Battles have been lost, property destroyed, and homes broken up by failures in communication. In a broad sense, to communicate means more than the conveyance of a message. It implies identification, sympathy, understanding with and of another; a sharing of experiences, a meeting of minds, a mutual respect even though there may be areas of disagreement. If he is to be successful, a missionary to a foreign land spends much time and effort learning the strange language and studying the customs of the people in order to communicate. No one would argue that such study and effort are a waste of time. Yet in the homeland have we done as much to prepare ourselves to communicate with those about us? Have we not, contrariwise, sealed ourselves off, if not behind an "iron curtain," at least within a hard shell of religious bias or complacency? Can we find a common ground in spiritual matters for meeting others not of our faith? Are sufficient training and background being given our laity and clergy to permit them to understand the peculiar beliefs of other people? Or are we so narrow in our comprehensions that we must confine our conversation to the mark of the beast, the 2300 days, or the superiority of vegetarianism? My own thought is that we as a people are woefully deficient in our understanding of the religious life and beliefs of the world around us. As the result of many years of Sabbath school teaching I am convinced that the majority of our people are almost entirely unaware of any other religious opinions than those held by Seventh-day Adventists. Sermons are not usually conducive to a broader understanding, nor do our denominational publications encourage forays into literature not strictly Adventist. Such lack of understanding leads to smugness and Pharisaism, but more than that, it impairs the means of communication
To illustrate: Not long ago I asked my Sabbath school class if any were familiar with such subjects as futurism, pretribulationism, posttribulationism, premillennialism, postmillennialism, et cetera. Hardly anyone was, which reminded me of a remark by a non-Adventist Christian Japanese professor from Keio University. While he was visiting in this country I took him, with another Adventist, to visit a certain hospital. On the way the discussion somehow veered to the subject of the millennium. After listening for a while our Japanese friend finally remarked: "Prenvllennialist, postmillennialist! Gentlemen, I'm a roentgenologist!" I fear that many of our own people are not much better informed.
The pastor of our church invited me to give several studies on some aspects of current religious thinking. In the discussion that followed, a good friend and colleague remarked: "This is all very well, but I have been brought up on the 'truth.' I have accepted it, studied it, and I believe it. Why should I bother with all these various theories?" My answer is, "In order to communicate!"
Thus the reading of a book written by an outstanding Protestant writer and professor in a nearby theological seminary led to an invitation to dinner at our home. The invitation was cordially accepted. There were no awkward moments during the dinner and the ensuing evening because, although not an Adventist, our new acquaintance was very forthright and we soon found that we shared much in common in understanding. My wife had read his book; I had considerable knowledge of personalities of the theological seminary with whom he had formerly been associated. In fact, exchanges grew so animated at table that my wife, who was serving, found difficulty in learning our preferences for dessert. This lively conversation continued for several hours and included an occasional sally into doctrinal questions and beliefs. I recall that "conditional versus inherent immortality" was touched upon, also the deity of Christ and other fundamental topics. In looking over our books, the professor said, "Do you know, this is the first time I have ever been in an Adventist home?" "Is that our fault or yours?" I asked. To which he answered that he had never before been invited. I assured him it would not be the last time; nor has it been.
Since that occasion a warm friendship has sprung up. On frequent occasions we have been guests in his home and he and his wife in ours. The doctor's wife and my wife have had much fellowship in Christ and are on a first-name basis. His large library of some 20,000 religious works has been at our disposal. We keep in touch by correspondence.
Other fine contacts have been made and friendships formed with students and faculty members and their wives in this same seminary. The doctor has come to know and, I believe, to appreciate and respect Seventh-day Adventists. He has met a number of our outstanding leaders at our home and recently accepted an invitation to address our conference workers. Despite some areas of disagreement, communications in both directions have been excellent and the channels uncluttered.
A close friendship and fellowship in Christ with a Presbyterian minister, editor of the influential Christian Heritage magazine and president of the Western Hemisphere Evangelical Union, began a number of years ago in much the same fashion. My wife and I had read a history of this man's life, his conversion and subsequent evangelical work by pen and voice, especially in Latin-American countries. It was a dramatic and appealing story. Having found that he lived nearby, and sympathizing with his efforts for the Master, we invited him, his wife, and daughter to dinner. Although at the time he had many misgivings regarding Adventism and had at one time actively opposed us, he graciously accepted. The providential developments that have served to ripen our friendship with this great leader and man of God are too numerous and personal to detail here. Suffice it to say that there is no one outside our family circle who is closer to us at this time. In our religious discussions we have found a vast area of complete unanimity. Prior misconceptions have been removed and mutual sympathies established. Many contacts with our leaders have been made. He has spoken in our churches and attended our services, and is held in high esteem and affection by all those of our persuasion who have come to know him.
Yes, despite the aloofness of some in our ranks, I believe we have much to learn from other Christians, and in return we can help them to a better understanding of our own attitudes, positions, and beliefs. It has been a heart-warming experience to me to learn how much we have in common with other evangelical Christians and how willing they are to listen and communicate. But in addition to our own peculiar Adventist vocabulary we must learn something of theirs—and not only their vocabulary but also their beliefs and the history of their doctrines.
For instance, take the dispensational tenet. When did it originate? Did Scho-field invent it, or does it go back to an earlier period? What of futurism? If it was promulgated in Protestant circles by Samuel R. Maitland, why did he espouse it after 200 years of rejection by Protestants? These and many other questions are subjects of deep interest in theological circles today and are widely discussed.
From our own press the scholarly four-volume work by L. E. Froom entitled The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers is an excellent source of information on prophecy and eschatology. Despite the fact that the last volume has been out for several years, I have found very few of either ministers or laymen in our ranks who have more than a nodding acquaintance with it. I suppose the reason is the same as that of my friend: "We have the 'truth,' why bother?" Again I reply, "To communicate."
A few years ago during the excitement caused by the discovery that Adventists, by their confession, were truly evangelical, I wrote to the editor in chief of Eternity and congratulated him on his editorial statement. At the same time I raised the question as to how he could say that Adventists take the position (to us very illogical) that the law is to be kept, and still not be classed as an antinomian. Quotations from Wesley and from Ryle concerning the perpetuity of the law were enclosed with my letter. A warm and friendly correspondence resulted. We have invited this influential theological leader to be our guest in Los Angeles if and when he should be in this area. Shortly thereafter at a late after-meeting supper we spent two hours in friendly exploration of conflicting beliefs, but no answer was forthcoming in response to my original inquiry. I did not press the matter. Much to my surprise, about six months later I received a letter from his editorial office, the first paragraph of which I quote: "Dear Dr. Short: I think you have received poor treatment from our office chiefly because you brought up some questions that have caused us to ponder. I hope you will be patient with us."
I submit that it takes great Christian grace, honesty, and frankness to make an acknowledgment of that kind. But is not that the manner in which Christians should react to one another? Calm, cool, collected consideration of varying viewpoints, discussed in the sweet fellowship of prayer, will accomplish more than heated polemics and scathing imprecations. Yet such an attitude has been the exception rather than the rule through the ages. History indicates that there is no area in which angry dissensions have been so prevalent as in that of religious differences. No wonder the gentle Melanchthon was led to exclaim, "God deliver me from the wrath of the theologians." And wrath destroys communications.
Many other examples could be cited not only of friendships but also of Christian fellowship with non-Adventist Christian ministers. They have confided their problems, their hopes, their faith, and their perplexities. Although to date none in our circle have espoused our faith, and this is disappointing, with the psalmist, I am persuaded that our times are in His hands. In God's own good time, perhaps, many will take their stand with us. It is altogether possible that in our present state we are not ready to receive them, and that delay is in God's providence. In support of this I quote the following:
"When the final warning shall be given, it will arrest the attention of these leading men through whom the Lord is now working, and some of them will accept it, and will stand with the people of God through the time of trouble. . . . The message will be carried not so much by argument as by the deep conviction of the Spirit of God. . . . Now the rays of light penetrate everywhere, the truth is seen in its clearness, and the honest children of God sever the bands which have held them. Family connections, church relations, are powerless to stay them now. Truth is more precious than all besides. Notwithstanding the agencies combined against the truth, a large number take their stand upon the Lord's side."—The Great Controversy, pp. 611, 612.
In the meantime we can hope, pray, and hold forth the hand of Christian fellowship wherever possible - and communicate.