RESEARCH reports often substantiate the obvious. Another such report has just been released by Andrews University.
Dr. Gottfried Oosterwal, chairman of the Seminary Department, of World Mission, recently released the results of a survey based on more than 3,000 questionnaire responses from members of twenty-eight churches in the Lake Union. Among other conclusions, the study reveals:
1. Once baptized, members indicate that their spiritual welfare depends more upon Sabbath services and fellowship than on personal devotions.
2. Half the members responding derive their prime spiritual uplift from the Sabbath services, and where evidence of spiritual growth of all types is obviously lacking, the members, almost unanimously, list poor performance of the minister in his sermons, leadership, and visitation as the primary cause.
What was the pastors' response on this latter point? According to the re port, "the pastors granted that they were in trouble. Most of their time, they said, was absorbed by administrative details and by promotion of conference or union programs. Meeting a bewildering array of local problems and conference priorities left virtually no time for sermon preparation, training the laity, or even personal devotions. Many of the pastors indicated that they had done no serious study since college or seminary and had grossly neglected their families, sleep, and exercise."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? However, if a woman in Scripture symbolizes the church, it fits! "The woman whom thou gavest" is responsible. Is it the woman, the church organization, that is to blame for our failure to study the Word? I used to think so. But no longer do I let the devil fool me on this point. If I fail to study, pray, and meditate, it is my own fault! Certainly the work piles up! Certainly there are a thousand details we think we must take care of! But the facts are, you and I as ministers still have freedom of choice, and if we allow the pressure of work to steal from us our right to spend time with God daily, then who is to blame? I don't care if the reader is the General Conference president or the youngest intern in Podunk Hollow, you and you alone are responsible for your success or failure in this all-important matter of personal devotions, serious study of the Scriptures, and preparation of powerful, Spirit- filled sermons.
The truth of the matter is, we are guilty of two extremes. The majority of those guilty, in all probability, fall in the extreme of those who engage in little or no Bible study. Then there are a few, perhaps more than a few, who may be diligent students of the Word, but so much of their study can be categorized as the proverbial "hair-splitting" type. For instance, at the moment there is much discussion on the nature of Christ, and so-called righteousness by faith. Without judging anyone, I wonder whether all the attention and concern being shown in the continuing dialog on these questions is the most profitable use of our time? If we were out on the front lines, wresting souls from the grip of Satan, perhaps some of this study would be meaningful, but all too often it is divisive in nature rather than being a deep, earnest searching for truth that not only waters the student's soul but enables him to be a better-equipped soul winner.
The first extreme mentioned, little or no Bible study, is not only dangerous but fatal to spiritual growth now and to eternal life later. Anyone, minister or layman, who permits the Bible to gather dust during most of the week has a slim chance of growing spiritually. If the Scriptures contain leaves from the tree of life, and if the purpose of the tree of life is for the healing of the nations, it becomes obvious that true success in the ministry is dependent to a large degree on our personal spiritual development through earnest, Spirit-led Bible study.
How can we experience death to self and life in Christ? How can we learn experimentally to ask, "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5). How can Jesus be real to us? What keeps us from falling into the cruel gears of sin? There is no other way than in and through the Word of God!
If a minister wants to be a human howitzer and deliver explosive sermons that will shatter hard hearts, then he must dwell long and earnestly in the arsenal of God's armory.
Laity Must Drink for Themselves
Why are the majority of our church members not drinking for themselves from the fountain of salvation, but depending upon the minister? Those ministers who feed the flock properly cannot help seeing a renewed interest in a study of the Word on the part of their members. A converted minister is not on an ego-trip, but stands as one who in spires his people to see God for them selves through a study of the Word.
God give us Ezras, who, wherever they labor, will bring about a revival in the study of the Word. Why? Because Ezra was "a scribe skilled in the law of Moses which the Lord the God of Israel had given" (Ezra 7:6, R.S.V.). We need Hilkiahs, who will discover the Scriptures hidden among the newspapers and magazines on top of the TV sets and then through consistent study will preach the word of truth to our congregations. We need men like King Josiah, who himself read "all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord" (2 Kings 23:2). A mighty reformation followed Josiah's determination. He solemnly covenanted before God to bring about the changes necessary, as outlined in the scrolls. Josiah never would have persevered in his work of cleansing the land of idolatry had it not been for the Scriptures! Here was his authority, his power, his motivation.
God give us Pauls Pauls who can command modern Timothys to diligently study the Word in order rightly to handle truth.
God give us more Luthers. Luther literally lived in the atmosphere of the Bible. He was a veritable Niagara of Biblical thought and writing. Before Luther's eyes, Christ and His righteousness leaped out of every page of the Scriptures.
God give us more men like Tyndale, who will, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, help our members open the closed Bibles in their homes.
God give us more Latimers, Ridleys, Husses, Cranmers, Barneses, Knoxes, and Friths, and help us, like them, to effectively lift high the divine authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures.
God give us more Jeremy Taylors, the kind who will join him in eloquently declaring, "If thou meanest to enlarge thy religion, do it rather by enlarging thine ordinary devotions than thine extraordinary."
God can take an ordinary man and do extraordinary things with him if he determines to carve out a portion of each day for spiritual growth.
God give us more Whites, Bateses, Andrewses, and Smiths, who loved the Word until it held first place in their lives and work. The secret, the power of the Advent Movement, was found in the long, long hours, both day and night, that our early pioneers spent in searching the Scriptures on their knees. They bathed its pages with their tears while pleading with God for enlightenment and truth.
Not Scholastic Misers
They were not scholastic misers who greedily closeted themselves with their books and secreted themselves from the world. No, their study had a twofold purpose. First, to experience the ways of God, and second, to share their discoveries of the gold of truth with others.
Finally, God give us more Robert Murray McCheynes, men who, like this young nineteenth-century minister of the Church of Scotland, advised a young man about Bible reading as related to his own prayer life, "You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Gene sis, read a Psalm also; or if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an Epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the First Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair be fore you, and kneel, and pray, 'O Lord, give me the blessedness of the man; let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly.' This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray."
Here was a man who refused to give to his people anything that had not cost him diligent application in study, meditation, and prayer.
Can Adventist ministers living in end time be any less diligent in searching the Scriptures?