Some places stand out in history for all time, places that have witnessed a scene of events that have shaped the destiny of nations and even the world. Stalingrad, that great Russian citadel, was the breakwater on which the flood tides of Hitler's invading hordes were broken to pieces. Waterloo and Trafalgar, to the British, are places that have been lighted up in the pages of history by decisive events that far transcended the importance of the place where they occurred. And to Americans, Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, and others, were places buried in geography books until history lifted them out of obscurity.
Kadesh-Barnea was such a place. It will always remain a landmark in the sacred history of God's people. Kadesh-Barrtea was situated on the border between Canaan, the Promised Land, and the sandy stretches of desert through which the children of Israel had traversed after leaving Egypt. God intended it to be only a junction—a place where the wanderers would converge on the Promised Land. But through disobedience and unbelief the people of God made it a terminus. God planned that it should be a gateway through which His chosen people would march to obtain their inheritance. Instead it became a dwelling place, where lack of faith and rebellion caused the people of God to spend forty years wandering in the wilderness.
The experience of Israel at KadeshBarnea was a great disappointment to God. He hoped that the Israelites, while poised on the border of their future inheritance, would take possession of the goodly land with eager expectancy. He never intended that His chosen people should be turned back into the wilderness. This disappointment is graphically reflected in Numbers 14. In manifesting their rebellious attitude, the people exclaimed "Would God we had died in this wilderness!" Now this prayer was to be answered.
" 'As I live, declares the Lord, I am going to deal with you exactly as I have heard you prescribe it. . . . And because of your unfaithfulness your sons will have to wander as shepherds in this wilderness for forty years until all your corpses lie in the desert. . . . Then you will realize what it means to have ME against you' (Num. 14:28-34, Berkeley).
Commenting upon this frightening event in the history of Israel the messenger of the Lord said:
God had made it their privilege and their duty to enter the land at the time of His appointment; but through their willful neglect that permission had been withdrawn. . . . They had distrusted the power of God to work with their efforts in gaining possession of Canaan.—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 392.
So because of their unbelief and willful neglect, God could not manifest His power to subdue their enemies. Therefore, the only safe course was to turn them back toward the Red Sea.
We need to pause to ask ourselves some searching questions: Has the remnant church of God arrived at a place called Kadesh-Barnea? Are there evidences that while in sight of the hills of the Promised Land we are delaying to face up to the challenge of the unfinished task? Are we in danger of losing our initial drive and settling down as have other religious organizations after their initial "big push"? Why are we operating both below our possibilities and God's design for us in this decisive moment in our history?
I believe we should attempt to answer such questions during this biennial Autumn Council, for surely this is the time and place to candidly appraise matters pertaining to the work of God. This morning I would be recreant to my duty if, under the circumstances, I did not present to you the convictions of my heart, born from observation, prayer, and ardent love of this message.
Some Hindering Influences
It seems to me there has gradually developed within our organization certain influences that, I feel, are impeding the forward thrust of the movement due at this decisive hour. I hope I will not be misunderstood if I refer to these as hindering influences.
Let me say in all sincerity and earnestness that the definite hastening of Canaan's final conquest rests to no small degree in the hands of the world leadership gathered here in this Autumn Council. Fidelity and loyalty to the divine course marked out for us should be our supreme burden and quest. Our adherence to Heaven's appointed schedule should be our greatest concern.
Ours is a spiritual crusade that is to go forward "conquering and to conquer." We dare not look forward to a generation yet unborn for the hour of crisis to be consummated. The triumphant closing of this final warning message was set by God for this our day. This last message, first proclaimed more than 120 years ago, is destined by God to be the most momentous message ever declared among men.
And now let us look at some of the hindering influences that we detect among us.
Peril of Maturity. As a religious body we have come of age. We are now well established in the religious world's consciousness —sometimes, I must add, not too favorably. Our church organization and polity are the best and most effective among religious bodies of the world. We have numbers and are growing day by day. Two years ago at a previous Autumn Council, our statistical secretary informed us that the Seventh-day Adventist density in the world population had increased more than six times as fast as the world population during the last fifty years. This is an enviable record. Today, adherents of our faith number more than two million and the work is well established in strategic points in all the great centers of the world.
We have increased means at our disposal. Appropriations to our worldwide work have more than doubled during the past twelve years. Also during the past three decades the total denomination investment has multiplied 10.7 times. And we enjoy a full body of faith and doctrine, based solely upon the Holy Scriptures. Before our work is finished and probation closes, we will become the center of world discussion, world decision, and concerted world attack. This is inevitable in God's plan for His church. But strange as it may seem, our greatest denominational peril results from our coming of age, the peril of maturity. Today we are witnessing a growing concentration of interests in already-well-established places. These centers of interest are being further congested almost daily by Adventist believers.
Concentration. I am sure you are acutely aware of this trend to centralize around headquarters and institutions. I am not just thinking of centers of learning and administration in North America, for the problem is a worldwide one, probably more acute here. I fully recognize that in a religious organization such as ours, which operates a parochial school system, we must provide strong centers of learning to keep abreast of modern educational standards and advancements, and we must have centers of administration. But something must be done to discourage more Adventists than necessary from settling in these institutional and administrative centers. Again and again we are warned by the Spirit of Prophecy that this practice is contrary to divine principle. As administrators we should study afresh the solemn warnings as recorded in volume 8 of the Testimonies. The ever-increasing congestion of Seventh-day Adventists in these centers makes necessary an unusual pastoral care of large central churches, and consequently ties up a disproportionate number of ministers in one place. This situation creates a demand for associate pastors, in addition to perhaps a ministerial intern, while vast stretches of territory in North America and abroad remain untouched by the light of the gospel and the message of Christ's soon return.
In these large centers we are witnessing disastrous results in the faith of many of our laity. Moving into these centers, with their large, heavily officered churches, many lose their spiritual experience through sheer inactivity, drift into the background, and frequently drop out of the movement.
The increasing colonization around our institutional centers poses a serious problem and has profound bearing on our plans for a more rapid advancement of the cause of God in all the earth. Surely the gathering storm clouds signal the appropriateness of emphasizing the call for many Seventh-day Adventist families to leave the wicked cities, to move away from these congested areas. As leaders, why can't we unite our voices now and urge our people to heed the solemn appeals made to us by the servant of the Lord to move out of the cities.
Dependence on Financial Support. Are we depending on financial support for the speedy finishing of the work? The larger we grow, the more institutions we establish, the greater we expand our mission program, the more demands are made for more funds and appropriations. We seem to be going around in a vicious circle. And, too, a Seventh-day Adventist minister today has learned that he cannot "preach on earth and board in heaven." His mind naturally turns to material thinking. He cannot divorce himself and his family from dwelling upon mundane matters. He must buy, plan, and budget his personal resources. Also there are many things regarding church work that he must continually meet by material planning and action. A constant whirl of activities, numerous calls for monies—all have a tendency to make a worker material-minded. It has never been possible to separate the material from the spiritual, but it seems more impossible today than ever.
We must recognize the sobering fact that our worldwide work can never be finished simply by multiplying enterprises or by putting on more pressures and initiating greater drives and campaigns in our denominational endeavors. Strange as it may seem, mechanical pressure and sheer moral duty may actually stand as a hindrance to that vastly greater flow of means planned for this decisive time.
We have strong statements in the Word of God concerning how His work must be done. God's Word plainly reveals the foolishness of thinking that we can gauge our success by material things: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep" (Ps. 127:1, 2).
There is a lesson in this text for us, We need to refresh our minds lest we forget that man's power is not evidence that God is with us. We must ever remember that numbers and materials are not necessarily a sign of spiritual power. We can never, by the use of physical powers and material things, by utilizing men and management, by the wisdom of men, or through the intensification of the present program, finish the task. My brethren, what we need is not more push, but more power from above. As someone has said, "We need to agonize more than we need to organize."
Peter, with John, about to enter the Temple, said to the lame man who asked for alms: "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee." Here was the secret of their success. They expected Heaven to empower that which they had. The day the church could say, "Silver and gold have I none," is long since past. But the day is not past when the church of God can expect to accomplish its Heaven-sent task only with the power that was manifested at the Gate Beautiful. Without that power all the methods, means, facilities, teaching—all that can be supplied by the sacrifice of our church members—are absolutely powerless to bring us the success that is needed to finish the task God has given us to do.
Entering New Territories. In some overseas fields we seem to hesitate to vigorously push a program of opening up and establishing work in unentered territories and countries. There are a few mission fields where a positive and aggressive program to enter unentered areas has been undertaken, but it appears to me during the past decade we have gradually drifted into the throes of denominational consolidation rather than expansion. We are spending much of our energy looking after what we have gained, and not launching out into unentered territory. The prophet Isaiah declares that the work of the church of God is twofold, to "lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes" (Isa. 54:2).
How long has it been since an Autumn Council has thrilled with the news of the banner of truth being planted in a hitherto unentered country? Our statistical secretary tells me that during the last ten years we entered seven areas, as far as can be determined, in which no work had been previously carried on. I believe the last small country entered was Nepal in 1958. This sounds like a successful program of expansion, but the facts are that some of the countries listed as entered must be checked off, for we have today no representative or group of believers in those territories. An entrance was made but ended in withdrawal. They are: Protectorate of Aden, Muscat and Oman, Sikkim and Sudan.
Surely it has not been due to a decrease in appropriations to missions that we have delayed in establishing new work, for during the past ten years (1952-1962) the General Conference each year, with but one exception, has substantially increased its appropriations to world missions. The increase represented in dollars is tremendous —from $17,421,217.31 in 1952 to $31,505,895 in 1962, and $33,333,186 in 1963.
In view of the present situation perhaps the leaders should think of some plan that would make it possible to quickly push back the frontiers of our mission work in unentered countries and island territories.
This plan would do two things: (1) Assure the world church that our work would be quickly established in still unentered areas. (2) Place a greater moral and financial responsibility upon the overseas indigenous church in maintaining the present established work in its borders.
Spirit of Conformity. We turn now to another retarding influence. It is the subtle spirit of conformity to the present world—that mental posture of being satisfied with only an intellectual grasp of the distinctive doctrines of the church. Sad to say, this spirit has sought entrance into the hearts of some believers in our ranks. It is not a matter of doctrinal disbelief but an attitude that is chilling the ardent longing for the speedy coming of the Lord which should underlie all fervent sacrifice to hasten that day. It is self-evident that confidence in the certainty of the Advent Movement is foundational to any unusual sacrifice in its behalf. As leaders we must definitely remedy the leavening influence of uncertainty and worldly conformity that is neutralizing the effective witness of many.
Primal Purpose of Our Existence
God is calling us anew to the primal purpose of our existence as an organization. Far above figures, above statistics and mechanics, stands God's expectations of us to terminate our sojourn at twentieth-century Kadesh-Barnea. He expects us to bring a halt to these hindering influences. He wants us to marshal all the spiritual forces that He has provided. The Lord expects us to somehow change the emphasis away from the mere mechanics of our organization. Too often we are in danger of giving the appearance that we are building for this present world. Has not the time come for us to bind about our wants, and expand our men and resources in a wiser way?
True, there was tragedy at Kadesh-Barnea, but there was also triumph. The triumph was in Caleb and Joshua. They believed the Lord, they trusted Him. They knew that the God of Israel would go before them in the conquest, and ultimately they entered the Promised Land. The Lord is looking for Calebs and Joshuas in modern Israel. He wants leaders who comprehend the spirituality needed to meet the challenge of this momentous hour.
Need of Special Preparation
God's church has never before faced such a time as this. There is but one inescapable conclusion: namely, that for its expected service in this hour our church is in need of special preparation. If the church has need of this in order that it shall reach God's exalted purpose for this climactic hour, then surely it is for us, the leaders in the Advent Movement, to lead out in seeking this preparation.
The Greatest Hindrance
We recognize that the greatest underlying hindrance is the lack of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the church and in our lives is our sole hope. Only the Spirit can reach the hearts of men everywhere. This is the only means that will prepare the church for the loud cry of the message.
To have this lack supplied should be our greatest burden. It stands between us and the consummation of our commission.
Let us reach out for divine enduement of power to accomplish the task before us.
What Is the Church of God?
In the Gospels it is promised that the church of God may always have the power of the Holy Spirit. We talk about a divine power resting upon the church as a whole in the "latter rain." How will it ever rest upon the church as a whole, if it does not rest upon us as individuals?
Think for a moment—what is the church of Christ? It is not a thing that we can put our hands on—separate, distinct from men. It is not buildings, nor institutions, nor material things; it is not something that we can look at and see. The church is a group of men and women professing the name of Christ. If the church is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, it must come upon the men and women individually who comprise the church.
Brethren, we have not yet begun to capitalize on our possibilities in men and resources, when, under the compulsion of the Holy Spirit, properties, lands, houses, will be sold. We have not yet begun to know the meaning of real sacrifice. That such a spirit will come is evident from the following statement:
There is a time coming when commandment keepers can neither buy nor sell. Make haste to dig out your buried talents. If God has entrusted you with money, show yourselves faithful to your trust; unwrap your napkin, and send your talents to the exchangers, that when Christ shall come, He may receive His own with interest.
In the last extremity, before this work shall close, thousands will be cheerfully laid upon the altar. Men and women will feel it a blessed privilege to share in the work of preparing souls to stand in the great day of God, and they will give hundreds as readily as dollars are given now.—Counsels on Stewardship, p. 40.
As we have studied, God did not design that ancient Israel should wander forty years in the wilderness. He promised to lead them directly to the land of Canaan from Kadesh-Barnea, but we are told that they went not in "because of unbelief." And the frightening part is that the same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. In neither case were the promises of God at fault.
It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecrafion, and strife among the Lord's professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years.—Evangelism, p. 696.
Perhaps we shall never have new ideas, nor methods of work to make our labors today more effective than in the days of the apostles. As then, so now, the combination of the Holy Spirit with human effort is required if we are to have the greatest accomplishments.
Learning, talent, eloquence, every natural or acquired endowment, may be possessed; but, without the presence of the Spirit of God, no heart will be touched, no sinner won to Christ.—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 21.
Since this is true and is so fundamental for the speedy accomplishment of our task, then from this Biennial Council should go forth a universal summons, a rally call, to arise as workers and believers and address ourselves in all earnestness to our God-given task. We should go to the Lord for a new infilling, a new and absolute surrender to the control of the Holy Spirit. No clearer call rings through the Spirit of Prophecy than this specific summons:
The church must arouse to action. The Spirit of God can never come in until she prepares the way.—Selected Messages, book 1, p. 126.
Brethren, I want to see this work finished. You want to see the work finished. When will it be finished? As we near the great climactic hour we are told that the work will go "with a rapidity that will surprise the church" (ibid., book 2, p. 16).
Ezekiel saw a bright light with the swiftness of lightning moving among the living creatures (Eze. 1:13, 14).
The bright light going among the living creatures with the swiftness of lightning represents the speed with which this work will finally go forward to completion.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 754.
Oh, what an hour of glory for the people of Godt It is an hour of wondetment, of victory, of final triumph. The hour demands complete dedication, wholehearted devotion to finishing the work.
My fellow workers, the timetable of last-day events will depend not upon numbers and budgets, but upon the readiness of God's people to bring their lives and activities into conformity with the will of God, so that He can speedily execute His Word upon the earth and finish it by cutting it short in righteousness.