The First Sign of Backsliding

Heron Channelside (5)

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Concerning Jesus, the Pharisees said,

Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked.  “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? John 7:47-48 NLT

In Luke 24:13-34 Jesus uses Scripture to explain to a couple of friends who the Messiah is, while they don’t even recognize Him. Jesus didn’t want them to recognize Him. Jesus did not need them to recognize Him. The Scriptures stood on their own regardless if it was the Son of God or a small servant child sharing them. However, the Pharisees thought people should base their beliefs on who endorsed them rather than what the Scriptures said about them. The Pharisees thought people should just believe whatever the leaders believed, and if a leader did not believe it neither should anyone else. 

May I suggest that the first sign of backsliding is when people take their eyes off of Scriptures and look to their leaders alone?

In Exodus 32:1-35 the people took their eyes off the law they just heard and looked to Aaron. The people should have held Aaron accountable to the law but instead they thought Aaron was above the law or able to interpret the law all on his own. Maybe they thought since Aaron was the high priest that he would be more spiritual than they. He wasn’t. Working as a Bible worker and lay preacher I have a lot of close associations with ordained ministers as well as lay people. I am surprised to find many lay members assume pastors are on a higher spiritual plane when they are not. Should pastors walk very closely to Jesus? Of course! But so should every single church member.  Lay members are called Christians. In sign language the literal translation is “Christ person” or a person like Christ. You can’t have any calling higher than that. Being an ordained pastor does not make you like Christ. Being a true Christian makes you like Christ.

Not by their wealth, their education, or their position does God estimate men. He estimates them by their purity of motive and their beauty of character. He looks to see how  much of His Spirit they possess and how much of His likeness their life reveals.  -Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, Pages 477-8

Maybe the people of Israel thought Aaron had special insights into the law and could interpret it better than they. He didn’t. On the other hand, we have Jesus who was God in the flesh, yet instead of claiming any special insights or philosophies above Scripture, He always stuck to Scripture. In Matthew 4:1-11, when Jesus was tempted He did not check with His personal inclinations or philosophy in order to create any gray areas. Instead He answered every temptation with “It is written” in the Scripture. In Luke 10:25-26 an expert in the law asked Jesus how to have eternal life. He did not give any off-the-cuff answer. He directed the man straight to Scripture.  Had Aaron looked to the law he just heard instead of the people or his own emotions, the golden calf never would have been made, and there would have been no backsliding. If the people had focused on the law they just heard instead of looking to Aaron and their apparent current circumstances they would never have backslidden.

The church went through the spiritual dark ages when the Scriptures were usurped by men of position and human reasoning. Recovery from this darkness began when men like Luther usurped men of position and human reasoning with Scripture.  Today, I believe the first sign of personal or corporate backsliding begins by preferring people with position and human reasoning over Scripture.

As I read about the reformations made in Nehemiah 13, I can’t help but think there are changes I need to make as well in regard to Sabbath keeping and even health reform. Years ago I was working for a church that was somewhat lax about the health message. I actually appreciated this as I could take my cola into the church office without anyone giving me funny looks or admonishing me. But you know what? It was still very unhealthy. It wasn’t any more appropriate just because this church had a different tone about caffeine than previous churches I worked with.  1 Corinthians 10:31 says to eat and drink to the glory of God, and that stands regardless of what church I am in or what other church leaders  are eating or drinking around me. The same goes for Sabbath reform. I see more and more secular work being done in the church on Sabbath that should be saved for during the week. Recently I received a call on Sabbath from a pastor wanting me to hold meetings in his church. He started talking to me about what I would charge and started scrolling through hotel prices online while we were on the phone. I asked him if we could discuss the business part after Sabbath. He quickly agreed but he never spoke to me again. I get it. It is more convenient to take care of these things on Sabbath. Our week is already so hectic.

I worked with a church years ago where everyone wanted to hold committee meetings on Sabbath because it was more convenient than coming back to church during the week. People stopped coming to prayer meeting because they did not want to take time for church during the week. But it did not stop there. Next thing I knew people wanted to have their committee meetings during Sabbath School so they would not have to stay after church. It makes me wonder what we would do if Nehemiah came to our churches today? Problem is, would we just tell him to mind his own business because we are all already doing what is right in our own eyes, and we don’t need him judging us? Something to think about.

Throughout history individual Christians and churches have been tempted to backslide by preferring convenience, philosophy and human leaders over Scripture. The first sign of backsliding is when we neglect or rationalize away Scripture. Jesus gave us a fool-proof way to avoid backsliding by placing Scripture above human authority or human philosophy and reasoning.

You may study this week’s lesson here. 

We are all Fallible

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In my ministry I have met people who claim the Adventist church is Babylon. I have also met people who think the Adventist church is infallible. Both ideas are wrong. The Adventist church is not Babylon, but it is not infallible either. Just because the Adventist  church is not Babylon does not mean it does not make mistakes. Remember at the cross it was not Babylon crying out “Crucify Him!” It was God’s chosen remnant people. The commander of the Lord’s army realized the fallibility of God’s chosen people when He met Joshua one day.

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” Joshua 5:13-14 NLT

“Neither one?” Seems like the Commander was taking a neutral stance on the situation. We can’t assume just because we are God’s chosen people that He is always on our side. Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes our foes do the right thing. God loves everyone in the world, not just us. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who is credited with saying, “The question is not if God is on my side but rather if I’m on His.”

Throughout history God had to punish His own people. Today when people tell me how “corrupt” the church has become, I ask them, when was the church ever perfect? When harlots got their business at the temple doors during Eli’s day? When God had to let Babylon destroy His holy nation because of their habitual apostasy and idolatry?  When people tell me the Adventist church has strayed too far from what it used to be, and we need to go back to how it was in the days of Ellen White, I ask them, “You mean when God had to destroy the Adventist publishing house with fire because they would not follow inspired counsel?”

In Ezra’s day it was no different.

When these things had been done, the Jewish leaders came to me and said, “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” Ezra 9:1-2 NLT

When the leaders and the majority of those in the church fall away from the truth no one detects it as apostasy because the apostasy becomes mainstream. Therefore apostasy looks normal. The only way to detect apostasy is to stop looking at the leaders and the majority, and look at the Word of God.

Years ago I attended a health seminar, where a doctor told us that many  Americans are obese and are close to having a heart attack. They don’t understand how unhealthy they are because they are no more obese than everyone around them, not realizing everyone around them is also on the verge of a heart attack. Just because obesity is mainstream in American culture does not make it healthy or any less deadly. It is the same with sin in the church.

In Ezra’s day there was a reformation as they stopped looking at those around them as role models and began comparing themselves to the Word of God. So today, we can have a reformation like never before as we compare ourselves to God’s Word instead of each other. In Daniel 9 Daniel confesses that his people have corporately sinned, and included himself as part of the sin problem. Nehemiah as well as Ezra brought about a great reformation, but even Nehemiah saw himself as part of the sin problem  when he prayed,

Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! Nehemiah 1:6 NLT

While praying for reformation in the church we must confess our individual sins as well as the sins of the church. We can’t divide the church into camps and then say God is on my camp’s side, because God is not choosing sides today anymore than He was in Joshua’s day.  Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. That goes for all of us. We are all fallible. We all make mistakes. That is why Jesus never told us to follow Christian leaders. He told us to follow Him. For true reformation we must recognize our own guilt and apostasy. We must not set ourselves or anyone else up as an example to follow. We must follow Jesus and His Word alone.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.