Andrews University, through its extension schools, is making a significant contribution to the upbuilding of the ministry. For the past two months about eighty workers from all parts of the Northern European Division have been meeting at Newbold College, thirty miles from London. The earnestness and dedication of the men have been an inspiration to all, and especially to us as teachers. These intensive weeks of study were concluded in an unforgettable experience of fellowship and the solemn renewal of our ministerial vows. On the last Friday evening we ministers and teachers celebrated the ordinances of the Lord's house led by V. N. Olsen. Sabbath morning E. E. Roenfelt addressed himself directly to the workers who had come from all parts of the division to attend the school. The following Tuesday night witnessed the final exercise and an address by Edward Heppenstall.
Significantly enough, the quality and the potential of the ministry are always on trial, as it were, whenever advanced education is offered. Are we ministers as educated and dedicated as we think we are? We tend to forget that entrance into the ministry is but the beginning of a way of life that requires of a man ever-increasing, growth and efficiency, growth and development the worker for God cannot afford to neglect. We often miss the point because we think of ordination as the ultimate in status and arrival. We forget that what really matters is a man's capacity for service from that moment on.
We tend to think that advancement in terms of size of churches and position of authority are the inevitable marks of ministerial efficiency. We are apt to overlook the fact that these are purely external factors and may camouflage the need for continual growth of mind and heart.
Take this latest extension school for instance. In a short period of a few weeks almost all who came to study revealed a need and a passion for mastering the basic truths of the Word of God, a genuine hunger for righteousness, a deeper sense of responsibility to a needy world. In a group of this kind the potential is immense. Realizing this potential both personally and collectively is the sacred responsibility of both the employing organization and Andrews University. Invariably the worker who takes advanced courses of this kind wants to realize his potential. He is not likely to accomplish this on his own. He continually needs the direction and help of the church and the university. Without the opportunity and the demand for growth, the minister may find himself in a mold that conforms and restricts his potential for God and man. It may be argued that further study can be either dangerous or impractical. But this depends on the men involved. It does not have to be. Admittedly, vigilance is imperative, both for the truth itself and for one's own consecration. But it is a sad commentary on the ministry of any church when it becomes afraid of a diligent investigation of the highways that lead to truth and the preaching of the gospel. The ministry as a way of life must not become an idol. Our real protection against that attitude is through an increasingly alert and consecrated Christian ministry.
When the world is faced with crises, as it is today, and the church launches a new program for soul saving, it is not only better techniques that are needed but better men in every sense of the word. This fact is one more reminder that our responsibility to men and to God cannot be achieved apart from realizing the potential in ourselves.
Furthermore, the emphasis should not be competitive, simply to produce bigger churches and larger enrollments. This sets up in the mind a false set of values as to the minister's responsibility. Perhaps we can understand how pathetically ineffective the ministry can actually be in our present self-centered world. The minister in particular should not forget the commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." In actual practice the "god" for us ministers is he who calls forth our deepest loyalties and sacrificial devotion for the salvation of the lost. By competition and rivalry, that which the ministry demands may come to have only external reference. There can be no substitute in a minister's life for the devotion of mind and being to the Word of God and for giving the gospel to all the world. Idols of our creating are deceptive and illusory. Our high calling is forever sacred, because through us as messengers of saving truth, God can save to the uttermost.
Inevitably and inescapably comes the question, What sort of ministers are we? When we ask this question we stand face to face with Jesus Christ and His call to discipleship, the call to be led into all truth by the Holy Spirit, the call to be witnesses "unto the uttermost parts of the earth."
As one would expect, ministers do not all agree on details. But common to all of us is the dictum "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). Confronted with the fact of Christ's call to our hearts and minds, we are continually charged to dedicate our whole being to the service of God. Such a fact must never be confused with denominational position and academic degrees, however important they may be. To be accurate, what we are dealing with is not an ecclesiastical designation and reward for services rendered, but a Person who is seeking continually to realize our potential for the kingdom of God here and now.
The Adventist ministry at different times has been the target of much hostility and criticism from various discontented sources. Of course, there is gross exaggeration, falsehood, and perversion. And instances can be adduced to expose the falsity of so much of this attack. But the question we must ask ourselves is, when weighed in the balances are we found wanting? That question should haunt some of us. Most of the criticism we face can be ignored.
But ministers are no ordinary men. They defy all normal explanation in terms of the ordinary life vocation.
We are right to question any lax methods of study, of preaching, and of evangelism. We may diagnose the present lukewarmness in the church; we may analyze the faults of the church; but unless we can say to man enslaved by habit and broken by sin, "In the name of Christ I give you the living truth that redeems and transforms,- we are in spite of our potential as useless as the most advanced missile without power.
In giving our allegiance to the third angel's message and to God's remnant people, we are in league, not with something temporary or external but with the Power that controls and governs the universe itself. The combined hostility and subtlety of false teachers, and the criticism of disgruntled men, will not affect the ultimate issue. We are ministers of Christ, who alone is invincible.
We exult in commitment to the Word of God and to Christ the living Word. A good deal of failure can be traced to a lack of commitment. The more we know ourselves, the more we realize that our problem lies within us. A true minister is one who by his total commitment of mind and heart makes it easy for people to believe in God and in the Word, and who thereby draws men and women to Christ, Throughout the records of the Christian ministry in divers places and at sundry times, the fires of personal commitment have leaped up like a volcano long thought quiescent. Now its glow can be felt even as the minister proclaims the truth from the sacred desk. Those people who hear the message know that here is living truth, saving truth, transforming truth. To study and to pray for a deeper awareness and a more intimate knowledge of God and His truth cannot but lead to the spread of that spiritual conflagration that will lighten the whole world with its glory. This is what Andrews University and its extension schools stand for.
Of course, neither program nor ritual can create the realization of a worker's potential for which men secretly long. But men receive it in the inspiration to total commitment of body, soul, and spirit to the service of God. The deep fellowship shared by all who attended will long be remembered as part of our renewed consecration to the cause of God.