In our mission to make disciples of every nation, we have to abide by the blueprint laid out for us in God’s Word. I remember as a young child I had an obsession with Legos. In the rare occasion that my parents acquiesced in the purchase of a small Lego set for me, I would turn into a bundle of happiness and joy. I couldn’t wait to go home to open the little box and tear through the little plastic bags that separated the pieces into organized piles. I understood the basic principle; in order to create the model depicted on the box, I had to faithfully follow the accompanying instructions.
Fortunately, the makers of Lego were wise enough to include nifty pictures of the parts as well as detailed instructions to assemble the model. It is true, I did have the freedom to make my own projects, but when I deviated from the instruction sheet, the result was a funny design that didn’t quite work the way the Lego project designers intended. There were just enough parts in the kit to complete the project. However, when I used my inefficient methodology, I was invariably either short of pieces or found myself with pieces left over!
Imagine the consternation our loving God must feel when His people try to put together a church using human methodology and logic. On top of that, add the emotional tirades and bitter bickering that often end up becoming the main show in our board and constituency meetings! Alas, true discipleship diminishes when we seek unbiblical methods to grow and manage our churches.
Is God’s primary concern about numbers? Or is it about the individual’s walk with Him?
I believe these questions set up a false dichotomy that is perpetuated in many circles. In order to understand what Christ expects of His church, we must understand that He is the Grand Designer. Like the manufacturers of the Lego sets, He has a set of instructions for His church to follow.
PRINCIPLE 1: THE WORD OF GOD IS THE BLUEPRINT
It goes without saying; Christianity would have no reason to exist if the Bible were merely a set of mythical stories and “good ideas”. Christian advocates of higher criticism propose ideas that can never get anywhere because they cannot escape the Biblical origins of their Christianity. Therefore, they are caught in what computer programmers call an “infinite loop”. Still, they constantly chip away at the foundations that prop them up. The only logical position is to give the Bible full authority. Paul said, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (KVJ, 2 Timothy 3:16).
PRINCIPLE 2: CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH
Jesus is the head of the church, not Peter or Paul and not James or Ellen White. However, this does not mean they have nothing to say which is “profitable for doctrine and reproof”. It means Jesus Christ is our prime example for discipleship. After all, Peter denied his Savior thrice, and Paul admitted he was the “chief of sinners."
What the apostles and prophets implore us to look to Christ. He is our example and salvation. In fact, the remnant church will fully reflect His character and is the embodiment of the scripture, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
PRINCIPLE 3: CHRIST IS INTERESTED IN NUMBERS
We would be denying a fundamental principle of scripture if we were to claim that Jesus was not interested in getting as many people into the kingdom of heaven as possible. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). The plan of salvation is the magnum opus of all acts of God. It gives provision for eternal life for each individual. God’s great love for all was manifested in the cross. What great love! There is no doubt that if all chose to follow Him, God would save every man, woman and child. Indeed, He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (1 Peter 3:9).
PRINCIPLE 4: CHRIST CANNOT ALTER HIS STANDARDS
Because God is not willing that any should perish, and yet He cannot change His law, He asks for all to “come to repentance”. Because the law of God is really His character transcribed as the rule of order in the universe, He and His law are not separable entities. God cannot arbitrarily discard or change His precepts at whim. We must not forget that our iniquities separate us from God and because of the principle of freewill He needs us to “come to repentance” so we may not perish.
Christ did not save us by abolishing His Law. If He did, His sacrifice and death would have been meaningless and superfluous. Why die to atone for mankind’s transgressions when you can simply abrogate the law and therefore eliminate the necessity for a legal remedy? No serious-minded Adventist would consider that the law was eliminated. However, by teaching that commandment keeping is unnecessary or optional at best, we essentially support the abrogation theory and therefore encourage adverse attitudes to commandments keeping. Therefore, when we seek to bring the unchurched into our fellowship, we should not bribe prospective members with the idea that the Christian walk requires no repenting or that the standards of God can be lowered. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In response to the measure of love Jesus has bestowed upon us, He expects a reasonable return, that of freewill obedience to Him. Christ knows our frailty; He experienced it. And what He requires, be sure He will provide.
PRINCIPLE 5: MANY WILL BE EXCLUDED FROM THE KINGDOM
While it is true that Jesus wants all to enter the kingdom, evil cannot be allowed to exist beyond its probation. The universe will once-and-for-all see how wicked evil truly is, that it caused the death of God’s only Son, and caused turmoil and persecution of those that believe in His name. Unfortunately, there are a great many who have become one with evil and refuse to part with it. Therefore, God has no choice but to destroy the wicked in the end. “…As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways…” (Ezekiel 33:11).
Therefore, when building a fellowship of believers, we cannot allow wickedness in our midst. Sin is an enemy, not a friend. While Christ was on this earth He sadly saw many turn away, unwilling to follow Him. Today, too many churches lower their standards to see their pews filled. This is a case of leading people on. If they are asked as Christ asked, “take up your cross”, would they be willing to fall in line? Or will they turn away like the rich young ruler did?
PRINCIPLE 6: WE ARE ALL CALLED TO BE EFFECTIVE
The Church contains many classes of people and is often referred to as “militant”, fighting a spiritual battle. Like an actual army, the church militant is comprised of a structure of leaders, conscripts, and logistical problem solvers. In response to Jesus’ call to heal the broken in heart and bind up their wounds, there are medics working in field hospitals, helping those who seek spiritual healing. (Psalm 147:3). It becomes a problem, however, when those in the field hospital forget there is still a war to fight.
On the other hand, those called to the front lines need to avoid griping about their wounded comrades in comfy beds and cool rooms, otherwise their effectiveness in battle will wane. Therefore, an effective army must have a well organized healing system as well as a fighting force in tip-top shape. The opponent will be forced to retreat because of the overwhelming odds facing him. “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Sin cannot abide in a perfect universe. If God were to alter His standard of righteousness, He would have to alter Himself. Therefore, God sent His only begotten Son to make provision for all people. This is the quantity part.
In addition, God’s gift does not end with His death on the cross. He provides the righteousness of His Son. Paul said “…be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of our your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). In other words, Christ’s sacrifice not only buys our pardon, but also effects the changing of our lives into conformity to His. And this is where the quality part comes in.
In conclusion, while seeking to bring souls to God’s church, we must avoid the temptation to follow worldly culture and practices that desire quantity while ignoring quality. When we understand that God seeks both quantity and quality, we recognize that questionable methods end up doing more harm than good as they may bring souls to Jesus, but while “having a form of godliness…[they deny] the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).