IN 1967, 30,083 persons joined the Southern Baptist Church and 35,906 left that church. The Southern Baptist Convention surveyed those who joined and those who left in an effort to determine why each made the decision he did. I was much interested in the results. Why do people join the Baptist Church? Is it because of some overwhelming sense of divine destiny? Do these new members feel a great conviction that the Baptist Church, among hundreds of denominations in the world today, is God's true church? Does some great compulsion of conscience motivate their action? Why did 30,083 Americans join the Southern Baptist Church in 1967?
The survey report released in Nashville, Tennessee, recently revealed that 33.6 percent of the new members joined because they felt the beliefs of the Baptist Church were more Biblically accurate; 33.4 percent became Baptists because their spouse was a member. The balance of 33 percent suggested various reasons, largely circumstances and convenience.
These figures made me think. During 1967, why did more than 140,000 people around the world become Seventh-day Adventists? What motivated their decision? Were only a third of these convinced that Seventh-day Adventists are more Biblically accurate than other denominations? Did 33.4 percent join merely because their spouse happened to be a Seventh-day Adventist? And did the other third join be cause there happened to be a Seventh-day Adventist church in the community and it was convenient for them to join, or because they desired social prestige by joining the church?
As I considered the gains in the Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist churches I have arrived at certain conclusions as far as our own church is concerned. One hundred and forty thousand people did not become Adventists in 1967 merely because they believed our church is "more Biblically accurate" than other churches. This was a major influencing factor, no doubt, but if all the people who believe the doctrines of our church became members, our member ship would far exceed its present figure. For instance, our Yearbook reports approximately 47,000 Seventh-day Adventists in Jamaica. A census taken in the same island revealed that more than 100,000 persons consider themselves Seventh-day Adventists.
A few people may become Seventh-day Adventists because a wife or a husband hap pens to be a member. I doubt that this percentage is as high as in the Baptist Church. As far as circumstances and convenience are concerned, I am certain that few become members merely because the Seventh-day Adventist church happens to be closer, or because it is a little more convenient to become a Seventh-day Adventist, because it is not convenient to become one.
Why Are Seventh-day Adventists Here?
This led me to further thinking. Why is there a Seventh-day Adventist Church? Why are we here? What are the reasons for our existence? Is it merely that we want to keep the seventh-day Sabbath? I think not for if this were the only reason, we could join the Seventh Day Baptist Church or the Seventh Day Church of God. Is it be cause of the doctrine of baptism by immersion? If this were the only reason, we could join the Baptist Church or one of the other churches that teach baptism by immersion. Is it belief in the Second Advent? If so, we could follow Billy Graham or one of the evangelical churches. What about conditional immortality? Could this be the reason? No, not necessarily. Many are thinking seriously about this today. Doctrinal differences alone do not account for our existence as a people. There is some thing more. Turn with me to God's Word.
"And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped" (Rev 14:14-16).
A Special Message
The above is an inspired picture of the return of our Lord. We are Seventh-day Adventists because we believe that Jesus is coming. Just prior to this scene the revelator was shown three great messages going to the world. You are familiar with the messages of Revelation 14:6-12—the judgment hour, the fall of Babylon, the mark of the beast. John describes these three mes sages as the everlasting gospel.
Here is an all-inclusive message. It catches the sparks of truth from all the fires since Pentecost and sets them ablaze for God to prepare a people for the coming of Jesus. It is not a denial or a repudiation of old truth, but rather a revelation of new truth, or as we say, "present truth." This includes a great deal. It includes man's fall, the broken law, the plan of redemption, the atonement, the work of the Holy Spirit, faith and repentance and confession, obedience and victory over sin through the in dwelling Christ, and the place of works in our experience. The judgment and the final restoration are included. All of these comprise the everlasting gospel.
This is not just Pharisaic assent to some system of theology. Christ condemned this in His day. It is not the head concerned merely with externals, such as service, sacraments, philanthropy. It is not a legal, loveless, joyless, burdensome religion. It is something more.
The servant of the Lord sums up the three angels' messages when she said, "Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, 'It is the third angel's message in verity.' "— Evangelism, p. 190. It is not ethereal; it is something practical; it is an experience that you and I must know. This was the message to be proclaimed with mighty power in all parts of the world in these last days.
A Special Movement
This message was to call into existence a new movement, calling men and women out of the fallen churches of the world: "And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev, 18:4).
God is calling a people out of the confusion of Babylon into the light of present truth. Here is a message that will turn the eyes of men and women upon the Lord Jesus Christ in a new and more meaningful way. Here is a message to prepare a people for the return of their Saviour. Brethren and sisters, you and I are part of a called-out people. We are not just another church. We are here because God calls us to be different men and women!
Read it in 1 Peter 2:9: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light." God has a chosen people. They are a peculiar people. God calls us out from the world to be a separate people.
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
How could words be clearer? Here is a call to separation, a call to be a clean, distinct people. We are a called-out people. I say again, we must never forget; we are not here today just as one of many churches. We are here as God's called-out people with a message to prepare men and women for the return of Jesus.
A Special Commission
This new movement has a new commission—to preach this message "unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." This last-day message must go to every tribe, every people. Our commission is a different commission.
When I was in Australia a few months ago I heard a report from the South Pacific. One of our pastors was talking with a Protestant leader there about the ecumenical movement. Our pastor asked this leader what he thought of the ecumenical movement.
"We are all for it," the man replied. "We haven't sufficient men or money to support our program; our churches are folding up." Then he summed it all up by saying, "We are a dying cause, and if we can come together we will be able to hang on a little longer."
How thankful I am that we do not be long to a dying cause. We have a fresh, vibrant message and are part of a movement that, under God, is going to triumph. As Seventh-day Adventist leaders we are not going to be called upon to pronounce a requiem over the corpse of a dying cause or to execute the last will and testament of a failure. Our commission sends us to the ends of the earth to preach, to teach, to heal, to do good, and to prepare men and women for the coming of Jesus. This is why we are here.
Special Medical Thrust
This new commission sends us out with a new message of healthful living. "It should ever be kept prominent that the great object to be attained through this channel [the sanitariums] is not only health, but perfection, and the spirit of holiness, which cannot be attained with diseased bodies and minds"—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 554.
We are not here simply to operate community hospitals, or hospitals that are no different than those of the world. We are here with a larger message of healthful living. This new concept, under the blessing of God, has resulted in the establishment of 134 sanitariums and hospitals, 192 clinics and dispensaries, 52 vessels, and 11 planes.
This new commission likewise has a new concept of education. We must never lose sight of intellectual excellence. This is a major part of our program, but there is something else. We are not here merely to prepare young people to take certain examinations or to receive certain degrees. If all they need is professional excellence, there are some fine schools in the world today. Seventh-day Adventist schools are to be different. "The knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ expressed in character is the very highest education."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 37. We must never forget this. We are here to operate schools that will prepare young men and young women for eternity.
Under God's blessing this concept of Christian education operates 4,537 elementary schools, 435 colleges and secondary schools with some 400,000 children and youth in attendance. Let us never for get the purpose for which these schools exist!
Special Publishing Work
This new commission also brought a new concept of the publishing work. We do not operate presses merely to sell books. There are plenty of books being sold. The servant of the Lord reminds us, "The great object of our publications is to exalt God, to call men's attention to the living truths of His Word."—Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 12. Our 46 publishing houses around the world today are publishing 292 different periodicals and in 278 different languages. Let us never forget why we operate publishing houses!
Keep Our Purposes in Focus
Why do we exist as a people? We are here because God has a special message to go to the world in these last days—a message that will prepare men and women for the return of Christ. It would be easy to settle down as just another church—going to church on Saturday instead of Sun day, following a certain pattern of. diet, and doing a little welfare work. But, brethren, this is not our destiny! Too many of our members have never fully grasped the purpose of our existence or else have forgotten it. In the minds of too many this has become fuzzy! We need to clear our thinking, to refresh our purposes, to remember why we are here.
(To be continued)