This is an excerpt from an opening address given at the Autumn Council in Fort Worth, Texas, by James L. McElhany, president of the General Conference. The full address was published in the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 3, 1936. This excerpt has been edited for space.—Editors.
When I was a boy, the city where I lived hired a large company for a street paving job. The firm employed hundreds of men, and they worked for a long time, spending thousands of dollars to complete the project. When they finally finished the work and asked the city to accept it, the authorities rejected the whole job and refused to pay a cent. They gave just one reason: “Not according to specifications.” The contracting firm had failed to do the job according to the specified plan.
Dear brethren, are we doing our work according to specifications? We are builders. We are helping to cast up the King’s highway. May God help us as faithful workmen to do the task according to specifications.
I am absolutely confident regarding the triumph of this message. I am courageous and optimistic about its going forward to victory. At the same time, I believe that to be a faithful watchman, I must not allow my optimism to blind me. When danger appears or evil intrudes, I believe it ought to be pointed out in a tactful way.
TWO DANGERS FACING US
I believe there are two dangers we face today: those from without, and those from within. I believe it is the latter we need to fear more. Ellen White wrote: “We have far more to fear from within than from without. The hindrances to strength and success are far greater from the church itself than from the world,”¹
Just as it was in Nehemiah’s day, so it is today. The modern Sanballats and Tobiahs and Geshems stand off and watch the work of God, and they criticize it. They criticize the way it is done. They find fault with the work, and with those who do it. But thank God, back in the days of Nehemiah they did not stop the work, and they will not stop it today. They may criticize what we do, the way we do it, the things we stand for; they may criticize those who do the work. But under God, if we are consecrated to Him, they can never stop the work itself. It is God’s work. It is not the dangers from without that we should fear, but those from within.
As I have meditated on it, I have come to believe that our greatest danger today is the widely prevalent attitude many members have of accepting with apparent satisfaction their present low spiritual condition, and not being very much concerned about it.
Along with that is the failure of some leaders to sound a call to a new and higher spiritual life in the church. My brethren, I believe that call should be sounding today. Thank God there are those who are sounding it. But I believe that call ought to be going forth from every leader in this cause today.
TIME FOR A THOROUGH REFORMATION
We cannot close our eyes to some of the things God has shared with us through His messenger. “Unless the church, which is now being leavened with her own backsliding, shall repent and be converted, she will eat of the fruit of her own doing, until she shall abhor herself. When she resists the evil and chooses the good, when she seeks God with all humility and reaches her high calling in Christ, standing on the platform of eternal truth and by faith laying hold upon the attainments prepared for her, she will be healed. She will appear in her God-given simplicity and purity, separate from earthly entanglements, showing that the truth has made her free indeed. Then her members will indeed be the chosen of God, His representatives. The time has come for a thorough reformation to take place.”²
We read on: “When this reformation begins, the spirit of prayer will actuate every believer, and will banish from the church the spirit of discord and strife.”³ Oh, let us pray God that this reformation may be hastened to banish from the church “the spirit of discord and strife.”The spirit of discord and strife is not nourished in an attitude or atmosphere of prayer, is it?
I want to say that I believe we as workers today are to a large degree responsible for this spirit of doubt, laxness, and unbelief.
I recently received a letter from a young man in one of our schools. “Our lives are molded by our environment as we grow up,” he wrote. “I heard of a preacher not long ago who condemned meat eating, and less than one hour later he and three others who were on the platform saying ‘Amen’ were eating meat in a restaurant. I don’t know what the Lord is going to do about it, but He should do something about it.”
That’s the young man’s comment. You may say that young man is probably an extremist. But that is really not the important thing about this letter. It is not what the young man is, but rather what the preachers are, who set that kind of example, who stand on the platform and say one thing, uphold one principle, then go away and contradict it by another in the practice of their lives.
My dear brethren, I do not believe we have far to go to find the causes of unbelief and doubt when we as leaders set that kind of example before the people. The really alarming thing is not just what that young man may say, but the fact that many of our believers have lost faith in their leaders because of the inconsistency in their lives and practices.
Leaders, we ought to be setting a consistent example by putting into practice the reforms called for by the Spirit of Prophecy. How can we hope to have the confidence and the respect of the people when we are inconsistent? How can we talk about a spiritual revival and reformation when we set that kind of example?
LIFT UP THE TRUMPET
We also need a reformation in the matter of preaching the coming of the Lord. I believe the thing that makes Seventh-day Adventists is the preaching of the coming of the Lord; and standing as we do, surrounded by the thickening evidences of His coming, why should we be dumb on a subject so vital as this?
We ought to “lift up the trumpet, and loud let it ring,” for Jesus is coming again. This movement is founded on that blessed truth, and every preacher ought to sound it and repeat it everywhere.
I believe the Lord is still with His people. The Laodicean church is also the translation church. The very church rebuked for its misdemeanors is the church that is to be translated into the kingdom of God. This knowledge gives me courage. We can labor on with the greatest assurance that this cause will triumph!
¹ Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Mar. 22, 1887. ² Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 8, pp. 250, 251. ³ Ibid., p. 251.