We must find a way to stop this cannibalization—this feeding frenzy in which members of Congress are seeking to destroy one another.
That was the essence of the message that I picked up from the news clips of the resignation of the man third in line to the presidency of the United States. Rather than admitting to having done something wrong, the speaker of the House pointed his finger squarely in the face of the Ethics Committee and the people who had the audacity to go out and try to "get the goods" on a prominent Democrat after members of that party saw to it that an apparently unfit Republican was not confirmed as secretary of defense. Emotion choking his voice, the speaker derided the system that had ridden him to the point of resignation.
A few weeks later I heard another resignation news clip. This time it was the head coach of a prominent collegiate basketball team. His team had come under severe discipline for having violated the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and this had led to his resignation.
Taking his cue from the speaker, the coach said nothing of personal guilt for having tried to get away with the equivalent of bribing top players to come to his school. Rather, he decried the foolishness of the system that prevented him from being able to buy even a pair of shoes for a needy player, and called for changes in the system.
If people in the limelight today are to be believed, there is almost no actual wrongdoing going on in our world. Rather, the "systems" on which the world runs all need modification to make them less restrictive.
Is it possible that this same attitude of "Who me, do something wrong? Of course not! It's the rules, not me, that need changing!" has infiltrated the church?
This question seems particularly relevant to the discussion of standards. I can't think of any standard or rule in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today that I haven't heard some "good and regular" church member argue against, either verbally or by lifestyle.
Some of my most severe trials as a pastor came about at times when I mustered up enough courage to call into question the behavior of people who wanted to be church officers without living up to the standards of the church. I was made to feel that I had intruded into the members' private lives in a way that I had no right to.
Does the church have the right to call into question its members' (including its ministers') behavior? Or did the church lose that right when automobiles made it possible for members to commute to church over long enough distances to allow them to live outside other members' scrutiny six days a week?
I will always remember the entries I found in an old church secretary's record book. The minutes of a church business meeting revealed that the church was deeply concerned over the report that someone had heard Brother Jones using coarse words in a cross way in speaking to his wife! The deacons were to inquire and bring back a report for possible disciplinary measures.
Perhaps the system was too restrictive in the days when every family fight had to be aired before the church corporeal. But today's system in which church members are allowed to flagrantly disregard standards, claiming that they need not heed the rules because the rules need changing, is no improvement.
In a democratic society, as well as in the church, we have the right to modify man-made rules to create a system that is just and calls members to righteousness. I hope that this issue of Ministry will be one constructive step toward helping our church to scrutinize the rules we ask our members to live by, and to bring them into harmony with the will of God for the last decade of the twentieth century. If some of our rules are irrelevant or illogical, or if we have failed to keep pace with the times and our rules do not even ad dress some issues that have become important in recent years, this encourages members to disregard the church's authority in all areas, not just the ones that need changing.
If changes need to be made, let's make them. But in the meantime let us not play games with ourselves by allowing each individual to decide which of the church's standards to live by and which to ignore. The church has standards because we believe that there are certain behaviors that are important to nurturing the spiritual growth of members, and because we know that we are strangers in an alien land where the devil prowls about seeking whom he may devour.
While it seems to be the vogue to call the system into question for being too restrictive, I for one would like to call the system into question for not being strict enough in applying constructive, corrective discipline to erring members. Will not the Master of the flock hold us responsible for the sheep we have allowed to stray unwarned into the lion's domain? —Kenneth R. Wade.