Some wag has knavishly observed that one of the two heinous sins for which the Lord punished David the most severely was that of gathering statistics—the numbering of Israel.
The circumstances surrounding this experience are not clearly explained; but it is evident from other Bible enumerations that the work of God is, least sometimes, not hindered by the exact knowledge of its resources and accomplishments. The twelve sons of Jacob in Canaan; the seventy souls that went into Egypt, and the six hundred thousand men that left the land of their bondage some two hundred years later ; the numbering of the tribes in the wilderness of Sinai; Gideon's thirty-two thousand, ten thousand, and finally his three hundred triumphant, warriors; David's accumulated treasure for the building of the temple; the three thousand and the five thousand daily additions to the church at Pentecost ; the one hundred and forty-four thousand who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth; the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem and the twelve gates through which the redeemed will enter the Holy City—these are but a few of the revealing numerals of the Bible that measure progress and encouragement.
In the world today economic and business activity and management rely heavily on the records and reports of statistical and accounting information that disclose current conditions and trends. How vital are these factors considered to be that orate provisions are made for censuses, polls, investment comparisons, tabulations of scientific data, and other information, that indicate advancement or decline. Each ten years the United States Government takes a complete census of its population and resources, publishing voluminous analyses of its results. Every home in the country is visited, and information is gathered that forms bases for the study of economic and other conditions throughout the land.
Each month during the ten-year interim between complete counts, the Census Bureau adds birth and immigration numbers to the last census totals, and subtracts deaths, emigrations, and other losses, to keep approximate population figures always up to date. For specific information samplings are frequently made of small areas or particular activities and industries.
In recent years the practice of securing information by means of special inquiries and polls has attracted considerable attention. More and more the United States Government and other agencies are using the poll method; and some Government statisticians assert that, with careful planning, thoroughgoing samples of public opinion upon any subject, accurate within two to four per cent, could be secured within two weeks at a cost of $5,000 or $6,000. A popular poll of this nature is that conducted by Dr. George Gallup of the American Institute of Public Opinion, which predicted almost exactly the returns in several States in the recent Presidential elections, and missed by only two and one-half percent in reckoning the strength of the two major candidates in the country.
Dr. Gallup's methods illustrate how a small number of persons, well selected as to age, economic background, environment, geographic area, and other factors that influence public thinking, can be used to determine the general concensus on almost any topic of common interest. His polls are usually based on interviews with only about 3,250 persons in the whole United States—the equivalent of a little more than one person to each county—and Dr. Gallup is credited with the statement that practically the same results could be obtained by carefully questioning not more than half that number.
The Process of Computation
Seventh-day Adventist statistical information relating to church membership, the number of workers, the tithes and offerings, is gathered quarterly in most sections of the world field. Reports come from the church clerks and treasurers through the local and union conferences and mission offices. At the end of each year more complete summaries are gathered, including those of institutional and other activities, and these reports are passed on to be tabulated by the General Conference statistical secretary at general headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Throughout the world nearly ten thousand Seventh-day Adventist churches are scattered, in 320 local 'conferences and missions, in 68 union territories. To secure complete and accurate reports from all these organizations requires careful planning and timing, from the local church to the General Conference.
Within a few days after the end of each quarter or end of the year the church clerks send to the conference or mission secretary, on blanks provided for this purpose, notations of their current church membership, number of baptisms and members taken into the church by transfers fram other places, members transferred to other church organizations or dropped for any reason. The church treasurer makes his remittance of tithe and offerings to the conference or mission treasurer ; and the Sabbath school, young people's, and other organizations report to their several conference departments.
As soon as these reports are received from the churches, they are tabulated by the local conference or mission secretaries and passed on to the union conference office, where they are combined with other conference and mission summaries, and sent to the division headquarters. The division reports, including all the unions in its territory, are sent to the General Conference headquarters, where, with similar data from other divisions, they are amalgamated into the world totals of denominational activities.
If at any point along the way a clerk or treasurer or secretary wavers or delays in his or her part of this program, the whole line is slowed down. Sometimes in order to avoid the necessity of leaving a church or conference out of the report entirely because of the tardiness or neglect of some dilatory officer, a conference or union secretary has to repeat the previous quarter's or year's statistics in place of that which failed to reach him by the time his report had to go to the next higher office.
Computation Difficulties in Wartime
During war and other periods when transportation and communications are interrupted or stopped entirely, it is with extreme difficulty that satisfactory statistical and financial summaries are maintained. It is hardly consistent that whole divisions or major sections of territory should be omitted because war or other conditions beyond human control make the transmission of current reports impossible. In such cases, to obviate the violent fluctuations in comparisons which such omissions would create, it has been the practice of the General Conference, in making up its world summaries, to repeat the latest available figures and amounts, designating clearly that such previous information has been used, so that it can be eliminated if the need requires. It is recognized that such methods do not furnish exact current information, but for practical purposes this procedure has seemed to be the most feasible until accurate data can be secured.
When He left His disciples on the earth, the Master commissioned them to preach to all the world the good news of salvation; and the message of the angels flying in the midst of heaven representing God's remnant people was to go to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." To measure in a modest way the progress being made in compassing this world task, tabulations have been kept of the countries and major territorial sections entered by Seventh-day Adventists, and the languages in which their work is being conducted.
Unfortunately, in earlier years clear definitions were not formulated as to what should constitute the territorial designations in which the church's work was carried forward. When finally an effort was made to define specifically the sections entered, it was found that the previous count had been more than ample; and considerable adjustment was necessary to bring the records within the scope of consistent territorial limitations and the recognition of broader geographical units by adopting a standard list of countries, islands, and island groups to be used in checking the locations where the denomination is carrying on its work.
Compassing the Language Problem
How many languages are being used in the world today, and in how many languages is the gospel being carried ? The officers of the French Academy counted 2,796 languages and dialects in the world. Students of linguistics have failed to prescribe a very clear distinction between primary languages and secondary tongues or dialects. The American and Foreign Bible Societies are pubishing the Scriptures in whole or in part in i,o different forms of speech. Their practice is to-prepare a new translation when their representatives and the church workers in the respective mission fields determine that the interest of a sufficient number of native people will warrant.
Difficulties are encountered by those who endeavor to make an exact count of the number of languages in some large divisions of the world, such as in Africa, from the fact that the same language may be known by several different names, and at times the names of the language and of the people who speak it are confused. Different spellings are also a source of perplexity. In some sections the government encourages the several native populations to unite on a lingua franca, or general language, in place of their native tongues.
Either through literature or by oral presentation, Seventh-day Adventists are doing work in all the major languages of the world, and in many of the minor groups and dialects. Because several individuals, over a period of years, have made reports regarding these languages, sometimes
scribing the same language by several names, t lists of languages and dialects as compiled by Seventh-day Adventists have been found to contain a number of duplications and incorrect forms. It is probable that when the recheck now in progress is completed by the officers of the several division fields, the number of languages previously reported will be considerably reduced as these overlappings are discovered.
In the work of God, as with other active endeavor, tabulations and statistics are helpful in measuring material progress ; but numbers alone cannot fathom the deeper ebb and flow of spiritual experience. The Spirit of God is not given by measure. The questioning remonstrance of Joab, when directed by King David to number the hosts of Israel and Judah, is worthy of careful attention by God's people today : "The Lord thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold... but why... delight in this thing?"
Surely in these latter times, as of old, "there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few." God "will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness," "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts"; and that day will be hastened when "a little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation," and the "great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," shall stand "before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands."