This seven part series addresses a cluster of errors held by some conservative Adventists regarding the nature and destiny of God’s true church.
- The problem (Part I)
- Open Sin and the Church Militant (Part II)
- Shaken out of what? (Part III)
- The principle of conditional prophecy (Part IV)
- The voice of God in General Conference (Part V)
- What causes rejection of the faith community (Part VI)
Now that we have seen and studied the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy evidence regarding the nature and destiny of God’s true church, numerous questions have doubtless surfaced in many minds. Many are certainly asking by this point, Where do we go from here? How do we address problems of Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy unfaithfulness when they arise in congregations and institutions of the church? How—in a manner compassionate, courageous, and well-considered—do we prosecute the struggle for revival and reformation within the body of Christ?
We all know every situation is different. The dynamics of every congregation, institution, and segment of the church structure operate in patterns not always predictable by those outside a given situation. But the following guidelines are, from the present writer’s perspective, a good place to begin:
1. Immerse yourself daily in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy.
Nothing is more important than this. Every day, every hour, the minds and hearts of the faithful must be saturated with the inspired worldview, in contrast not only with the mindset of the secular world but also that of alternative notions of spirituality, grace, Christian fellowship, and church life. It is easy to forget at times that the imperatives and passion of a particular cause, and one’s personal and public identification with the same, can—if one is not careful—eclipse the need for internal, wholehearted consecration to the service and purposes of God. This is always dangerous. Causes cannot become a substitute for conversion.
Beyond this, only daily and in-depth familiarity with inspired counsel is capable of informing the faithful regarding spiritual and theological issues. Even among conservative Adventists, a culture can develop in which prominent speakers and seemingly godly lecturers can elude measurement by the Berean test (Acts 17:11) due to charisma and popularity. Such a course can be destructive in the extreme. A culture of accountability is essential for all who stand before God’s people and minister in sacred things. The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy must remain the unerring, objective, universal standard by which right and wrong, relevance and irrelevance, even the agenda of would-be reformers, must be constantly determined. Faithful Adventists need to know the inspired writings so well that whenever anyone within their sphere—whether liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between—steps outside the limits of God’s written counsel by voice or pen, warning signals will flash and be conveyed in a loving but firm spirit to others.
2. Seek the Lord daily for a new heart and a right spirit.
Truth, no matter how truthful, must ever be spoken in love (Eph. 4:15). There aren’t too many of us who haven’t fallen short in this area, whether verbally or in writing. Recounting Moses’ angry words before striking the rock at Kadesh, Ellen White observes:
Moses had spoken from irritated feeling; his words were an expression of human passion rather than of holy indignation because God had been dishonored. “Here now, ye rebels,” he said. This accusation was true, but even truth is not to be spoken in passion or impatience (1).
The following Ellen White statement is one of the clearest on this point:
You may be true to principle, you may be just, honest, and religious; but with it all you must cultivate true tenderness of heart, kindness, and courtesy. If a person is in error, be the more kind to him; if you are not courteous, you may drive him away from Christ. Let every word you speak, even the tones of your voice, express your interest in, and sympathy for, the souls that are in peril. If you are harsh, denunciatory, and impatient with them, you are doing the work of the enemy. You are opening a door of temptation to them, and Satan will represent you to them as one who knows not the Lord Jesus (2).
3. Never forget who the real enemy is.
When contending with teachers of falsehood, promoters of apostasy, as well as leaders or laity who lack a grasp of the great issues among us, we must ever bear in mind the apostle’s admonition:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).
Human beings are not the enemy. Falsehood, disobedience to the counsel of God, and the great adversary who birthed these aberrations are the true enemy. It helps to bear in mind that pastors, teachers, administrators, and others who appear to stand in the way of reform, may include more than one Saul of Tarsus who will eventually face Damascus. One doubts that the martyred Stephen, as the stones flew through the air, could have imagined that the one holding the coats of his murderers would end up writing half the New Testament! But it was the witness of Stephen in those final moments that in the end transformed Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle (3).
4. Never allow the struggles of your own spiritual life to dissuade you from your duty to God’s church.
Young people especially have a low tolerance for hypocrisy, even (and sometimes especially) in themselves. But all Christians have personal struggles with sin, even if the young Christian often feels them most acutely.
One church member of my acquaintance, who was part of a congregation very much divided over certain contemporary Adventist issues, eventually decided to withdraw from involvement in the controversy because—to paraphrase his words—“I’m not perfect, so what business do I have rebuking error or sin in the lives of others?” Like the thinking of those on the eve of World War II who kept excusing Nazi Germany’s aggression because of the unfairness of the Versailles Treaty, the argument soon develops that “everybody is to blame” for a given crisis, the practical consequence of which is that no one is perceived as blameworthy or accountable for any particular set of misdeeds.
It is painfully common, when standing for truth in a congregation or institution, to hear the enemy whisper in one’s ear, “You have your hands full dealing with your own spiritual problems. You have no time to spend on anyone else’s.” Logical as this may sound on the surface, it will soon be seen for the diabolical suggestion it is once the facts of spiritual life—and life in general—are considered. It certainly isn’t difficult to imagine the human disaster that would have resulted if the nations of earth had refused to halt the advance of fascism during the Second World War because, after all, no nation or human ideology is blameless in thought or action.
If we wait till we consider ourselves perfect before addressing the spiritual problems of others, no godly Christian would ever be found reproving evil, since God alone knows the heart (I Kings 8:39) and for this reason forbids Christians to declare themselves sinless (I John 1:8). This doesn’t mean, of course, that sinless obedience is unattainable while on earth, as some mistakenly believe. But it does mean God alone knows when such victory is achieved in the Christian’s life. Only He is qualified to declare, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). In the meantime, the Biblical command to “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isa. 58:1), applies to every struggling believer.
If parents refrained from correcting children because of unresolved struggles in their own (the parents’) spiritual lives, none but self-righteous parents would ever correct or discipline their children. It is a dreadful mistake to assume that because the struggles of our own walk with God may thus far be less than victorious, that we must therefore refrain from addressing problems in the larger church. The present writer has seen faithful young people (and others not so young) fall victim to such rationalizing, with devastating consequences for campuses and congregations—and in the end, for their own spiritual lives.
5. Keep your cool.
The Bible declares, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee” (Isa. 26:3). In His parting words to His disciples before His death, our Lord declared, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). Ellen White, commenting on this verse, makes the following observation:
The peace of Christ is not to banish division, but it is to remain amid strife and division (4).
The late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. speaks of the remarkable calmness experienced by President Kennedy while in crisis (5). I have long marveled at, and wished for myself, the cool detachment with which the late President confronted challenges, including the threat of nuclear war. Those facing the crisis of the ages possess a resource vastly superior. Daily, hourly communion with God must characterize the experience of all—especially the young—who must contend with the church’s internal foes.
6. Remember that meekness is not weakness.
Too often our contemporary culture mistakes certainty of conviction for arrogance and pride. It is amazing how many, even among conservative church members, find themselves hesitating to be bold in defense of truth for this reason.
Ellen White responds so well to this delusion with her statement, “Skepticism and unbelief are not humility. Implicit belief in Christ’s word is true humility, true self-surrender” (6). Bible humility is no more timidity than it is a beautiful woman thinking she’s ugly or an intelligent man thinking he’s a fool. Rather, Bible humility means to acknowledge God as the Source of all gifts and talents.
When the faithful speak out against error and sin in any denominational setting, they must prepare themselves to be labeled as prideful and lacking humility because of their strong, uncompromising views. Even if, by any reasonable measure, the words and efforts of such persons are attended by the love of their Lord, the unconverted and the misinformed will too often confuse such zeal for hate. But if the faithful keep their minds focused on the narratives and teachings of the Sacred Record, they will remember such outspokenness—and its negative reception—to be the norm for God’s servants in every age.
Due to the length of this article, only a portion has been published. The rest may be read here.