The hour comes in every reformatory movement when, with its founding fathers all sleeping in their graves, and a new generation of leaders in responsibility facing new and unprecedented conditions, it must review its founding purpose and determine anew that nothing shall deflect from that original course and objective. It comes, as it were, to an inevitable fork in the road. It must either go on with undeviating purpose, or swerving from that course, begin from that moment to lose its distinctive character and impelling force. . . . That we as a people have reached such an hour of review and reaffirmation, will become increasingly clear to all who give it thought. . . . [The] pioneers of this message gave their all, their very lives, that this last gospel message, based on the full threefold commission of Revelation 14, might come into being. And now these men are gone. We constitute the new generation, or group, that has come onto the stage of action. These precious truths have been bequeathed by them to us as a sacred legacy, but without that untransferable personal experience which made them mean so much to them. We must now go on with the banner of truth, or we shall go back. We must complete the task they so nobly began. We must consummate the movement they initiated, else we shall retrograde and lose our distinctive purpose in the world."
The impassioned words of a church leader who believes that recent theological discussions, attacks on the Spirit of Prophecy, and financial difficulties a la Davenport have brought the Adventist message to a perilous hour of decision? No.
These words, which seem so applicable and up-to-date to our ears in the 1980s, are almost half a century old! They come from a November, 1933, MINISTRY editorial by Editor L. E. Froom. As I chanced upon it and read his words, I was impressed again with Solomon's observation "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9).
In that nearly-fifty-year-old editorial Froom speaks of "dangers," "tendencies," and "perils" that beset the church. He warns of confusing mechanics with essentials, and accessories with fundamentals. Then he lists five things that, in his opinion, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not here to do, as well as four things it is here to do. In my opinion we would do well down in 1982 (almost 1983) to review Froom's counsel. First, the five things the church is not here to do:
1. "We are not here to build up an intricate system of dogmatic and systematic theology, with its philosophical ramifications."
2. "We are not here to build up costly and complicated organizations."
3. "We are not here to build up vast institutions."
4. "We are not here to build up a great educational system competitive with the world, and designed to match its philosophy."
5. "We are not here to vie with the vast humanitarium enterprises functioning impressively all about us."
One may or may not agree with each of Froom's observations. The point that struck me, however, was this: If in 1933 the editor of MINISTRY felt it necessary to warn the church against theological intricacies and attendant philosophical ramifications, if he felt it appropriate to warn against "costly and complicated organizations," "vast institutions," "a great educational system" that competes with the world, and humanitarian enterprises that vie with the world's, would he not feel a much greater urgency to do so today? For whatever reasons, we seem to be much more advanced in all these areas than we were nearly fifty years ago.
On this point, a comparison of certain items of the 1933 Statistical Report with that of 1981 (the latest available) is enlightening. According to this source, no Adventist educational institution offered instruction beyond the college level in 1933. A theological seminary for the church existed on paper only; a year-old action by the Autumn Council to establish a school of theology had encountered difficulties. In 1933 we had 3,329 church buildings worldwide, valued at some $9.6 million. Figures for 1981: 19,981 church buildings valued at more than $1.9 billion. In 1933 the church had 70 union conferences and missions, 455 local conferences and missions, and 3,392 ordained and licensed ministers. In 1981 we had about the same number of union conferences and missions (79), even fewer local conferences and missions (383); but the church employed 14,476 ordained and licensed ministers—more than four times the number of ministerial workers there was in 1933!
The institutional world of Adventism in 1933 included 69 publishing houses and branches; 112 hospitals, sanitariums, and treatment rooms; 2,064 primary schools; and 207 colleges, academies, and intermediate schools. These institutions employed 7,460 workers of all categories. By 1981 we had 50 publishing houses; 166 hospitals and sanitariums; 224 treatment rooms, clinics, and dispensaries; 3,921 primary schools; and 913 universities, colleges, and secondary schools. And these institutions employed 64,001 workers. Primary schools in 1933 enrolled 71,579 pupils and utilized 2,807 teachers. Beyond the primary level, 2,325 teachers instructed 23,481 students. For 1981, primary schools had 408,426 students and 16,983 teachers; beyond the primary level there were 11,119 teachers and 152,767 students.
One may argue, of course, that such figures simply reflect a growing work and that growth inevitably results in greater complexity and cost. One might also argue that the world we live in today is incredibly more complicated and expensive than the world of 1933. Still, Froom's cautions seem valid. For whatever reasons, we seem to be increasingly preoccupied with theological intricacies rather than with the simple, everlasting gospel. Our church could be (and should be) less complicated and expensive to operate.
Froom concludes his 1933 editorial with four things the church is here to do:
1. "We are here to give a specific message to men just prior to, and as the preparation for, the second coming of Christ."
2. "We are here to complete a given task before our deliverance."
3. "We are here to proclaim the hour of God's judgment now .in solemn session."
4. "We are to protest and warn against the moral fall of Christendom."
Of course, the church was doing many other things than these even back in 1933. Certainly, today it is carrying out the activities of 1933 on an even greater scale and has added many additional tasks. But in all our activity, we would do well to keep in mind that the problems of today are not really new problems; they are simply old ones in new dress. And this being so, perhaps we do not need new solutions as much as we need to apply the old ones.—B.R.H.