The days of Indian summer are always fleeting. Winter is approaching. Change is everywhere. The sap has returned to the ground, the leaves are brown. The commitments of an earlier day have dulled. Compromise has washed away resolve. Indian summer has begun, and the winter winds of cold orthodoxy are soon to follow.
We live in a day of public relations, and we project a certain image on the community. We take pictures of mayors with scissors in their hands clipping blue ribbons spanning doorways to welfare centers, and we print ads in newspapers. A recent six-page insert in a Sunday paper was entitled "Adventists, People With a Future."
We are projecting to the community an image that we hope is good, and this is as it should be. People like us. We are in favor. We are growing. We are building more institutions. We now have two universities. We have more academies, more elementary schools. We are popular; we are rich.
But there are some subtle dangers, because none of these are the marks of God's people. The marks of God's people are found in the Bible. Peter wrote under inspiration about "the church," the early church and the late church, the Christian church, scattered throughout all generations, all denominations, all colors of skin: "Ye are a chosen generation," he wrote, a royal priesthood."
In the Adventist Church we believe that every man is his own priest; no committee, pope, or preacher has a right to superimpose his particular beliefs on anyone else. We have a church manual with a certain list of church doctrines in it, but within each of these particular sets of doctrines there is a wide divergence of belief, and then even more divergence in terms of practice of these beliefs.
It is sometimes difficult for young people to believe that the Adventist Church is one of the most liberal churches in the world. But the Bible makes it plain that one of the marks of the people of God is that they have thought through for themselves and have concluded that they are responsible for themselves; they are their own priests, "an holy nation, a peculiar [or purchased] people." This doesn't mean that they are odd; it simply means that these worthless people have had the world's highest price paid for their redemption. A similarly strange situation would occur if someone would approach me with an offer of $500,000 for my car. It isn't worth $500,000; it isn't worth even a fraction of that. Such a transaction would create a great mystery.
And here is a great mystery, Peter says. This is something that makes us peculiar; we are worthless, yet God died that we might have life. There isn't anything in terms of oddity here. It is peculiar because we are these purchased people (not odd). Worthless as we are in sin, a human-divine price has been paid for our redemption. Peter describes the result: "That ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."
He has described the result of the human-divine relationship, an earmark of the people of God. They have assumed their own responsibility, they are their own priests, and they are aware of the fact that they were purchased by a divine price. Therefore they show the glory of God by talking about Him and living a Christlike life.
Now, we must remember as we look for the earmarks of the people of God that not all systems of religion are equal representations of the truth as revealed by Christ. The hope of the human race does not lie in the human race at all. The hope of the human race lies in the redeemed portion of the human race. Certain earmarks, distinguishing characteristics, of the people of God are described in Revelation 14:12. They are simply two in number: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus."
This is a picture of people who have a certain relationship to God. It is the relationship of obedience; they are willing to follow God because they know who He is, they know what kind of God they are serving. They know how He looks upon men. They are fairly clear in their own mind about how they look upon Him. And because their view of Him is healthy and favorable, they are willing to follow Him and to obey Him.
Now, the Adventist Church maintains that this relationship is not denominational or institutional. In other words, we do not hold that all our members have the earmarks of God's people as laid down in Revelation, namely, keeping the commandments. Merely attending church on Sabbath morning does not mean that we are keeping the commandments necessarily or that we have a correct relationship with God.
The saving relationship is a personal one, which means that people from all denominations, people from no denomination, probably, will be granted the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, the Man of our salvation. However, there is a rationale for the existence of the Adventist Church that transcends the rationale for the existence of most other churches and/or religious institutions.
This rationale is doctrinal. Whereas we hold that a Baptist or a Methodist or a Catholic or a nonchurch member has access to the free gift of eternal life, we still maintain, with no apologies, that whenever possible we will try to make a good Adventist out of a good Baptist or a good Methodist or a good Catholic or a good nonchurch member. We have a special message which, if properly understood and properly taught, will bring our neighbors and friends and certainly ourselves into a closer, more meaningful relationship with God. This message is embodied in teaching about God—Bible doctrines.
The purpose of doctrines is to reveal God in His dealings with man. Obedience and respect will naturally follow the illumination the doctrines afford. In the Adventist Church we have three doctrines that are distinctive and afford particular illumination upon the character of God. While we do not believe that we have any corner on salvation, we do hold that through these understandings we can make salvation in this life more meaningful to anyone.
First of all, we have a distinctive teaching and understanding of the Sabbath. There is a wide range of ideas and understanding and lack of understanding among us on the Sabbath and its purpose. But this practice was originally given to man to implement fellowship with God so that he could have confidence in God.
The second doctrine that reveals God in a particular manner is the doctrine of the nonimmortality of the soul. This again is a distinctive teaching, setting forth that when a man dies, he is asleep in the grave. This concept is important because it depicts a God of mercy rather than a God who has purposed to punish the wicked in the fires of hell for eternity. Here again, you see, we get a glimpse of God and His dealing with man, not a glimpse of a dead doctrine proved from the pages of the Bible.
The third distinguishing doctrine of God's people is the doctrine of the sanctuary with all its implications, including the second coming of Christ. What do we know about the sanctuary? Merely the coverings and the furniture, the daily and yearly rituals? The sanctuary service simply boils down to revealing to man in his finiteness how God deals with him. The teaching is directed toward one great goal—that man can have enough confidence in God to obey Him; that's all.
To see God in the sanctuary is to marvel, "I have seen God in action; I see how He looks upon me in justice and in mercy; I see Jesus as my High Priest; I realize that He is coming again; the sanctuary will be cleansed, and since I have confidence in this whole program, I will obey it," To do this is to fall into the category of a saint of God. (Here is the patience [endurance] of the saints, who keep the commandments of God, because they have confidence in Him.)
Now, we teach these doctrines simply because if we understand them, our lives are changed. The change will be discernible:There are those who know something of the doctrines we claim to belie-cc, and they are noting the effect of our faith upon our characters. They are waiting to see what kind of influence we exert, and how we carry ourselves before a faithless world. The angels of heaven are looking upon us. We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Cor.
Others look upon us and say, "All right, so you're an Adventist and I'm a Baptist, and I am enjoying my salvation in the Lord. I am happy in Him; I am secure in my salvation. What do you have that I don't have?"
That isn't a bad question. I dare say some of us would be hard put to answer it. Maybe there is a final lesson in obedience that we need yet to learn. Maybe there is a final lesson in confidence that we still need to learn. We are a people with a distinct message typified by three doctrines, the enormity and immensity of which we haven't begun to explore. These are our guarantees, if you please; these are the assurances that we can be a distinctive people.
It should be profitable to look at us now as a people and to evaluate our distinctive contribution to the world, and to assess the direction we are taking.
Students of human nature have put forth certain ideas regarding the rise and progress of a church, any church; I refer particularly to the work of Ernst Troletsch and Max Weber and their colleagues, who have done studies in church growth. These men simply say that every church that arises follows a certain pattern.
They designate a church group in its early years of inception as a sect. A sect, they say, always rises as a protest. It usually arises around a leading person or a small group of leading persons who have special gifts, or at least are considered to have special gifts. They attract followers. The sect protests spiritual and moral laxity in the culture in which it arises. It protests against the economic and political evils of its day. Its essential characteristic is that of protest.
As time goes on the sect either will shrivel up and die, as the leaders pass off the scene of action, or it will continue to grow and gain adherents. As it gains adherents and financial prosperity, it moves from the area of protest into an intermediate area called a denomination. In a denomination there is less of protest and a growing awareness of popularity.
If the group prospers and continues, these men hypothesize, in every case the sect will progress to denominationalism and finally to what they call a church, an institution having a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
To sum up their theory: The sect is a protest group; as time moves on, the group of people comprising the sect enlarges; a compromise is made. In time the denomination becomes a church with a vested interest in maintaining what already exists in the society in which it exists.
The early Christian church is cited as an example. It arose in the Roman Empire as a protest movement against the spiritual, moral, and political evils of the day. Jesus Christ and the apostles comprised the small band of people with special gifts around whom the sect developed. Ensuing compromises and corruption are a matter of history.
Another classic example is taken from the time of the Reformation, when the Lutheran Church had its beginnings. Martin Luther, a man with obvious gifts, under God's leading arose as a great mountain peak in an arid era of religious bigotry and orthodoxy. Around Martin Luther was a small group of leaders; the group increased, the populace began to follow him, and another sect was born.
But, students of human nature point out, in time the sect following Luther moved toward a church category, as will happen in time to every church group when it becomes large. In many places today Lutheranism is actually a state church, having a vested interest in maintaining things exactly as they are, including the government.
The church group has moved from the protests of 1517 through the denominational middle type of transition era where they still made certain protests but were reaching over to grasp the hands of kings and princes, until finally now they have moved into a fully institutional-type church excluding certain socio-economic classes with a gospel appealing strictly to the middle and upper classes, at least in certain synods.
In his book Millhands and Preachers Liston Pope has delineated certain characteristics of the sect group and the church group in terms of the interest and emphasis that these groups place on specific things:
The sect renounces or is indifferent to the secular value system while the church accepts or re-enforces it.
The sect emphasizes a literal Biblical interpretation of life and rejects worldly success, while the church incorporates some degree of scientific and humanistic thinking in its interpretation of the Bible and of life and accepts success in the world as a worthy goal.
The sect maintains a moral community, excluding unworthy members, and depreciates membership in other religious institutions, while the church embraces all who are socially compatible with it and accepts other established religious institutions.
The sect emphasizes congregational participation and an unprofessionalized ministry while the church delegates religious responsibility to a professionalized group of individuals.3
The sect stresses a voluntary confessional basis for membership and its primary concern is for adults, while the church stresses social and ritual requisites for all.
The sect values fervor in religious observance through its use of gospel songs and folk hymns and its emphasis on evangelism, while the church values passivity through its use of liturgical forms of worship and its emphasis on education.'
And so the movement from sect to church continues. Richard Niebuhr puts it this way in his book The Social Sources of Denominationalism:
The sociological character of sectarianism, however, is almost always modified in the course of time by the natural processes of birth and death, and on this change in structure, changes in doctrine and ethics inevitably follow. By its very nature the sectarian type of organization is valid only for one generation. The children born to the voluntary members of the first generation begin to make the sect a church long before they have arrived at the years of discretion. For with their coming the sect must take on the character of an educational and disciplinary institution, with the purpose of bringing the new generation into conformity with ideals and customs which have become traditional. Rarely does a second generation hold the convictions it has inherited with a fervor equal to that of its fathers, who fashioned these convictions in the heat of conflict at the risk of martyrdom. As generation succeeds generation, the isolation of the community from the world becomes more difficult. Furthermore, wealth frequently increases when the sect subjects itself to the discipline of asceticism in work and expenditure; with the increase of wealth the possibilities for culture also become more numerous, and involvement in the economic life of the nation as a whole can less easily be limited. Compromise begins and the ethics of the sect approach the churchly type of morals. As with the ethics, so with the doctrine, so also with the administration of religion. An official clergy, theologically educated and schooled in the refinements of ritual, takes the place of lay leadership; easily imparted creeds are substituted for the difficult enthusiasms of the pioneers; children are born into the group and infant baptism or dedication becomes once more a means of grace. So the sect becomes a church.5
Mr. Niebuhr is referring to class consciousness and class culture existing in the denominations. The sect, he points out, appeals to the low socio-economic classes, whereas the church appeals to the high socio-economic classes, and never the two shall meet. One church, it is concluded, cannot minister to all.
So the Anglican Church has two churches, when possible, in the same town. The Lutheran Church has two churches in the same town, one a Missouri synod and one an Augustana synod. The liturgy is completely different. It doesn't seem and sound like the same church. Should Adventists have two churches in every town to meet the problems of class in our gospel, in our preaching, music, and worship?
This problem exists. In his study of church groups in a certain South Carolina county, Liston Pope came up with some interesting observations. In this community, he pointed out, there are three classes of churches. There are uptown churches, which appeal to the upper class in town; there are the mill churches, which appeal to the lower-middle class in town; and then there are the fringe churches, or the protest movements, which appeal to those people who feel socially ostracized and who are socially disinherited in the community.
After two years of study and attendance at every church in the county, Mr. Pope described the social implications of the church structure in this county:
Uptown churches in the county put an increasing amount of emphasis on religious education and a decreasing amount on revival meetings which have a tendency, it is felt, to be undignified and fanatical. Their choirs are usually robed and their minister speaks in a well-modulated voice. Most uptown ministers are designated by members of their congregations as "very scholarly" and are automatically called "Doctor"; ministers who bear such traditions convincingly are considered a "credit to the town" and a mark of superiority over rival churches. A minister must not be "too deep" in the pulpit, however. if he wishes to hold his congregation; Gastonia prefers ministers who allegedly are scholars in the quiet of their studies but are "good talkers" in the pulpit, "good fellows" on the street, and sympathetic comforters in time of trouble. In a sermon, personality is more important than brains, and delivery than content. One of the first things a Gastonian will say about his preacher is that he does or does not have "a good delivery." Loudness is equated with dynamism. A preacher must speak with assurance of those "eternal verities" which everybody believes—or at least was taught in childhood to believe. He may startle his hearers occasionally with some fresh insights, and thereby retain their interest, but the congregation begins to feel uneasy if his viewpoint becomes too cosmopolitan and remote. The role of the uptown minister, and of his church, is not to transcend the immediate cultural boundaries but to symbolize and sanction the righteous things as they are.0
And where are we? Indian summer has set in. What if another hundred years go by? What will the pressure of social class of new generations do to our church? What is it doing to our church now? To your view of things?
There are certain other implications even more penetrating than these. Some time ago Dr. Russell Dines devised a church-survey test to measure the relationship of one's socio-economic status to the type of sect or church he joins. These statistics suggest that there is something besides a Holy Spirit operating when people choose the church they wish to attend. The results of this study are disturbing, and they are statistically significant at the 1 per cent level.
According to these studies it is impossible for any particular religious institution, denomination, or organization to appeal to all social classes, or even to cater to all social classes in any society. In essence, this conclusion simply limits the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to make all men brothers regardless of class, caste, or social standing.
The findings of these students of human nature are disturbing. Somehow the three distinguishing doctrines that we embrace must enable us to live a life and to preach a message and to have a church that can be a challenge, and in some cases a response, an encouragement, and a help to everyone.
At this point we must conclude that were it not for the gift of prophecy, as manifested by the writings of Ellen G. White in our church, in fifty years we would be exactly where the________ are now. We would have moved from protest against spiritual and moral evils, political and economic upheaval in our society, to a group of people, an institution, having a vested interest in that which is.
But there still is a final lesson in obedience to be learned. We have obeyed, we have gone out, we have witnessed; many are asking, Why have we failed? This is not a valid question. We can decry the Adventist Church and call it Laodicean, and point to the delayed Advent. The delay is tragic. But this is not the present problem. The question for us to pose is not how we shall persecute ourselves for being negligent in the past. The question to ask is, Why are we here? What is the purpose and the motivation for our presence now? We have obeyed partially; we have given money; we have sent out missionaries. Why have not the people followed?
Overseas, what is the idea of the Christian missionary? Four things: He is white; he is Western; he is rich; and he is soft. Why should anyone follow that?
What is the view of our church at home? Nice people. A little odd. They keep "Saturday for Sunday" and they don't eat pork. But they are basically nice people. No different from a Lutheran or a Baptist or any other church. We are all churches, going to the same place together. A vested interest in the status quo. Why should anyone follow that?
We are face to face with the stern fact that more people have turned to Communism than to Christ in our lifetime. Say what you will about the Communist, he is consecrated, he is dedicated, and in many cases he is willing to die for a system that does not include eternal life or God. Jesus Christ laid down a less-than-easy course for His followers. He demanded more than "nice people" when He said, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
Maybe there is one final lesson in obedience that we need to learn—the lesson of denying ourselves. Some have felt this to mean that one must bear a great sickness or face a great calamity courageously. No! When Jesus said, Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me, He demanded total obedience. . . .
Self-denial . . . What have I denied myself? I have plenty to eat, a nice car, a comfortable home, well-cut suits. These are merely the hard things, the things you can buy, the "gold watches."
What have you denied yourself? Can you reach beyond the acceptable social class where you find yourself to welcome a brother in fellowship? Are you ready to sit with him to share his sorrows and his lot?
Our message is applicable to all men of all times. Are its exponents equally applicable?
I never see ripe pumpkins piled in the fields or corn shocked in a field of stubble but that I think of another kind of Indian Summer.
I think of that Indian Summer
which sooner or later comes
to every civilization. To every nation
comes a season when it lives
from the fruits of a faith it has begun to deny.
The hint of eternity is in the air
as a spent year stands carved
in bronzed radiance. Something picks at
the lock of man's spirit. Through the ache
of things dead and gone
and the oblivion of falling leaves
a voice is crying:
Turn us again, O God.
1 Selected Messages, book 2, p. 386.
2,3 Quotations by Liston Pope, from his book Millhands and Preachers, are reprinted by permission from Yale University Press.
4 Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism, pp. 19. 20. Reprinted by permission from The World Publishing Company.
5 Pope. Millhands and Preachers, p. 95.
Reprinted from The Youth's Instructor, Nov. 17, 1964.