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.