Are We Keeping Pace With the Population Explosion?

A statistical expert offers his assessment.

E. L. Becker, Auditor and Statistical Secretary, General Conference

We Seventh-day Adventists are a people of statistics. This is nat­ural, I suppose, for our task is so urgent and time is so short that we must have some means of measuring our progress and evalu­ating the fruitfulness of our ef­forts. All this is as it should be. Certainly any inclination on my part to minimize the validity of the data published under my di­rection would be unfortunate. Our data are accurate, useful, and above all eloquent of the wonderful power of God working through His chosen agents in this world of sin.

Let us examine the two sides of the coin. A short time ago I had occasion to write a brief discussion of a little study produced in the statistical section of the General Conference, comparing population growth with the membership growth of our church. It was a satisfying record. In 62 years, world population doubled, while our membership was multiplied 18 times. The tempo has slowed, it is true; in 1962, pop­ulation increase was 3.8 per cent, member­ship increase 4.1 per cent. We are still ahead of the general population trend, but by a very small margin.

At about the same time I read in the columns of the Ministry magazine a state­ment somewhat to the effect that the world population was growing so fast that our mission of warning the world was not keep­ing pace—that every day we were falling behind. This was not a statistical study, of course, but certainly it was a startling thought. Is it true that today our unfin­ished task is larger than it was yesterday, that the work is farther from its close in 1964 than it was in 1963? If so, what of our membership statistics? Are they all wrong?

How can we reconcile the unrec­oncilable?

There is no prestidigitation here. Look more closely with me at these two points of view.

The comparison between rates of population increase and mem­bership growth are just that—rate comparisons. It is true that since the beginning of the twentieth century our church has grown about nine times as fast as the general population. But it is equally true that there are millions and millions more people in the world today who are outside the church than there were sixty years ago.

On the other hand, how valid is the in­ference that we are falling behind in our task? Here we come face to face with the great imponderable part of our work—for when is a person "warned"? We are to go into all the world, "teaching all nations" and "baptizing them." We can and do measure and number and record the bap­tisms. The teaching is a word which, I submit, is not and never will be, this side of the record of the Unseen Statistician, amenable to the measuring rod of our sta­tistics.

In February we received in all our churches the annual offering that helps support the work of our Faith for Today organization. Last October a similar offer­ing was taken for the Voice of Prophecy. We can number these dollars, we can even account for their expenditure—so much for staff salaries, a portion for radio and television production expense and air time, a percentage for the Bible correspondence schools. But I doubt that H. M. S. Richards or W. A. Fagal, as intimately as they know the'r own organizations, and as heavily as the burden of evangelization rests upon them, would attempt to place a number upon those who have been reached, who have been taught, who have been warned. These things are in the heart of the indi­vidual, a place where our poor human sta­tistics will never reach. And the same limi­tation must be placed on our evaluation of the thousands of sermons preached around the world, the millions of pages of truth-freighted books and magazines and tracts distributed, the multitude of bed­side prayers and operating-room prayers and classroom prayers offered.

The other day I heard the story—it comes from Yugoslavia—of a family dog that came home one day bearing in its jaws a filthy, grease-stained bit of paper that had all too evidently and odorously been used to wrap a bit of meat from the village market. But that sheet of paper had in it a message of truth for that family, and today they are members of the remnant church! If God can use a mangy dog to help spread His message, who are we to set bounds to the extent of His work?

"Let me tell you that the Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things, and in a way that will be contrary to any human planning. . . . God will use ways and means by which it will be seen that He is taking the reins in His own hands. The workers will be surprised by the simple means that He will use to bring about and perfect His work of righteousness."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 300.

An awful responsibility rests upon the soul of the worker for God in this last day—the responsibility of preaching and teach­ing and warning. God has given to each of us his work, and to our tasks we must bring the very best of our human capabilities. We must work, not slavishly, blindly trudg­ing along in the old outworn paths and methods, not carelessly, heedlessly doing the same old job in the same old way. We must explore every means and use every talent and opportunity in fulfilling our task. "It is required of us that we exercise more mental and spiritual power. It is your duty, and it has been your duty every day of the life God has graciously granted you, to pull at the oars of duty, for you are a responsible agent of God."—Ibid., p. 184.

Having said all this—recognizing and assuming the burden that God has placed upon us—let us not fall into David's error by attempting to number spiritual Israel. We have a human measuring rod, and with it we must continue to measure, with all our human limitations, the progress that God in His mercy grants us. But Ezekiel and John saw the heavenly measuring rod, wielded by a celestial being, fixing for all eternity the transcendent dimensions of the holy city and its temple. Thank God it is so!

"As God's human agents we are to do the work that He has given us. To every man He has given his work, and we are not going to give ourselves up to conjecture as to whether or not our earnest endeavors will prove successful. All that we as individuals are responsible for is the unwearied, con­scientious discharge of duty that someone must do; and if we fail to do that which is placed in our way, we cannot be excused of God. But having done the best we can, then we are to leave all results with God." —Ibid., pp. 183, 184.

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E. L. Becker, Auditor and Statistical Secretary, General Conference

June 1964

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