How to Avoid Backsliding Today
1. How will charges of falsehood and distortion be avoided, and what questions are here raised?
TO AVOID backsliding we must avoid the backsliders. And to avoid them we must be able to identify them. In fact, let them identify themselves. Then there can be no charges of prejudice or distortion or falsehood that might meet statements by us as to the spiritual condition of Christendom’s orthodox religions. Let the religious leaders of these systems speak on the subject and evaluate the spiritual worth of these institutions. Let the judgment be on the basis Jesus indicated: “Out of your own mouth I judge you, wicked slave.” Let the rule Jesus gave govern: “By your words you will be vindicated, and by your words you will be condemned.” Will the words out of their own mouths vindicate them as matching Israel’s faithful minorities or condemn them as paralleling that typical nation’s backsliding majorities? Which role do Christendom’s orthodox religions play in the modern fulfillment of the prophetic dramas enacted by ancient Israel?—Luke 19:22; Matt. 12:37, NW.
2, 3. What fault do two clergymen find with Christendom’s spiritual food, and have such conditions existed before?
2 Do they provide nourishing spiritual food? Dr. Pettingill said: “Religious teaching that is dished out now is a curse and not a blessing. Most of it is false religion which ignores the teachings of Christ.”a Lamented Bishop Pardue: “The vicious malady of our orthodox American denominations comes from the corroding acids of disbelief which have watered down our convictions to the point where much of our religion has become a matter of mere custom and tradition. On the one hand, destructive higher criticism of the Bible has become so universal that many of us modern ministers hardly know what we believe. On the other hand, we have become such worshipers of intellectual cults and clichés that we dare not believe any longer in the supernatural powers.”b
3 In Isaiah’s time religionists were scored for watering down Jehovah’s truth, symbolized by wine, and though they drew near to God with their mouth and honored him with their lips, “their hearts are far remote; since their religion is a mockery, a mere tradition learned by rote.” In Paul’s day there were those who were “adulterating the word of God” and extolling intellectual cults, so he reminded them of Jehovah’s warning: “I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and I will shove the intelligence of the intellectual aside.” And Paul asked: “Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish?” But clergymen today water down God’s Word with this worldly wisdom and are so awed by this world’s intellectuals and so fearful of them that the clergymen dare not champion the Bible’s position on supernatural powers. Truly, “the fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in Jehovah shall be safe.”—Isa. 29:13, Mo; 2 Cor. 4:2; 1 Cor. 1:19, 20, NW; Prov. 29:25, AS; Isa. 1:22.
4. What admission does one minister make, and how might such a condition come about?
4 After a thirty-five-year ministry at one church a prominent minister said: “My church is slipping, and my men won’t do anything about it. Do you know what is wrong with my church? My people like me, but they don’t love God.”c It is submitted that if the minister reflects the true light of Jehovah love for God will be instilled and the church will not slip back, but if it is the wisdom of man that is reflected admiration and exaltation of creatures will result. Jesus warned the Pharisees that advertised themselves: “What is lofty among men is a disgusting thing in God’s sight.” And Paul warned of those who “exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created.”—Luke 16:15; Rom. 1:25, NW.
5. How is the formal, orthodox ministerial training of today a failure, and what parallel existed in Jesus’ day?
5 Why do so many modern ministers fail to provide nourishing spiritual food that inspires love for Jehovah? A writer in The Christian Century charged the failure to their training: “Why does it happen so often that a man who goes into a theological seminary warm or even hot in his conviction comes out cool or even cold? In some of the larger and more intellectual seminaries, a rather shocking proportion of men (more than a fourth, I am told) never go into the ministry at all. Is this all weeding out the unfit, shaking off the men who can’t meet the intellectual demands? Or does a great deal represent a spiritual failure on the part of the seminary? . . . I am troubled about what the seminaries do to so many of them.”d Many persons say Jehovah’s witnesses should graduate from theological seminaries to qualify as ministers. But why go there to get cold water thrown on their burning zeal for Jehovah? Even lukewarmness is grounds for Christ to expel persons from the ministry: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” Neither Christ nor his apostles and disciples attended the formal religious schools of their day, yet they succeeded gloriously; the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees studied there but as ministers they failed miserably.—Rev. 3:15, 16, NW.
6. What admissions are made as to backsliding and spiritual sickness?
6 Modern ministers admit their failure, acknowledge that their religions have backslid from true Christianity. Dr. Robert J. McCracken declared that Christians “must face the fact that a large proportion of the 680,000,000 Christians in the world are little more than nominal Christians, ignorant of what Christianity stands for in some cases, apathetic and indifferent in many more, their religion a second-hand affair.”e The prevailing spiritual sickness moved the prayer committee of the All-Scotland Crusade to say on widely distributed prayer cards: “Let us pray that the church may first repent. That we as Christians may be shown how grievously we have misrepresented God, turned men from his ways and robbed our children of the heritage of joy that could have been theirs. That we may realize how far below the level of God’s promises we have been content to live. That we may turn from the prayerless, joyless and enfeebled lives which we have lived and be ashamed of the shrunken, nerveless message which we have too often preached.”f
7. In Jesus’ day and now, how have orthodox religionists voided the Bible?
7 In Jesus’ day the spiritual strength of the people had been sapped by spiritual starvation. The philosophies and traditions they had been fed gave no strength and voided God’s Word, as Jesus said: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition. You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep paying respect to me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’” And Paul warned: “Look out: perhaps there may be some man that will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.” (Matt. 15:6-9; Col. 2:8, NW) Some of the pagan doctrines and traditions and scientific philosophies taught in ancient times are being taught today, with the same result, namely, discrediting the Bible. The Baptist Watchman-Examiner said: “The Christian church has often denied a revelation of God to man by substituting evolution, a seared conscience, and an emasculated and irrelevant Bible. It is the Christian church that has forgotten God and . . . spawned a host of Bible rejectors.”g
8. What shows the present religious revival to be worthless?
8 But what about the present religious revival? An official of the Presbyterian Church in America brushed it off thus: “The so-called revival sweeping America isn’t genuine or permanent. Most people seem to want God as you want a hot water bottle in the night—to get you over a temporary discomfort.” He added: “The statistical columns reveal a nation increasingly Christian. The news columns reveal a nation increasingly pagan.”h Jesus’ words are as fitting now as they were when he said them: “Every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces bad fruit. Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.” Jesus told those considering Christianity to count the cost, but today the popular fad is to count the profit. What will it do for me? Will it give me peace of mind and soul or make me a success in business? It takes more than a psychologist in ministerial clothing to make a minister. True Christians are not so busy fitting people for this life that they have no time to fit them for the next, for the real life in Jehovah’s new world.—Matt. 7:17, 20; 1 Tim. 6:17-19, NW.
BACKSLIDING INTO WORLDLINESS
9, 10. In what way did the world overcome religionists in the past, and how now?
9 Because of wrong spiritual food Christendom’s religions are spiritually sick, and because they are spiritually sick they cannot stand against the world. They backslide into worldliness, into intimate relations with the world and captivity to it. They cannot resist its influences. Just as the Jews before Christ backslid from true worship and got involved with heathen nations, and just as the Jews of Christ’s time rejected him and cried, “We have no king but Caesar!” so today’s orthodox religions make themselves close associates of this world. The religious leaders admit it.
10 Jesus said he conquered the world, but the majority now claiming to follow him have been conquered by it. The Christian Century says as much: “There is an impression abroad that religion first and last is a comforting and comfortable affair. Twentieth-century Christianity has lost the stringent note. For most of us there is no cross in it, no abstinence, no subjugation of the flesh in the interests of the spirit. People are not made to feel when they look at the church and its program that Christianity is a creed for heroes or that to embrace it means ‘living dangerously.’ . . . But that was the general impression of Christians in the first century. It meant something then to be a Christian, and it cost something. No one from A.D. 30 to A.D. 313 thought of Christianity as a comfortable religion. It was a creed for heroes.”i How can one conquered by the world be from God? “Everything that has been born from God conquers the world. And this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.” But since faith comes from hearing Bible truth, the spiritually sick who fail to feed on Bible truth cannot have conquering faith.—1 John 5:4; Rom. 10:14, 17; Heb. 11:1, NW.
11. How did one clergyman describe orthodox religion’s timidity and fear of the world, and what misconception about Christ did he contradict?
11 Dr. McCracken noted the timidity of those in the comfortable rut of orthodoxy, marked their care never to buck the popular winds: “If only in church we were less hidebound by convention, less wedded to tradition, less fearful of innovation! It would be wonderful if we could get out of the ruts, have done with platitudes, break with a few hoary traditions, say, and do the unexpected, shock some people instead of soothing them, substitute for the flute the trumpet. . . . Today we are careful not to take a stand unless we know in what direction the wind is blowing.”j With greater bluntness this minister said: “Religion in our time has little kick in it. It scarcely gives any offense. As a rule it is much too timid to make its influence felt outside its own immediate sphere. On most public issues it shows itself over-anxious to placate and accommodate the state and the world at large. . . . That is why all kinds of injustice, oppression and immorality can flourish right under its eye. Great numbers of people think of the Master as a meek and gentle soul who went about everywhere breathing mild benediction. . . . On the other hand, he went about giving the most violent offense to all kinds and conditions of folk—his relatives, the disciples, the scribes and the Pharisees, the people with vested interests like the money changers in the temple.”k
12. What scriptures show worldliness is unfaithfulness?
12 Jesus declared: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” The disciple James said one requisite of clean and undefiled worship is “to keep oneself without spot from the world” and bluntly denounced Christians having illicit relations with it: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” Why? Because “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one” and to be part of it is to be under Satan’s power.—John 18:36; Jas. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 5:19, NW.
13. What Bible warning is given against materialism, and have the clergy heeded it?
13 Christians are warned to resist the beckoning glitter of worldly materialism: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” But it is not only the masses of so-called Christians that have succumbed to the worldly glitter; many religious leaders have also. Harold C. Case, Boston University president, warned clergymen: “Budgets may receive more attention than the Bible and competition for a place in the sun may be more captivating than co-operation or fulfilling the condition of the Kingdom of God on earth. . . . Ministers, in some cases, are losing sight of their objective by overinterest in their salaries, positions and advancements.”l—1 John 2:15-17, NW.
14. Is this clerical materialism typified by Israel’s history?
14 How like the typical religious leaders in ancient Israel! In Isaiah’s day such ones were supposed to serve as Jehovah’s watchmen and to warn of perils from spiritual laxity, to bark out like good watchdogs. But because of greedy materialism they failed, and of them Isaiah wrote: “His watchmen are blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, the dogs are greedy, they can never have enough; and these are shepherds that cannot understand: they have all turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter.” And the prophet Micah accurately took their measure: “The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet they lean upon Jehovah, and say, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? no evil shall come upon us.” Is it not true today that backsliding, materialistic religionists, notwithstanding all of their admitted sins, still claim that Jehovah is with them and will protect them? When Jesus said, “You cannot be slaves to God and to riches,” the “Pharisees, who were money-lovers, . . . began to sneer at him.”—Isa. 56:10, 11; Mic. 3:11, AS; Luke 16:13, 14, NW.
“OH FOR AN ISAIAH OR A SAINT PAUL!”
15. What does Christendom lack, why, and when was there a similar condition?
15 After confirming the plunge into materialism, Dr. John Sutherland Bonnell acknowledged spiritual famine by saying: “We need a great breath of God blowing through the nation.”m To a Methodist Student Movement meeting Boston University’s Professor Ehrensperger lamented this lack: “We have identified our religion with the powers of this world, and there are no true prophets to sound our doom, to shock us into awareness of our sins and to stab us awake before we destroy one another.” Religion, he said, has become “a name, an institution, not an experience in life. What we lack are prophets—there are no prophets any more.”n There are none in their systems, they admit. They acknowledge famine conditions similar to those Israel and Judah suffered, namely, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Jehovah.” (Amos 8:11, AS) The famine is of their own making. They have voided God’s Word by turning to tradition, philosophy, psychology, evolution and paganism. Jehovah’s words to his professed people in Jeremiah’s time fit modern Christendom’s religions: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”—Jer. 2:13, RS.
16. Why do Christendom’s religions dislike Bible truth, and how does their attitude fit in with that of their prototypes in Isaiah’s time?
16 As foretold, “they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.” Jehovah’s prophetic messages often proclaim calamity and “if any one hears both his ears will tingle.” But Christendom wants its ears tickled, not tingled; so, as did their prototypes in Isaiah’s day, they “say to the seers, ‘See not’; and to the prophets, ‘Prophesy not to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more of the Holy One of Israel.’” Today’s religious leaders prefer to be soothed by smooth words instead of upset by right ones, and they are so anxious to hear no more about Jehovah the God of Israel that they expunge his name from their translations of the Bible.—2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Ki. 21:12, NW; Isa. 30:10, 11, RS.
17, 18. For what did Truman dramatically cry out, but why is this unnecessary?
17 On one occasion after saying that America’s Catholic, Protestant and Jewish churches must unite to provide shock forces to accomplish the spiritual awakening deemed necessary to solve the problems raised by atomic energy, President Truman dramatically cried out: “Oh for an Isaiah or a Saint Paul to reawaken a sick world to its moral responsibilities!”o These words have a nice roll as they come off the tongue, but it is doubtful that they were ever in the heart. In an illustration Jesus dismissed as needless the return of anyone from the dead to warn those still living: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to these,” and, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”—Luke 16:29, 31, NW.
18 The world has the words of Isaiah and Paul recorded in the Bible, and if they came back to earth they would not alter their message to tickle ears. Isaiah advocated beating swords into plowshares and learning war no more, and Paul stressed that the weapons of Christian warfare are not carnal, but Truman ordered the dropping of atom bombs on two cities. He did not heed the words of Isaiah and Paul as they are recorded in the Bible. Would he have heeded them if these two men had returned and repeated them in person?—Isa. 2:4; 2 Cor. 10:4.
19. In what sense are there prophets today, and who serve as such?
19 Actually, there are prophets today to sound the warning from Jehovah, to shock to an awareness of sins those willing to listen, to reawaken the spiritually sick to their moral responsibilities. Not that there are prophets in the same sense as in ancient times, but there are those proclaiming the prophecies recorded in the Bible that relate to our day, that tell what the future holds for those now living. They also show how the ancient prophetic dramas are now having fulfillment; how, for example, backsliding Christendom is so accurately prefigured by backsliding Israel of ancient times. The ones declaring these prophetic messages today are Jehovah’s witnesses. They zealously point to God’s Word, uphold it, preach it, apply it to modern life and try to get others to do likewise. They constitute a faithful minority class gathered out from the nations, and compare with faithful ones of ancient Israel who refused to backslide with the apostate masses and religious leaders.
20. How is the treatment of these modern witnesses similar to ancient conditions?
20 And, as in ancient Israel, the backsliding masses persecute this modern minority of true witnesses of Jehovah. Of course, the orthodox religions call them false witnesses, refuse to recognize them, while recognizing as true ones the ancient prophets that were persecuted. It has always been this way with apostate ones who claim to be still serving Jehovah. They recognize as true witnesses the persecuted ones that lived long before their time, but never the ones living during their time. They persecute the contemporary ones that expose their backsliding; they cheer the ancient ones that exposed backsliders other than themselves. Those who lived when Jeremiah prophesied rejected him but recognized Moses. Those who rejected and killed Jesus recognized both Moses and Jeremiah. They always recognized as prophets the faithful ones living before their time, but not the ones that lived during their time and disturbed them with an exposing message. Yet Jesus said that on them would come all the righteous blood shed, by virtue of their conduct toward the true prophets and witnesses of their time. So it is today. As the Pharisees decorated the tombs of the prophets before their time yet rejected the ones of their day, so Christendom lip-serves the prophets of Biblical times yet persecutes Jehovah’s witnesses today. As Jesus said, he counts it as done to him.—Matt. 25:40, 45.
21. Who are going ahead in zeal and growth, and who are in decay?
21 However, even some of the clergy admit that it is not the orthodox religions with fine churches and high respectability and preachers trained in theological seminaries that are blessed, but it is the less respectable ones that have zeal for Jehovah and that are far closer to the purity of original Christianity. Writing in Presbyterian Life, Elton Trueblood says: “If we care about the Christian enterprise we must deal realistically with the fact that, in this particular comparison, the Christian organization enjoying the least social standing, having the shortest history, occupying the least fashionable district, and guided by the least trained ministry is going ahead of the others, not only in numbers, but also in zeal, in commitment, and in proportionate giving. . . . Small but vigorous bands of Jehovah’s witnesses meet in their modest quarters called Kingdom Halls . . . There can be no doubt that these vigorous and unrespectable sects which now flourish so mightily in our land are, in many respects, far closer to original Christianity than are those of us who represent the conventional movements of Christendom. We call ours the older tradition, but in this we may be inaccurate. Perhaps they represent what is truly old in the Christian witness. . . . We are already in decay.”p
22, 23. (a) How do different groups view Christ impaled? (b) Generally speaking, what class of persons does Jehovah choose, and why?
22 In the day of the apostle Paul the Jews looked for special signs and the Greeks sought worldly wisdom. To the Jews Christ the ransom was a stone of stumbling and to the nations talk of Him as a ransom was foolishness. It was not the worldly wise ones in Paul’s day that accepted Christ, nor is it today’s superrespectable churches with ministers trained in higher criticism that unqualifiedly champion Him as Redeemer and King. Now, as in Paul’s time, it is generally the class “enjoying the least social standing” that embrace what the world rejects as foolish and weak:
23 “For both the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for falling but to the nations foolishness; however, to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men. For you behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many noble; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame, and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God. But it is due to him that you are in union with Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, also righteousness and sanctification and release by ransom; that it may be just as it is written: ‘He that boasts, let him boast in Jehovah.’”—1 Cor. 1:22-31, NW.
SHUN BACKSLIDERS AND LIVE!
24. Whom must those wishing to avoid backsliding avoid?
24 “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33, NW) Ancient Israel was warned not to companion with the demonistic nations round about them. But Israel did, and Israel was contaminated. Israel fed on false doctrines and slid into a morass of sin. Only a faithful remnant resisted and stood fast. It is the same today, for what happened then is prophetic of today. The majority are feeding on spiritual food that failed to nourish in Bible times and is failing to nourish now. So there is a spiritual weakening and backsliding afflicting the majority. But there is a small minority holding fast. Those wishing to avoid backsliding must shun the backsliders, for such bad associations would spoil useful habits of true worship. Do not be misled.
25. What questions should you ponder?
25 The complete fulfillment of the prophetic dramas enacted with ancient Israel is taking place and will continue to its conclusion of destruction for the backsliding majority and preservation into eternal life for the faithful, resolute minority. It cannot be avoided. So it is not a question of whether this fulfillment will take place or not. The question is, Where will you fit into that fulfillment? Will you be counted in with the wicked majority and be destroyed, or with the faithful minority and be delivered? Will you heed the warning lessons of the ancient prophetic dramas and shun the spiritually weakening diet of Christendom’s religions, reject as unfit the doctrinal food that has been used before and sickened so many? Will you sever religious relations with the backsliders and companion with the faithful? Will you feed upon the pure truths of Jehovah’s Word to maintain the spiritual strength necessary to stand fast in integrity to Jehovah God? Remember, you are going to be involved in the fulfillment of the ancient prophetic dramas in one way or the other, for good or for bad, for your preservation or for your destruction. Why not make your role in the fulfillment of these dramas a good one?
a New York Times, October 10, 1949.
b New York Times, August 7, 1950.
c Reported in If This Be Religion, by F. K. Stamm.
d Article by Samuel Shoemaker in The Christian century, April 29, 1953.
e New York Times, July 13, 1953.
f Scottish Daily Mail, February 1, 1955.
g Watchman-Examiner, October 4, 1951.
h Dr. Charles Templeton, secretary of the evangelist division of the Presbyterian Church in America, reported in the Greensboro Record, May 18, 1955.
i The Christian Century, February 27, 1952.
j New York Times, May 30 1955.
k New York Times, July 9 1951.
l Daily Times Herald, February 3, 1954.
m Oregon Journal, May 21, 1952.
n Washington Post (D.C.), January 3, 1954.
o Minneapolis Daily Times, March 6, 1946.
p Presbyterian Life, January 20, 1951.