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What does Ellen G. White Write about Large Church Congregations and Small Groups?

WHAT DOES ELLEN G. WHITE WRITE ABOUT LARGE CHURCH CONGREGATIONS AND SMALL GROUPS?

What does Ellen G. White Write about Large Church

Congregations and Small Groups?

We shall now compare our social, theological and historical studies on groups to what Ellen G. White has to say on the topic from her writings.

Large Church Congregations

Although White spoke to large congregations of people, her counsel is negative in relation to large churches and their mission.  She writes, “Success does not depend on strength or numbers. . . .  A large church is not necessarily a strong church.”[1]  Pastors tend to look upon large church congregations as the ideal for a successful ministry, but White counsels the opposite here.  She goes on to say, “It is not the purpose of God that his people should cluster together and concentrate their influence in a special locality.”[2]  One of the reasons for this was the negative influence it would have on their witness.  She continues, “The plan of gathering in large numbers, to compose a large church, has contracted their influence, and narrowed down their sphere of usefulness, and is literally putting their light under a bushel.”[3]  In giving this counsel to the members of large churches, she always had in mind the work of evange­lism: sowing and reaping has to continue among unbelievers outside the church.  White counsels further, “It is a mistake for our people to crowd together in large numbers.  It is not in harmony with God´s plan. . . .  But where a large number are congregated together in one church, this work in large measure is neglected.”[4]  This work she refers to is shining our light to unbelievers.

Another area of concern was within the church itself.  Many members came to the Battle Creek church during the late 1800´s, because they were looking for employment at the Review & Herald publishing house and the Health Reform Institute.  Although the church at Battle Creek increased in number, the small churches which they had left were depleted.  This was a matter of concern to White when she stated in referring to Battle Creek or some other large church, “This practice not only threatens the prosperity and even the life of our smaller churches, but it is preventing us from doing the very work which God has given us to do.”[5]  As new members arrived at Battle Creek and increased the church membership, this placed a tremendous burden on the few who were working for the church internally. Other areas of mission work which were neglected in Battle Creek were the work for the SDA youth, house-to-house visitation, and praying with families.[6]  White not only gave counsel to the members at Battle Creek, but she also gave it to many ministers who were moving there to take up residency and retirement.  She says about them, “God looks with contempt upon the large assemblies at Battle Creek tabernacle. . . . Their numbers displease Him.  Is there not a world to be warned”[7]  Again White´s eyes were on mission, and she accounted it as a threat to the Church if large churches were established and increased in number.

Another reason for White´s counsel against large church groups is the negative influence on spiritual growth.  She states, “the members of our large churches are not in the most favorable situation for spiritual growth.”[8]  In referring to Battle Creek, she emphasizes that many in the church are fast becoming withered branches.[9]  She mentions this because many of those who moved to Battle Creek were joining a large congregation, and they felt that they had no part to act with so many members. They sat in their pews and shunned all responsibility and effort.[10]  Additionally, the new members often felt that their testimonies were not needed and consequently their talents were buried in a large congregation.[11]  Therefore, White counsels the members that large church congregations prevent personal spiritual growth in one´s life.

A third area of negative influence a large church has on an individual is on character.  If persons grow up in a large church congregation or join one, they are usually influenced by the majority.  Many members “think only of themselves.  They wish to enjoy church fellowship and pastoral care.  They become members of large prosperous churches and are content to do little for others.”[12]  When one takes this attitude, other influences loom large in this kind of group.  “Bringing so many believers together in one place tends to encourage evil surmising and evil speaking.”[13]  Church members often wonder why we do not experience great manifestations of God´s power as on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts.  This is not given because “when a large number are shut up in themselves, engrossed in their own interests. It is thus that their piety becomes weakened, and they grow bigoted and self caring.”[14]  Finally when joining a large church congregation, one comes in contact with Pharisaism and a self-righteousness, which is a form of godliness without the power thereof.[15] White counsels us that as a result of becoming a member of a large church group, our character in many cases becomes weak.

Ellen G. White Supports Small Companies

Ellen G. White has no counsel on small groups in relation to the church, but she has a great deal to say on the subject of forming companies.  “The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort has been presented to me by One who cannot err.”[16]  Why does White come out in favor of “small companies” instead of “small groups”?  Webster´s Dictionary gives this definition of a small group: “an organized body of people with a common purpose.”[17]  This purpose could imply Bible study, mission outreach, or even witnessing for Christ.  Whereas the definition of a company is, “a number of people united in an industry or commercial enterprise. An infantry unit between a platoon and a battalion in size.”[18]  This definition implies that a company, if taking the commercial view, involves planning, goal setting, marketing, financial statements, and acquiring results.  On the other hand, looking at the military viewpoint, it involves training, organizing, planning, discipline, accomplishing a mission, and evaluation.  The main difference between a small group and a company is that the former is organized for a purpose like, Bible Study or mission outreach. The latter is organized to accomplish a military mission or sell a product successfully.  When White comes out in favor of small companies, she is referring to a special form of small group which is trained to perform a Christian military mission, or sell a product which can be interpreted as services to the community.  In addition, White defines the minimum number of persons involved in a company to be “two or three.”[19]  Therefore, it is clear that a company is two to three persons or more who are trained for service using the principles of strategical planning.

White gives further counsel on what kind of work these companies should engage in.  Young men and women should be organized into companies in every church.  They should be “soldiers of Christ . . . putting all your tact and skill and talent in the Master´s service, that you may save souls from ruin.”[20]  So the work of young men and women is to enlist as soldiers in Christ´s army and form companies to evangelize and save souls.  Her counsel is not one-sided, concentrating on religious aspects all the time.  She admonishes that “the various lines of work should be courageously carried forward by different companies of workers.”[21]  This could include health evangelism, colporteuring, and welfare ministry, just to name a few from a large category of different methods.  White enlarges on some of the aspects of the work these companies carry out.  Small companies are to go forth to do the work to which Christ appointed His disciples.  While laboring as evangelists they can visit the sick, praying with them, and, if need be, treating them, not with medicines but with the remedies provided in nature.[22] 

Christ spent most of his evangelistic efforts in healing the sick.  However, companies cannot copy His method in many cases, due to the fact that people today need to live a healthier lifestyle before calling on God to heal them of their diseases.  Furthermore, we cannot use Christ´s method of healing because White states “we can not now work in this way, for Satan will exercise his power by working miracles.”[23] White goes on to say about the work of these little companies: Let them labor as evangelists, scattering our publications, and talking of truth to those they meet. Let them pray for the sick, ministering to their necessities, not with drugs, but with nature´s remedies and teaching them how to regain health and avoid disease.[24] 

With the use of our publications on health and spiritual matters, our members can go from door to door searching out the sick and praying with them.  Sometimes this alone brings healing to many sick people.  This includes praying for the sick and with the sick.  They can teach the sick how to regain health and avoid diseases.  In many cases, sickness is the result of an unbalanced and unhealthy lifestyle, an unhealthy diet of alcohol, meat, cigarettes, and fast foods.  Also, many do not exercise in the fresh air, but sit in front of the television for hours on end.  It is these kinds of people who need instruction on how to live a balanced healthy lifestyle. However, the members themselves need a basic training before teaching others.  White goes on to elaborate, “little companies who have received a suitable training in medical missionary lines should go forth to do the work.”[25]  This training should include the basics of healthy living and how the human anatomy works. Guidelines should be written down to safeguard patients who are seriously ill or are being treated by a physician. For example, a person who is overweight, or has a past history of illnesses, should have a medical examination preceding the undertaking of strenuous exercise or a change of diet.  In this way, both the patient and the member treating the illness are safeguarded from disastrous outcomes.

White gives other suggestions for the different lines of work companies can do. “Companies should be organized and thoroughly educated to work as nurses, gospel workers, and Bible readers, as canvassers, ministers. . . .”[26] We could use nursing in relationship to helping people in living a healthier lifestyle.  Here is a wonderful way of coming into contact with people.  When we have made a contact and created an interest to study the Bible, then we can train our patients to do the same with others who are living in an unhealthy lifestyle.  Canvassing is another way of reaching individuals in the home. Although there are not as many people who read books these days due to television, canvass­ers should be equipped to sell books and DVD´s on SDA teachings.  Another method of reaching people through companies of workers is through cooking classes. White writes, “Instruction should be given in the science of preparing wholesome food.”[27]  When people start a health course, many do not know how to prepare wholesome food.  Recipes should be written and handed out, with simple directions so anyone can cook meals at home.

Finally, White emphasizes the necessity of using small companies to work in the growing cities of every nation.  “Let companies be organized to enter cities.  Seek proper locations for holding meetings.”[28]  For the different kinds of meetings, whether they be evangelistic in nature or on health, the location should be of easy access to all the local population, very well planned and organized beforehand.  Through companies, the message of present truth is to be given to all the cities.[29]  One of the reasons there is a need for the formation of companies in every church is, “Let members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members, but for unbeliev­ers.”[30] It is through the members that this work of spreading the Three Angel´s Messages to the world is to be accomplished and not just through the minister or well-trained evangelist only.

Summary

Ellen G. White comes out in the negative as regards to Adventist´s gathering together to form large church group congregations. However, she is very positive as regards to the forming of small companies as she calls them. These companies should be trained in door-to-door evangelism with the use of our literature, bible studies, personal home care and teachings on living a healthy lifestyle. I fact White emphasizes that the health work will be one of the last methods of witnessing work we shall do, “soon there will be no work done in ministerial lines but medical missionary work.”[31] It is through this method and the forming of companies that our members can help in laying the groundwork for spreading of the Three Angel´s Messages to the community, before the Second Coming of Christ.

 

Endnotes

[1] Ellen G. White, “A Test of Faith,” The Signs of the Times, 30 June 1881, 1:238.

[2] Ellen G. White, “Christ´s Representatives,” Review & Herald, 16 Feb. 1886, 19.

[3] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, 9 vols. (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), 2:644.

[4] Ellen G. White, “The Duty of the Minister and the People,” Review & Herald, 9 July 1895, 3:270.

[5] White, Testimonies for the Church, 5:184.

[6] Ibid., 5:185.

[7] Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, 21 vols. (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1981-1993), 2:100.

[8] White, “The Duty of the Minister and the People,” 3:270.

[9] White, Testimonies for the Church, 2:114.

[10] Ibid., 5:185.

[11] Ibid., 2:114.

[12] Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1942), 151.

[13] White, Testimonies for the Church, 8:83.

[14] Ellen G. White, “An Appeal by Ellen G. White,” Review and Herald, 12 Oct. 1886, 2:81.

[15] White, Testimonies for the Church, 8:85, 86.

[16]White, Christian Service, 72.

[17] The New Lexicon Webster´s Dictionary of the English Language (1989), s.v. “Group.”

[18] Ibid., s.v. “Company.”

[19] Ellen G. White, Sermons and Talks, 2 Vols. (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990, 1994), 2:268.

[20] Ellen G. White, “Walk in the Light,” Signs of the Times, 29 May 1893, 3:41.

[21] Ellen G. White, “An Appeal to Our Churches Throughout the United States,” Review and Herald, 18 May 1911, 6:142.

[22] Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1957), 501.

[23] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, 3 Vols. (Washington D. C., Review & Herald, 1958), 2:54.

[24] White, Testimonies for the Church, 9:172.

[25] Ellen G White, Notebooks Leaflets from the Elmshaven Library, 2 vols. (Payson, AZ: Leaves-of-Autumn Books, 1945), 1:140.

[26] Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1943), 546.

[27] Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1976), 443.

[28] Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1970), 96.

[29] White, Sermons and Talks, 2:311.

[30] White, Christian Service, 72.

[31] White, Evangelism, 523.

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