Evaluating some thoughts of “A Candid Reader”

Evaluating some thoughts of “A Candid Reader”

by Nick Kersten, Librarian-historian

 

In the early years of the 20th century, the pages of the Sabbath Recorder sometimes carried anonymous articles or letters affixed with a pseudonym. These writings can provide fascinating insights into the life of Seventh Day Baptists, as they reveal the unspoken mindsets, ideologies, and fears of the times from which they spring.

On December 28, 1908, an article by an anonymous columnist—who went by the name “A Candid Reader” (ACR for the remainder of this column)—was published in the Recorder. It compared Seventh-day Adventists to Seventh Day Baptists. The article has been repeatedly brought to my attention because of numerous requests for it from Seventh-day Adventist leaders worldwide.

It is frequently requested alone, without any additional information or context. This has caused me some consternation due to the article’s anonymous authorship. The author also makes sweeping generalizations about both movements that he identifies as facts without citing any other resources to substantiate the claims beyond his own experience—two big red flags. “ACR” identifies himself as a Seventh Day Baptist, and cites a litany of factors to compare SDBs most unfavorably to SDAs.

The central thrust of the article coalesces around what ACR identifies as malaise and sloth among Seventh Day Baptists to live up to their own beliefs. He cites widespread and diligent work by all Adventists as a main reason for their growth, as well as their unwillingness to compromise their distinctives for ecumenical purposes. He goes so far as to suggest that their willingness to be disliked by Sunday keepers is a reason for their growth and brings “greater favor with God.”

ACR seems to have disdain for the pride which the SDBs of his time had in their history, favoring instead SDAs, who in his opinion, “are out… making history.” In sum, ACR seems to think that the predominant reason for the growth of Seventh-day Adventists was because of the attitude of its people, and that the attitude of Seventh Day Baptists needed to be readjusted.

After distributing this article several times during my tenure, I have been left with one central question: was A Candid Reader correct? Reading through the article and considering carefully its claims, I believe that the author was frustrated with his fellow SDBs and wanted to affect an attitude adjustment. To make this argument more forceful, ACR used hyperbole, generalizations, and loaded language to try and cajole the reader into agreement with his assessment.

There may well have been a mindset that was impeding the work of Seventh Day Baptists in this period, but I doubt very much if it was as dire and widespread as this article makes out. Likewise, I am less confident than ACR that things were as rosy with the Adventists as he portrays.

In his final analysis, ACR tells the readers what he wants SDBs to take from the Adventist example in that period: “…their zeal, their courage, their devotion, their consecration, and upright character… which bear testimony to what their religious faith does for them.”

I don’t know if this article brought about the change that A Candid Reader hoped to see among SDBs in his day, but I do know that this final list of traits is vital to the life of the Conference today, combined with clear doctrine as revealed by the Scriptures. If we are to be what God calls us to be, we too need to have a firm resolve marked by zeal, courage, devotion, consecration, and godly character. We must avoid drawing unnecessary conclusions from our limited experience which cause us to see things in a distorted way, or using extreme language to try and bully people into holding our pet positions.

Faithful living consistent with our historical roots is the way for us to write the next pages of our shared story.

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