It was January, 1928. Calvin Coolidge sat silently in the White House, and Prohibition lay uneasily across the land. AI Capone roamed the streets of Chicago; people were still talking about Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic 8 months before; and the first 32-page Reader's Digest-size issue of MINISTRY came from the press.
Fifty years later, in 1978, Calvin Coolidge and Al Capone are little more than names in the history books, and the memory of Prohibition lingers only as a curious relic of a bygone age. Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis hangs in a Smithsonian museum. But MINISTRY still makes its regular appearance, just as it has every month since January, 1928.
Its dress has changed from time to time during the years, as one would expect of a growing journal that has now reached the respectable age of 50. Thus 1978 finds MINISTRY with a different for mat and contemporary graphics, but with essentially the same objectives and concerns to which it addressed itself fifty years ago. The Seventh-day Adventist minister of today, glancing through those initial copies, quickly realizes that the church then wrestled with most of the same issues it faces now; it dreamed the same dreams, and mourned the same deficiencies. After all, in spite of the tremendously different world that has developed since 1928, basic human needs have remained much the same, even though they may be expressed today in terms current.
As an example, the January, 1928, MINISTRY covered a wide range of topics—efficiency in the minister's work, leading the laity into service, the minister and his income (the advice given: live within your means by reducing your wants, economizing, and paying cash for everything), lack of time for adequate study, training ministerial students, securing interests, organizing the church, preaching, the ideal wife for a minister (the emphasis here was on keeping a well-ordered, cheerful home, which isn't such bad counsel even in this feminist age), Bible workers, victory over sin, and a three-page Bible study on the "everlasting gospel." All this and more is packed into 32 small pages! Apart from an occasional quaint phrase, one might be reading the current MINISTRY, and that is a terrible thing, actually.
As editors, we ought to be distressed that fifty years later we are still con ducting business as usual and in much the same way as our predecessors. For a commercial enterprise, it is an asset to be able to put up a sign: "Fifty years of service from the same location." Such a statement implies an established, reputable firm that is respected in the community. But for a journal such as MINISTRY, with the objectives of informing, inspiring, and fostering spiritual growth and ministerial excellence so that God's work on earth may be finished, a half century of "business as usual" (even when the product is a quality item, as we believe MINISTRY to be) is not a success for any of us—editors or readers.
We cannot conceive that fifty years from now, in 2028, MINISTRY will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. Surely earthly affairs will have been replaced by heavenly activities before then. But neither did those who prepared those early issues of MINISTRY anticipate that we would be continuing to produce the journal fifty years later! The first editors expressed the prayer that 1928 might be come "an outstanding milestone in the closing stretch of the advent pathway" (MINISTRY, January, 1928, p. 9). Yet that pathway has stretched and stretched far beyond our expectations, until the celebration of MINISTRY'S fiftieth anniversary should be a time for sorrow rather than an occasion for joy.
We cannot look with pride upon fifty years of uninterrupted publishing when we know that the Lord desired to return years ago. We can only ask ourselves—as should every worker and member of God's church—"In what way have I personally delayed the coming of my Saviour? How may I hasten the day?"
The very first issue of MINISTRY also carried an article dealing with righteousness by faith—that topic so conspicuous in the church at present. The following quotation might have been penned last week rather than half a century ago: " 'Righteousness by faith' is not a slogan or a catch phrase. It is not merely a doctrine to receive mental assent. It is a living experience that must become a personal actuality in all who shall triumph with the movement. It is not a thing apart from the movement; it is its very essence—'the third angel's message in verity.' " —L. E. Froom, MINISTRY, January, 1928, p. 5.
Although in the current climate of theological dissection some would no doubt take issue with the statement that righteousness by faith is "a living experience," can we not all at least agree that unless righteousness by faith results in a living experience we have neither righteousness nor faith and, of course, no experience?
If, theologically speaking, righteousness by faith is not itself an experience, is it not so inextricably bound up with a Jiving experience that to try to separate the two is like trying to separate Siamese twins who share vital organs? Righteousness by faith, divorced from sanctification, is a lifeless presumption, and sanctification, apart from justification, is a pathetic attempt of the impossible. Unless both are indissolubly joined in a living experience within the Christian life, the result is a grotesque parody of salvation.
What a tragedy that 90 years after 1888 and half a century following the inception of MINISTRY we are still here, analyzing and defining Christ our righteousness, instead of worshiping Him face to face in heaven!
Could part of the reason be that we have been more willing to analyze and define than to experience and worship? Could it be that Satan laughs up his sleeve as we sally forth to theological combat with one another instead of turning the weapons of our warfare against the common enemy? It was this attitude in 1888 and the years immediately following that retarded the advance and aborted the second coming of Christ. Shall it be so again?
This is by no means to say that truth is unimportant or that error should be glossed over for the sake of harmony. But it is to say that we must guard against self even when it appears in a guise of zeal for truth. It is to say that we must be careful not to become so preoccupied with determining what the truth is, that we lose sight of Him who is the Truth.
We sincerely hope that fifty years from now no future editor of MINISTRY will read these lines and wonder why the end has not yet come. At this late date, as MINISTRY marks fifty years of publication, we want to repeat the prayer of 1928 in earnest humility: "May this year become an outstanding milestone in the closing stretch of the Advent pathway. May real growth in grace and fellowship mark its progression, may enlarged vision and vaster accomplishments be written into its record."