YES, I am leaving an inheritance, and so does every preacher, teacher, and worker. The time comes when each one looks back upon that which he is leaving for the next generation—the result of his labor and its effect upon the church. Then the question we must ask ourselves as we review the structure we have built over the years is, What am I leaving? What effect will my work have upon God's church?
There may have been times in our earlier experience when we were heavily concerned with what the brethren, our administrators, thought of us and our work, and this might have had its merits, if kept in balance and proper perspective. But the far greater concern when one looks back on an almost completed service for God is to ask himself not what someone thought or what was the statistical record he produced, but, What am I leaving my church as an inheritance?
Did the persons I baptized experience the new birth and fully understand the teachings of our church so that they became staunch Seventh-day Adventists to carry on where and when I leave off? Or was I in a hurry to impress the brethren with numbers, and as a result brought many into the church unprepared or too young to understand the significance of it all? Because of their immaturity, did these later become a problem and contribute to lowering the standards of this message that we love? As a result were new ideas and varied standards introduced? This is what happened in the early church. I quote from Institutes of Ecclesiastical History by Mosheim:
Christian churches had scarcely been gathered and organized, when here and there men rose up who not being contented with the simplicity and purity of that religion which the apostles taught, attempted innovations, and fashioned religion according to their own notions. . . .
So long as the greater part of the personal disciples of the Saviour were alive, these innovations were not very successful, and seem to have had no great number of followers. But gradually they acquired more influence; and before the decease of all those whom Christ had himself instructed, they laid the foundation of those sects which afterwards exceedingly disturbed the Christian community, and gave rise to so many controversies.'
This has also happened in modern times in nearly every Protestant church. They started out with high spiritual standards of moral conduct and dress, some of them excluding jewelry as outward forms of pride. They began in humility and sacrifice but gradually yielded to pressure from without, catering to the world, and eventually preaching only a social gospel with no real message for mankind. Regarding this process, Ellen G. White has written:
Has not the same process been repeated in nearly every church calling itself Protestant? As its founders, those who possessed the true spirit of reform, pass away, their descendents come forward and "new-model the cause." . . . A worldly flood, flowing into the church, "carries with it its customs, practices, and idols." 2
One Out of Thirty-five
Is this going to happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Am I playing a part in this? This is a very solemn question. A few years ago I had a college class in principles of Christian living (Spirit of Prophecy) of thirty-five members. We came to the topic of the loud cry. I asked how many had ever heard anything about the loud cry. Only one hand was raised after I had made the question plain a second time. These were all Seventh-day Adventist young people, college freshmen. Then I said that in order to explain that topic I needed to touch on the three angels' messages. But first I would like to know how much in detail I needed to explain the three angels' messages in order to clarify the other. So, I asked how many knew anything about the three angels' messages or had ever heard about them. Only three hands were raised. In consternation I repeated the question, with the same response. I could hardly believe my eyes. One in my class was my secretary. After the class I asked her if she really knew nothing about the three angels' messages. She said she had never heard of them. I said, "But you were baptized, were you not?" "Yes," she replied. "But didn't you have a baptismal class before your baptism?" I asked. She replied in the negative. She said the pastor just asked her if she wanted to be baptized!
We take so much for granted. What about the young people who do not have the privilege of our schools where they can learn of our beliefs? What kind of church members will they be with little or no instruction, or too young to comprehend it? Jesus was twelve years old before He became a son of the law and considered personally responsible, and thirty when He was baptized.
We Dare Not Present a Lame Offering
What kind of heritage am I (are you) leaving my (your) church? Am I leaving a heritage that will continue to teach and practice the early standards of our church? Am I upholding and teaching to my new converts health reform, proper dress of modest apparel with no jewelry (as taught by both Peter and Paul), the Spirit of Prophecy, social standards, proper recreation, as well as the other doctrines of our message? Or am I negligent for fear they will not accept this or that and thus cut down my baptism statistic? I am responsible to God for every soul I present to Him. No matter what the brethren may think of me I dare not present to the Lord a lame offering.
No truly converted person will reject any of God's requirements when they are presented from God's Word with proper spiritual emphasis. And if not converted, should they be baptized? Ours is a solemn responsibility. The young people we teach and baptize today will be the foundation of the church tomorrow. The church of the future will be what we make it today. Can we say with the apostle Paul, "I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God"?
Do We Sow Seeds of Doubt?
And teachers in our schools are also leaving an inheritance. Have we raised questions that have sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of our students and left them wondering about it all? Are those who sat in our classes as strong Adventists as they were before, or have we, indirectly perhaps, caused their feet to stumble? We cannot excuse it on the basis that we did not know their reaction would be adverse. For surely anyone with the training of a teacher should be psychologically able to determine what effect a certain statement will have on the minds of his class. If he does not have this ability then the question naturally arises as to whether he is a capable teacher. If he knows that from his statement will spring seeds of doubt that will minimize our high standards and cast reflection on Scripture or the Spirit of Prophecy, what kind of a church will be the ultimate result? What kind of heritage is he leaving? Is that the kind of church he wants to belong to? A breakdown is always gradual, and the first seed may be thrown out thoughtlessly.
A teacher may not be tempted as a minister to produce numbers to build up his rating. However, he may be tempted to prove his intellectual skill by innovations, and also to show his intellectual freedom that he might gain a reputation. Satan knows just how to tempt each one of us. How much we all need the Lord's grace and Holy Spirit to guide us!
God's message with its high standards has made us what we are as a church. Otherwise we have no excuse for being. There comes a time of reflection when one begins to think of results and influence more than reputation. If not now, we will reflect on it, with no way of repentance, in the final day of reckoning when the Lord's eyes like a flame of fire pierce the soul. When the realities of life appear in true perspective in relation to the ceaseless drive for prestige and position here on this earth, then we can better evaluate our lifework with its results.
Life Is a Mirror
There is nothing that gives us more joy than to meet or hear of those who have sat in our classes and are faithful in giving the message the old-time ring, with no compromise with evil or with modern liberal ideas. Life is a mirror, and we but meet ourselves coming back. The church of the future will be what we make it today. What a responsibility thus falls on every worker, whether preacher, teacher, or administrator! Our carefulness or carelessness will be reflected in the standards of the church. And when we pass the work on to others we are leaving a heritage for tomorrow. What will it be?
1 Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, translated by James Murdock, D.D., London: William Tegg, 1867, p. 45.
2 The Great Controversy, p. 385. Acts 20:26, 27.