Cled E. Wallace
It may be just one man’s opinion, but I’m pretty well fed up on preachers telling the brethren that they ought to imitate the Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They tell us that we ought to copy the reverence of the Catholics, put on a poker face a few steps before we enter the meeting-house and maintain a pious stoicism until we are well away from the premises. They have not quite reached the point where they advocate that we dip our fingers in holy water and cross ourselves before we invade the sacred precincts. Now, I’m not minded to imitate the Catholics in anything. I do not like them that well. Christians should be reverent in both thought and manner when and where holy things are involved. Neither the name of the Lord nor anything it is connected with should be treated lightly, but the long-faced reverence of Catholics is unadulterated formalism, as outward as the signs of fasting and prayer the Pharisees carried about on their disfigured faces. Whoever tries to bind anything like that on the churches may just leave me out. It might save some trouble, for I propose to stay out anyway. The idolatrous reverence of Catholicism does not impress me favorably at all. Jesus and the apostles serve very well as patterns of reverence to me without recourse to a system which is a strange and fantastic mixture of paganism, Judaism, and a little Christianity sprinkled on for its flavoring effect. I beg to be excused from sharing anybody’s enthusiasm for that sort of thing. I knew a young woman who was brought up in the faith. She got tired of the gospel and joined the Episcopalians, for reasons I think she is not frank about acknowledging. She says: “O, they are so reverent.” The reverence which is fed by a robed priest waving a smoking censor and talking Latin is not the kind the brethren are likely to become interested in, be it said to their credit. Personally, I’d be ashamed to call their attention to it as an example for them to follow.
As for the Seventh Day Adventists, they would swell with pride if they could hear some of the brethren, a few preachers of course, brag on them. We are regaled with wild tales about the liberality of these people and the zeal they display in propagating their peculiar doctrines. “We ought to give like the Adventists.” We ought not to do anything of the kind. Adventism is a purely legalistic system. The members of the cult do not give, they are taxed. They pay into the church at least one tenth of their income or place themselves liable to excommunication. There is no freedom in the concern, not even to drink a cup of coffee. When somebody tells me that I ought to do like the Adventists, I’m likely to tell him to “go join them yourself if you want to” I’m not interested. Surely, Christians ought to give and work but not under the legalistic compulsion that propels the Adventist machine. “Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). That is good enough for Christians, even if it does leave out the Adventists. Paul did not say: “Be ye imitators of the Catholics and the Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.” He said: “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). When I’m teaching the brethren I prefer to cite a few scripture references in preference to the virtues real, or imagined, of some sectarian outfit. A brother who is more easily influenced by a Catholic or an Adventist than he is by what the Bible says, smells like a goat even if he does look like a sheep.
We claim to be a Bible people and a Bible speaking people. Of all things, we are seriously exhorted to imitate Jehovah’s Witnesses and traipse about from house to house with tracts and, I suppose, play a few records to longsuffering, if impatient, housewives. We are told to behold what these Jehovah’s Witnesses have accomplished along this line. They have succeeded admirably in getting a multitude of doors—slammed in their faces and generating a general reputation for being dupes and fanatics. They are not very welcome in the life of any community and are noted neither for the number nor the size of their permanent assemblies. It will not do Christians any good to act enough like them to become identified with them in the minds of the public. It is a profit-making system anyway. They peddle tracts and books to make money—for somebody. The Adventists are about as bad in this respect. They often conceal their identity to sell their doctrinal books at a handsome price. Some of their activities add up to false pretenses. The general public is not greeting doorknockers and religious tract peddlers these days with a holy kiss. They are identified as cranks and extremists and sect propagandists, off brand at that. And we are supposed to imitate them! It makes my white hair turn red to think about it.
Our problem is to get the New Testament before the people and impress upon them the importance of following its teaching. Both right and expediency argue that the danger of being classified as sectarian propagandists should be eliminated as far as is possible. Much good has been accomplished by a judicious use of literature, written by faithful and well-informed men. If we did not think so, we would cease publication at once. It is largely a local problem and zeal and wisdom should be combined in the solution of it. If handing a stranger a tract arouses hostility instead of interest, harm rather than good has been accomplished. The use of a little intelligence should determine to whom it should be handed. Even pearls can be scattered in the wrong places. I would not give a man a New Testament if I thought he were going to throw it in the waste-basket as soon as my back was turned and maybe while I was standing looking at him. There is another angle worth thinking about. Were I to invade a tract-infested community and wanted to do good and at the same time escape the odor of sectarian identification, I might turn the trick by giving some honest soul a New Testament, instead of another tract. Brethren should wisely use every effective means in getting the knowledge of the truth to as many of the wandering stars of current humanity as possible, but these fellows who do not miss an opportunity to brag on Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and exhort us to imitate them, ought to change records.