For many years the people who make up God's remnant church have been taught the sacredness of the ministry. By instruction through the church school and on up through the later years in the areas of education, the youth have been catechized rather well as to the attitude they should reflect with respect to those entrusted with the care of the sacred vessels of God's house. Occasionally word from the pulpit has been directed toward the pew to help parishioners equally to understand how God regards this holy office, and how, in turn, they should look upon God's anointed. Perhaps in this liberal age such instruction as has filtered through to the people in the past has hardly been sufficient. Certainly those who study God's Word can come to no other conclusion than did David of old, who expressed his remorse after an incident with Saul by observing, "The Lord forbid that I should . . . stretch forth mine hand against . . . the anointed of the Lord" (1 Sam. 24:6).
Even though there is a tacit understanding between the laity and the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with regard to the above-quoted sentiment, nevertheless it is not a rare instance in the homes of our members to discover that private conversation often disallows this viewpoint. It has frequently been pointed out that various noon meals of a Sabbath day include in their conversational menus either a dissection of the minister or his sermon or both. This murmuring in the tents by the Israel of God should be a cause of concern to God's ministers.
Certain social mores are often held up for inspection by the inhabitants of the Western world, regardless of whom it may be who possesses idiosyncrasies, whether it be prelate or professor, minister or member. In a democratic environment, so called, in which those of North America find themselves, it is not thought to be an injudicious oversight to examine any individual under the glass of criticism. Hence, despite religious training, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church also are known to indulge in this seemingly harmless pastime.
In the light of the thoughts indicated above it may be of interest to examine an aspect of an interesting account in the Old Testament. The story is unfolded in Numbers 35 and relates the arrangement made in ancient Israel for the establishment of what were called cities of refuge. These were six cities assigned to the Levites, three on the east side of Jordan and three on the west side, to which one guilty of manslaughter might flee for safety until proper adjudication. Because of the custom of the ancients wherein private vengeance might eventuate in execution, God made provision, not to abolish the custom at the time, but to make sure that he who slew his brother unintentionally might have refuge. This became a rather vital part of Israelitic living. The cities were so distributed that no person was farther than a half day's journey (thought to be approximately 30 miles) from any one place of refuge. So important did this become that a seventh place of sanctuary seems to have been available—the horns of the altar upon which blood had been sprinkled.
In the light of the observations made at the outset of this article, it may well be that many of God's ministers have erected in modern Israel such asylums of escape. Because instruction has been given to those who occupy the pews in Seventh-day Adventist churches to refrain from criticism of God's anointed, it may occur to those of us who are educating the future ministry of the church that certain situations are often sought as areas of refuge where he who handles the Sacred Word may hide with impunity. Let us be specific.
First, I would consider, parabolically, the three "cities" to the east of Jordan, for they seem farthest removed from the common habits of our preachers. At least, it is fervently hoped that this is so. City of refuge number one, if it may be put bluntly and frankly, is "the murder of the king's English." Either an unwillingness to grasp the fundamentals of English grammar and diction, or a general lassitude that may include the overlooking of the need of such fundamentals, may well be erected as a bastion behind which some hide. Shall the "avenger of blood" be denied a right judgment of such slothfulness, even though the perpetrator thereof deems himself a select member of the court of the King of kings? Said the servant of the Lord in 1894: "Nearly every minister in the field, had he exerted his God-given energies, might not only be proficient in reading, writing, and grammar, but even in languages."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 194. City number one, then, may properly be known as Ungrammarius.
The second such city of refuge is removed by a few miles from the first one, "east of Jordan." Its name might well be Pulpit Dullness. Here God's messengers may take "refuge" in this pseudo fortress. Its streets are lined with the stones of monotony, its houses built with Gilboan hill basalt, while its very air breathes vapidness. Those who flee to this place should have studied well the guidepost. It reads, "Those who are trained for service in the Lord's cause should be taught how to talk properly in ordinary conversation and before congregations. Many a laborer's usefulness is marred by his ignorance in regard to correct breathing and clear, forcible speaking. Many have not learned to give the right emphasis to the words they read and speak. Often the enunciation is indistinct."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, pp. 207, 208. "The ability to speak plainly and distinctly, in full, round tones, is invaluable in any line of work, and it is indispensable to those who desire to become ministers, evangelists, Bible workers, or canvassers."—Ibid., p. 217.
City of refuge number three has been named the City of Platform Misdemeanors. It so happens that with very little effort the Israelite who may miss cities number one or two, finds easy access to this rather ignoble walled town. Some of the public buildings in this asylum have been given rather interesting names: Whispering Hall, Slouch Stadium, Note-studying Emporium, Nodding Center. A comment about the construction of these prominent edifices might be of interest. The conversations, animated and otherwise, that often occur between the participants, seated on the platform, of a service of the church should be eliminated. One of the simplest ways of doing that in a church is to have only two people, three at the most, seated on the rostrum at any meeting, far removed from one another. Slouch Stadium, unfortunately, has a number of participants who should not be there in any wise. This dwelling is maintained by the "walkers.' and "sitters" who come upon the platform. Erect carriage and sitting without crossing the leg at the knee need to be studied in this institution. The latter two dwellings speak for themselves and can be classified as improper platform demeanor.
And now the Jordan River is to be crossed to arrive at the "cities of refuge" on its western side. Perhaps he who seeks sanctuary should read the sign posted at one of the fords, "If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" (Jer. 12:5).
The first "city of refuge" west of Jordan is the one we label Inaccuracy. By most of the "avengers of blood" this place is difficult to locate. Those who have been trained in tracking are usually the only ones who can discern this city or notice that a slaughterer of men has passed that way. Some say that one reason this place is difficult to locate is because it is generally enshrouded in fog, a sort of dialectical miasma. Those who have sought asylum in the City of Inaccuracy generally tend to bring discredit upon the church in general, as that church begins to be classified as a scholarless refuge. Perhaps the "criminal" at large did not need to obtain "refuge" in any of the eastern Jordanian bastions; his glib tongue has proved a facile defense for him. But when he is arrived in a more settled area, questioning looks, raised eyebrows, and other inarticulate barbs of criticism have caused him to take refuge behind the smoke screen of Verbiage. This City of Inaccuracy is relatively cold, because the fires of scholarship have been extinguished, while in their place some heat-giving gadgets, such as Ranting, Bigotry, Rumor, and Demogoguery, have been substituted.
In the neighborhood of thirty miles to the south of the notorious City of Inaccuracy lies the City of Statements Made Out of Context. Most of the keepers of this place are wild eyed, it has been said, as they suffer from a dread malady known as Disconjunctivitis. The one who seeks refuge in this place must submit to a branding upon his entrance. This brand is generally the letter "F" applied to the middle of the forehead. The inhabitants of the place say that the letter stands for Faith, but they that dwelt there in old times allege that it stood for the word Fanaticism.
The third city of refuge on the west side of the Jordan long ago made an alliance with the other two, and is known as the City of the Antagonistic Approach. For some years the belligerence of this place was so notorious that many refused its shelter. Often as younger preachers approached its walls the scowling countenances leaning out from the battlements terrified them, and so it became a habit to bypass this entrenched city and seek refuge in a suburb close by called the Town of the Smooth Approach. It has become a popular refuge for those at large, because records seem to indicate that most of those seeking refuge there have never been given the death penalty. In fact, numerous judges from foreign countries have been called to sit on these cases, and almost invariably have freed the accused, so that throughout the realm of the Gentiles, particularly in Egypt, these preachers and their views have been well received. However, very few of those brought to trial before these justices and subsequently released have been observant enough to see the sly wink, the nudge, or the knowing smiles that have passed between these judges.
It is trusted that this parable of satire will not have been said in vain. In my own humble opinion there is really only one place of refuge that is secure from the onslaught of the "avengers of blood"—the modern critics of today. That place is the sanctuary offered at the foot of the altar, where in humble prayer the preacher may cry, "0 God, be merciful to me a sinner. Instruct me in Thy ways. Give me of Thy Holy Spirit that I may ever, only preach as Jesus did."