Just the other day our editorial associate, Rex D. Edwards, received a letter accusing him and the General Conference staff at large of incipient Catholicism. The letter came in reaction to an editorial, "Outward Structure, Inward Faith," published in the March, 1985, MINISTRY. In the editorial Edwards called baptism and the Lord's supper "sacraments," and apparently this terminology provoked our reader.
The letter quotes two Ellen G. White warnings of Protestant accommodation to Catholicism, suggesting that the terminology used in the editorial was evidence that our own church was disregarding those warnings. Specifically, the writer worries that we are "running after Rome" and that "our leaders and writers are sitting at the feet of the Jesuits."
Perhaps this incident piqued my ire particularly because when I was in college someone ragged me for the same reason—although good-naturedly, in my case. My consciousness having thus been raised, I had later noticed that Ellen White herself used the term sacrament. When the accusatory letter came, I went downstairs to the White Estate office and documented more fully my earlier discovery.
The laser disc concordance revealed that Ellen White used the terms sacrament and sacramental twenty-five times, mostly in a positive sense. In the chapter on Communion in The Desire of Ages she uses these words quite frequently (see pages 650, 653, 655, 659). One beautiful statement in the chapter says: "The light shining from that Communion service in the upper chamber makes sacred the provisions for our daily life. The family board becomes as the table of the Lord, and every meal a sacrament."—Page 660.
In a letter replying to our critic, Edwards pointed out that the term sacrament did not originate in Catholicism. Both its historical roots and its broad ecclesiastical usage make it meaningful as well as appropriate for Adventists.
But the writer's accusation doesn't concern me nearly as much as the attitude that I perceive behind it. I've seen this suspicion and mistrust too frequently both within and outside of the church. Politics and religion seem particularly prone to raising them.
I wonder whether a distorted or extreme apocalypticism isn't at least partially responsible for this attitude. Apocalyptic prophecy presents a simple picture: The world is divided into two camps, the good and the evil. Those who are evil are actively so—they're malicious, devious, et cetera.
The apocalyptic picture is accurate in that we are either good or evil, depending on whether or not we are in Christ. And I believe that earth's final events will clearly reveal a difference in character as well as profession. But for now we are unperfected sinners, growing in grace. We should regard others in the way we wish them to regard us—as sincere though fallible.
An unbalanced apocalypticist, however, tends not to give others this benefit of the doubt. He doesn't really trust anyone. He expects the worst from those within the church as well as those outside of it. He is most likely to trust those most like himself. And so church administrators, scholars, pastors, and evangelists look askance at each other. Laypeople distrust those employed to lead the church, and the church leaders reciprocate the feelings. (My apocalyptic roots are revealing themselves—I've overgeneralized. But too often this is true.)
Jesus said that love would characterize His disciples (John 15:12, 17; see also 1 John 3:11; 4:20, 21). More specifically, Scripture counsels, "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3, R.S.V.). And, "I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think." "Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor" (Rom. 12:3, 10, R.S.V.; see also chap. 14:10, 13; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13; 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:10).
In fairness, I must commend the letter writer for one thing. He may not have presented his argument graciously or humbly, but he did challenge the one he suspected. Too many broadcast their accusations to others without evincing any concern for the salvation of the one committing the "sin." I don't mean this editorial to imply that we should never correct others. We all make mistakes, spiritual as well as other kinds. We all need correction at times.
But when we believe someone has done the wrong thing, let's first check our facts carefully, not jumping to conclusions. And let's presume each other's good intentions. Let's approach the "guilty" party as a brother or sister in Christ, equally as serious about God's will and our church as we are.—D.C.J.