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1898: Officialism

1898

OFFICIALISM

Brethren Of The Graduating Class:—Few classes of the seminary have done more regular or creditable work than yours. We should grieve to part with you

if we did not know that the past is a prophecy of the future. But even method and faithfulness have their dangers. Routine tends to hardness. Duty may become stereotyped. Spontaneity may be lost. Service may come to be a treadmill, and the minister of the gospel a soulless drillmaster and martinet. Rigid and dogmatic, he may lose all the warmth of his own Christian life, and he may misrepresent the Christian life to others. I wish to speak to you of Officialism, its causes, its results, and its cure.

The root of it is in us all. My distinguished predecessor used to say that every man is as lazy as circumstances will admit. Thinking is the hardest sort of work, and we spare ourselves as much of it as we can. We become creatures of habit, that is, we give over much of our activity to the subordinate nervous centers in order that the higher may be left free. The praying or the teaching that began with genuine fervor and interest comes to be performed mechanically. The man might as well be an automaton. He comforts himself with the idea that he is doing a vast deal of work. But really he is doing nothing. His hands and his tongue are busy, but the mind and the heart are absent. The life has gone out of him. Satan has captured his soul, and makes certain physical members of his go through the motions instead.

Intellectually the preacher may become a mere parrot, a retailer of other men's interpretations of Scripture, a blind copyist of other men's theology. He may get his subjects from the homiletical monthlies and his taking points from the cyclopedias of illustrations. The result will be a loss of all original insight, of all boldness, of all real faith. He will be afraid to say that his soul is his own. He will become the camp-follower of some school, unless indeed he begins to doubt whether there is any truth, and so becomes a mere time-server, skeptic, and hypocrite. Oh, it is pitiful to see one whom God has called to be his mouthpiece and representative reduced to the rank of a blind organ grinder, a paid court crier, preaching because he has to say something, rather than because he has something to say.

Officialism is not always due to laziness; it is sometimes due to ambition. The pastor finds it hard to induce his flock to do their duty; he concludes to do it for them. The rational development of their conscience and activity is too slow a process; he takes their place and supersedes them. Church democracy becomes church autocracy; the pastor becomes a lord over God's heritage. All manner of sacramental and mechanical conceptions of Christianity take possession of the members of the church. They look up to their minister as a priest. Religion becomes an opus operaturn which they pay him to perform. Human nature, even Baptist human nature, yields easily to the temptation, and the pastor flowers out into a bishop.

No man can be trusted with absolute power. Officialism arrogates to itself more and more authority until it becomes arbitrary. The evil ripens till it falls. Other men besides the pastor like to have their way. They rebel against his leadership. Soon there is division, and the pastor is voted out. Baptists will not permanently surrender their liberties to an ecclesiastical caste. I am persuaded that this officialism that takes

the reins into its own hands and usurps the authority belonging to the church is one of the main causes of instability in the pastorate. Seek power and preferment, live for the loaves and fishes, and you will move frequently and never be satisfied. Office is a means, not an end. To make it an end is to pervert it, and finally to lose it.

How may we guard against officialism? How may we avoid formality, insincerity, the dead-alive method of preaching and pastoral work on the one hand, and the self-assertion and transforming of the servant into a lord on the other? Christ must have provided some prophylactic for this great evil. It lies in his word. The Bible contains material for thought, the stirring-up of emotion, and the rousing of the will. Study of the Scriptures will give a fresh apprehension of truth. A man may know all the sciences and yet be a perfunctory minister; but it is very rare to find a man thoroughly versed in the word of God who is not faithful and alive in his ministerial work.

But it is not enough to know the truth. We must also do the truth. Here certainly is the taproot of all error and malpractice,—the spirit of disobedience. In the evil will is the beginning of officialism. A single secret sin will make us shy of the truth, unable to see the truth, and, when we do see it, unwilling to act upon it. Self-surrender to the truth must go with study of the truth. Come to the Book with simple desire to know and to do the will of God, and it is amazing what light shines from the sacred page. Passage after passage seems aglow. The dead bones live. The commonplace becomes sublime. What had before no power to rouse us seems full of the very power of God. We can preach it to others, nay, we cannot help preaching it to others. Like Peter and John we cannot but speak forth the things we have seen and heard, and we are filled with a solemn joy as we find ourselves commissioned to declare God's thoughts to men.

But there is a condition. We must declare this truth and no other. We must add nothing of our own. No false fire must be kindled. Mere rhetoric for rhetoric's sake, the letting of ourselves loose in wordy and windy talk, the striving after sensational effects, is an adulterating of the gospel and a grieving of the Spirit of God. As in speaking to God our words should be few, so in speaking for God our words should be few. But they should mean a great deal. Pausing to get the true word is better before God and man than rushing on glibly with the wrong one. If we are to be proclaimers of God's truth, every word must be a conscientious word. The seriousness of the message must appear-in the exactness with which we deliver it. God will take care of the eloquence, if we only take care of the truth.

To study the truth, to do the truth, to say the truth,— is that the end? No, we must also be the truth. That might seem the hardest of all. But really it is the easiest, and it is the way to all the rest. For it means only to be joined vitally to Christ who is the truth. This is the one lesson which before all others I have tried to teach you. Not mere imitation of Christ, but appropriation of Christ, is Christianity. He comes into the believing and obedient soul, makes it his dwellingplace and temple, manifests himself in it, as he filled the ancient tabernacle with the Shekinah glory. With that

glory of Christ within, can a minister of the gospel be a lazy and perfunctory preacher, or an arrogant and ambitious pastor? Nay verily, that glory is the glory not only of life and power, but of love and self-sacrifice.

The one remedy for officialism, the panacea which works a radical and permanent cure, is simply union with Christ. In the vision of the prophet Zechariah, the golden candlestick from which shone the light of God was fed by golden pipes from a living source in two olive trees that stood on either side of it. So Christ and his Spirit furnish the true minister of the gospel with an abundant and perpetual supply. The oil for the candlestick will never fail, because he is secretly connected with Christ the Life and Light of the world. Christ pours into him his wisdom, vitality, strength. Joined to Christ, and with the conduits kept clear by obedience and prayer, the very spirit of Christ becomes the spirit of his minister, and his preaching and his life become the very power of God to men's salvation.

Prince Bismarck once said that the hope of the world was Christianity without phrases. Reality is the watchword of the age. In philosophy we are striving to get beyond phrases to essential meanings, beyond symbols to underlying truths. Legal fictions are outgrown in theology,—we want to know the relations they represent. All science ends in ontology. There are things and beings; we can know them; we will not rest till we have drawn aside the veil and have seen the truth. You go out into a world that demands, as it has demanded in no previous age, fact instead of fiction, substance instead of show, reality instead of imagination.

Not mere officialism, however imposing, but character, conduct, life,—these are the things that win. Manhood, naturalness, genuine power, are greater forces than ever before. The false, pretentious, perfunctory, is scouted and despised; but the sincere, the living, the real, is reverenced by all. But this truly natural comes only from God. Only the supernatural is the truly natural. And my last word to you, members of the Class of 1898, is that you guard yourselves against officialism in the ministry by keeping in constant union with Jesus Christ, the Wisdom and Truth and Life and Power of God.