sometimes the heathen chiefs, hardened to all reason, were softened by the music; and as they listened, distrustfully at first, interest was awakened in their defiant hearts. It is not easy to enter these heathen villages, but the courage and perseverance of these African brethren won many victories.
Considering all this, it is easy to conclude that, far from being the privilege of a few members, instruction for missionary work should be the privilege of the majority of our members. We should indeed be worthy of the remark made by a Catholic author who, in speaking of the members of the Adventist Church said, "Every Seventh-day Adventist church member is a missionary." If this is to be true, then every Seventh-day Adventist church should be a center of missionary training for our lay forces. Instead of home missionary conventions being limited to two weeks once a year, attended by a few members, they should be considered by the workers as the breath of life of the entire church.
When the day comes that half of the time of our workers' meetings is consecrated to the study of current problems, and the other half to the study of how it is possible to organize in every church a continuous course in missionary training, that day the church will have found the solution to its real problem. She will arise in the plenitude of her power and new vitality will lay hold of her members.
Definite plans must be laid and practical suggestions made by our colleagues in the ministry. We must not deceive ourselves. There will always be those who will hesitate and criticize—those who will say, "We have heard all that before. Just wait, and you will see that everything will settle down and become as 'comfortable' as before." But others will be willing to adopt such a program. They will be on fire themselves, and will succeed in communicating their own enthusiasm, and the church will set to work. Such pastors will see their prayer and testimony meetings become a stimulus to action, and a revival will take place that will be the solution to our most important problem.
Work is the most powerful means to develop and invigorate our talents. Our members will grow in grace, and in saving others they themselves will be made ready to meet Jesus. Instead of the pastor "crying in the wilderness" of a deserted hall, "Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven."—The Great Controversy, p. 612.
Just as an army finds an appropriate uniform for every soldier, just so the church must find the service best adapted to each of her members. Work that is forced upon the members will please no one. But volunteers who can testify to the joy they find in service for their Master, will actuate others to follow their example. Then the church will no longer run the risk of becoming simply "a theological expression." She will be a power for the conversion of the heathen, and for the sanctification of the flock. When that day comes the church of Christ will have solved its real problem.
Jesus cannot, will not, return before the church has entered upon her final crisis and moved into her final victory. This is the climactic hour of all history, the focal paint to which creation moves. Let us pray that the church may arise and go forth triumphantly to meet the Bridegroom.