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IS IT in vain that the Lord instructed His people that the closing time of this Gospel Age would be an "hour of temptation" coming upon the whole world? (Revelation 3:10.) Surely we have not been taught of the Lord in vain! and so, all loyal to Him are buckling on the breastplate, the helmet and the sandals, and are taking the sword and the shield. If we have not yet entered into fierce conflicts, we know that we are to expect them; and we should be prepared, and have such practise and experience as would enable us to acquit ourselves valiantly in "the hour of temptation."
Since we are instructed that this "hour of temptation" cometh upon the whole world, as well as upon the Church, we perceive that it must be something in the air, as it were, that would affect everybody. We believe that this temptation is a thing spreading itself gradually in every direction; and the Master assured us that unless these days would be cut short by the establishment of His Kingdom in the hands of the Elect, no flesh would survive.
We understand this to mean that the spirit of selfishness and ambition, which is already operating among the nations and driving them insanely to war for commercial supremacy, is the spirit which will increase more and more, and will involve everybody, everywhere. This spirit is seen in the strikes, etc., of our own land—everybody anxious to serve self, and willing to fight for honors, privileges, positions, etc.
But we are more interested in the Church and in seeing how this "hour of temptation" will involve the Lord's people. What we are about to write is far from what we would prefer, but it seems to be our duty as respects the Lord's Cause and people. We believe that a great crisis is upon the Bible students; and that the sooner it is discerned, the more successfully it may be passed. It may mean divisions; but as the Apostle remarked, divisions are sometimes necessary that the approved course and the approved doctrines and the approved methods may be discerned, and that the true teachers be the more fully appreciated.—1 Corinthians 11:18,19.
Before mentioning the sad feature, we mention one for general encouragement; namely, that, so far as we can discern, through intercourse with the friends at conventions, etc., there was never a time when the rank and file of Bible Students possessed such a spirit of meekness, gentleness, patience, love, intelligence, faith, joy, as now.
It causes real grief to write that much of the difficulty and danger to the Church seems to lie at the door of the Elders and Deacons—not all, thank God, but apparently a small minority of them, judging from the queries which come to the Office from time to time from the bewildered sheep, who seek advice as to their proper course. The [R5981 : page 328] true, loyal servants in the Church should be all the more appreciated by the Lord's people in proportion as they realize the difference between true Elders and Deacons and those who are untrue. Nor are we writing with a view to the discouragement of the unfaithful, but rather to open their eyes to the true situation, that perchance they may be recovered out of the snare of the Adversary and become helpers of the Lord's Flock, instead of hinderers.
So far as we are able to judge, the same conditions prevail today amongst Bible Students which the Apostle pointed out to the Elders of the Church of Ephesus when he charged them: "Take, therefore, heed unto yourselves and all the Flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God which He hath purchased with the blood of His own [Son]." (Acts 20:28.) St. Paul's prophecy came true: "After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the Flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, Brethren, I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace."—Acts 20:29-32.
As it was ambition which first misled Lucifer, and converted a glorious servant of God into an adversary, so it is his spirit that has been dangerous all the way down. The spirit of our Master was the very reverse of this. "He humbled Himself, even unto death," in the doing of the will of the Father. We see nothing of the spirit of pride or ambition or self-seeking of any sort in our Master. We are warned by the Apostle to humble ourselves after His example, if we desire to be exalted with Him in His Kingdom.
But how many seem to forget entirely these Scriptures, which we so frequently bring to the attention of the Lord's people as essential to our attaining to any position in the Kingdom! From reports given us, a horrible state of affairs prevails in some Classes when an election is to be held. The servants of the Church attempt to be rulers, dictators—sometimes even holding the chairmanship of the meeting with the apparent object of seeing that they and their special friends shall be elected as Elders and Deacons. We have heard of cases in which an Elder refused to speak to one of the Congregation because the latter had not voted for him. Yet doubtless that very Elder would think himself the personification of modesty, humility and meekness.
Oh, for shame that such a spirit should have any place amongst those who have any knowledge of the teachings of God's Word and of the conditions upon which we may hope for joint-heirship with the Master! Of course, there are various degrees of brazen-facedness in such matters. Some quietly try to take advantage of the Class by having the election at some time which is especially favorable to them and their friends. Others seek to pack the meeting with their friends, bringing in comparative strangers, who have no thought of being regular in attendance at the Class, but come merely as an act of friendship to vote for one of their friends.
Additionally, it may generally be expected that such as manifest an ambition of this kind to be leaders and teachers and to ignore the principles of the Golden Rule, as well as the special instructions for the New Creation, are generally the ones who bring in false doctrines. The same ambitious spirit of the Adversary which leads them to strive for honor in the Class seems to lead them on to pose as great teachers—bringers forth of new light. This also, the Apostle explains, is a characteristic of Satan. He says, "What wonder if he transforms himself into an angel of light"—makes himself to appear a leader amongst the children of light.—2 Corinthians 11:14.
In many cases, the Classes are solely to blame, according to their own statement. In some instances, persons have been elected to Eldership who had not even made a profession of consecration to the Lord or who had not symbolized their consecration. Why? Because the Class happened to be without any special talent, and the one who was not a Brother at all, not a New Creature in Christ, was chosen because he had some speaking talent. What could we expect from such a one being exalted to the position of a teacher amongst Bible Students? We could expect only injury to the Cause and injury to the person thus pushed forward contrary to the directions of the Lord's Word. If the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit himself, how could he communicate things of the Spirit to the Lord's consecrated ones? How could we expect the Lord to guide such a one, who had not given over his life to be a footstep-follower of the Lord and to be instructed by His Word?
The selection of improper leaders is evidently a sin, and quite a reflection against the Classes who have the improper leaders. How could such get into positions to represent the Lord's people, except by the latter's votes? When will the Lord's people learn that ability to talk in public is only one of the qualifications of an Elder? Time and again we have noted how the Lord's Cause has been hindered, and spirituality amongst the brethren has been stifled, by attempts to imitate the nominal church in putting forward persons glib of tongue, lacking in spirituality.
In such a case, is it not pride on the part of the Class—a desire to make a fair show in the flesh before the world? If not, why do they elect such persons? If they have made a mistake, why do they not at once rectify it in a quiet and positive manner? When Elders seek to bring the Class under their power and control and succeed, does it not show that the Class lacks the very quality that the Lord tells us He desires to see—courage, overcoming? And does the Class not injure such a would-be ruler, as well as itself, by permitting him to succeed in his unscriptural methods?
We have already alluded to the ambitious and selfish spirit in the world leading on to anarchy; and we have just pointed out how the same selfish, ambitious spirit is leading on to anarchy in the Church. We foresee a Time of Trouble for the world upon this score, and a Time of Trouble also for the Church. The world cannot purge itself of this class; for the leaders and the led have the worldly spirit, which is sure to wax worse and worse. But not so in the Church of Christ. Ours is the spirit of the Master, the spirit of loyalty to Truth, the spirit of the Golden Rule, the spirit of brotherly love, the spirit of liberty and helpfulness, the spirit of fidelity to what we believe to be the Truth. It is inexcusable for the Church, possessed of this spirit, to continue under the domination of ambitious men (and sometimes ambitious women). If they have not been conducting their Class affairs along proper lines, should they not begin at once? We believe that this is the time in which to set the House of the Lord in order.
But some one will say, "We would have a great disturbance if we attempted to do anything contrary to the wishes of those who have fastened themselves upon us as our leaders and rulers. To make a move at all, would endanger a division of the Class, and how could we think of anything which would result in that catastrophe?"
But, we inquire, which would be the better, to have a [R5982 : page 329] smaller Class operating along the lines which the Lord has indicated, or a larger Class upholding principles contrary to the Lord's provision, injuring themselves, hindering their influence, and encouraging as a leader one who is either a "wolf" or else a "sheep" which has been mistakenly misled into the wolf spirit? We encourage all the dear Brethren who are in such trouble to be very heroic; to see that they do nothing from strife or vain-glory, but everything in the spirit of meekness and love, that they may get back again to the liberty wherewith Christ made free, and be not again entangled in any human bondage.
Repeatedly Bible Students write us that their Elders try to hinder them from the use of the WATCH TOWER SOCIETY'S publications as textbooks in Bible Study. Some of these Elders go so far as to tell the classes that they are out of harmony with many of the things in these textbooks. Sometimes, as rulers, they forbid the use of these in the classes. We are asked what should be done under such circumstances.
We reply, Let those who wish to follow such leaders do so—that is their right. We shall wish them well. But let us not follow with them nor submit for a moment to such arrangements. It is the height of impertinence for such a leader to intrude himself in such a manner, and attempt to tell the Church what they shall and what they shall not do. As the power of election is in the hands of the Church, so the power of dismission is in their hands. We recommend that such Classes vote to dismiss such an Elder from his position of service, telling him kindly that his services are no longer desired. Perhaps with a back seat for a while, and an opportunity for thinking over the matter, he may be benefited himself, and the Class also be greatly helped forward by taking such a stand—no matter whether there be no other person in the Class able to address a public meeting or accustomed to leading Classes. Far better would it be to appoint any one of your number to act as chairman, or to take turns in the matter of opening and closing meetings—anything to preserve your liberty and to continue the work of worship and study along proper lines.
Let us make a discrimination between the positive teachings of the Bible—the doctrines of Christ—and the slightly variant ways of expressing those doctrines. We are not to expect any two persons to use exactly the same words; but there are certain doctrines which are fast and immovable from the viewpoint of the majority of Bible Students. Any one not in good harmony with those presentations should not be encouraged in the slightest degree, but, on the contrary, should be discouraged. If he has different views, do not persecute him—do not follow the style of the Dark Ages, but follow the proper course of letting him "flock to himself," or with as many as prefer to view matters as he views them.
We have not given such strong advice heretofore; but we perceive that many of the dear sheep are being troubled, hindered of development and imposed upon. We see that proportionately such Elders and Deacons are growing more bold, and hence the need is the greater that all who do have the right spirit, and who realize that, under the Lord's guidance in our study of the Divine Plan of the Ages, we have not been following "cunningly devised fables," should now take a positive stand for the good of themselves, for the good of the leaders who manifest a wrong spirit, and for the good of the public, who are inquiring for the way of the Lord as never before.
While we are encouraging positiveness and courage, we are not wishing to encourage a spirit of strife, or of nagging and fault-finding amongst the faithful servants of the Lord who do manifest the humble spirit and who do accord the Class its rights and liberties and who seek to "serve well." Again we repeat, "Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory, but all to the glory of God," and with the sole object in view of purging the Church of the influence of those who never should have been chosen, or having been chosen in proper condition, have since manifested a perverted and ambitious spirit. Again we counsel for these positiveness, but kindness and, if they repent, mercy—with a view possibly to restoring them to confidence later on. The Apostle wrote, "I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must also be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." (1 Corinthians 11:18,19.) Here the division evidently must come; and evidently the sooner it comes, the better it will be for the Truth and for all who love it.
We should never forget the Apostle's instruction, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14.) Additionally, experience demonstrates to us that even after we have been begotten of the Holy Spirit, our ability to understand spiritual things depends, not only upon our study of the Scriptures, which are able to make us wise, but also upon the measure of the Holy Spirit which we possess. Hence the Apostle's exhortation, "Be ye filled with the Spirit!"—Ephesians 5:18.
This means that only the spirit-begotten may understand the deep things of God at all; and that their understanding would be in proportion as they attain more and more a filling, a saturation with the spirit of holiness, the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ, the spirit of Truth. Every Bible Student should realize that if, as a New Creature, he walks after the flesh and not after the Spirit, his mind will become more or less darkened, and not only will his ability to understand the deep things of God decrease, but even his recollection of the Lord's Word will decrease; and that, on the contrary, when he is living near to the Lord—walking after the Spirit and not after the flesh—his memory of the Divine Word and his ability to appreciate its Spirit are increased.
Additionally, let us remember that a correct understanding of the Lord's Word is not enjoyed by all the educated and talented, but comes to those who are of a meek and teachable heart, who study the Lord's Word and who live it and absorb its spirit. Thus we have illustrated to us the Divine declaration, "Not by might [greatness], nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts."—Zechariah 4:6.
The lesson to us is that no matter how great, no matter how able any brother or sister may be, this will not make such fit to be a leader of the Lord's people unless he have additionally the all-important items—first, a knowledge of the Lord's Word; and second, the possession of a good degree of the spirit of Truth—one who always dare be trusted as an ambassador of the Lord. None others should be recognized as teachers or leaders amongst the Lord's people. It is the thought of Churchianity that only the great, the learned, the talented, should be the ministers of the Lord's Word; but the Bible's presentation is to the contrary of this. "The spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the Good Tidings to the meek."—Isaiah 61:1.
It is in view of these things that we feel justified in urging upon the Classes of Bible Students everywhere that they esteem with double honor such Elder brethren as manifest the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of meekness, the spirit of gentleness, the spirit of patience, the spirit of long-suffering, the spirit of brotherly-kindness, and the spirit of love—those who have a good knowledge of the Word of God and of the Divine Plan, and who manifest an appreciation of the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of holiness, and who have an aptness to teach; and that on the contrary, all others be refused.
Long ago we called attention to the fact that many of the titles applied by the nominal church to their ministers are wholly un-Scriptural—Reverend, Most Reverend, Doctor of Divinity, etc. They are not only opposed to the letter, but also to the spirit of the Scriptures. We called attention to the fact that the words Elder, Deacon and Pastor are Scriptural terms. We also called attention to the Latin title, Verbi Dei Minister (V.D.M.), and stated that this expresses exactly the Bible thought that every representative of Christ who preaches in public is a Minister of the Divine Word—not a minister of human creeds or of self. All Bible Students approved of God and of His people are of necessity Ministers of the Divine Word—each according to his talents, opportunities and restrictions, as set forth in the Bible.
In view of the fact that quite a good many Classes of Bible Students seem to be not sufficiently particular in respect to the qualifications of those whom they choose as their representatives, we formulated a number of questions styled, V.D.M. Questions, believing that the study of these questions would be helpful to everybody, and that the answers of them would help to mark out such as have a reasonable knowledge of the Divine Word, and whose ministries, therefore, it might be hoped would be profitable and not injurious. These questions are not sectarian, but would be proper for any minister of any denomination. Neither are they catch questions, intended to trip up the unwary. They are simple bona fide queries, the answering of which should be helpful to each individual, and especially helpful in designating those fit to be teachers and leaders amongst the Lord's people.
These we prepared and sent to the Pilgrims—the traveling preachers sent forth under the auspices of the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY, and to all representatives of the Society in any capacity everywhere. Next came applications from Elders and Deacons in [R5983 : page 330] various quarters, and from others of the Bible Students. Then we advised that the questions be studied and answered, as formulated, by all Bible Students. We received many applications, and many of these have been filled out and returned. It is our recommendation to all the Classes that any brother not able to answer these questions in a reasonable way be not considered a suitable representative.
In order that all Bible Students may have these questions and note their simplicity, we publish them below. Brothers Sturgeon, Burgess and Stephenson have been appointed a committee to examine the answers sent in by the Pilgrims. We have no doubt that every one of their answers will be found satisfactory as a whole. None will be rejected except for good cause, and this will be duly pointed out. By vote the New York City Class decided that none should serve it as Elders or Deacons who could not give a reasonably satisfactory reply to these questions. We suggest a somewhat similar course in all the Classes. The examiners of the answers could either be a committee from the Class or, if desired, the Society's representatives above mentioned, to examine the answers and give their criticisms upon request.
Note: It is, of course, expected that each person filling out one of these reports will do so from his own knowledge and not by inquiring for or copying the answers of others. The BIBLE, STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES and TABERNACLE SHADOWS may be consulted, however, and citations given.
One, and only one, objection was raised to the foregoing—a fear that it is Babylonish, Sectarian. Ah! it is wonderful how the great Adversary strives always to make out that the right is wrong, that the light is darkness. Babylon's method is to take all power and authority out of the hands of the people of God and put it into the hands of one person or a clique of preachers or bishops or elders. Our aim continually is to preserve the liberty of each ecclesia and have each recognize its own authority and responsibility.
I remind you that sectarianism is an attempt on the part of many companies or classes to control each other in matters of doctrine and practise. We are suggesting nothing of this kind, but feel as much opposed to it as you do. We are not attempting to establish any law or rule which must govern all the classes of the Lord's people, but merely suggesting to them the establishment of law and order in their own midst, by themselves.
For instance, each member of every class in voting for Elders and Deacons should certainly consider before voting the qualifications of those for whom he votes: (1) What [R5983 : page 331] are his religious professions as respects faith in the teachings of the Bible on the fundamental points; (2) Whether or not the one to be voted for is clear in his understanding of the Truth so as to be apt at teaching it to others; (3) Whether or not the individual has made a consecration of himself to the Lord and has symbolized it; (4) Whether or not the individual manifests a high standard of morals in his deportment, and whether or not he is in sympathy with high ideals such as are represented in the Vow.
Heretofore, the classes have been obliged to surmise on these subjects, and our proposal now is that they do not surmise, but ask the brethren our list of V.D.M. Questions or any other set of questions which the class may prefer, and have their answers to these questions before deciding that they are suitable representatives of the class as its honored servants. This maintains the authority of the class, the Ecclesia, as no sectarian system does, and makes the class the judges of the qualifications of its representatives as the Bible directs should be shown by the stretching forth of the hand and the ordaining or authorizing of the individual to serve as a representative of the class.
I reply that each class certainly has the right to recognize or appoint certain brethren in whose judgment they would have confidence to examine the answers given to the questions, and to report if any of them were answered unsatisfactorily in their judgment—so that the class could have the final decision. This seems to be an easier way than to have each member of the class read over the answers to the questions before voting. However, the matter is one for the class to decide. In the case of the New York City congregation, the vote was unanimous that all would have confidence in the broad-minded decision of the three brethren approved as a committee of examiners.
In respect to the Vow: Your letter seems to intimate that you have some opposition to it, and think an acknowledgment of its principles should not be required. Instead of saying what there is in the Vow that you object to, you hide behind the proposition that the expressions of the Vow are not found in that particular form in the Scriptures. I remind you that nothing in the English language is found in the Scriptures, because they were written in another language; and furthermore, that our hymns are not found in the Scriptures, and that what we believe to be clear statements of our faith are not found in the Scriptures in the very terms in which we would express them today. The Scriptures lay down for us the general principles of righteous living, and the true foundations of the faith once delivered unto the saints. We are to see to it that all that we sing and preach and pray and write and do is in line with these fundamental principles which the Bible sets forth. The great mass of THE WATCH TOWER readers have informed us that they believe that the phraseology of the Vow is in full harmony with the essence and spirit of the Word of God. If it is, and any brother finds himself in opposition to it, is he not finding himself in opposition to the spirit of God's Word? and if so, would he be a suitable representative of any class of Bible Students, as its Elder or Deacon? We think not. If any fault can be found with the Vow—if it can be shown to be in any sense or degree antagonistic to or out of harmony with the letter and essence of the Word of God we want to know it in no uncertain terms—all Bible Students would want to know this. But no one has yet shown any antagonism nor any deflections in the letter and spirit of the Vow from the letter and spirit of the Bible. We therefore advise all classes that anybody unwilling to assent to the Vow, unwilling to make it his own, has something the matter with him—either his head or his heart, in our judgment, must be out of harmony with the letter and spirit of God's Word and he would not be a suitable Elder or Deacon.
I trust, dear Brother, that as you read this over and ponder [R5984 : page 331] it and pray about it, you will realize that you have erred in your first judgment; or if you think of any points that I have not covered and thoroughly answered, it will afford me pleasure to have you state those points.
I here remind you that this Vow is unto the Lord, and not unto the brethren! We hold therefore that any one who declares that he has taken the Vow, has not brought himself thereby under bondage to any of the brethren; but merely declared to the brethren the obligation he has recognized and declared to the Lord—hence it would not be the province of the brethren to investigate the affairs of the brother who declares he has taken the Vow, any more after his declaration than before it. The keeping of that Vow is between the individual and the Lord. It neither adds to nor diminishes his responsibility to the brethren and the class. His declaration that he has taken the Vow merely informs the brethren of the high standard of moral living which he recognizes and is seeking to follow.