Fall 2018: Counting and Keeping Your Members
Author: Professor Walter J. Veith, PhD
Publish date:
 
 

Counting and Keeping Your Members

By Walter Veith

When I became an Adventist 31 years ago, the landscape was very different to what it is today. Evangelism was a church activity, and wherever one went in the world the message was the same. “Three Angels'” oriented message and the relationship between members of every race, and tribe, and nation was akin to a close family bond. Other than health institutes, independent ministries specializing in evangelistic outreach did not really exist as there was no exclusive niche for them to fill.

How different the situation today. Every wind of doctrine and worship style is blowing through the portals of Adventism and many of the old landmarks have been either marginalized or set aside by many a faction within our ranks in an effort to emulate the “success models” of the mainstream churches. Our experimentations with celebration style churches, emerging church models, and even spiritual formation have disrupted the unified front of Adventism and the results have often been devastating. Many of the Adventist celebration churches experienced rapid initial growth but unfortunately this was largely lateral growth which drew in members from other Adventist churches only to then leave the sisterhood of Adventist churches, thus depriving the church of its strength. 1

In the light of the above we must ask ourselves the questions: 

“What keeps our members and our youth, in particular, in the church?" 

Q 2:

“What keeps our members engaged and on fire for the Lord?”

Q 3:

“What enabled the disciples, the Reformers, and our pioneers to stand undaunted in the face of fierce opposition, ridicule and persecution?”

Was it worship style or spiritual exercises? Obviously not; it was the message and a knowledge of Christ which led to a unique and personal experience that bound them to Him with unshakable bonds. We as a people have a special message for the world and if we wish to receive God’s blessing then we must act in harmony with our mission. Moreover, we have been warned that strange ideas will be fomented within our ranks:

Every phase of fanaticism and erroneous theories, claiming to be the truth, will be brought in among the remnant people of God. These will fill minds with erroneous sentiments which have no part in the truth for this time. Any man who supposes that in the strength of his own devised resolutions, in his intellectual might united with science or supposed knowledge, he can start a work which will conquer the world, will find himself lying among the ruins of his own speculations, and will plainly understand why he is there. . . .  2 

Never, never was there a time when the truth suffered more from being misrepresented, belittled, demerited through the perverse disputings of men than in these last days. Men have brought themselves in with their heterogeneous mass of heresies which they represent as oracles for the people. The people are charmed with some strange new thing, and are not wise in experience to discern the character of ideas that men may frame up as something. But to call it something of great consequence and tie it to the oracles of God, does not make it truth. Oh, how this rebukes the low standard of piety in the churches. 3

Men who want to present something original will conjure up things new and strange, and without consideration will step forward on these unstable theories, that have been woven together as a precious theory, and present it as a life and death question. 4

Protest against Removing Landmarks:  When men come in who would move one pin or pillar from the foundation which God has established by His Holy Spirit, let the aged men who were  pioneers in our work speak plainly, and let those who are dead speak also, by the reprinting of their articles in our periodicals. Gather up the rays of divine light that God has given as He has led His people on step by step in the way of truth. This truth will stand the test of time and trial. 5

Will there be opposition if we preach a straight message? Of course there will. Will hurtful things be said and bandied about? Of course they will, but this should not be our concern, in fact:

Luke 6:26:  Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets.

Martin Luther summed it up well when he commented on the church’s habit of accommodating preachers that love smooth messages. Quoting 2 Corinthians 11:19 which reads: “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise,” he states:

Bad preachers have this luck that one bears and tolerates their folly even if one understands and feels that they are fools; even more so, one credits it to them for good. The true preachers, however, can do nothing right. Rather one scrutinizes all their words and works to see if one can trip them up and if one can find a splinter; it is magnified to a vain log. There is no tolerance, only vain judgment, damnation and scorn. Therefore, it is a miserable office to be a preacher, and it is impossible to persevere in it if one does not perceive it to be to the honor of God and the benefit of one’s neighbor. He must work and others must have the benefit and the honor. He, however, must bear loss and mocking as his reward. Here is required love, but not enjoyment, without permitting it to create depression. God’s Spirit must accomplish this; flesh and blood are incapable of achieving it. 6

“Do what is right and leave the consequences to God” – this should be our motto. We cannot afford to waste precious time dealing with those who would oppose the truth for this time.

"We are not to spend our time in controversy with those who know the truth, and upon whom the light of truth has been shining, when they turn away their ear from the truth to turn to fables. I was told that men will employ every policy to make less prominent the differences between the faith of Seventh-day Adventists and those who observe the first day of the week. In this controversy the whole world will be engaged, and the time is short. This is no time to haul down our colors.  A company was presented before me under the name of Seventh-day Adventists, who were advising that the banner or sign which makes us a distinctive people should not be held out so strikingly, for they claimed it was not the best policy in securing success to our institutions....I saw some reaching out their hands to remove the banner, and obscure its significance." 7 

It has been my experience as pastor and evangelist within the Seventh-day Adventist church that a growing and thriving church is an evangelism-oriented church. Reaching out does not fail to reach in. The aim is vertical growth, Kingdom growth, with people taking a stand on the principles of truth because it is truth and truth alone that sets people free. Wherever the principles of truth are preached, there people will take their stand and will not easily be moved by adverse circumstances or winds of doctrine. Scripture clearly defines what truth is; Jesus is the truth, His Word is the truth from Genesis to Revelation, and the Law is the truth. And when these three are preached together in unshakable unity, they cannot fail of cleaving a people out of the world. In fact, we have such clear directives from the Spirit of Prophecy that none need fail in this regard.

The Christian's mission in the world is to reveal the character of Christ, to represent the Lord to the fallen children of men. 8

Our message is to go to the world and we are admonished not to follow popular sentiments of propping up those who already know the truth. Each member of the church militant needs to grow up into the full stature of men and women in Christ, trusting in Him rather than leaning on the arm of flesh.

I see so much given to those who already have; these wonderful meetings for those who wish to get more strength are depriving the world of the very work that should be done. Our ministers should now be working for the saving of the lost. The weeks spent in gatherings to fit men for work might better, far better, be spent in going to the highways and hedges with the proclamation, "Come; for all things are now ready." 9

To those who obey the light they have, illumination will come from on high; for the heavenly messengers are waiting to cooperate with men in warning a deceived, sinful world…This hovering about churches to keep them propped up makes them more dependent on human effort. They learn to lean on the experience of their fellowmen and do not make God their dependence and their efficiency. The time you devote to imparting constantly to those who understand the message of warning will not give one tithe of the strength which they would receive in taking hold of the work to communicate life to save perishing souls…We are not to hover over the ninety and nine, but to go forth to save the lost, hunting them up in the wilderness of the large cities and towns. A few are now pointing to the roll of fast-fulfilling prophecy and proclaiming, Get ready, show your obedience to God by keeping His commandments. This is no time for the messengers of God to stop to prop up those who know the truth, and who have every advantage… Let everyone who loves God consider that now while it is day is the time to work, not among the sheep already in the fold, but to go out in search of the lost and perishing ones. 10

Our message is exclusive, it is a message of separation from the world. Thus it was in ancient times when Ruth separated herself from her people to cling to Naomi. The people of God became her people and she was honored by being woven into the lineage of Christ. What an amazing typology! What a privilege to be enrolled into the Kingdom, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone! This was the condition for the blessings of Israel and this will be the condition for those living in the times when type meets antitype.

Numbers 23:5  And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak. 

Numbers 23:6  And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab. 

Numbers 23:7  And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. 

Numbers 23:8  How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? Or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied? 

Numbers 23:9  For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.

Nehemiah 10:28  And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding;

Separation unto the law does not equate to legalism as the world would like to call it. Sabbath-keeping is not legalism, it is rest, and rest and work are mutually exclusive. Resting in the completed works of Christ is the heart of righteousness by faith which in turn is the heart of the Third Angels' Message. The Sabbath is thus the ultimate sign of having accepted the rest which Christ has promised. Only those that are clothed in His righteousness can be counted as His peculiar people and heirs to the covenant promises.

Psalms 135:4  For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.

Exodus 19:5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 

Deuteronomy 14:2 For thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

Seventh‑day Adventists have been chosen by God as a peculiar people, separate from the world. By the great cleaver of truth He has cut them out from the quarry of the world, and brought them into connection with Himself. He has made them His representatives, and has called them to be ambassadors for Him in the last work of salvation. The greatest wealth of truth ever entrusted to mortals, the most solemn and fearful warnings ever sent by God to man, have been committed to them to be given to the world; and in the accomplishment of this work our publishing houses are among the most effective agencies. 11

A Seventh‑day Adventist Message. At this time, when we are so near the end, shall we become so like the world in practice that men may look in vain to find God's denominated people? Shall any man sell our peculiar characteristics as God's chosen people for any advantage the world has to give? Shall the favor of those who transgress the law of God be looked upon as of great value? Shall those whom the Lord has named His people suppose that there is any power higher than the great I AM? Shall we endeavor to blot out the distinguishing points of faith that have made us Seventh‑day Adventists? 12

Our message should not be watered down because it makes people uncomfortable. Indeed, it should become more decided as we approach the close of probation – love demands it.

Our message must be straight and to the point. False claims and theories need to be unmasked. The world is so confused regarding these issues upon which the Reformers were so decided and clear. Obedience is not in disharmony with righteousness by faith. In fact, they are Siamese twins, forever joined together. There is no room for legalism in this duo, but there is also no room for disobedience. A church that understands this issue and sets these jewels in right settings will want to shout it from the roof top. And if it does so, it will be a healthy church, a growing church that will lift up its voice like a trumpet.

As the end approaches, the testimonies of God’s servants will become more decided and more powerful, flashing the light of truth upon the systems of error and oppression that have so long held the supremacy. The Lord has sent us messages for this time to establish Christianity upon an eternal basis, and all who believe present truth must stand, not in their own wisdom, but in God, and raise up the foundations of many generations. These will be registered in the books of heaven as repairers of the breach, the restorers of paths to dwell in. We are to maintain the truth because it is truth, in the face of the bitterest opposition. God is at work upon human minds; it is not man alone that is working. The great illuminating power is from Christ; the brightness of His example is to be kept before the people in every discourse. 13

Summary and Admonition:

Reach out and you will not fail at reaching in. Preach as though your church is packed with non-SDAs, make every sermon an outreach, and stand astounded as God honors your commitment and strangers sit in your pews. However, prepare your people for the fire of new members as the prodigals’ return will rasp the nerves of those that have settled into a comfort zone. Teach the members to be sensitive to the feelings and even the misconceptions of strangers. Truth is progressive and must be allowed to grow at its own pace. Let the Word do the cutting.

Preach truth. Do not be afraid to expose error. We cannot preach “Come out of her my people” without explaining what it is that people have to come out of. This is not unkind, this is love and service. When I was trapped in error, it was error exposed that opened my eyes. There have been moves afoot to lessen the impact of the message that exposes the beast and the false prophet as this is not deemed politically correct in this time of ecumenism. But remember the admonition given us in the Spirit of Prophecy:

The Lord has pronounced a curse upon those who take from or add to the Scriptures. The great I AM has decided what shall constitute the rule of faith and doctrine, and he has designed that the Bible shall be a household book. The church that holds to the Word of God is irreconcilably separated from Rome. Protestants were once thus apart from this great church of apostasy, but they have approached more nearly to her, and are still in the path of reconciliation to the Church of Rome. Rome never changes. Her principles have not altered in the least. She has not lessened the breach between herself and Protestants; they have done all the advancing. But what does this argue for the Protestantism of this day? It is the rejection of Bible truth which makes men approach to infidelity. It is a backsliding church that lessens the distance between itself and the Papacy. 14

Reaching out means total membership involvement. Working together with Christ brings its own reward. Make use of the talents and gifts of the congregation, as we are all co-workers together with Christ. There is to be no room for spectators in this work. Engage the whole church in Bible studies, hospitality and the right arm of the Gospel. 

Do not neglect the right arm of the gospel – clear minds lead to clearer communication on the vertical as well as the horizontal level. Health reform is not just about physical health. Above all, it is essential for spiritual health, and spiritual health brings discernment, because spiritual things are spiritually discerned.

Do not stress about numbers. The Gospel is like yeast that leavens the lump. We are sowers, God makes the seed grow and ripen. The preaching has been granted unto us, but who can add one cubit to his stature by worrying? Leave the numbers to God. The world will take note and see that God is with His people:

Isaiah 35:2  It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.

1 http://www.adventistonline.com/forum/topics/are-celebration-sda-churches-new-path-to-god-or-away-from-truth?xg_source=activity

2 2SM 14.2

3 2SM 15.1

5 Ms 62, 1905, p. 6. ("A Warning against False Theories," May 24, 1905.) {1MR 55.1}

6 (Martin Luther, Christlicher Wegweiser fuer jeden Tag, s. 181

7 2SM 385 

8 ST, June 8, 1891 par. 10

9 TM 231.1

10 TM 233.2 

11 Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 138.  {ChS 147.5}

12 Ev 121.3

13 2MR 230.2 

14  ST, February 19, 1894 par. 4

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