The Elder's Example

Our example as a way to influence others.

Carl Coffman is chairman of the Department of Religion, Andrews University.

ONE of the greatest sources of con fusion, particularly for the youth of the church, is found in the varying interpretations of the Bible that are taught, and the conflicting sets of standards that are lived by the older members of the church. The pastoral family, the local elder family, the Sabbath school superintendent family, the church school teacher family, one's own family, may present to the eighth-grade girl, or the sophomore boy, five very noticeably different ways to keep the Sabbath, to dress, to eat, to relate to public entertainment—you name it. Yet all read from the same Bible and the same Spirit of Prophecy collection.

This same problem confuses members of all ages, and is particularly con fusing to those who are at the point of entering the church through baptism. How often, when presenting Bible standards in a series of Bible studies, we must face very difficult questions from these sincerely interested people.

It is not the purpose here to try to out line a set of principles for correct Bible interpretation or to present a set of Bible standards that are "the" standards for all to follow. The purpose rather is this: The local church elder is looked up to as the leader of the church. There fore, it must be his objective to rightly divide the word of truth, to study both the Bible and the Ellen G. White writings diligently and prayerfully—with the end result that his interpretations and standards be such that God can approve—and thus serve to direct and up lift those of lesser maturity, rather than to disappoint and mislead them.

You are here asking, Will anyone ever arrive at all of the correct interpretations of Scripture? Will someone ever find a set of standards that can be accepted as Biblically reliable, as neither compromising nor fanatical? The easy answer to both questions is No. The challenge, however, is, How much can we learn from the Teacher of divine truth, who wants to teach us all things (John 14:26), if we really lay aside our preconceptions, conveniences, rationalizations, prejudices, selfish desires, and study diligently to determine just what God wants us to be and do?

As an ordained minister of the gospel, I have great responsibility before my God. As an ordained church elder, you have great responsibility before your God. It is correct to state that our great est responsibility as ministers and elders is to submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we diligently study the messages of prophets and apostles who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). From this study we must present guidance for our people that is not fanatical or compromising. And in it all we must lead men and women to Christ, through whom we are strengthened to do all things that He asks (Phil. 2:13; 4:13).

Need Classes in Heaven

Please do not miss the point. We will never understand all of God's inspired writings while on this earth. God Him self has told us that. And He will have classes in heaven where we can continue to learn of Him throughout eternity. But there are many truths that we could see much more clearly than we do if we would let God daily anoint our eyes with eyesalve (Rev. 3:18). That is where our responsibility to God lies, not in forming "the" infallible sets of correct interpretations and standards for all others to follow.

Yet, just as surely as we let God's eyesalve do its work, the Holy Spirit will guide us to new corrections of interpretation and clearer concepts of the high standards that God has for those who would become like Him. Then, immediately and continually, our example to the less mature would serve to help them upward rather than to further con fuse and discourage them.

There is a striking statement in the book Fundamentals of Christian Educa tion, pages 288, 289, upon which we could profitably meditate for some time. It says this: "As the truth is brought into practical life, the standard is to be elevated higher and higher, to meet the requirements of the Bible. This will necessitate opposition to the fashions, customs, practices, and maxims of the world. Worldly influences, like the waves of the sea, beat against the fol lowers of Christ to sweep them away from the true principles of the meekness and grace of Christ; but they are to stand as firm as a rock to principle. . . . We are not to elevate our standard just a little above the world's standard; but we are to make the line of demarcation decidedly apparent. . . .

Regarded as Odd, Singular

"The reason we have had so little influence upon unbelieving relatives and associates is that we have manifested little decided difference in our practices from those of the world. Parents need to awake, and purify their souls by practicing the truth in their home life. When we reach the standard that the Lord would have us reach, worldlings will regard Seventh-day Adventists as odd, singular, strait-laced extremists. 'We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.' "

Note that it is not God who labels these people as extremists. Rather, the worldlings do. God simply says that they have reached the standard He would have them reach. Isn't that a challenge to you as a church elder? I am a minister, and a Bible teacher on a college campus. In such a position, I am also a local church elder. So the appeal is to me. And my life must serve to lead college youth, fellow church members, the boys and girls in my neighborhood, and those who have no church, heaven ward. I dare not contribute to any position that permits the less mature to use me as an excuse to live in a way that God does not approve.

When Jesus had finished washing the feet of the twelve, He said: "I have given you an example" (John 13:15). His en tire life was not only an example of how to serve but of how to love, how to live, how to teach, how to uplift, how to avoid the influences of the world in which He lived. As young Timothy faced a future of leadership for God, Paul told him: "Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12, R.S.V.). Can our commitment to God and church office allow us anything less as our objective?

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Carl Coffman is chairman of the Department of Religion, Andrews University.

August 1976

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