It is a privilege to be a Seventh-day Adventist. I love our church and the message of truth and salvation which the Lord has entrusted to us. I believe that the Advent message is God's last message to a confused and dying world.
No people in history have been more blessed with revelation from God—in doctrine, spiritual enlightenment, and instruction in living. For more than 120 years this church has withstood the test of time and the onslaughts of Satan in confusing heresies. If it is in danger of heresy today, it may be a heresy created within itself, that of self-satisfaction.
Our organizational setup is a marvel to the world. It is closely knit and operated with time-tested policies. We have presidents, vice-presidents, treasurers, assistant treasurers, numerous departments with many secretaries and assistant secretaries —and the number keeps growing. Conference offices are equipped with modern business appliances, and the activity and movement of our workers is astounding.
We also have conference sessions—from world to local—councils, committee meetings, board meetings, conventions, institutes, camp meetings, retreats, campaigns, and programs without end.
It was a thrilling experience to attend the recent General Conference session and to listen to the reports. However, as a businessman and technician I could not avoid asking the question mentally—Are we, as an organization of believers in Christ's remnant church accomplishing the true purpose for our existence? I believe this question is vital, especially in view of conditions in the world today. Fulfilled prophecy warns that the end is near—the time is late. Of special interest were the reports of North America, as of the end of 1965. As a base for comment we would first list some of the facts:
In North America we had 10 union conference organizations; 60 local conferences and missions; 3,335 churches with 380,855 members; 1,013 schools, including colleges; 2 universities; 1 medical school; 43 hospitals and sanitariums, most with nurse-training departments; 5 publishing houses; 4 food companies. All were operating efficiently within their fields.
The total number of paid employees was 24,887, of which 4,763 were classified as evangelistic or administrative workers.
The total received in tithes and offerings was S112,961,805.47. In addition to this amount we could add the large sums spent for literature, and also the money that passed through our medical institutions and others, which we are not able to list.
In every item mentioned above some gains were achieved. Yet with all this organization, all these institutions, workers, activity, motion, and all the funds raised—the membership gain in North America was only 10,167, less then 3 per cent—a figure to be considered seriously in relationship to the foregoing.
At this point we could well question whether we as an organization of leaders and members have truly been successful in fulfilling the real purpose for our existence. Can we be proud of our achievements?
A recent experience in the textile business in which I am involved may help us in our analysis:
A certain textile manufacturing company which I know well has conducted a successful, profitable business for many years. During recent years the operation had been modernized with new and improved buildings, and more efficient productive machinery had been installed. Everything had been changed to conform with the latest business practices and the offices were enlarged and improved. All the newly created textile fibers and yarns were used in producing millions of yards of beautiful and useful fabrics. The factory operated continuously six full days every week, and several hundred people were given steady employment. Several millions of dollars were paid out each year in wages.
At the beginning of 1966 the board of directors met to review the reports of the year 1965 and to study the operation of the business. They were interested in the modern buildings, the new machinery, modern offices, and the number of people employed. All this was good, but in the final analysis they were primarily interested in whether the business had accomplished that for which it was established. The audit revealed that the yardage output of the factory had increased substantially and the dollar value of sales had also increased.
However, in the world money is not invested and businesses established merely for the purpose of constructing buildings, running machinery, producing consumer products, or giving employment. A business organization is established to make a profit, to produce the maximum possible return in relationship to the money, time, and effort invested.
In the case of this particular organization, the balance sheet revealed that despite all the physical improvements and the increase in production and sales and people employed, the business showed considerably less profit than was expected—in fact, it was on the verge of showing a loss. The organization had failed to fully accomplish that for which it was established. Something was wrong! A great deal of study was given to the problem, and changes were made to restore the business to a profitable operation. At the time of writing the reports show the company is again operating on a normal profitable basis.
If we look at our church organization we will agree that we have been successful in a material way—successful in establishing educational institutions, hospitals, modern medical centers, publishing houses with their distribution of millions of dollars' worth of literature, food factories, and other church-controlled businesses. We do not lack in organization, machinery, or activity. We have been successful money raisers and promoters as demonstrated by reports. From a worldly standpoint, Adventists are considered good businessmen.
But taking all this into account, we should ask ourselves: Are all these activities fulfilling their designed purpose? When Heaven audits the reports, will there be rejoicing when it is seen that with all the money raised and the great efforts put forth by the members and the 24,887 paid workers in North America, that the gain in souls in 1965 was only 10,167—or less than 3 per cent?
Is it the Lord's will that our conference officials and even our ministers be primarily ordained businessmen?
The real purpose for our existence as a church is to save souls—to Evangelize, Evangelize, Evangelize. Material things are necessary and good in their place, when properly used, but our profit should be found not in dollars or other material things, but in souls saved. We are failing unless we judge our actions and results in relation to the true purpose of bearing fruit by the salvation of lost souls. Should we not be about our "Father's business"? May the Lord help us get a new vision—putting "first things first." We have no choice between dollars and souls.