Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

An elder’s attitude to truth is a life-and-death issue, both in his leadership and for the congregation. Our very destiny depends upon the attitude that leaders assume. Differing attitudes prevail, finding their ultimate expression in two extremes. These extremes represent a small minority in terms of numbers but are not always minorities in terms of peril for the ones who are related to them.

The first group takes pride in emphasizing its orthodox conservatism, which, when stripped of its assuring phraseology, is often just plain reaction, however harsh the term may sound. These individuals view any change or revision as perilous, mainly because it is different from what they used to know or do.

Some cleverly contrive to portray themselves as the ultimate defenders of the faith, the last stand of loyalty. Either by implication or declaration, they declare all who differ from them to be dangerous innovators. Their penchant is to maintain a status quo which supports their rigid views. They condemn, openly or by implication, equally loyal, self-sacrificing, truth-loving heralds of this message who differ from them. This group is represented by some independent ministries today. They easily mix truth and criticism in attacking the leadership of the church.

Dear Elder, be perceptive. Don’t fall into the devil’s trap. The Lord Himself is the one who ultimately takes care of His own church. Stay on the side of God’s people and be loyal to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On the other end of the spectrum stands another group, ready to press views of liberal progressivism that are seriously revolutionary, perilous, and disruptive. Some in this group are retired pastors, theology professors, and administrators. A few of them may say, “Now we can speak out on what we believe because we are retired.”

On this side lies the peril of abandonment of our distinctive Advent-movement principles, rooted in Scripture and confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy. This group advocates the acceptance of specious principles that simulate light but contradict or neutralize the soundly buttressed historic positions which have made us a separate people. Such teachings usually touch either the sanctuary truth or the Spirit of Prophecy, which constitute the distinctive and separating features of this movement, and are a stumbling block to all critics and apostates. Here again we must keep watch and stand by revealed truth, no matter who the innovator is or what his standing or record may be.

These two groups, each appealing to a partial set of principles of commonly acknowledged truth, make more difficult the sound, reverent, and loyal stand of the majority who reject upon principle the position and perils of both extremes. It is essential for elders to clearly understand the situation so that they can intelligently and properly protect the congregation.

Elders need the Holy Spirit’s guidance so they will have sound judgment, spiritual discernment, and unswerving fidelity to God’s ever-expanding truth, revealed in His Word and buttressed by the confirming witness of the Spirit of Prophecy. Anything else, or anything less, will prove disastrous. We should not permit ourselves to be forced into situations that are intolerable and unnecessary. There is no need to allow a few reactionaries to halt legitimate progress. Let us not permit the devil set the agenda for our congregation. The voice of God to speaking to us through the representative body of the church should prevail. 

Dear Elder, avoid any extremes in your attitude as a leader. The pathway of the advent herald is beset with perils today. Your only safety lies in ceaseless, progressive study of the Word, individually and in groups, invoking the promised presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit “but when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13), and the matchless counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy. The elder who follows this divine program of guidance and protection has the assurance that God will keep him from pitfalls in leading his congregation.

Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.