I was tasked with giving our weekly worship thought one week, stepping in to fill in for the scheduled speaker who was unable to be there. Of course, this meant I didn’t have much time to expound on whatever thoughts had been bubbling up in my mind (it was right before the holidays and as you can imagine, there were many things bubbling in my mind, least of which was a profound worship talk that would inspire and bless my lovely colleagues). In the eleventh hour, I came up with the idea to look through back issues of Adventist Review and see if there was something that would fit a holiday theme or just provide some interesting perspective to share. Our magazine has been around since 1849 (did you know that?), so I clearly needed to narrow the field down. I decided to see what had been said in 1975—the year I was born (fun fact: General Conference session 1975 in Vienna, Austria, officially opened on the day I was born—July 10). To narrow things down further, I decided on the Christmas issue—December 25, 1975. Thinking I would certainly find something to share on the Christmas theme, I flipped through. But what I settled on was something I wasn’t expecting at all. If you are familiar with our much-loved former editor Ken Wood, reading his profound words from 43 years ago, which bear such a relevant message for today, will be a treat. See for yourself.
A few weeks ago we received the following letter from a retired minister: “For a long time I have been disturbed about something in the articles that appear in the Review and in the messages presented by a number of leaders. . . . There are very strong messages directed to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, pointing out that we are far from what God intends us to be, and calling for deep repentance and reformation. To my mind there is a danger of discouraging some who are having real battles, and of causing many to lose confidence in the church and its leaders.
“Regardless of how much in need of reform the church is, it is still God’s church, the only one that has the last message to a dying world. There is not to be a successor or a better one. It is my church, and I find myself very disturbed and unhappy whenever it is painted in such unfavorable terms. It is the church that will take a triumphant people through to the kingdom; and if any in the church ever make a success of their Christian experience, it will be in the church and supporting it 100 percent. There is no other way.”
Without doubt many within the church share fully the sentiments of this letter. They deplore the serious note of repentance found in the messages issued by the 1973 and 1974 Annual Councils. They feel uncomfortable when the suggestion is made that we might now be in the kingdom if church leaders had been more faithful. They feel satisfied with the church’s evangelistic progress and spiritual condition.
We respect these people, and we wish we could agree with them. But we cannot. We agree that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s church for these times, the only church that is giving the special message needed in this judgment hour, but we feel we would be dishonest if we were to paint a flattering picture of the church. In general, the Newsfront section of the
Review strikes a high note of praise to God for the successes of the church. And most of the articles in the front part of the magazine sound a note of courage and set forth truth from a positive standpoint.
But we believe that the
Review should not be one-sided; it should fill the same kind of role as does the church pastor— “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The church paper must not cry “Peace and safety” in time of danger. Like the prophet Jeremiah, the Review must at times give an unpopular message; it dares not assure the church that all is well, as did Hananiah (see Jer. 28:9, 15-17), when God, through His Word and the Testimonies of the Spirit, points out sin and calls for the reformation.
As Ellen G. White reviewed the experience of Elijah in calling attention to the sins of ancient Israel, she was so stirred that she turned aside to say: “Today there is need of the voice of stern rebuke; for grievous sins have separated the people from God. . . . The smooth sermons so often preached make no lasting impression; the trumpet does not give a certain sound. Men are not cut to the heart by the plain, sharp truths of God’s Word.
“There are many professed Christians who, if they should express their real feelings, would say, What need is there of speaking so plainly? They might as well ask Why need John the Baptist have said to the Pharisees, ‘O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’ Why need he have provoked the anger of Herodias by telling Herod that it was unlawful for him to live with his brother’s wife? The forerunner of Christ lost his life by his plain speaking. Why could he not have moved along without incurring the displeasure of those who were living in sin?
“So, men who should be standing as faithful guardians of God’s law have argued till policy has taken the place of faithfulness, and sin is allowed to go unreproved. When will the voice of faithful rebuke be heard once more in the church?” (
Prophets and Kings, pp. 140, 141; see also p. 142).
Recently as we have studied the Bible we have been impressed anew that leaders have a solemn obligation to stand for right and rebuke wrongdoing. Had Eli fulfilled his assignment faithfully, what a different course might the history of Israel have taken! But because he closed his eyes to the sins of his sons and others, because he failed to correct the evils in the land, he died tragically, his sons were killed in battle, the ark was captured by the Philistines, and 30,000 Israelites were slain—“all because sin had been allowed to flourish unrebuked and unchecked” (
ibid., p. 416).
“What a lesson is this to men holding positions of responsibility today in the church of God! What a solemn warning to deal faithfully with wrongs that bring dishonor to the cause of truth! . . . Let none refuse to be reproved for evil, nor charge the servants of God with being too zealous in endeavoring to cleanse the camp from evil-doing. . . . A neglect to repent and to render willing obedience will bring upon men and women today as serious consequences as came upon ancient Israel” (
ibid., pp. 416, 417).
But while leaders must faithfully condemn evil and cleanse the camp from sin, they also must present clearly the wonderful love and mercy of God. They must encourage sinners to come to the Fount of living water and drink; or, to change the figure, to bring their spiritual sores to the Great Physician and obtain the balm of Gilead. This was the way Elijah worked (
ibid., p. 199). It was the way Jeremiah worked (ibid., p. 409; see also p. 675).
Thus, although some of our readers might feel more comfortable if we were to avoid all mention of the deficiencies of the church, we cannot do this. Serious wrongs must be righted. But as we call for repentance we shall endeavor always to provide courage and hope. Christ’s message to the church is: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19, KJV).