ONE soul is of more value to heaven than a whole world of property, houses, lands, money. For the conversion of one soul we should tax our resources to the utmost."—Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 21, 22. Can anything more be done to hold those who have joined our church? What can we do to stop the alarming drift from Christ and His truth?
We should remember that apostasy is not new. There were apostasies in the church of Israel, in the days of Christ, and in the early church. There have always been the Demas, the Judas, and the tares. Therefore, we must not let this present situation discourage or dishearten our work for souls.
Apostasy figures nearly always appear in ratio to accessions. This gives the impression that it is the new converts that drift out. But it is not merely the new members who drift, but the "majority of apostates leave the church after ten years' membership."—The Ministry, August, 1961, p. 17.
It would be much better and certainly give a clearer picture if apostasies were placed in comparison with membership ratio. When we consider our high standards, Sabbath difficulties regarding employment, the unpopular nature of our message, and the opposition and often persecution that so many of our members face, it is wonderful that our apostasies are not much greater. The devil still hates those who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus." If it were not for the grace of God and His keeping power our apostasies would certainly be much greater.
However, our apostasies are much fewer than in many other churches. A well-known writer and preacher has stated, "If departures from the church continue at the present rate, there will soon be more ex-Christians than Christians."
Seventh-day Adventists carry only an active list of members. Very few other churches do this. For instance, a Mormon woman accepted the truth. She wrote a letter to the Mormon Church, saying she was resigning from the church, having become a Seventh-day Adventist. They refused to accept her resignation, stating that "once a Mormon, always a Mormon."
While apostasies must cause us concern, there is also much room for rejoicing that our apostasies are not much higher. The devil certainly would like to see a much higher percentage.
Why Do People Drift Out of the Adventist Church and Become Apostates?
The fault is not with the message. It is eternally sure. It is based on the sure word of prophecy. It rose on time and is doing the very work today that was predicted.
"They went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19). We must expect losses. Some come into the church that should never have been there in the first place. Every evangelist must remember that all the converts are not brought into the truth by the Spirit of God; the devil brings some into the church. The tares are sown among the wheat and "the enemy that sowed them is the devil" (Matt. 13: 39). Referring to the gospel net, Christ said it "gathered of every kind" (verse 47), some good and some bad. Even Christ had a Judas.
Persecutions. "When tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended" (Matt. 13:21). In Matthew 13 Christ lists many reasons for apostasies.
Young People Taken for Granted
Heresies and doctrinal confusion. "For there are certain men crept in unawares" (Jude 4). As a burglar creeps into the house, so burglars will come in every generation to rob us of our faith in God's Word and His truth. Hence, "Ye should earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3). However, when the servant of God raises his voice against the burglar, he must always be prepared to face criticism for disturbing the peace.
Too often young people are baptized with little instruction and at times no instruction. Too often young people are taken for granted. They are referred to as "natural increases." How long will we persist in such nonscriptural talk? There is no such thing as "natural increase." No one comes into the church of God naturally. They must be supernaturally born again or else they should never be baptized. It is a crime for an undertaker to bury a living person, and it is equally wrong for a minister to baptize a person who has not died to sin.
To be born in a Seventh-day Adventist home no more makes one a Seventh-day Adventist than being born in a hospital would make him a doctor or a nurse. Too much is taken for granted with our young people. They need instruction. They need conversion as much as anyone else. Having good parents is not enough. Grace does not run in the blood, but sin does.
Abraham, "the father of the faithful," had several sons (Gen. 25:1-6) but only one became a child of God. The Word of God is filled with similar examples of good parents, but wayward children. Many apostasies result from young people being baptized with little or no instruction.
Is the Evangelist to Blame?
Church misunderstandings offend all too many. Many apostasies begin here. It is easy to pass the blame for apostasies on to the "other fellow." The responsibility begins with the evangelist but certainly does not end there. The pastor or shepherd of the flock, the administrator, and the church member all have a part in the responsibility.
Is the evangelist to blame? We know he is far from perfect. Severe criticism has been leveled against our evangelists because of losses among the converts. They certainly have a responsibility to aim at sound conversion to Christ and to see that converts are fully instructed.
The evangelist would do well to work closely with the pastor and church officers. Personally, I always invited the church elders to attend our baptismal classes so they would be acquainted with the new members and also satisfy their own minds that the converts were fully instructed.
It is of interest to note that even Apollos, a man "mighty in the scriptures" (Acts 18:24) before "the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him" (verse 27), "was instructed in the way of the Lord" (verse 25). We do well to follow the early church. We must take nothing for granted, but see that all phases of truth are covered.
In the postapostolic centuries, laxity prevailed and the church door was opened to those of little or no instruction. Millions came in, and the church that started out as the light of the world plunged the world into the Dark Ages. Such was the tragic result of bringing in multitudes of uninstructed and unconverted people. We must guard against this in the Adventist Church today.
The evangelist must also realize that it is his duty to acquaint converts with our publications such as the Review and Herald, Signs of the Times, et cetera, and to encourage them to purchase our own books, especially the Spirit of Prophecy writings. He should also introduce them to the Sabbath school and its Bible study privileges.
After Ten Years
A recent survey in a newspaper in New South Wales on the question of divorce and the danger years of married life stated, "Contrary to popular opinion, the first year of married life is not the worst. Only 10 per cent of failures aired in court occurred during that period. Most dangerous period proved to be that from the sixth to the ninth year of married life."
This is also true with those "married" to Christ. "The majority of apostates leave the church after ten years' membership." —Ibid. Thus this question of apostasy is largely a pastoral problem. It is also significant that when speaking with apostates or backsliders they practically all speak highly of the evangelist who brought them into the truth, but many feel that the church has let them down. Does this not show where the main weakness lies?
Pastor Not Infallible
"This is a pastoral problem."—Ibid., November, 1952, p. 11. Who is to blame? The pastor? He is given the task of adding and holding converts. But the pastor does not claim infallibility. He is not a superman. He cannot lead out in everything. It is impossible to do successfully all that is often demanded of him. To a pastor was given the instruction, "Do the work of an evangelist." Every Seventh-day Adventist church is to be an evangelistic center. To do this work the pastor must leave many other things to others.
"Feed my sheep" was the command of Christ. Failure here is a major cause of apostasy. Hungry sheep will wander. Sheep in good pasture will not wander into the barren hills and dry valleys. When a person does not find the soul satisfaction that he had expected to find in the church, he will go elsewhere, or just drift back into the world at least to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Blaming another worker will not help the situation. Passing resolutions will not avail. The farmer who leaves his crop unattended will reap only weeds. Newborn babes in the church don't just "stick if they are genuine." We do not leave a young baby unattended with a "if he's any good he'll survive." Will a baby survive? No, he will not survive; not unless for a long time he is cared for and fed correctly. Feed the flock of God over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers. This is our task. There are too many poor sermons preached in Adventist churches. I hear this complaint many times from our lay people. Good Adventist sermons make good Adventists. What made them Seventh-day Adventists will keep them Adventists. When a new convert arrives at the place where he can answer questions thrown at him by a caviler, his confidence in the truth is strengthened. Confidence takes the place of fear and uncertainty.
It is apparent that the main blame for apostasies lies at the door of the minister. He must be a minister of the Word. He must feed the flock. Lack of preaching the great teachings of the Bible in our church services is the greatest cause of apostasy among God's blood-bought children. Sermons—not pep talks or mere exhortations or psychology—are what is needed. Our people want to know what God would have them know and do. This is what they need. This is what we must give them. Our people have a right to expect help and nourishment when they attend the worship hour on Sabbath.
"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11), "declaring . . . the testimony of God" (1 Cor. 2: 1). Lack of preaching the great doctrines and truths of the Bible is a leading cause of apostasy. We must develop again the form of Bible studies with our members using their Bibles. Too often they are bombarded with propaganda and promotion. Why not plan behind the scenes for our various departments and leave the preaching service for preaching the Word. This is surely the "more excellent way" because mere pep talks do not pep up those who are spiritually hungry and weak. Hungry sheep will wander.
We must also keep well away from the popular type of sermon as used in some churches. Our people need to be fed with the bread of life and not empty husks of fanciful interpretations. We need to ascertain just what God is teaching in a passage of Scripture and teach this and not attempt to show what we can get out of it, thus flattering our egos but bringing no profit to the listeners.
Nothing will close the door to apostasy more effectively than good Bible preaching.
Because people usually love the person or evangelist who brought them to Christ and His truth, the pastor who often refers to the evangelist will endear himself to the congregation. Frequent visits after baptism will also help and will not give the new convert that "I've been let down" feeling.
Lack of personal interest in new people as brothers and sisters in the church is also a contributing factor in apostasy. "We all long for a warm handshake." It is our business to be our brother's keeper. We cannot shirk this responsibility without endangering our own destiny. New members should receive the same welcome as the prodigal son received. They should receive the same care as the human body gives to its various members. "Members should have the same care one for another" (1 Cor. 12:25).
Lionard Fletcher tells of hearing Gipsy Smith in London, when speaking to ministers say, "I want to open my heart to you. Many converts get frozen out of the church. When people say to me, 'Come and preach in our church; we have a beautiful organ, a wonderful choir, and the cream of society,' I know it is ice cream. The church that thinks it is all right is the church that is dangerous for new people." Our churches are not altogether free from this same danger of coldness, especially the larger churches. A non-Adventist said to one of our conference presidents, "You Adventists are a strange people. You will move heaven and earth to make a convert. You will love them, pray for them, hold studies in their homes, take them to meetings, do anything for them to get them into the church, then after they are in you treat them like the devil." While this is not accurate, there could be a little truth in the statement. Too many have left our church because of their treatment by church officers and members. Thus it is apparent we all share in the blame for apostasies, and every evangelist, pastor, administrator, church officer, and member must share in the work of holding members in the fold of Christ. This task is too big for the pastor. Henry Ford said, "Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs." Therefore, let us take part and endeavor to at least save some around us and thus reduce the danger of apostasies.