This is part three of a seven part series called "The prophesied cleansing and triumph of the Seventh-day Adventist Church." Read "The problem (Part I)" and "Open Sin and the Church Militant (Part II)"We often hear, whenever the identity and future of God’s true church is discussed among conservative Adventists, that “history repeats itself.” In recent years, for example, books and articles emphasizing the prophetic parallels between the church of today and the church of ancient Israel have warned the faithful that the doom which befell the corporate church in Jesus’ time is likely to befall corporate Adventism—if in fact it hasn’t already (1).
Moreover, just as the true and faithful at various times in history have been compelled to separate from an apostate structure in order to preserve their faith, so the assumption develops—though it is rarely stated outright—that the true and faithful in contemporary Adventism will in time be forced to leave the corporate denominational structure if they wish to stay true to God’s Word. Many of those conservative Adventists who worship in “home churches” and other independent congregations believe themselves to be following this predicable historical pattern.
We cannot deny, of course, that many parallels do exist between the experience of ancient Israel and the experience of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The following inspired statements make this clear:
For forty years did unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan (2).
So Christ sorrows and weeps over our churches, over our institutions of learning, that have failed to meet the demand of God. . . . The warnings come down to all that are following in the tread of the people of Jerusalem, who had such great light. This people is before us as a warning. By rejecting God’s warnings in this our day, men are repeating the sin of Jerusalem (3).
The sin of ancient Israel was in disregarding the expressed will of God and following their own way according to the leadings of unsanctified hearts. Modern Israel are fast following in their footsteps, and the displeasure of the Lord is as surely resting upon them (4).
Comparing Adventism with Israel, God’s angel at one point declared through Ellen White, “Ye have done worse than they” (5). Elsewhere she writes:
I have been shown that the spirit of the world is fast leavening the church. You are following in the same path as did ancient Israel. There is the same falling away from your holy calling as God’s peculiar people. You are having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. Your concord with unbelievers has provoked the Lord’s displeasure. You know not the things that belong to your peace, and they are fast being hid from your eyes. Your neglect to follow the light will place you in a more unfavorable position than the Jews upon whom Christ pronounced a woe (6).
But however often the past does indeed repeat itself, neither the God of Scripture nor the Sacred Record are compelled to act in never-ending cycles of repetition. Unlike Hinduism, Christianity doesn’t teach that the cycles of history never stop. While God’s principles remain the same in all ages, His methods of operation do vary from time to time. And as we study inspired predictions of end-time events, we find that a number of future developments will differ sharply from historical patterns.
For example, the Lord brought encouragement to His people for many centuries by pinpointing future events through time prophecies. But since 1844, God has chosen to use this means no longer (Rev. 11:6) (7). After probation’s close the righteous will have to stand without a Mediator in heaven (8). Never before has this been required of God’s people. During this same time God will not permit any of His people to suffer martyrdom—another decisive break from the past (9).
Understanding this, we should not be surprised if in the last days God has chosen a different method of purifying His church than in days of old. In the past, a persistently faithless majority has meant divine rejection for the covenant community. This was the fate that befell the Jewish nation, the early Christian church, and the religious bodies which emerged from the Protestant Reformation. And we are told that at the end of time, the great majority of God’s professed people will again prove unfaithful:
Soon God’s people will be tested by fiery trials, and the great proportion of those who now appear genuine and true will prove to be base metal. . . . To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test (10).
When the law of God is made void, the church will be sifted by fiery trials, and a larger proportion than we now anticipate will give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils (11).
When the day comes when the law of God is made void, and the church is sifted by the fiery trials that are to try all that live upon the earth, a great proportion of those who are supposed to be genuine will give heed to seducing spirits, and turn traitor and betray sacred trusts (12).
In this time, the gold will be separated from the dross in the church. True godliness will be clearly distinguished from the appearance and tinsel of it. Many a star that we have admired for its brilliancy will go out in darkness. Chaff like a cloud will be borne away on the wind, even from places where we see only floors of rich wheat (13).
What clouds of chaff will then be borne away by the fan of God! When now our eyes can discover only rich floors of wheat, will the chaff be blown away with the fan of God. Every one who is not centered in Christ will fail to stand the test and ordeal of that day (14).
Shaken Out Of What?
Those conservative Adventists who believe the official church has passed the point of no return with God, or presumably soon will, understand the above statements as meaning the apostate majority will be shaken out of the true faith and away from those who live it, but will not necessarily be shaken out of the official church structure. The following remarks, written some years ago by one of this persuasion, express this view quite clearly:
Notice that the 1886 statement (see Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 324, or Selected Messages, vol. 2, 380) does not say that they (the sinners) will be sifted from the church organization; it distinctly says that they will be sifted from the loyal and true and that this is a terrible ordeal (15).
There was a shaking (in Christ’s time) and almost the entire Jewish church was shaken out. But their church organization went right on. That is something that many people have not thought of and you need to think it through. Judaism still existed, but almost the entire group, or organization, was shaken out. I have to tell you the truth. According to prophecy, something very similar to this is going to happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church before the end (16).
But Inspiration teaches exactly the opposite of the above statements. Ellen White is clear that something will happen to the church’s apostate majority at the end of time that has not happened before. Instead of retaining the visible church in their grasp and thrusting the faithful out, the prophet is clear that this time the faithless majority will leave the visible church:
The shaking of God blows away multitudes like dry leaves. Prosperity multiplies a mass of professors. Adversity purges them out of the church. As a class their spirits are not steadfast with God. They go out from us because they are not of us, for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, many are offended (17).
At the eleventh hour the Lord will gather a company out of the world to serve Him. There will be a converted ministry. Those who have had privileges and opportunities to become intelligent in regard to the truth, and yet who continue to counterwork the work God would have accomplished, will be purged out (18).
Some have entered the work with a human commission rather than the divine. . . . In short, they have a theory but not true conversion and sanctification through the truth. The great issue so near at hand will weed out those whom God has not appointed and He will have a pure, true, sanctified ministry, prepared for the latter rain (19).
As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light, and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side (20).
God is sifting His people. He will have a clean and holy church. We cannot read the heart of man. But the Lord has provided means to keep the church pure. A corrupt people has arisen who could not live with the people of God. They despised reproof, and would not be corrected. They had an opportunity to know that theirs was an unrighteous warfare. They had time to repent of their wrongs, but self was too dear to die. They nourished it, and it grew strong, and they separated from the trusting people of God, whom He is purifying unto Himself. We all have reason to thank God that a way has been opened to save the church, for the wrath of God must have come upon us if these corrupt pretenders had remained with us. . . . As we near the Judgment, all will manifest their true character, and it will be made plain to what company they belong. The sieve is moving. Let us not say, Stay Thy hand, O God. The church must be purged, and it will be (21).
I saw that individuals would rise up against the plain testimonies. It does not suit their natural feelings. They would choose to have smooth things spoken unto them, and have peace cried in their ears. I view the church in a more dangerous condition than they ever have been. Experimental religion is known but by a few. The shaking must soon take place to purify the church (22).
Clearly, these statements are not talking about people being shaken out of the faith while remaining in the visible church, continuing to call themselves Seventh-day Adventists while treating the despised faithful minority as a troublesome offshoot to be persecuted and disfellowshiped. Regardless of what certain ones in our time claim to have experienced, we cannot—as we said at the beginning—permit personal experience to drive our understanding of the inspired evidence. Regardless of the discouraging circumstances some may encounter in the contemporary church, it is imperative that—by the grace of God—we cling to the promises of His written counsel, especially at moments when the struggle against apostasy and wrongdoing seems to our finite eyes to make so little progress.
In our last installment we looked briefly at what is perhaps Ellen White’s signature statement on the church’s survival of the end-time shaking:
The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out, the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place (23).
A simple, straightforward reading of this passage reveals three obvious points, among perhaps others:
- “The church” and “Zion” are one and the same.
- The church (Zion) has sinners in it.
- The church (Zion) remains while the sinners are sifted out of it.
One must change the meaning of plain words to insist, as one cited earlier has stated, that this passage “does not say they (the sinners) will be sifted from the church organization; it distinctly says they will be sifted from the loyal and true” (24). What the passage distinctly says is that the sinners will be sifted both from the organized church and from among the loyal and true. What else could be meant by statements which speak of those “who continue to counterwork the work God would have accomplished” being “purged out” (25)? Or which speak of those who “have entered the work with a human commission rather than the divine,” and that “the great issue so near at hand will weed out those whom God has not appointed and He will have a pure, true, sanctified ministry, prepared for the latter rain” (26)?
Purged out of what? Weeded out of what? Obviously these persons do not have a right relationship with God, or they wouldn’t be trying for years to counterwork God’s purpose or entering ministry without God’s leading. The wording of these statements simply does not allow us to conclude that these are faithful believers ceasing to be faithful, and thus being shaken out of the true faith while they presumably stay in the organized church. These statements only make sense if one understands the “purging” and “weeding” being described as referring to the removal of these individuals from a community containing both saints and sinners. And let’s not forget the statements we studied in our last installment, which clearly depicted the abominations for which the sealed saints sigh and cry—including such as “doing after the manner of the world,” together with “pride, avarice, selfishness, and deception of almost every kind”—as being “in the church” prior to its purification by the shaking (27). These are obviously not merely secret sins and concealed abominations being described here. Everything in these passages makes it clear these are open and very egregious offenses which fester within the church until the shaking completes its task.
Another statement likewise helps us understand that the shaking of the last days will in particular remove unfaithful leaders from their positions in the church:
The days are fast approaching when there will be great perplexity and confusion. Satan, clothed in angel robes, will deceive, if possible, the very elect. There will be gods many and lords many. Every wind of doctrine will be blowing. Those who have rendered supreme homage to “science falsely so-called,” will not be the leaders then. Those who have trusted to intellect, genius, or talent, will not then stand at the head of the rank and file. They did not keep pace with the light. Those who have proved themselves unfaithful will not then be entrusted with the flock. In the last solemn work few great men will be engaged. They are self-sufficient, independent of God, and He cannot use them. The Lord has faithful servants, who in the shaking, testing time, will be disclosed to view (28).
Obviously when she speaks of the “rank and file” and the “flock” in this statement, it is the visible church—with its present apostate majority—that is in focus. How else could she speak of how, when the shaking time comes, those trusting to genius and intellect, paying homage to false science, and thus proving unfaithful, “will not then stand at the head of the rank and file” and “will not then be entrusted with the flock”? The plain implication of this passage is that such persons may very well, at the present time, be standing at the head of the rank and file, leading the Lord’s flock. But when the shaking does its work, the above statement is clear this will no longer be the case.
Again the evidence is decisive that Ellen White sees the end-time shaking as the means whereby a church once filled with apostasy, corruption, deception of almost every kind, and led by persons trusting to human wisdom, will be purged of all these elements.
Let us again bear in mind that according to Ellen White’s teachings, the true and faithful at this time will be perfectly victorious over all sin. Such statements as the following make this point clear:
I saw that none could share the “refreshing” unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action (29).
Those who come up to every point and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation (30).
Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us, as the early rain fell upon the disciples upon the day of Pentecost (31).
Now is the time to prepare. The seal of God will never be placed upon the forehead of an impure man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of the ambitious, world-loving man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of men or women of false tongues or deceitful hearts. All who receive the seal must be without spot before God—candidates for heaven (32).
Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us—the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads. Filled with His Spirit, they will be complete in Christ, and the recording angel will declare, “It is finished” (33).
Many similar statements could be cited (34). What these passages prove conclusively is that the end-time shaking does not purify the true and faithful. They have to be pure by the time the shaking and sealing begin. (Let’s be clear, of course, that we’re talking about the true and faithful who are within God’s church at this time, as distinct from those soon to be called out of Babylon.) So when we read Ellen White statements speaking of how “the shaking must soon take place to purify the church” (35), it should be obvious she is talking about the visible church being purified through the removal of its disobedient, apostate majority, not the purification of the true and faithful which has to occur before the final shaking starts.
To put it simply, individual purification is accomplished before the shaking. Corporate purification, by contrast, is accomplished by the shaking. While it is true some Ellen White statements speak of a shaking and sifting that had already begun in her day (36), it is clear from the statements we have considered that the final, ultimately decisive shaking is still future. This is how she can say that “the shaking must soon take place to purify the church” (37), and in another statement describe “the mighty sifting soon to take place” when “the mark of the beast will be urged upon us” (38). Obviously this ultimate testing time is yet future for the people of God.
An author we have quoted frequently, who holds very much to the negative outlook on the church’s future which this series is reviewing, writes at one point:
What happens where there are a few people and they do not go along with what the majority of the church wants to do? Who gets their way, the minority or the majority? (39).
The implication of this question, in context, is that the faithful minority is inevitably going to be cast out of organized Adventism because the persistently unfaithful ones have the majority. Sadly, this is the voice of finite logic and human reasoning, which divine power and providence is fully capable of disproving. A statement like the above is really no different from those statements by believers in evangelical Adventism—often called the New Theology—that because they’ve tried for years without success to overcome sin, total victory must be impossible. It is truly shameful for one holding to conservative Adventist beliefs in so many areas to depict human circumstances as apparently beyond the capacity of God to circumvent and overrule.
What may seem logical for the majority to do on account of numerical strength can easily be confounded by God’s intervention, as the army of Sennacherib learned the hard way (II Kings 19:35). Nothing can be clearer than the statement we cited earlier which speaks of “a mass of professors” being purged “out of the church,” who “go out from us because they are not of us” (40). Again, these are not faithful believers ceasing to be faithful, but rather, professed believers giving up their profession, which exists by virtue of their membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Ellen White describes just how many sins can lurk beneath the veneer of one’s profession:
As Jesus views the state of His professed followers today, He sees base ingratitude, hollow formalism, hypocritical insincerity, pharisaical pride and apostasy (41).
And again, describing what so deeply troubles the sighing and crying saints “in the midst of Jerusalem,” she writes:
They lament and afflict their souls because pride, avarice, selfishness, and deception of almost every kind are in the church (42).
Putting the above two statements together with the one which speaks of false professors being purged “out of the church” (43), we can clearly see that while gross apostasy and sin have either captivated or paralyzed the church’s great majority before the shaking, this faithless majority will find itself outside the church once the shaking is finished.
We must remember that even those who have embraced any number of heresies currently prevalent in various segments of the denomination, still profess—by virtue of their membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church—to have faith in the third angel’s message, in the words of one Ellen White statement quoted earlier:
As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but who have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light, and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side (44).
Our Fundamental Beliefs as a church continue to uphold the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 (45); thus anyone holding membership in the denomination can rightly be held accountable for faithfulness or the lack thereof to this profession on their part. Again, the above statement—like others we have considered—does not describe faithful believers relinquishing their faithfulness, but rather, professed believers lacking obedience and sanctification, whose unity with the world and its spirit causes them in the end to choose the easy, popular side in the controversy. The wording of this and other statements we have studied truly makes it difficult to understand them as meaning anything except that these apostates will stop claiming to be Seventh-day Adventists.
It may be hard to imagine highly placed church officials, whose entire lives and careers have been bound up with organized Adventism, willingly withdrawing from the fellowship of the church. But it has happened before. Witness the experience of such as D.M. Canright, L.R. Conradi, and W.W. Fletcher, each of whom held high administrative posts, but whose doctrinal heresies caused them willingly to leave the church. And the pressures of the last-day conflict—the polarizing of views, the taking of sides, and unprecedented global persecution—will vastly exceed anything in our history or present circumstances.
For the unsanctified, cultural and social ties will be powerless to keep them in the church in the face of these constraining threats. For most people, at least in the developed world, it isn’t hard to profess to be a Seventh-day Adventist just now. But the day will come, in the words of one friend of the present writer, when the name Seventh-day Adventist will be what people say when they hit their thumb!
From Militant to Triumphant
The following inspired prediction gives a detailed chronology of the final transformation of the church militant into the church triumphant:
As trials thicken around us, both separation and unity will be seen in our ranks. Some who are now ready to take up weapons of warfare, will in times of peril make it manifest that they have not built upon the solid rock; they will yield to temptation. Those who have had great light and precious privileges, but have not improved them, will, under one pretext or another, go out from us. Not having received the love of the truth, they will be taken in by the delusions of the enemy, they will give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. And will depart from the faith. But on the other hand, when the storm of persecution really breaks upon us, the true sheep will hear the true Shepherd’s voice. Self-denying efforts will be put forth to save the lost, and many who have strayed from the fold will come back to follow the great Shepherd. The people of God will draw together, and present to the enemy a united front. In view of the common peril, strife for supremacy will cease; there will be no disputing as to who shall be accounted greatest. . . . The love of God, the love of our brethren, will testify to the world that we have been with Jesus and learned of Him. Then will the message of the third angel swell to a loud cry, and the whole earth will be lightened with the glory of the Lord (46).
Notice in this passage the seven consecutive steps leading to the emergence of the church triumphant:
1. Trials thicken around the church, producing both separation and unity. We see this happening already. The fact that Ellen White says this will be seen “in our ranks” makes it clear the “ranks” here described refer to the church militant—containing both wheat and tares, faithful and unfaithful, open as well as secret apostasy.
2. Some who are now ready to take up weapons of warfare will make manifest their lack of conversion, and thus, under the pressure of the final crisis, yield to temptation. What a sober warning this should be to those conservative Adventists who presently wield weapons of spiritual warfare against apostasy in the church! Such warfare on our part is most assuredly necessary, but if we fail during present moments of relative peace to build godly character, with total and practical consecration, all our zeal will be in vain. Each of us, including the present writer, need to contemplate this point with thoughtfulness and prayer.
3. Those who, for whatever reason, have failed to receive the love of the truth, will depart from the faith. Quite obviously, “departing from the faith” in this context means departure from the visible church, since the statement says these persons have failed to build on the solid Rock, have not improved their precious privileges, and have thus not received the love of the truth which they profess. Thus, as with previous statements, this cannot refer to faithful believers surrendering their faithfulness, but rather, professed believers surrendering their profession and thus leaving the church.
4. The storm of persecution will then break upon the faithful—those remaining in the church.
5. Self-denying efforts will be put forth to save the lost, which will result in the reclaiming of many former members.
6. The people of God will then draw together, divisions will cease, and the enemy will be faced with a united front.
7. The message of the third angel will then swell to a loud cry, and the whole earth will be lightened with God’s glory—His character revealed through His triumphant, victorious people.
Two other Ellen White statements offer a similar picture of what will happen when the church is purified:
When the reproach of indolence and slothfulness shall have been wiped away from the church, the Spirit of the Lord will be graciously manifested. Divine power will be revealed. The church will see the providential working of the Lord of hosts. The light of truth will shine forth in clear, strong rays, and as in the time of the apostles, many souls will turn from error to truth. The earth will be lighted with the glory of the Lord (47).
The fear of God, the sense of His goodness, His holiness, will circulate through every institution. An atmosphere of love and peace will pervade every department. Every word spoken, every work performed, will have an influence that corresponds to the influence of heaven. Christ will abide in humanity, and humanity will abide in Christ. In all the work will appear not the character of finite men, but the character of the infinite God. The divine influence imparted by holy angels will impress the minds brought in contact with the workers, and from these workers a fragrant influence will go forth to all who choose to inhale it. The goodly fabric of character wrought through divine power will receive light and glory from heaven, and will stand out before the world as a witness, pointing to the throne of the living God. Then the work will move forward with solidity and double strength. A new efficiently will be imparted to the workers in every line. Men will learn of the reconciliation from iniquity which the Messiah has brought in through His sacrifice. The last message of warning and salvation will be given with mighty power. The earth will be lightened with the glory of God, and it will be ours to witness the soon coming, in power and glory, of our Lord and Saviour (48).
The next installment in our series will consider the principle of conditional prophecy, and to what extent it applies to the inspired predictions of the church’s future on which our study has focused.
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