The call to the church of today is to advance on all fronts. It is a new and vigorous appeal with a militant ring and an air of hopeful expectancy. What if this should be the hour of destiny, our day of Pentecost? Surely the times call for a power and a purpose in the hearts of God's people to meet the tragic need of a world's end.
We need to plan wisely and well. At a time like this, our best methods might easily fall short of the goal. For that reason the steps we now take must be in the right order. And what we do must be equal to the divine task.
But where shall we begin? And how shall we accomplish the work? We remember the victories of Israel─the deliverance at the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, the triumph of Gideon's band. We never tire of reading these exploits of the past. In each experience we see how divine strategy and power may combine with human effort to bring about the seemingly impossible.
But there were also times of signal defeat. As great a leader as Joshua was defeated at─of all places─Ai. Compared to Jericho it was an easy prey; one that would take, as they supposed, little time, less effort, and no prayer. The defeat was a stinging one.
SIN IN THE CAMP
Joshua was deeply humiliated. Such a setback was both unexpected and unacceptable. In dismay and bewilderment he fell on his face and sought the Lord for the reason. In His reply, God revealed to Joshua that there was sin in the camp. He said to him, "Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies ... because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you" (Joshua 7:12).
This great leader, as mighty and resourceful as he was, knew that he could not hope to succeed without God's presence to guide and keep him. Except the Lord go with him, the conquest of Canaan could never be carried out. Even little Ai could be won only on God's terms. Sin must be dealt with first. After that─Ai.
The people of God today must go up against more than Jericho and Ai. Theirs is a world to reach for Christ. And unless the Lord goes with them, they too may fail and beg for help in bitterness of soul as did the man of God of that day.
But suppose that somehow, without His presence, God should allow the battle to go well for a time. What then? Would He be pleased because the results were so favorable? At the height of his power King Saul succeeded in destroying the great army of the Amalekites. It was a remarkable military victory. But when the prophet Samuel appeared, he had nothing but rebuke for the victor, saying, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?"(l Samuel 15:22).
A comparable success in the work of God today would be a natural cause for rejoicing. But what a pity if, while we joy in our apparent progress, the Lord should be more impressed by the prevalence of our sins. May such a thing not be true of the people of God in a day like this?
God has not forsaken His own. He intends for them to witness to His power today as truly as He ever did His chosen nation then. Did not Joshua finally take Ai? In God's plan and by His grace the victory was assured. The way was thus opened for the conquest of the Promised Land. This is the lesson God has for our day and our people.
OUR GREATEST NEED
Our first goal, then, is not toward external gains. It is not meeting our over all budget, nor the manning of our mission stations, nor the widening of our evangelistic outreach. Even these extremely vital issues must yield to a prior need. "A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work" (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 121).
What has delayed our taking hold of this first of all our tasks? For one thing, it is never easy to be honest about our own serious faults. Neither do we readily admit to the shortcomings of the church as fully and as frankly as we ought. Yet, if this be the church of prophecy which John the revelator saw, it has a decided work of heart-searching to do. It must freely confess to a materialism and self-satisfaction which say," 'How rich I am! And how well I have done! I have everything I want in the world' " (Revelation 3:17, NEB).*
This divinely foretold condition calls for prompt action: (1) to protect the church against the inroads of worldliness from without, and (2) to remedy what spiritual laxity already exists among the believers. The second is more difficult, for it is easier to prevent the problem than it is to remedy it─after it has become firmly established.
We know that evangelism is the lifeblood of the church. All of us long for a Pentecostal harvest of souls through the mighty agency of the Holy Spirit. But this poignant desire must not blind us to reality. We must be keenly aware that the enemy would not hesitate to use the most sacred means to his own ends. Notice how he has succeeded in the past. "By bringing into the church those who bear Christ's name while they deny His character, the wicked one causes that God shall be dishonored, the work of salvation misrepresented, and souls imperiled" (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 71).
PREPARATION FOR FELLOWSHIP
Think of that! What a solemn responsibility rests upon every worker to prevent Satan from perpetrating such a subtle deception upon the remnant church! Of course, it is true that the minister is not to legislate in matters of doctrine and organization. But it is equally true that he is bound before God to carefully discriminate in the choice of each candidate for church fellowship. Woe to the man who does not, for the decisions involved are eternal in their consequences.
Without this carefulness there is the risk of early apostasy. The other danger is that if such additions do remain, but only as nominal Adventists, they will most surely contaminate the spiritual life of others, so that the latter evil will be worse than the first.
The fervent preaching of the cross of Christ is needed now, as always, to bring about a great spiritual revival.
But for this quickening of the Spirit to be accompanied by a genuine reformation, backsliders must hear again the thunders of Sinai. Of necessity also, sinners will be instructed in righteousness and temperance, and warned of the judgment. And they will sense anew the timeliness of the truths that separate us from the world, identify us as a people, and prepare us for the kingdom.
Some may say that there is no new sin in our day. No, there is only more of it. How well the devil knows that. We know it too. But it is far easier to do other good and necessary things than it is to deal with popular and resolute sin. However, sin does not solve itself. We may gloss over it. We may even ignore it for a time. But it is still there. Not only does it not "go away" but it continues to worsen.
The truancy of Jonah from his divine assignment shows how unwelcome the task is. And there was Jeremiah, who was "naturally of a timid and shrinking disposition" (Prophets and Kings, p. 419). Called to a work of reform within the church, he lamented his misfortune by saying, "I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.... Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I would not stay" (Jeremiah 20:7-9).
FACING THE PROBLEMS
With these examples in mind, we today must face squarely the spiritual problems of the church, for the salvation of Seventh-day Adventists. Willful sin, brought on by material prosperity and the love of the world, separates the soul from God. It thereby unfits us to bear the gospel to the world at a time when human probation is about to close and the Spirit of God departs from the hearts of men.
Our heavenly Father has ordained that this people shall complete an arrested reformation. Others may substitute activity, generosity, and formality for the work of reform, but we may not. Before all else, we are to seek such a quickening of our spiritual senses as will make sin repulsive and a genuine reform mandatory. Then, instead of the words "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you," we shall hear the call "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee" (Isaiah 59:2; 60:1, 2).
The fruit of our revival will be graciously abundant. As the prophet says further, "Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee" (Isaiah 60:5).
WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY
To that end we should be aware not only of our relation to prophecy but also of a new opportunity and a new challenge awaiting us. The condition of the popular churches has reached a point where thousands of men and women are disappointed and dissatisfied. Soon the plight of the honest in heart will become unbearable to them. More and more, they will search the Word and pray for guidance. Rewarded in that, they will look for a people whose life and doctrine conform to their own God-given ideals.
Shall we not prepare now for the waiting providence of God? Shall we not do that which His wisdom has put first on our denominational agenda? Then, as the prophet foresaw, we, as God's people, revived and purified, shall lighten the world with the witness of our lives and the preaching of the everlasting gospel. What a privilege and what a prospect!
* From The New English Bible, New Testament. ©The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961. Reprinted by permission.
Louis F. Cunningham is a retired minister in Kernersville, North Carolina. Reprinted from Ministry, 7970.