The basic story is very familiar. The Greeks were determined to conquer the independent city of Troy, but they were having great difficulty. They laid siege to the city for ten long years, with no success. Finally they came up with an unusual strategy. They constructed a huge, hollow, wooden horse, hid a select force of men inside, rolled it up near the walls of the city, and pretended to sail away as if they were giving up the siege.
The Trojans, with more curiosity than caution, pulled the horse into the city as a trophy of victory. That night the Greek soldiers crept out of the horse and opened the city gates for the Greek army which feigned retreat under cover of darkness.
The city of Troy was taken and the war was over. The strength of Troy’s defenses were breached by deception and curiosity. The story’s lesson is clear: we may be well prepared for a direct attack, but totally unprepared for an unexpected diversion.
There is another story, this one from World War II. The French had faced invasion from Germany during World War I and they determined never to let that happen again. So they built a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapons during the 1930’s on the borders with Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg. The Maginot Line—named for Andre Louis-Rene Maginot, the French minister of war who conceived the idea—was impervious to bombings and tank fire. Seemingly there was no way the Germans could invade France again.
So what did the Germans do? They ignored the Maginot Line completely and invaded France through the Low Countries and the Ardennes forest, where the French thought the rough terrain would be an unlikely invasion route. Meanwhile, a German decoy force sat opposite the Maginot Line to occupy the attention of the French. The main problem with the Maginot Line was the false sense of security it provided.
Have we had Trojan horses and Maginot Lines in the recent history of Adventism? I submit that we have suffered from the same problem of curiosity and false security, and we have been successfully invaded while our guard was down. Adventist truths have been under attack from the very beginnings of the church, and we prepared our defenses carefully to withstand a frontal assault. We were able to respond very effectively to objections to our doctrinal beliefs. We had well-defined responses to Catholicism and liberal Protestantism. So the master strategist, Satan, devised a Trojan horse to attract our curiosity and lower our sense of danger.
We are not the only church to believe in the absolute authority of the Bible and the soon coming of Jesus, whose return would destroy Satan’s rulership of Planet Earth. Our evangelical friends seem to be much like us in teaching personal salvation by God’s unmerited grace through faith, as well as a strong drive for soul winning. We have felt that we can learn much from them in the effective growth of churches, attractive worship methods, and the retention of youth.
Many in our ranks have fought worldliness, the decline of standards, and lack of faith—what some would call theological and moral liberalism—for many years. But we have been blind to the equally dangerous enemy of conservative evangelicalism. So our curiosity and our sense of doctrinal security allowed us to let the Trojan horse of evangelicalism right into the heart of the Advent movement.
So let us take a very close look at this Trojan horse that is sapping the life out of Adventism. What is the heart of this well-defined set of beliefs regarding salvation?
The Evangelical Gospel
There are five major issues at the root of this gospel:
1. Involuntary sin – This is the belief that all became sinners simply by being born.
2. The unfallen nature of Christ – This is the belief that the humanity Christ took upon Himself was the sinless nature of Adam as it was before the Fall.
3. Salvation by justification alone – This is the belief that the ground of the Christian’s salvation is justifying righteousness only, as distinct from the transforming, empowering righteousness of regeneration and sanctification, which are seen by evangelicals as only the results of salvation.
4. Justification is exclusively declarative, and not transformative – This is the belief that justifying righteousness only declares a believer righteous, as distinct from actually making him righteous.
5. The imperfectability of Christian character – This is the belief that even through imparted divine strength, perfect obedience to the divine law remains impossible for the Christian in this life. In light of these aspects of the evangelical gospel, it becomes imperative that we understand the true gospel.
The Biblical Gospel
Following are some brief responses to the evangelical gospel:
1. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4). Ellen White calls this the clear definition of sin, the true definition of sin, and at least ten times she calls it the only definition of sin (1). Elsewhere, commenting on this verse, she says it means to willfully transgress the law of God in thought, word, or action. (2). “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) “Jesus said unto them [the Pharisees], If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth.” (John 9:41)
In other words, the sin for which we are condemned and lost is never involuntary, or a state received at birth.
2. “It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man’s nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity, to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life.” (3)
Christ did not exempt Himself from our inherited human nature, as it was imperative that He be tempted as we are, from within as well as from outside His humanity.
3. “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” (2 Thess. 2:13). Justification and sanctification are both necessary parts of one saving process. Justification is not more important than sanctification.
4. “God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ Psalm 51:10” (4).
Forgiveness, or pardon, is defined by Ellen White as the same as justification. She writes, “Pardon and justification are one and the same thing” (5). The above statements mean that according to God’s inspired prophet, justification can never be limited to a mere declaration. It is both a declaration and a transforming process.
5. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5).
No wonder Ellen White says: “The Saviour is wounded afresh and put to open shame when His people pay no heed to His word. He came to this world and lived a sinless life, that in His power His people might also live lives of sinlessness. He desires them by practicing the principles of truth to show to the world that God’s grace has power to sanctify the heart” (6).
One of Satan’s most accepted lies is that perfect obedience to God is impossible as long as we have our fallen natures.
Why Character Perfection?
It is very important to remember that full character maturity is not a requirement for salvation, as demonstrated by the thief on the cross. He certainly was not spiritually mature, but he surrendered his life in faith to God, willing to do or be whatever God wanted him to be. This is what God asks of us if we desire to be saved. Mature character perfection is for a completely different purpose.
“The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people.” (7). It is not our honor or our salvation that is involved here, but God’s name, His honor, and His character. He has promised that He will perfect His people. Can He really do it?
“The honor of His throne is staked for the fulfillment of His word unto us.” (8). Whenever God promises something, He puts His name behind His promise. His throne was at stake when Christ came to our earth, and His throne is at stake in what He will do through the last generation.
We must remember Satan’s challenge against God and His law. “Satan declared that it was impossible for the sons and daughters of Adam to keep the law of God, and thus charged upon God a lack of wisdom and love. If they could not keep the law, then there was fault with the lawgiver.” (9). Satan’s charge was clearly leveled against fallen man’s ability to keep God’s law, so God has devised a response to Satan which will be so clear that not one question will be left in any mind in God’s universe for the rest of eternity.
Revelation 7:1-3 tells us that the winds of destruction will be held until God’s people are sealed in their foreheads. So what is this seal? It is “a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved.” (10)
In a special vision, Ellen White saw the angels of Revelation 7 getting ready to let the winds go in her lifetime. “While their hands were loosening, and the four winds were about the blow, the merciful eye of Jesus gazed on the remnant that were not sealed, and He raised His hands to the Father and pleaded with Him that He had spilled His blood for them. Then another angel was commissioned to fly swiftly to the four angels and bid them hold, until the servants of God were sealed.” (11).
The reason Christ didn’t come in her lifetime, and hasn’t yet come in ours, is God’s mercy. He will never send His remnant into the final, cataclysmic struggles of Planet Earth while they are unprepared. And the only way they can be prepared is by receiving the seal of God.
These people are facing the greatest challenge ever met by God’s earthly followers. They are facing the close of human probation and Satan’s last, desperate attempt to destroy God’s plan of salvation.
“If there was ever a people in need of constantly increasing light from heaven, it is the people that, in this time of peril, God has called to be the depositaries of His holy law and to vindicate His character before the world.” (12). This demands a full understanding of the plan of salvation and our place in the completion of that plan.
“Every character will be fully developed, and all will show whether they have chosen the side of loyalty or that of rebellion. Then the end will come. God will vindicate His law and deliver His people.” (13). Note that while God does the vindicating of His own name, He will do it in the characters of His people. The fully mature development of both the righteous and the wicked is necessary for the final vindication of God’s law and character.
The Evangelical Movement
What, then, is this Trojan horse that has insinuated itself into the heart of Adventism? We can trace its beginnings in the United States to a new-to-Protestantism method of prophetic interpretation called futurism. This method was actually begun by Catholic scholars to deflect the Protestant identification of the Catholic Church as Babylon and the pope as antichrist. All the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation were placed in the future, with a yet-unknown individual depicted as the antichrist.
In the Protestant version of this theory, the seventieth week of Daniel 9 was placed in the future, the Old Testament prophecies of the restoration of the Jewish nation would be literally fulfilled, the temple would be rebuilt, and the battle of Armageddon would be the final battle between the Jews and the heathen. This theory also included a secret rapture of the faithful before the great tribulation starts, so they won’t have to go through the horrors of Armageddon.
These beliefs are shared by numerous conservative Protestants who believe in the absolute authority of Scripture and the soon coming of Christ, and who emphasize evangelistic fervor and church growth—all of which are shared by Adventism.
Now the interesting thing about the evangelical movement in the United States in the last forty years is that it has become a major player in the political arena. During the early 1800’s there were several political parties in America which eventually settled into two parties: the Whigs and the Democrats. Soon the Whig party disintegrated and was replaced by the Republican party. Thus the Democrats and Republicans form the two major parties in America today. But the philosophical positions of these parties have changed with time, so that today’s parties are not even close to what they were a hundred or even fifty years ago. In recent years these parties have become so polarized that labeling and demonization have become the norm. If you don’t agree with “my” party, you are the enemy.
The modern evangelical movement has immersed itself in American power politics. In the 1950’s religion and politics began to form alliances. Billy Graham and other evangelicals began to promote anti-communism. “One nation under God” became a catch-phrase. Religious leaders began to promote free enterprise and big business. They talked about the United States as a Christian nation, and there was even a proposed constitutional amendment allowing prayer as part of the public school curriculum.
As evangelical theology has become increasingly linked with politics, an interesting thing has taken place. Since evangelicals were primarily conservative in their theology and morals, their political leanings took on the same label, and evangelical theology began to take second place to conservative politics. Evangelicals saw conservative politics as their only mechanism to effect moral change in America. Modern society has clearly been damaged by godlessness and lawlessness, with absolute truth being replaced by “whatever works for me.” One result of this has been the blurring of the boundaries of human sexuality.
As a reaction to these developments, theologically conservative evangelicalism joined itself permanently to political conservatism as the only presumed way to defeat moral degeneracy and save the United States for the promised future of Jesus setting up His earthly millennial rule.
Since Adventists share many concerns with evangelicals regarding the moral decay of America and Western society, it was easy for many American Adventists to sympathize with evangelicals about conservative politics being a way to mollify the philosophical and moral decline of the popular culture. Once again, our defenses against liberalism outside our walls allowed us to ignore the dangerous Trojan horse of conservative religion and politics invading our minds and our churches.
Suddenly a new issue took center stage in the religious/evangelical alliance with politics—abortion. Now I want to make clear that Adventism is morally opposed to abortion on demand as a birth control option. I am talking here about how abortion has become a political issue. In 1968, even Christianity Today (a theologically conservative evangelical magazine) refused to call abortion sinful (14). In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention allowed abortion under certain defined circumstances, a position they reaffirmed in 1974 and 1976 (15). But in 1979 opposition to abortion became a rallying cry for evangelicals due to the influence of a Catholic activist who coined the term Moral Majority and saw the effectiveness of the abortion issue in defeating some prominent liberal politicians in the U.S. midterm elections of 1978 (16).
This resulted in the formation of the modern Religious Right and the ensuing Catholic/evangelical Protestant alliance, which believes consensual morality can and should be a matter for political legislation. In 1984 a New York governor (and devout Roman Catholic) publicly disputed the Religious Right agenda, asking, “Are we asking government to make criminal what we believe to be sinful because we ourselves can’t stop committing the sin? The failure here is not Caesar’s. The failure is our failure, the failure of the entire people of God” (17).
Make no mistake, the use of civil power by apostate Christianity is making coercion a substitute for conversion, and will lead directly to the formation of the image to the beast. It is very significant that in August 2018, a state-like dinner was held at the White House for one hundred evangelical leaders to celebrate evangelical leadership, especially in politics. It would be well to remind ourselves that religious liberty doesn’t mean for evangelicals what it means for Seventh-day Adventists. Adventists want to allow freedom of conscience for all, especially minority religious beliefs. We advocate freedom for Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, and even atheists.
Evangelicals and conservative Catholics, by contrast, advocate liberty for their version of Christianity, since they believe that is the only way to salvation, while other beliefs are “heathen” and do not merit special protection. The disturbing reality is that the same people who stand strongest against abortion and in favor of legislating consensual moral values are the same ones seeking to unite with conservative Catholics to restore a Christian dominionism that will trample on the freedoms of religious minorities.
Evangelical theology has been hidden inside evangelical politics, and represents the greatest danger our church has faced from outside Adventism. How tragic that evangelical theology has penetrated so deeply into Adventist theology that we are promoting it at the highest scholarly levels, while marginalizing as “fanatics” and “fringe groups” those who believe in genuine Adventism.
This is the Trojan horse that is fascinating Adventism right now, and we allow it in our midst at the peril of our souls. We have formed our Maginot Line against attacks by the enemy, and Satan has bypassed our carefully prepared defenses by appearing to be our friend and ally, since we are also opposed to abortion and homosexuality. We have been duped into using the methods of the papal Antichrist in addressing society’s moral ills. We don’t seem to realize that evangelical theology and evangelical politics are broken cisterns. They are symbolized by the false prophet of Revelation—Babylon—with their hands stretching across the gulf to form the image to the beast. Can we really trust and ally ourselves with a movement because it supports a few strands of truth? As with Troy of old, the army outside the walls is concealed inside the horse while we sleep on.
We desperately need to return to the example of our Adventist pioneers relative to political involvement. They stood for moral issues like temperance and religious liberty in the political arena. They opposed evils in society like slavery, even defying immoral laws like the Fugitive Slave Act (18). But they never gave blind support to the political parties of their day and refused to get involved in the dirt of power politics.
We are here for two purposes, first and foremost, to prepare our characters to receive the seal of God and to put the final nail in the coffin of Satan’s lies; and second, to prepare our hearts to be ready for the latter rain and take the truth of God to every corner of Planet Earth. Matthew 24:14 will see its fulfillment as the gospel is taken to the whole world, so that God will finally be able to describe His people with the words of Revelation 14:12: “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
May that day come very soon!
1. Ellen G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 951; The Great Controversy, p. 493; Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 320; Faith and Works, p. 56; Our High Calling, p. 141; Review and Herald, July 15, 1890; Signs of the Times, Nov. 24, 1887; March 3, 1890; Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, p. 228; General Conference Bulletin, March 2, 1897.
2. ----Signs of the Times, April 30, 1896.
3. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 49.
4. ----Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 114 (italics original).
5. ----SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1070.
6. ----Review and Herald, April 1, 1902.
7. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 671.
8. ----Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 148.
9. ----Signs of the Times, Jan. 16, 1896.
10. ----The Faith I Live By, p. 287.
11. ----Early Writings, p. 38.
12. ----Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 746.
13. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 763.
14. Walter O Spitzer & Carlyle L. Saylor, eds, Birth Control and the Christian: A Protestant Symposium on the Control of Human Reproduction (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1969), pp. xxv-xxvi,xxviii.
15. Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1972 (Nashville, TN: Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Convention, 1972), p. 72; Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1974 (Nashville, TN: Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Convention, 1974), p. 76; Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1976 (Nashville, TN: Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Convention, 1976), p. 58.
16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_Majority; Randall Balmer, “The Real Origins of the Religious Right” Politico, May 27, 2014 http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133
17. “Abortion Not a Failure of Government, Cuomo Says,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13, 1984, p. A1.
18. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 201-202.
Elder Dennis Priebe has served the church as a pastor, college professor, and traveling revivalist for Amazing Facts, and continues to hold seminars throughout the United States and around the world regarding the gospel, salvation, and related issues in contemporary Adventism.
Matthew Priebe, Dennis’s son, is a naturalist who focuses on animal behavior and the diversity of the life that God made. Matthew and his wife Delise created Ask the Animals Productions to provide creative and stimulating media promoting God’s special creation. They travel most of the year studying and photographing nature and speaking to churches and schools as part of Dennis Priebe Ministries. www.ask-the-animals.com www.dennispriebe.com.
Look for more information from Dennis and Matthew examining these issues, in particular the evangelical involvement with spiritualism and politics.