On Wednesday, June 19, the General Conference and North American Division administrations forwarded to the boards of the Pacific Press Publishing Association and the Review and Herald Publishing Association a request for the two organizations to consider a merger in the near future.Read More
Considerable discussion has taken place among conservative Adventists regarding Ellen White’s statements across the decades of her ministry concerning the authority of the General Conference. The assumption has been promoted, based on a few passages, that while Ellen White in her early ministry saw the General Conference as the voice of God on earth, that in later years she changed this position due to departure on the part of the brethren from various aspects of divine instruction.Read More
The Advent Movement was designed to be a cavalry. It was to be fast-moving, hard-hitting, and always on the offensive, taking the three angel's messages to the entire world and calling the remnant out of Babylon. Many of you are like me, you enlisted in this apocalyptic army, summoned by a love for truth and by catching the vision of that great controversy. You responded to the call. And so our spiritual careers are encircled by spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:4). We must fight the good fight and be alert for the enemy is prowling around looking to destroy people (1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8).Read More
Some years ago, the leaders of two Seventh-day Adventist self-supporting ministries participated in doctrinal discussions with leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement. At one point in the conversation, one of the self-supporting ministry leaders asked those from the Reform group, “Does your church have rampant apostasy in it? Are false doctrines being taught in your schools and pulpits? Are there false forms of worship being promoted in your churches as the new, avant garde method of reaching the lost? Are Bible and Spirit of Prophecy lifestyle standards being widely disregarded in your ranks?” The Reform leaders vigorously shook their heads. “Absolutely not!” they insisted. Whereupon the self-supporting ministry leader who had asked the question responded: “Then you can’t possibly be the true church. Because according to the Spirit of Prophecy, these are the types of conditions that will prevail within God’s true church at the close of time, prior to the shaking.”
The point raised by this self-supporting ministry leader offers an insightful introduction to our consideration of the attempt by certain ones to apply the principle of conditional prophecy to Ellen White’s statements on the end-time shaking and the survival of the church. Those conservative Adventists who have toyed with—and in some cases accepted—the notion that the denominational structure is presently beyond any realistic hope of reform, frequently cite the Old Testament promises to ancient Israel and the fact that these were conditional on obedience (1). Such persons insist that those who believe organized Adventism will eventually triumph despite an overwhelmingly disobedient majority, are advocating a form of “unconditional election,” “corporate predestination,” or “once saved, always saved” so far as the church is concerned (2). One such person writes: "Today as then, obedience to God’s law is the condition of all His promises" (3).
We will address in a later installment of this series the circumstances under which divine rejection of a particular faith community is possible. But the question we must rightfully ask is, Are all God’s promises in fact conditional? What about the promise of Christ that He will come again (John 14:3)? Is there any chance that won’t happen? Certainly the timing of the second advent is conditional, on the spiritual preparedness of the church (II Peter 3:10-14; I John 3:2-3). This is the biblical premise on which Ellen White bases her assertion, “When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own” (4). But is the fact that Jesus is coming again also conditional? I see no biblical or Spirit of Prophecy evidence to suggest that it is.
Along the same lines, God has promised to make a final end of sin, to dispense eternal rewards to the righteous and the wicked, and to restore the lost paradise of Eden on this earth. Is that promise conditional? Is there any chance it won’t happen? Is the promise of John 3:16 conditional, that “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”?
I think we get the picture. Many of God’s promises are certainly conditional. But one is hard pressed to make a biblical case that every one of them is.
What is particularly problematic about applying the principle of conditional prophecy to Ellen White’s prediction of Adventism’s final triumph, is the specific nature of the predictions themselves. When someone states that Ellen White’s promises of the church going through are conditional on obedience, we need to ask, Conditional on whose obedience? That of the majority within the church? How can this be if the very predictions of this triumph make clear the great majority will not be obedient?
It would be one thing if the writings of Inspiration simply predicted the ultimate triumph of the church, without giving details regarding the allegiance at that time of either the majority or minority of professing believers. Even more significant would have been a prediction on Ellen White’s part that the great majority would prove faithful in the end—a prediction which, no doubt, would be cause for widespread discouragement in the present situation. In the light of that sort of prediction, the argument for conditional prophecy would carry more weight. (It helps to remember that unlike Ellen White’s predictions regarding the end-time church and the shaking, the Old Testament never foretells the spiritual triumph of ancient Israel despite the departure of an apostate majority.) But all the inspired evidence we have seen thus far indicates that the church’s great majority will prove disobedient in the end, but that God will save His church anyway—by sifting the disobedient out.
We need to be careful here, of course. It is true that the salvation of each individual is conditional on sanctified obedience (II Thess. 2:13; Heb. 5:9). Salvation is a personal affair, not a corporate one. In Ellen White’s words: "The work of preparation is an individual work. We are not saved in groups. The purity and devotion of one will not offset the want of these qualities in another" (5).
A fundamental principle of the great controversy has been God’s respect for the free choice of His created beings. No divine action or promise can ever transcend that freedom. With this in mind, some have claimed God cannot guarantee the eventual triumph of organized Adventism because such a guarantee would overrule free choice. One such person has observed: "Others (those believing in the church’s ultimate triumph) believe that in some way God is going to force the organization to repent and reform" (6).
But the end-time purification of corporate Adventism will not require force. God’s reverence for free choice does not prevent Him from allowing or creating circumstances which would make continuing involvement in the believing community intolerable to those choosing to reject His truth, disregard His standards, and thus spurn His salvation. What we have seen thus far from the inspired pen gives every evidence that this is precisely what God will do to the Seventh-day Adventist Church when the mark of the beast is urged upon us.
No Cause for Complacency
Some conservative Adventists genuinely fear that the view expressed in this series encourages unwarranted trust in church leadership and organization, and a resulting spirit of complacency. (“The church is going through, so as long as I’m in the church, I’m going through.”) Indeed it is sad that certain ones, whether in laity or leadership, have at times quoted Ellen White’s assurances that the church is going through as a means of silencing legitimate, constructive criticism of contemporary church practices or institutional policies. If indeed—so the reasoning goes—the Adventist Church is the object of God’s supreme regard and is prophetically destined to triumph in the end, anything permitted or endorsed by any segment of the official church is presumably not to be disputed.
But such naïve assumptions are quickly demolished by the very statements which promise the church’s triumph. Anyone who quotes Ellen White’s promise that the church will not fall as justification for beliefs or activities disobedient to inspired counsel, is pronouncing his own sentence of doom. One was painfully reminded of this point some years ago, when one contemporary Adventist author wrote a book trashing a number of distinctive Adventist beliefs and standards, then devoted an entire chapter near the end to assuring our people that “the church will go through” (7).
But the same promise which declares that the church will not fall assures us that “the sinners in Zion will be sifted out” (8). Sinners in Zion can include anyone from the lowliest pew-sitter to the General Conference President. However entrenched such persons may appear within the denominational system, the final fulfillment of prophecy will create circumstances which will make their continuing presence in official Adventism intolerable to themselves as well as the faithful. Thus, as the servant of the Lord declares, they will, “under one pretext or another, go out from us” (9).
At the bottom line, those who deny our distinctive message and its practical demands, but who simultaneously assure our people that the church will go through, will—unless they repent—find themselves outside the church when it does go through. Such persons deserve a lot of prayer and godly opposition from conservative Adventists, but never should the faithful permit the presumption of such persons—in predicting the church’s ultimate triumph while facilitating and tolerating departure from inspired truth—to in any way shake their confidence in the divinely-promised victory of the corporate Seventh-day Adventist Church over apostasy.
The next installment of our series will consider Ellen White’s statements regarding the voice of God in the General Conference, and how all of her statements on this subject—despite seeming discrepancies over time—fit together in perfect harmony according to her own explanation.
1. Gwen Reeves, “An Unconditional Promise?” Historic Adventist Land Marks, April 1996, pp. 13-15; Ron Becker, “What Inspiration Says About . . . Conditional Promises,” Historic Adventist Land Marks, April 1996, pp. 23-25.
2. Reeves, “An Unconditional Promise?” Historic Adventist Land Marks, April 1996, pp. 14-15.
3. Ibid, p. 14.
4. Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69.
5. ----The Great Controversy, p. 490.
6. John Grosboll, “Which Church Do We Take Them To?” Historic Adventist Land Marks, November 1996, p. 7.
7. Martin Weber, Adventist Hot Potatoes (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1991), pp. 114-125.
8. White, Selected Messages, vo. 2, p. 380.
9. ----Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 400.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has done well at using Scripture to sift traditional doctrine and practice, and reject that which is not biblical. A good example is the Sabbath, there being no sound biblical argument for keeping the pagan day of the Sun in derogation of the biblical Sabbath. Another example would be the state of the dead; the notion that a disembodied consciousness continues on after death is a pagan Greek idea that is contrary to the Scriptures. But Adventists have not done as well as most other “high Scripture” Christian churches in one area. We are weak on the one topic that Christianity has historically seen as emblematic of, almost definitional to, the distinction between Christians and pagans.
We Have No Fundamental Belief on Sexual Behavior
As Dr. Elizabeth Iskander pointed out in an article here last October, the SDA Church has no fundamental belief on sexual behavior. Elizabeth proposed that the following language be added to FB No. 22, on Christian Behavior:
We are not to engage in biblically unlawful sexual acts, including sexual acts between persons of the same sex, or between unmarried persons of opposite sex. Lev. 11:1-47; 3 John 2; Lev. 18:6-18, 22; Ex. 22:19; Prov. 7; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 5:1-2, 6:9-11, 7:2-3; 1 Thes. 4:3-4; Heb. 13:4.)
It is not clear why our fundamental beliefs contain no statement setting out this basic, near universal Christian belief about sexual activity.
It could be argued that such a statement is not necessary, because it is common to Christianity. But there are many things in our fundamental beliefs that are shared by almost all Christians, including that the Scriptures are the written word of God (FB 1), the there is a Trinity (FB 2), that Jesus is God, was incarnated, died for our sins, and was resurrected (FB 4), etc. Since we chose to reiterate many of the basics of the Christian faith, why did we omit a statement on sexual behavior?
We Have Ignored All Biblical Guidance on Sex Roles
I will not extensively rehash what has often been discussed on this site, but the Bible establishes sex roles in the home and in the church. The husband is the head of the home. (Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1). The church offices of episkopēs (“bishop” or “overseer”) and presbuteros (“elder”) are described as male offices, to be filled by sober men who are the husband of one wife, and capable fathers. (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Effective leadership of the family is a prerequisite to leadership in the church: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4) There are specific admonitions that women should not be in church leadership roles. (1 Cor. 14:33-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-14).
But when we Adventists read these passages, they seem alien to us. They have never been emphasized in the Quarterly, the Review, or any other official SDA publication. They seem almost the guilty secret of individual Adventist Bible readers, who think, “Wow, my pastor never said anything about this.” Needless to say, there is no fundamental belief on male headship. The clear biblical model of patriarchy in the home and in the church is not any part of our Adventist religious subculture.
I do have an idea how this came to be. Adventist pioneers often had to deal with those who—quoting the patriarchal passages—argued that because she was a woman Ellen White should sit down and shut up. Having a group of texts constantly used against you will not engender any fond feelings toward those texts. Adventists apparently decided there must be something wrong with the texts themselves, rather than in how they were being deployed against Ellen White. In fact, there is clear biblical precedent for female prophets (Judges 14:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:8-9), and for women to prophesy in a church setting (1 Cor. 11:5). But the biblical fact that women may be prophets and may prophesy in church does not vitiate the normal gospel order of headship. (1 Cor. 11:3)
The result of our ignoring the biblical guidance on sex roles is that the SDA Church is now riven over the issue of women in church leadership. Most SDA members are in third world countries with more traditional cultures; they do not want female ordination. But the first world, having drifted along with post-Sexual Revolution feminism, is committed to implementing female leadership in the church, just as first world cultural, business, military and governmental elites are committed to implementing female leadership in all aspects of secular life. Even otherwise very conservative Adventists in North America, Europe, and Australia see no problem with women in leadership roles in the church. Last year, we watched as the NAD's attempt to remove the barrier to women becoming conference presidents led to a rebuff from the GC, which led, in turn, to a rebellion by the Columbia Union and the Pacific Union, both of which voted to ordain women notwithstanding that the world church in General Conference session has twice voted against it.
We Are, as a practical matter, Pro-Abortion
God has commanded us to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28; 9:1), and Scripture portrays children as a blessing from God (Gen. 33:5; Deut. 7:14; 28:4, 11; Psalm 127:3-5; 113:9; 128:1-6; Prov. 17:6; John 16:21; 1 Tim. 2:15; 5:14). A recurring scriptural motif is the barren woman who, in answer to her prayers and through God's power, is made fertile and bears a child. This was true of Sara (Gen. 18:9-15; 21:1-6), Rachel (Gen. 30:1-22), Samson's mother (Judges 13), Hannah (1 Sam. 1:1-20), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25). In Scripture, children are greatly sought after, a cause for rejoicing, and fondly cherished.
Interestingly, the prophets write of God having formed them in the womb, and called them to be his messengers while still in utero. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.” Psalm 139:12. “Yet you brought me out of the womb . . . from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” Psalm 22:9-10. Of Jeremiah, God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jer. 1:5. Isaiah testifies: “Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. . . . And now the LORD says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself.” Isa. 49:1, 5. Paul states, “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . “ Gal. 1:15. Samson's mother began preparing him for his future calling while he was yet in the womb, by eating a special diet during her pregnancy. (Judges 13:7, 13-14) These passages clearly imply that personhood begins before birth; a person is a person, capable of being designated for a consecrated purpose, while yet in the womb.
One who accidentally causes a premature birth or a miscarriage is subject to a fine (Ex. 21:22-25), but Scripture does not seem to have contemplated a situation in which someone would intentionally kill a baby in the womb. Yet there can be little doubt that abortion is contrary to a biblical and Christian world view. Scripture condemns the ritual killing of children as a “detestable practice.” (Lev. 18:21; 2 Chron. 28:3, 33:6; Ezek. 16:20-21; Jer. 7:31; 19:3-6; 32:35). In most pagan cultures, including ancient Greece and Rome, it was perfectly acceptable to abandon unwanted babies to die of exposure. But just as a Christian Rome eventually outlawed gladiatorial combat, she eventually, in 374 AD, also outlawed the pagan practice of exposing unwanted babies (the ancient practice most comparable to the modern late-term abortion). The Christian consensus about babies is that they are not to be killed, in the womb or out of it.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has an ambivalent official statement about abortion, which speaks of an unborn child as “a magnificent gift of God,” while also seeking to preserve “the personal liberty of women” to toss that magnificent gift in the trash. But there is nothing ambivalent about the Church's involvement in the abortion industry. We are hip deep in the abortion business. Elective abortions are performed at many Adventist hospitals, but the real history has been made by individual Adventist doctors. Dr. Edward C. Allred, a graduate of La Sierra University and Loma Linda University, founded “Family Planning Associates” and personally aborted well over a quarter of a million babies. Dr. Allred made the abortion business very lucrative by spending no more than five minutes with each expecting mother. “We eliminated needless patient-physician contact,” he told one reporter. Allred owned 23 abortion clinics, which generated $70 million in annual gross revenues and $5 million in annual profits. When Dr. Allred retired from the business, he sold it to another Seventh-day Adventist, Dr. Irving M. “Bud” Feldkamp III. (Dr. Feldkamp is a dentist, not an OB/GYN, but he recognized a profitable business when he saw one.)
Although Allred's fortune was built on aborted babies—and he continues to own horse-racing venues which he has stuffed with slot machines—his money was plenty good enough for his alma mater, La Sierra University, which named the “Edward C. Allred Center for Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship” after him. La Sierra's board is chaired by Pacific Union President Ricardo Graham; other union officials and three conference presidents also sit on the board. If these men approve of taking blood money from a mass abortionist and naming a “center” after him, it cannot reasonably be argued that the SDA Church is ambivalent about abortion. We are pro-abortion. We seem to consider abortion as wholesome as motherhood and apple pie.
The church’s pro-abortion stance has consequences. It is often argued that high standards are an impediment to church growth, but all of the research and empirical evidence suggest that people are attracted to churches that have high standards and make demands on their members. Our failure to take a Christian position turns people off, including many Adventists. Teresa Fry Beem was a Seventh-day Adventist anti-abortion activist, one of four children of a prominent family in Keene, Texas, where I grew up and was educated. Teresa became so frustrated with the church's stance on abortion that she converted to Roman Catholicism. She's written a book entitled, “It's Okay Not to be an Adventist,” and has founded a “former Adventist discussion group” on Facebook. It's hard to know how to respond to the Teresa Beems; abortion is a needless and indefensible stain on the Adventist Church.
We Are Slowly liberalizing the Church Manual on Divorce and Remarriage
At the 2000 General Conference session in Toronto, a comprehensive re-writing of the church manual chapter on divorce and remarriage was approved. Actually, the re-writing had been tabled after stiff opposition from the conservative third-world delegates, but was revived by a parliamentary maneuver and approved by majority vote on the last morning of the session, when only about 150 of more than 2,000 official delegates (fewer than ten percent of the official delegates) were present on the floor. Most of the conservative delegates from the developing world had gone to check on flight reservations (there was a rumor of an Air Canada strike) and were not present for the vote.
The new chapter on divorce and remarriage begins with a general discussion of marriage that includes an unsubtle attempt to undermine the Biblical teaching of male headship in the home. (Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1) The new chapter states: “Partnership in Marriage—Unity in marriage is achieved by mutual respect and love. No one is superior.” Of course, role distinctions do not imply ontological superiority or inferiority, but role distinctions between men and women are part of the created order. The new chapter also states, under “Restoration and healing, No. 2”: “Oneness and Equality to be Restored in Christ—The gospel emphasizes the love and submission of husband and wife to one another (1 Cor. 7:3-4; Eph. 5:21).” The cited scriptural passages are not germane. Corinthians 7:3-4 commands spouses not to withhold sex from each other. Ephesians 5:21, telling believers to “submit to one another,” probably does not even apply to relations between the sexes, but rather to Christian believers in general. Most translations attach this phrase to verse 20, as in the KJV: “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Some politically correct translations, like the most recent NIV, detach verse 21 from the preceding verse and place it below an added, editorial subheading, “Instructions for Christian Households” or some similar verbiage. The next verse, Eph. 5:22 states, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” In verse 25, husbands are commanded to love, but not submit to, their wives.
The biblical standard for divorce is very clear: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Mat. 19:8. Jesus' disciples thought His teaching on divorce was outrageous, and we are just as committed to easy divorce as were the people of Jesus’ day. But the standard is the standard. “Men are not at liberty to make a standard of law for themselves, to avoid God’s law and please their own inclination. They must come to God’s great moral standard of righteousness.” Ellen White, The Adventist Home, p. 342.
Ellen White’s counsel notwithstanding, the SDA Church at Toronto made a new standard. The revised Church Manual chapter states:
Grounds for Divorce—Scripture recognizes adultery and/or fornication (Matt. 5:32) as well as abandonment by an unbelieving partner (1 Cor. 7:10-15) as grounds for divorce.
Did Paul really intend to add another ground for divorce to what Jesus had clearly stated? (How ironic that, based upon this lone passage, we’ve expanded the biblical grounds for divorce, yet remain in full-throated denial of Paul’s oft reiterated specification of male headship in the home and the church.) Even assuming that Paul created a new ground for divorce, does this situation arise often enough to warrant mention in the Church Manual? It seems to apply only when two non-Christians marry, one is later converted, and the unconverted spouse then insists upon getting a divorce without biblical grounds.
The re-written Church Manual chapter also postpones discipline in cases of non-biblical divorce until either of the spouses marries a third party, at which time the remarrying spouse should be removed from church membership. The most probable practical effect of this change is that one or both of the former spouses will have moved to different church before remarriage, the prior marriage and divorce will have been forgotten, and discipline will go by the boards.
As explained below, church discipline in cases of divorce has become rare, so the changes to the church manual were largely academic. But the absence of practical consequences argues for leaving the standards as they were: Since discipline is rare anyway, why add another ground for divorce, and why defer the possibility of discipline from the time of the unlawful divorce until the time of the unlawful re-marriage? It is difficult to view these changes as other than incremental (creeping) liberalism, a slow abandonment of that much-hated, impossibly high moral standard on divorce and remarriage.
What to do?
In all of these areas—biblical grounds for divorce, sex roles, sexual behavior, and abortion—a Southern Baptist will be far more likely than an Adventist to be familiar with the relevant biblical principles. That is not something to be proud of. Our Adventist religious subculture has, strangely, failed to acknowledge plain biblical standards and principles in the area of human sexuality.
Until about four decades ago, Adventism in North America could ride the coattails of a basically Christian sexual constitution. In the 19th and early 20th Century, we were more patriarchal than Latin America is now or ever was. Father knew best. Divorces could only be obtained by rigorously proving a ground for divorce (or by agreement, but even an agreed divorce usually necessitated an extended vacation in Nevada). Abortion was illegal, expensive and dangerous. Pornography was illegal; “stag films” existed underground, not as a multi-billion dollar above-the-counter business. Sodomy was illegal, and laws against overt homosexual activity were often enforced. Social disapproval of unwed motherhood and illegitimate children, and the lack of effective birth control, discouraged out-of-wedlock heterosexual activity; when an unmarried girl was found to be pregnant, inquiries were made and a shotgun wedding was arranged.
But the Sexual Revolution changed all that. Society rejected the concept of sex-role differentiation in the workplace, and governments began to enforce gender neutrality across a wide range of endeavor. Between 1967 and 1973, all 50 states adopted no fault divorce, meaning that either party could be granted a divorce without having to prove grounds. In the late 1960s, a few jurisdictions began to liberalize their abortion laws, and in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court mysteriously found a theretofore unimagined constitutional right to abortion. Some 55 million babies have been aborted since Roe v. Wade. Most forms of pornography—those that did not involve minors or extreme acts—effectively became legal, as the Supreme Court subjected state obscenity laws to an expanded notion of freedom of expression. The gay rights movement erupted after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and by the late 1970s most cities had stopped enforcing sodomy laws (although they remained enforceable until the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas deemed them unconstitutional). Strong social disapproval of unwed motherhood began to dissipate (does anyone remember “Murphy Brown”?); unsurprisingly, the percentage of out-of-wedlock births has quintupled since the sexual revolution, and now stand at 41% of all births. In sum, the Sexual Revolution overthrew a basically Christian sexual constitution and replaced it with one that is pagan or worse.
The Sexual Revolution’s toppling of the Christian sexual constitution has many implications for organized Christianity, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, one of which concerns church discipline following divorce. Before the introduction of “no fault” divorce, the church could usually rely on the state to determine who was at fault in a divorce proceeding. But today, almost all divorces are no-fault divorces; the state courts no longer find fault, but merely divide the common property and issue any necessary orders regarding child custody, support, and visitation. The church would need to introduce ecclesiastical divorce courts in order to replace the factual findings of fault that the civil courts no longer make. Thus far, the church has shown no interest in instituting church courts. The result is that, in North America over the past 35 years, there has been less and still less formal church discipline over divorce, until it is now almost never seen. Sadly, we now have even pastors who are remarried in a way that is biblically unlawful.
The Sexual Revolution brought about radical changes to the sexual constitution of the developed world, discarding a traditional Christian view of sexuality and replacing it with a pagan view of sexuality that is based upon the idea that anything consenting adults want to do with each other is normative and acceptable. Because of this cultural earthquake, Christians in the developed world can no longer coast along with the dominant culture. And yet that is exactly what Seventh-day Adventists have done in the areas of sex roles, abortion, and divorce and remarriage. We must not continue to drift along with an increasingly pagan larger culture. As Seventh-day Adventists, we need to open our Bibles and, in humble submission, learn what Scripture teaches about sexuality. It seems late in the day to transform our sexual subculture, but the first step in solving any problem is to admit you have one. We have one.
Have you ever wondered what Daniel was doing in the lion’s den? I have. As a kid I used to picture the lions being sweet like those in heaven. I wondered if Daniel was able to pet them. Maybe he could cuddle up by them and hear them purring as he went to sleep. I don’t know about all that, but I think I do know one thing he was doing. Years ago, our church had purchased thousands of Final Events DVDs to hand out to the community. My family had volunteered to help. We all spent an hour or so putting DVDs in clear plastic bags, and telling the children how nice it was that we could share Jesus with the people in Alvarado, wondering how many people would be in heaven because they chose to witness for Jesus.
I had three children in my van: our twelve-year-old son, Joshua, our daughter Missy, who was 6, and another little girl, Hosanna. We were having such a happy day passing out DVDs. The children were hanging a bag with a DVD in it on each doorknob, and I was driving right beside them. When all of a sudden a very large black German shepherd came at them barking and snarling and snapping at Joshua’s legs. I was so proud of him for staying between the dog and the little girls. Three frightened but uninjured children made it into the van. A lady yelled from down the street, “I’m so glad they are ok! That dog is mean. They need to do something about him. Last week he bit someone!” Josh’s torn jeans seemed like a small thing.
But now what? It was important for each house to get a DVD. We were praying and expecting people to be in heaven because of these DVDs! I had read tons of missionary and colporteur stories to my children, stories about God performing miracles. What kind of witness was it to my kids for us to up and leave these houses undone because of a mean dog? Would the missionaries and colporteurs give up? Did I want to let Jesus down?
I turned off the van, took the bags from the children and got out of the van. I told the Lord that I was trusting in Him. I reminded Him that He had taken care of countless colporteurs and I knew He could take care of me. My prayer as I walked to the other side of my van was, “I am doing Your work, You said You would be my Refuge.” The dog began to come towards me barking and snarling. Any courage I might have felt melted away, leaving only fear, but I kept on walking forward. “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!” The dog continued to snarl staying about three feet away. I didn’t have the courage to go to their door, but their mailbox was right there, so I hung a bag on their mailbox, and began to go to the other houses. But that big, black, angry German Shepherd didn’t stay at home. It followed me to every house keeping a distance of about three feet, snarling and threatening me the whole time.
I was praying and claiming promises, yet the dog would not leave me alone. Then, I was impressed to sing. For almost a decade, we had been teaching the children the opening hymn for church. I began to sing one of those hymns of praise we had memorized. And the moment I began to sing, that dog stopped snarling and his mouth was shut. The courage I had acted on, but had not felt, I then began to feel.
Now, when I think of Daniel in the lion’s den, I’m not so sure he was cuddling up to any lions. But I am pretty sure he was singing songs of praise.
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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I thank God for the biblical Seventh-day Adventist movement and message. If it were not for these, I am sure that I would not be a Christian. I am also certain that I would not be alive today. The message of Jesus through an understanding of prophecy, the true character of God in the Great Controversy, a complete system of truth and gospel message through the sanctuary, and much more about our message convinced me God is real. Not only is He real, He is personal. Not only is He personal, He has a specific plan for this world and my life (and yours). If you have ever had any doubts about our message, I can assure you, you will find nothing else like it anywhere. You will not find anything as broad, deep, wide, intimate, personal, sensible, reasonable, convincing, relative for our times, or as loving as the wonderful picture of God we see through the Advent message. What a privilege that God has revealed Himself to us in these times from Scripture in a way unlike any other age in history. I did not have the privilege of being raised in a Christian home. Having the last name “Peppers” as well as having firey red hair wasn’t a very positive combination in childhood. Though often the butt of many jokes, the tables turned as I got older. In high school, I was the small-town celebrity. I became a star in the football world and was the first ever in my town to receive a football college scholarship. By my senior year, I weighed 265 pounds, bench-pressed 450, leg-squatted 700, and leg-pressed 1,800 pounds. One of the strongest and fastest players in the whole state, I was recruited by dozens of major universities. Academically in the upper 10% of my class, I was a top student.
At that time, a particular verse accurately described my life: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
Though I was glorying in my wisdom, might, and later riches, I was not the least bit satisfied with life. Though I had a bright future ahead and had everything that people said you needed to be happy, I was miserable. Though I was popular, I was lonely. It seemed like no matter how high I climbed up the ladder of success, something seemed missing. I began to drink with the other guys in high school, and drinking soon went from weekend fun to a daily need. By the time I was in tenth grade, I became known as the school drunk. I would bring bottles of liquor to school and drink when the teacher turned her back. I was making a real mess of my life. However, my football coach sat me down one day and appealed to me not to throw my life away. For the next two years, I became that model student and player mentioned above, though I was still empty on the inside.
During my senior year in high school, two things radically changed my life. The first was a knee injury that ended my high school football career. Playing the biggest rival of the season, the college I wanted to attend sent recruiters to watch me. The field was soaked due to a rainstorm, and I stepped into a mud-hole that twisted my knee and tore my ACL in half. Lying on the field, I knew my high school career was over. All my hopes began going down the drain in an instant. Life can change in a moment, and the things you trusted in the most can crumble. When that happens to you personally, where do you turn? Do you have something greater than yourself to lean on?
The second thing was my parents’ divorce. After twenty years of marriage, my father decided that he wanted out. I was 16, and my sister was 11. When he left, my mother became very emotionally unstable. She often took heavy medications just to numb her pain. She would come home from work, change her clothes, and then go out till late at night looking for my father. We stayed at home or went to friends’ houses. One day, I came home to find her lying on the couch half conscious. Her speech was slurred, and she could barely open her eyes. I called my dad to ask what to do. He came over, talked to her, and left again claiming to go get some medicine. When he didn’t return after a long time, I called an ambulance.
After rushing her to the hospital and pumping her stomach, it was discovered that she had taken 25 sleeping pills. Because of her emotional pain, she tried to commit suicide and never wake up. I believe now that God spared her life that day. Later, my dad confessed that my mom told him when he was at the house she had taken the pills, but he left her there hoping she would die. He wanted her out of his life so that his life would be easier. At this point, I became so angry that I told him I never wanted to see him again except to spit on his grave. I was broken and confused. I sank into a deep depression that took a miracle to escape. It’s very real how the things we count on in this life to be forever will rapidly or slowly dissolve. It’s a certainty that nothing this world offers is certain or for keeps. Yet, there is a God whose love and promises never fade. They are there fresh every day, no matter how bad our circumstances may be. I didn’t know that truth then, but I would soon discover it.
After recovering from my knee injury, I pursued my dream of college football. I played for two years at a large university in Missouri. It was a great disappointment and nothing I had imagined it would be. All the glory I gained through my earthly might, wisdom, and riches left my heart empty. I wanted something more, but I didn’t know how to find it. I began to study various philosophies and religions to no avail. After a long search that led me to more emptiness, I became deeply depressed again. Most days took all the energy I had to get out of bed. Nothing brought peace to the pain I was experiencing. It seemed that life had no purpose, and I didn’t want to live.
I had everything the world said I needed to be happy: money, popularity, women, education and more, but I was miserable. I became violently angry and bitter toward my family and everyone else about my life’s circumstances. I began to drink again which quickly reignited into a heavy habit. Angry and depressed, I questioned how a God of love could allow me to experience such negative things. That thought I could not get away from. If He really cared about me, why would He allow these unfortunate circumstances? Attending a state university, I was majoring in Geo-Archaeology, so I took several courses in anthropology and evolution. I read some seemingly convincing articles that led me to reject any concept of an existing God. I embraced atheism hard. For the first time in my life, I believed that there was no moral restraint, life was random, and we were just here by chance.
Following this mindset, I thought I had found freedom, but it was only temporary. Like Solomon of old, “I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure.” I did anything I thought would bring a thrill. Those things cannot be mentioned here. It was pleasurable for a season as sin is, only until it had sunk me into such a hole that I could not escape. I hated any thought of God. I railed and cursed Christians to their face. I laughed at them and scorned their church services. I hated them. At a time when my mother started attempting to reach out to God to begin putting her life back together, I told her all the reasons why God didn’t exist. I would beat up my little sister telling her there was no God to help her, even holding a knife to her throat on many occasions. I influenced many people away from God during those four years of misery. I really hit the bottom of human existence. I was without hope to the uttermost--but thank God that we serve a Christ who can save those to the uttermost those who come to Him.
Reaching the epitome of despair, I hated my family, the world and myself. I convinced myself that I would be better off dead than alive. I planned to commit suicide, but I wanted to do it in a way that would make my family feel responsible and guilty for the rest of their lives. I thought to write a letter stating that it was their fault before going through with it.
As I contemplated for a few weeks a suicide method, another strange (divine) thought began to fill my mind. “Why not study the Bible?” I did not hear a literal voice but just a faint thought that I could not shake away. “Why in the world would I study the Bible? I don’t believe that nonsense. It’s just a book of fairy tales. I’m an atheist!” However, as I thought more about it, I developed a plan. I would study it, prove there is no God or purpose to life, and then commit suicide. That would solve every problem for others and me.
So, I sat down to study the Bible – to prove it wrong. Only I had not taken one factor into account: God. My uncle, who was a new Adventist and the only one in my family at that time, gave me some Amazing Facts Bible study guides. I had told him over a year ago not to give me any more literature. I was an atheist and wanted none of it. He had respected my wishes up to that point, but after I made the agreement with myself to study the Bible, he told me that he was “impressed” to give them to me. I was astonished. How could that be? It didn’t matter though. I was determined to go through with my plan. I took the studies and went home.
In my college apartment, I pulled out an old Bible that my grandmother had given me years ago. I had kept it only because I cared about her. I also pulled out those guides and began to go through them. What I found greatly troubled me. I began to see credible evidence that God exists. I saw archaeology that confirmed the Bible’s historical accuracy, but even more so, I saw how prophecy confirmed the inspiration of scripture from God. It revealed that He is the God of the future as He unfolded world history through the ages before it even happened. I began to realize that if He was able to know the rise and fall of world empires through centuries, I could trust Him to guide my life.
I realized I had to make a decision. Either I would believe that the Bible was the word of God or reject it despite the evidence. I went to my atheist college professors asking them to give an answer to the prophecies that I had studied, but they didn’t know what to say. They could not refute the evidence I had discovered. I then made my decision to believe. After accepting that the Bible was truly inspired, I began to read the Gospels. Never in my life had I heard such words of purity and hope. Jesus became to me everything that I had looked for my whole life: peace, joy, and love. Oh, how I wanted Him more than anything, but I didn’t think it was possible because of all my sin. How could He love me? Panicked that I was too far gone for Him to accept me, I began to pore over the scriptures to find hope. God led me to a verse that changed my life forever: John 6:37 – All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. This was the assurance I needed that He would never cast me away as long as I was willing to come to Him. I was overjoyed. Right there, I knelt down and invited Christ to forgive me for my sins, accepted Him as Savior and Lord, and received a new heart from Him. It was the greatest moment of my life. I sensed that weight of sin lifted away, and I was as light as a feather.
Immediately, my life changed. With Christ living in and through me, having justified me and beginning the process of sanctification, He gave me immediate victory over tobacco, alcohol, pornography, and many, many other things. I was truly free in Christ – not free to continue in sin, but free to live victoriously in Him. I began to witness to everyone around me telling them what Jesus had done for me. I felt like the demoniac whom Jesus healed and sent home to share the good news. Most thought I was crazy. All of the atheists I worked with laughed at me, scorned me, or threatened me. They attempted several times to get me fired from my university job, but God intervened each time. When my college graduation was on Sabbath at 10:00 am, and I chose to go to church instead of my graduation, my whole family ridiculed me. However, I desired to be faithful to the One who was so faithful to me while suffering on the cross for my sin and now lives to make intercession for me. How could I honor myself above the time dedicated to worshiping Him? He was and is my best friend. No one on this earth can take His place in my heart. I spent hours in prayer and Bible study with Him every day. The more time I spent with Him, the more real He became.
After graduating from college, I attended the Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism. During my last semester in college, I was so broke that I had to get food assistance. I wanted so badly to attend AFCOE that I prayed for weeks. After working a humanly impossible miracle in one day, God placed $5,000 in my hand to attend. I couldn’t believe it, but it happened. My father also said that he would never support me to go to AFCOE, but he later purchased a car to get me there. God uses the most unlikely means to accomplish His will so that we always know and remember it was His power and not our own. What an awesome God we serve!
Since AFCOE, God has taken me places I expected never to go. I have been to over a dozen countries as a missionary, a Bible worker, an evangelist, an AFCOE teacher for five years, and now pastor. I thank God that He has used me to lead several hundred people to accept Christ and join His remnant church. It has been such a joy to help others experience the Christ that has done so much for me. I never thought it possible to have such hope, but through Christ, all things are possible! I can truly say as in Jeremiah 9:24 that I am no longer glorying in anything of my own except that I understand and know Him.
In 2009, God tested my faith severely as I was diagnosed with cancer. This was one of the greatest challenges of my life. My life hung by a thread, but God once again miraculously intervened. Humanly speaking, I should be dead, but I know that God has a plan greater than death. He is the life and the resurrection. The full cancer story is one that will have to wait until another article. However, He has carried me completely through two types of cancer in two years to be cancer-free today. God taught me so much through that ordeal, and I learned to trust Him even more. Trials will always increase our faith when we are willing to trust Him in the good as well as the bad. They are opportunities for His glory to shine when we ask Him how He can be glorified rather than why it is happening to us.
As the gospel of John, if I were to write everything that Jesus has done for me, it would fill a whole book. These aren’t even all of the main things, but heaven is a place where every story will be told. I am so thankful for the Seventh-day Adventist church, a church of truth and love. It is God’s end-time, remnant church of Bible prophecy. Our message is solid, pure, and Christ-centered. God is waiting only for each of us to allow Him to fulfill that message in our life. He is faithful and will do it. I have no doubt of this. Though the church will pass through the fire of the end times, she will come out clean and free of spot when Christ comes. His image will be completely restored in those who cooperate with Him, and we will reflect His character on this earth before He returns and for eternity. We must never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us not be doubtful, but believing. The greatest hope we have is of Christ’s soon return. The only thing that will matter in that day is what He has done in your heart today and every day from now till then. Everything else will be a flash in the pan including your bank account, reputation, and pride. The bottom line will be if we trusted Him enough to allow His character to become ours. We will either have a new one fit for the new earth, or the old one that will perish with the old earth. Behold, He stands at your door today – what is your answer? Will you open only the front door, or every door in the heart to Him? Will you surrender every area of your life to Him just now and live every day as though He were coming today?
This is part two of a seven part series called "The prophesied cleansing and triumph of the Seventh-day Adventist Church." Read "The problem (Part I)."For many years, those conservative Adventists who have fostered doubts regarding the ultimate spiritual triumph of the organized Seventh-day Adventist denomination, have based much of their argument on a particular understanding of who and what is God’s true church. When Ellen White speaks in certain statements of the church being the object of God’s supreme regard (1), and elsewhere of the church in the last days appearing to fall but not falling (2), they have insisted she is speaking of the church as defined in such statements as the following:
From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth (3).
God has a church. It is not the great cathedral, neither is it the national establishment, neither is it the various denominations; it is the people who love God and keep His commandments (4).
The use of the latter statement in this way, to be sure, is really very strange, as it is taken from a letter written by Ellen White to her sister and brother-in-law who had not yet joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church (5). Quite clearly, in context, she is seeking to persuade them to unite themselves with the organized Adventist body. This obviously means that when she speaks of “the great cathedral,” “the national establishment,” and “the various denominations,” she certainly does not have the organized Seventh-day Adventist denomination in mind. Rather, she is drawing a contrast between the nominal Christian churches and God’s remnant community.
In more recent years, however, a variation on this theory has been voiced by individuals who have withdrawn their support from organized Adventism out of despair at the presence of apostasy therein. Such persons have attempted to harmonize the strictly “faithful souls” definition of the church with those inspired statements which distinguish the church militant from the church triumphant (6), as well as Christ’s parable of the wheat and tares growing together till the harvest (Matt. 13:24-30). It has been correctly noted that neither Jesus nor Ellen White uses this parable as justification for retaining open sinners and apostates within the church, as some unfortunately have sought to do. Indeed, the Savior clearly states otherwise (Matt. 18:15-17), as does Ellen White (7). The modern prophet clearly explains what this parable does and does not forbid in the following statement:
Christ has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church; but He has not committed to us the work of judging character and motive (8).
Certain ones have therefore advanced the claim that because the contemporary, organized Seventh-day Adventist structure contains so many open sinners and apostates, it can no longer qualify as the church militant. Because Ellen White distinguishes tares from open sinners in the above quotation, and says plainly that the latter must be separated from the church, the assumption has developed that the presence of open sin revokes a church’s divine charter in a way that secret sin supposedly does not. Clearly, God’s servants must refrain form pulling up the tares, but if they fail to root out open sin—so the reasoning goes—the church ceases to be God’s church. The following statement by one who holds this view, written a number of years ago, is typical:
If a person is false in the heart but they are making a profession, we cannot do anything about that. These are the tares, the people who are making a profession. They are not living in open sin, they are not taking their brother to court, or using NLP, or lying, and openly doing those things that are contrary to the ten commandments; they are making a profession, but their heart is false (9).
This understanding offers a new twist to the much-debated declaration of Ellen White that at the end of time, “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” (10). Quite obviously, this statement makes no sense if “the church” and “Zion” are seen as the true and faithful only, since a church consisting solely of true and faithful believers has no sinners needing to be sifted out of it. Especially is this true in the time context where this statement is found, for Ellen White states elsewhere that at this time, the faithful will have obtained “the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action” (11). But with the new understanding certain ones now offer, “the church” which the earlier passage says will not fall does contain sinners, but these are secret sinners, not open ones.
This interpretation shifts the focus completely away from the Adventist Conference system, which some apparently believe has passed the point of no return so far as God is concerned. Though they stop short of advocating outright separation, they come within a hair’s breadth of doing so. According to these persons, the church militant as described by Ellen White is not the official Seventh-day Adventist denomination headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, but is rather the various “home churches,” independent congregations, and self-supporting ministries where faithful Adventism is presumably believed, preached, and practiced. It is freely acknowledged that there are tares amid the wheat in these groups—hangers-on whose lack of conversion seems obvious but who make no open attack on the principles and lifestyle tenets of Scripture or the writings of Ellen White. This theory holds that the end-time shaking will eventually remove these tares, thus transforming these scattered groups into the church triumphant.
The Wheat and the Tares
We begun this study with another look at the parable of the wheat and the tares, and how Ellen White applies this parable to God’s church on earth.
First of all, we need to understand that like the writers of Scripture, Ellen White uses Biblical symbols in different ways. This does not, of course, imply any disagreement between the thoughts presented. It simply means that the same metaphor can be used to represent different things. The symbol of a lion, for example, is used in Scripture to represent both Satan and Christ (I Peter 5:8: Rev. 5:5). The symbol of leaven is used by Jesus to describe both sin and righteousness (Matt. 13:33; 16:6; Mark 8:15; Luke 13:21). The word “world” is used in two ways in the writings of John the apostle, which on the surface appear contradictory, but which—when context is considered—clearly convey different though harmonious messages. Jesus declared in the famed passage of John 3:16 that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Yet in I John 2:15 we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” So while one verse speaks of how God the Father so loved the world that He gave His Son to save it, the other declares that if any of us love the world, the love of the Father is not in us. Obviously the difference between these verses is that one refers to the human inhabitants of the world, while the other refers to its forbidden allurements.
It is therefore not surprising that Ellen White places the parable of the wheat and tares in a somewhat different (though not contrary) focus than the Gospel record does. She writes, “’The field,’ Christ said, ‘is the world.’ But we must understand this as signifying the church of Christ in the world” (12).
She isn’t saying here that the field is not the world. Indeed, wheat and tares can be found throughout the human family, even among those who haven’t heard the name of Christ (Zech. 13:6; Rom. 2:14-16). Ellen White is simply saying that this parable applies in a special sense to the church. We need to remember her observation that in inspired writings, “different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea” (13).
In her use of the terms “denomination” and “denominational,” Ellen White shows a similar flexibility. We noted earlier her statement that “God has a church. It is not the great cathedral, neither is it the national establishment, neither is it the various denominations; it is the people who love God and keep His commandments” (14). Yet in another passage, speaking of Israel, she writes: “That which made them denominational was the observance of God’s commandments” (15). This is not a contradiction, only a different use of the same word. In such cases context and the inspired consensus clarify the different usages of words and phrases.
Following this line of thought, we need to understand that while Ellen White maintains that Christ’s command not to pull up the tares does not apply to open sin in the church, it is also true that Ellen White elsewhere uses the symbol of the tares to refer to the general presence of sin in the church, both open and secret. In other words, she is as flexible in her definition of the tares as in her definition of the field, with context the key to her meaning. But when all her statements are put together, as with other subjects, her position on the church and what to do about sin in its ranks remains clear and consistent.
Some of her plainest comments on this subject can be found in the book Testimonies to Ministers, in the chapter titled, “The Remnant Church Not Babylon”:
Has God no living church? He has a church, but it is the church militant, not the church triumphant. We are sorry that there are defective members, that there are tares amid the wheat (16).
After reviewing Christ’s parable of the wheat and tares in the next three pages, she makes the following statement:
False doctrine is one of the satanic influences that work in the church, and brings into it those who are unconverted in heart. . . . Instead of the unity which should exist among believers, there is disunion; for Satan is permitted to come in, and through his specious deceptions and delusions he leads those who are not learning of Christ meekness and lowliness of heart, to take a different line from the church, and break up, if possible, the unity of the church. Men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves (17).
And then, on the very next page, Ellen White utters one of her best known statements about the church:
Although there are evils existing in the church, and will be until the end of the world, the church in these last days is to be the light of the world that is polluted and demoralized by sin. The church, enfeebled and defective, needing to be reproved, warned, and counseled, is the only object upon earth upon which Christ bestows His supreme regard (18).
Clearly, the evils which according to Ellen White will exist in the church till the end of time, include false doctrines, men arising to speak perverse things, and the disunity thus resulting. Obviously these conditions include open as well as secret sin, conspicuous apostasy as well as a subtle lack of conversion. Painfully we observe the existence of these tragedies in contemporary Adventism. But this entire section in Testimonies to Ministers is an attempt by Ellen White to persuade us that these apostate conditions do not mean the church has experienced divine rejection or that it should be abandoned by the true and faithful. It is equally clear that Ellen White in this context uses the symbol of the tares to describe open as well as secret sinners.
Consider also the following statements:
Even if our day there have been and will continue to be families who have once rejoiced in the truth, but who will lose faith because of calumnies and falsehoods brought to them in regard to those whom they have loved and with whom they have had sweet counsel. They opened their hearts to the sowing of tares; the tares sprang up among the wheat; they strengthened, the crop of wheat became less and less, and the precious truth lost its power to them. For a time a false zeal accompanied their new theories, which hardened their hearts against the advocates of truth as did the Jews against Christ (19).
Divisions will come in the church. Two parties will be developed. The wheat and tares grow up together for the harvest (20).
Let us examine the first of these statements. It is clear in this context, as before, that tares do not refer to secret sins and sinners, since the passage speaks of new theories accompanied by zeal as characterizing those designated as tares. This doesn’t sound very secret. In this selfsame context Ellen White utters the well-known prediction: “Many will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan” (21). Who can deny that this speaks of open apostasy? And this is God’s own church being described here, for the prophet speaks of “our pulpits,” not those of some fallen religious organization.
Regarding the statement which speaks of divisions in the church and two parties being developed, we find that the immediate context refers to the church at the end of time:
“Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:44). This is our message, the very message that the three angels flying in the midst of heaven are proclaiming. The work to be done now is that of sounding the last message of mercy to a fallen world. . . . The work will grow deeper and become more earnest to the very close of time (22).
The End-Time Sealing
How does Ellen White describe the divisions, the conflict, and the sin in the church at the close of time? In the chapter titled, “The Seal of God” in volume 5 of the Testimonies, we find a graphic description:
At the time when the danger and depression of the church are greatest, the little company who are standing in the light will be sighing and crying for the abominations that are done in the land. But more especially will their prayers arise in behalf of the church because its members are doing after the manner of the world. . . . They mourn before God to see religion despised in the very homes of those who have had great light. They lament and afflict their souls because pride, avarice, selfishness, and deception of almost every kind are in the church (23).
A similar passage declares:
Mark this point with care. Those who receive the pure mark of truth, wrought in them by the power of the Holy Spirit, represented by a mark by the man in linen, are those “that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done” in the church (24).
The context of the latter statement is especially clear that “the church” being described is not the nominal Christian world, but the professed Seventh-day Adventist community. This particular section, which is titled “Duty to Reprove Sin,” starts two pages earlier and reads, concerning the sin of Achan:
I have been shown that God here illustrates how He regards sin among those who profess to be His commandment-keeping people (25).
On the following page she writes:
The spirit of hatred which has existed with some because the wrongs among God’s people have been reproved, has brought blindness and a fearful deception upon their own souls, making it impossible for them to discriminate between right and wrong (26).
Then she continues, on the page to follow:
Who are standing in the counsel of God at this time? Is it those who virtually excuse wrongs among the professed people of God, and who murmur in their hearts, if not openly, against those who would reprove sin? Is it those who take their stand against them, and sympathize with those who commit wrong? No, indeed! Unless they repent, and leave the work of Satan in oppressing those who have the burden of the work, and in holding up the hands of sinners in Zion, they will never receive the mark of God’s sealing approval. They will fall in the general destruction of the wicked, represented by the work of the five men bearing slaughter weapons (27).
Immediately after we find the statement quoted earlier:
Mark this point with care. Those who receive the pure mark of truth, wrought in them by the power of the Holy Spirit, represented by a mark by the man in linen, are those “that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done” in the church (28).
Without question, when she writes of “those who profess to be [God’s] commandment-keeping people,” “wrong’s among God’s people,” “wrongs among the professed people of God,” and “sinners in Zion,” this is the organized Seventh-day Adventist Church in focus. In Ellen White’s writings, particularly in the Testimonies which were primarily addressed to Adventists, these phrases refer to none other than organized, corporate Adventism. It therefore makes perfect sense to conclude that when she speaks of “all the abominations that be done in the church” (29), that the “church” being described is official Seventh-day Adventism.
Among those conservative believers whose support for official Adventism has wavered and even ceased, it is common to hear the citing of long lists of outrageous sins taking place within the church organization. Sadly, many of these allegations are undeniable—false doctrines of many kinds, financial misdeeds, pastoral adultery, disregard of Biblical gender roles, support for homosexual practice in the church, the inviting of Roman Catholic and other non-Adventist lecturers to our schools, and much more. This evidence, they claim, proves that organized Adventism can’t be God’s true church any longer. Yet we saw a statement above which speaks of the saints sighing and crying “on behalf of the church because its members are doing after the manner of the world” (30), how the faithful “lament and afflict their souls because pride, avarice, selfishness, and deception of almost every kind are in the church” (31).
Does “the church” in this context truly sound like a group consisting solely of “those who love God and keep His commandments” (32), or some collection of independent groups who allegedly contain no wrongdoers except those whose sins remain private? Or does “the church” in the above statements sound more like the Seventh-day Adventist world structure today?
I have often asked these despairing ones who are ready to throw the official church overboard because of its apostasy and sin: Which sins, which abominations in contemporary Adventism. are not anticipated by such statements as the above? Some appear to think matters have gotten so bad that no inspired prediction could possibly have anticipated what we see in the church today. But such phrases as “deception of almost every kind” seem quite comprehensive to me.
Even more significantly, it is within the church—filled with apostasy and corruption—where the saints awaiting God’s seal are to be found. These discourses by Ellen White on the seal of God are obviously based on the ninth chapter of Ezekiel, where the command to seal the saints is stated as follows: “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof” (Eze. 9:4) (33).
In other words, the saints are found amidst the very abominations for which they sigh and cry. We don’t find the true and faithful huddled in groups outside Jerusalem, separate from the city whose apostasy and sin they can stand no longer. Jerusalem in this chapter is described as a “city full of perverseness” (Eze. 9:9). Yet the saints remain there nonetheless.
To claim that God’s church ceases to be God’s church because open sin and apostasy exist there, is to contradict the plain testimony of sacred history. Ancient Israel harbored gross apostasy and sin for hundreds of years, including such abominations as idol worship, human sacrifice, Sabbath violation, social injustice of many varieties, and more. Israel remained God’s covenant community even while eleven of the twelve tribes were dancing naked around the golden calf (Ex. 32), while Ahab and Jezebel were putting hundreds of God’s prophets to death (I Kings 18:4), and while wicked King Manasseh consulted spirit mediums, offered his children to Molech, and filled Jerusalem with innocent blood (II Kings 21:6,16; II Chron. 33:6).
In fact, Israel’s status as God’s chosen people did not change till the end of the seventy-week prophecy in 34 A.D. (Dan. 9:24), when the stoning of Stephen closed their probation. Without question the long centuries of mounting apostasy hardened their hearts more and more, thus making the eventual rejection of Christ and His apostles a natural course to follow. But to say the open fostering and tolerance of sin and apostasy at any time annulled their status as God’s people, is to ignore the evidence of the inspired record.
In a future segment of this series, we will consider exactly what it takes for the divine charter of the faith community to be revoked. For now, however, it should be clear that simply because open sin and apostasy are to be found in that community, does not mean their corporate probation has ended.
Many faithful Adventists today are appalled by the increasingly permissive attitude toward homosexual behavior in some segments of the church. Yet it appears this sin was openly practiced in ancient Israel at times. “And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel” (I Kings 14:24). On several occasions Judah’s reforming kings had to deal with this recurrent problem (I Kings 15:12; 22:46; II Kings 23:7). Yet even the occasional presence of this gross abomination did not terminate Israel’s status as God’s chosen people.
Despite repeated judgments from God as punishment for their sins, Israel remained God’s chosen instrument till the seventy-week prophecy closed, which is why—despite all the corruption found there—Jesus called the Temple at Jerusalem His Father’s house (John 2:16) as well as His own (Luke 19:46). In His Sermon on the Mount He described Jerusalem as “the city of the great King” (Matt. 5:35), and thus forbade oaths to be taken in its name. After telling the parable of the wicked husbandmen and their slaying of the householder’s son (Matt. 21:33-39), Jesus declared to the Jewish leaders: “Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (verse 43).
You can’t take something from a person or group if they no longer have it. Even at this time Israel remained the corporate custodian of God’s kingdom, and its removal from their custody was still described as future. This is why Jesus had earlier told the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). But once they had murdered the Son of God and understood the significance of their deed, which Stephen’s testimony to the Jewish council explained (Acts 7:51-53), their stoning of the messenger was sufficient to close their probation. Concerning this event, Ellen White declares:
The seventy weeks, or 490 years, especially allotted to the Jews, ended, as we have seen, in A.D. 34. At that time, through the actions of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the nation sealed its rejection of the gospel by the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution of the followers of Christ. Then the message of salvation, no longer restricted to the chosen people, was given to the world (34).
Some have drawn our attention to such Ellen White statements as the following:
John declared to the Jews that their standing before God was to be decided by their character and life. Profession was worthless. If their life and character were not in harmony with God’s law, they were not His people (35).
The assumption is thus advanced that the Jews were no longer God’s chosen people at this time because of their disobedience. On an individual basis, of course, this was certainly true, and remains so today (Isa. 59:2). But can a person be severed from God individually and still be part of the earthly community chosen by God as His corporate instrument? The answer to this question is found in the following section, where we will study Inspiration’s teachings regarding the visible and invisible church.
The Church—Visible and Invisible
In recent years, some conservative Adventists have asserted that the concept of a visible and an invisible church is a Catholic doctrine which true Adventists should reject. One such person has said it this way:
This was a major controversy during the Reformation. Roman Catholic theologians had made two churches. They said there is an invisible church and that Christ is the head of that, and there is a visible church and the Pope is the head of that. John Wycliffe said, “If there are two heads of the church, that is a monster” (36).
But regardless of what Catholic theologians or even Wycliffe taught, the concept of a visible and an invisible church is found in the writings of Ellen White. In one reference she does use this language in connection with Catholicism, as she quotes from the protest of the German princes in Luther’s time against the papacy:
Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church (37).
But she also uses this language to refer to God’s true church today, and speaks of the presence of both faithful and unfaithful members there:
The advancement of the church is retarded by the wrong course of its members. Uniting with the church, although an important and necessary act, does not make one a Christian nor insure salvation. We cannot secure a title to heaven by having our names enrolled upon the church book while our hearts are alienated from Christ. We should all feel our individual responsibility as members of the visible church and workers in the vineyard of the Lord (38).
All must obtain a living experience for themselves; they must have Christ enshrined in the heart, His Spirit controlling the affections, or their profession of faith is of no value, and their condition will be even worse than if they had never heard the truth. . . . As members of the visible church and workers in the vineyard of the Lord, all professed Christians should do their utmost to preserve peace, harmony, and love in the church (39).
At least seven other statements use similar or identical language to the two above (40). Particularly important about the first of the above statements is the declaration that “uniting with the church” is “an important and necessary act” (41), even though it doesn’t by itself make one a Christian. The fact that she says joining the church is important and necessary, but that by itself it doesn’t assure us of salvation, makes it clear once again that the church being described here is not a body consisting of the true and faithful only. Rather, this is a community which can be “retarded by the wrong course of its members” (42). This statement raises troubling questions for those in the ranks of conservative Adventists who see membership and participation in the organized church as unnecessary, and who prefer independent worship as a presumed means of separating from apostasy.
But Ellen White doesn’t only use the term “visible church.” She also speaks of an invisible church, this one consisting of faithful members only in contrast with the unfaithful:
There are two kinds of connection between the branches and the vine stock. One is visible, but superficial. The other is invisible and vital. So there is an apparent union, a membership with the church, and a profession of religion, which, though in itself good, is too often unaccompanied by saving faith in Jesus, or living obedience to the commandments of God. The branches that are connected with Christ, the living Vine, will make it manifest by bearing much fruit in good works to the glory of God. But the branches which have nothing but an apparent union, will be fruitless (43).
In another statement she speaks of the faithful who are hidden—another word for invisible:
Let us thank God that the Master has His hidden ones, who are not recognized by the world, but whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (44).
Moreover, when in other statements she speaks of “faithful souls” (45) and “those who love God and keep His commandments” (46), the term “invisible church” is quite appropriate, since only God knows who these faithful commandment-keepers are. Because only He knows the heart (I Kings 8:39), only God knows who is truly faithful. The apostle Paul writes, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19).
Years ago I was asked by a fellow conservative Adventist who advocated independent worship as the answer to apostasy (and who, I am grateful to say, has since returned to the organized church and now promotes revival and reformation within official church channels): “How can anyone have fellowship in an invisible church?” The answer should be obvious. None of us knows whether we are fellowshipping with the invisible church or not, since only God knows whether anyone’s obedience or profession of godliness is truly genuine. As we will see, only when the final shaking purifies the end-time church will the visible and invisible churches become one and the same.
It is true God has always had faithful followers since the beginning of the great controversy. It is equally true that God has consistently worked through a visible collection of believers, from the pre-Flood patriarchal community to the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist Church structure in 1863. And in each of these visible communities, faithful and unfaithful believers have generally worked and worshiped alongside each other. This pattern will not cease, as the nest installment in this series will demonstrate, until the shaking of the last days removes the apostate majority from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1. See Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 49.
2. ----Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 380.
3. ----Acts of the Apostles, p. 11.
4. ----The Upward Look, p. 315.
6. ----Testimonies to Ministers, p. 45; Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, p. 154; Review and Herald, Jan. 16, 1894.
7. ----Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 117; SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1096.
8. ----Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 71.
9. John Grosboll, “Who and What is the Church?” Historic Adventist Land Marks, February 1996, p. 11; see also Gwen Reeves, “Judas—An Example of a Tare,” Historic Adventist Land Marks, April 1994, p. 12.
10. White, Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 380.
11. ----Early Writings, p. 71.
12. ----Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 70.
13. ----Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 20.
14. ----The Upward Look, p. 315.
15. ----Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, p. 39.
16. ----Testimonies to Ministers, p. 45.
17. Ibid, pp. 47-48.
18. Ibid, p. 49.
19. Ibid, p. 411.
20. ----Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 114.
21. ----Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 409-410.
22. ----Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 114.
23. ----Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 209-210 (italics supplied).
24. Ibid, vol. 3, p. 267 (italics supplied).
25. Ibid, p. 265.
26. Ibid, p. 266.
27. Ibid, p. 267.
28. Ibid (italics supplied).
30. Ibid, vol. 5, pp. 209-210.
31. Ibid, p. 210.
32. ----The Upward Look, p. 315.
33. ----Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 267; vol. 5, pp. 207-211.
34. ----The Great Controversy, p. 328.
35. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 107.
36. Grosboll, “Who and What is the Church?” Historic Adventist Land Marks, February 1996, p. 9.
37. White, The Great Controversy, p. 204.
38. ----Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 14 (italics supplied).
39. Ibid, vol. 5, pp. 619-620 (italics supplied).
40. ----The Upward Look, p. 63; Signs of the Times, Sept. 1, 1888; Review and Herald, Feb. 19, 1880; June 16, 1885; June 25, 1887; Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, p. 293; vol. 15, p. 143.
41. ----Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 16.
43. ----Signs of the Times, July 27, 1888 (italics supplied).
44. Ibid, Aug. 16, 1905.
45. ----Acts of the Apostles, p. 11.
46. ----The Upward Look, p. 315.
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In "Outline of proposed theories for Genesis 1:1-2", we looked at the five major interpretations of Genesis 1:1,2. Seventh-day Adventists have historically understood these verses as the Young Earth-No Gap position. The Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia sums this position up by stating: “on the first day of the Creation week . . . He [God] brought into existence the matter that composed the earth and that He proceeded immediately with the work of the six days.” Keeping this in mind, we will see if the Young-earth, No Gap interpretation is a valid one.
I. "In the beginning"
The first question to answer is in the beginning of what? Is the word “beginning” in reference to a specific time or event that is knowable in Scripture? Is “beginning” an intangible time eons ago? Or does it refer to the “absolute beginning” of the world, or universe?
“In the beginning" (Hebrew- re’sheet) has four basic meanings. They are:
- Chief (chief place, chief leader), Leader (President, Prince, Ruler),
- Principle (of anything), Best (Best of its kind),
- Head (of man or beast), Top (of mountain, peak highest place, summit),
- First (at first, first place, first part), Beginning (primary motion from rest), commence
The definition that fits the context the best is number four. This meaning defines the initiation of a process or first part of something; whereas the first three describe qualities or positions of something, someone, etc. Genesis 1:1 could have been written “at the first God created,” “at the start God created,” or “at the commencement God created . . .," etc. Re’sheet does not have the meaning of “in time(s) past,” “in ancient time,” “in past ages,” etc. If Moses had wanted to use a Hebrew word that refers to a time before creation week, he had the choice of using: 1 ) Ri’shown--former, formerly, before, aforetime, old time, foremost; 2 ) Gohlahm--ancient time, anciently, of old; 3 ) Shilshowm--idiom for 'in times past', times past, past, beforetime. Because Moses did not use any of these words, and because re’sheet doesn’t carry the lexical meaning of “ages past,” “in times past,” etc., we can know Moses was trying to convey a specific time that is knowable to us. A point of interest in this discussion is the Good News Translation of Gen. 1:1-,“In the beginning, when God created the universe.” In our next article we will see that “heaven” and “earth” do not refer to the creation of the universe, “time,” etc. In summary, “beginning” (re’sheet) has a lexical meaning of a point in time or first part of something that is knowable. It does not denote a point in time followed by a gap or space (primary motion from rest implies the motion continues without stopping). It also doesn’t designate between an “absolute beginning” (whatever this means) and “beginning.”
Comparative ConsiderationsRe’sheet is used 51 times in the Old Testament. A comparative word study is in harmony with the definitions given above. In Scripture, re’sheet defines the starting point of a process, time period or first part of something. For example:
- Beginning or First part of a kingdom, reign, year, nations,
- Beginning or First part of yearly produce, livestock, offerings. . (dough, corn, sheep, offerings, wine),
- Beginning or First part of moral or physical attributes (wisdom, sin, strife, strength, might),
- Beginning or First part of a thing, man, etc. (in contrast to “the end”- Is. 46:10).
The Old Testament reveals that re’sheet is not used as a nebulous or unknowable word. Rather, it delineates a specific point of time that can be measured or understood from the context or other passages. The context of Genesis one is the “filling“ and “forming” of the earth and heavens. Therefore, “beginning” is directly related to the subsequent actions of God in Genesis one and two.
Grammatical Considerations Grammatically, the opening word bere’sheeth (a form of re‘sheet) is in the “absolute state”and the opening phrase is an independent clause. (For detailed discussion of the grammatical, syntactical and stylistic considerations of Genesis 1:1,2, please see Gerhard Hasel's “Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1,” The Bible Translator 22, 1971). Verse one is not dependent on verse two, but rather two (and three) are dependent on verse one. Some modern translations have misdiagnosed this, and begin with the phrase “when in the beginning” (NJV, NEB, NAB, CEB, NRSV). These versions imply that the “beginning” is something that happened long before verse two. Dr. Hasel has shown that bere’sheeth should be translated “In the beginning” and that it “has the support of word studies, grammar, Masoretic pointing and accentuation.” If Moses wanted to say the “heavens and earth” began ages ago (Active-Gap Theory- occurring after verse 1), he would have used the construct state and the first phrase would have been a “Dependent clause” (“when in the beginning . . .”). As we will note in the Syntactical Considerations, verses two and three also begin with the linking word “and” (“AND the earth was without form . . . AND God said, ‘Let there . . .’”). This unifies the first three verses together in time- which rules out the Passive-Gap Theory (which proponents say happened after verse 2).
“Heavens and the earth were finished”-
Genesis 2:1 says, “thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.”
When the Hebrew word “finished” (kalah) is used in the O.T., it references a process (building, construction, numbering, prophecy, etc.) that continues uninterrupted from its commencement. In other words, the word “finished” stands in opposition to “beginning” like book ends of a process that once started, progresses until finished with no gaps or lulls. In reality, this is the summary statement of the creation account, not Genesis 1:1.
“Generations of the heavens and the earth”
Genesis 2:4 says- “these are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created....” The Hebrew word for “generation” (toh-l’dohth) has the meaning of: a genealogy, family history or lineage, family connected by birth, successive generations, etc. The Bible uses this word with family lineages, in which the line goes back, unbroken until the beginning. Examples of this are Jesus' lineage in Luke 3, and the generations of Adam in Genesis 5. Dr. Richard Davidson comments, “The chronogenealogies of Gen 5 and 11 have indicators that they are be taken as complete genealogies without gap[s] . . . tight interlocking features make it virtually impossible to argue that there are significant generational gaps.” In a similar way, the chronogenealogy of Genesis 1 contains interlocking features (“evening and morning . . . first day“) that vitiate gaps or spaces. In the Old Testament, the first generation of a genealogy is followed directly and contiguously with the second. To be consistent, the first generation (of “heaven and earth”) would be followed consecutively and contiguously with the events and days of creation. Therefore, once the heaven and earth are created (Gen. 1:1), their “family line” would continue with the next “generation” following directly.
The syntax of Genesis 1:2 contains “three noun clauses, which all describe the state of existing contemporaneously with the action expressed in Genesis 1:1. In other words, verse two describes the state of the earth during the time when the activity of verse one was ended and that of verse three began.” (emphasis mine) In Hebrew, verse two begins with the word “and” (Hb.- waw), and it is in the copulative form. According to Dr. Hasel, when “the noun [is] in an emphatic position followed by the verb [it] leads to a meaning that may be rendered- 'And (as far as) the earth (is concerned it) was . . .'" Hebrew scholar D. Kidner concurs that verse two is connected to one, “By all normal usage the [second] verse is an expansion of the statement just made, and its own two halves are concurrent.” What this means is that there is no gap (of time) between verse one and two; verse two is simply a description of the earth created in verse one. Verse three also begins with the word “and” (waw- copulative), so that “just as verse 2 is connected to verse 1, so also there is a link between verses 2 and 3.” Dr. Hasel concludes his remarks on the syntax by stating- “The author of the first verse of the Bible expresses the idea that ‘in the beginning’ . . . God created ‘heaven and earth‘. . . this created world was in a condition described in verse 2. Next God transformed this condition into the one presently existing.” (emphasis mine) This is confirmed by another exegete- “Genesis 1:3 begins with another conjunction, so we know it is part of the continuing action. . .
Stylistically, Genesis 1 is characterized by the consistent use of short sentences: “And God saw that . . . was good” (1;4,10,12,18,25,31);’ and there was evening and there was morning, . . . Day one” (1:5,8,13,19,23,31). The implication of this stylistic uniqueness militates against a syntactical construction of verses 1-3 that makes these verses into a long and complicated sentence structure.” Verse one contains a single short phrase and “verse 2 consists of three noun clauses.” Therefore, the brevity of the phrases in verses one and two are consistent with the rest of the chapter, belonging to a “series of characteristically short sentences.” While verses one and two may not begin with the distinctive “and God saw,” or “and God said,” etc., they still have the same short cadence.
One argument against Genesis 1:1,2 being included in the creation week, is the formula- “And God said . . . Day one,” “And God said . . . Day two,” etc. The contention is that all the days begin with “And God said,” and conclude with “day one,” “day two,” etc., therefore verses 1,2 are not “within that framework”. There are several reasons why Genesis 1:1,2 don’t fall within this pattern, and why we shouldn’t insist on this “formula” as applying:
- Verse 1 gives us a reference point (“beginning“)- so that we know WHEN God speaks (v. 3). If verse one began- “And God said. . .”- we would not know at what point in time He began His work.
- Verse 3 begins with “and”- which links verse 3 with verse 2. Verse 1 doesn’t start with “and,” since it is not continuing an activity- it is initiating one.
- The “planting of a garden” (2:8), the creation of a “mist” to water the ground (2:6), etc.- do not fall within the “formula” of chapter one- since they are within the complementary chapter 2.
- Ps. 33:6 says the “heavens” were made by the “word of the Lord.” As for the earth- they were made “by the word of God” (Heb. 11:3). These verses show us that God spoke the “heavens and the earth” into existence. Therefore, the alleged “formula”- “God said. . .” was still followed, even if we don’t know this from Genesis 1. (more on this in the next article)
- God “covered the earth with the deep” (Ps. 104:6) and “strengthened the fountains of the deep” (Pr. 8:28). The “deep” (including the “waters”) was created in a way not expressed in Genesis 1.
- The following were not specified within the “pattern” of “and God said. . . Day one”- yet were created during the first week: 1) The “springs of the sea” (Job 38:16), 2) commanding “the morning” (Job 38:12), 3) Causing “the dayspring” (Job 38:12), 4) “forming the mountains” (Amos 4:13), 5) “creating the wind” (Amos 4:13), 6) “builds spheres in the heaven. . . arch of the earth” (Amos 9:6, A.R.V.), 7) calling for “the waters of the sea” (Amos 9:6), 8) forming “the light, and darkness” (Is. 45:7), etc. These and other passages show that we should not limit our understanding of creation to the alleged “pattern” of Genesis one- “and God said. . . Day one, etc.”.
In light of the lexical, grammatical, syntactical, contextual, comparative and stylistic information, the evidence points to the creation of “heaven and earth” at the “beginning” of the first day of the creation week. The above findings confute the idea that Genesis 1:1 refers to an “absolute beginning,” “ancient beginning,” “primordial beginning,” etc. The focus of Genesis one and two is the creation week, therefore “beginning” (re’sheet) is directly linked (in space and time) and related to the information that follows.
Lexical Considerations The word “created” (bara) in Genesis 1:1 has two primary meanings: 1 ) To create, bring into existence, bring forth, cause to exist (that which had no existence), produce into being, and 2 ) to form, to build or fashion, to shape, to engrave, cut out, etc. The meaning that is in harmony with the context is number one, since the “earth was without form and void” (verse 2). The “shaping,” “building” and “forming” would take place on days two through six. It was the creative act of “causing to exist” that which had not previously existed, that Genesis 1:1 is referring to--creatio ex nihilo.
“Created” (bara) and “made” (asah) The fourth commandment has been used to support God creating the “heavens and the earth” on the first day of creation. It reads, “for in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex. 20:11). The passage seems to affirm that God “made” the heaven and the earth DURING the “six days” of creation. Critics of this understanding assert that since the word “made” (asah) is different that the word “created” (bara) in Genesis 1:1they cannot be conflated. However, this fails to take into consideration the nuanced differences and similarities between these two words. In Gen. 2:3, “God created (bara) AND made (asah)” the heavens and the earth. Therefore, bara (“created”) and asah (“made”) are used in harmony with each other.
Like bara, asah has two general meanings: 1 ) To make out of pre-existent matter, to form- fashion, modeled, fabricated, etc.; and 2 ) A General word, to perform an act--doing, acting, working, do mightily, bring about, etc. Some lexicographers state it this way, “asah” is a “very general word- like ‘do’ and ‘make’ in English.” In the fourth commandment, God is referring to ALL His created works involving the earth and heavens. Therefore, He uses a word that applies to His activity in general. God “molded” and “formed” man, and animals (Gen. 2:7,19) out of pre-existing material, but He “created” other things (Light, trees, etc.) by His word. Therefore, “asah” does not stand in tension to “Bara.“ Rather, was the best general word God could have used to include those things created from nothing, AND those from pre-existing material (man and animals).
From our brief survey, we have seen that the evidence points towards the creation of the “heaven and the earth” on the first day of creation. At this point we can summarize the following: 1 ) “Beginning” (re’sheet) is a knowable point of time at the first day of creation, 2 ) God created the world out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) in the recent past on the first day of creation, 3 ) this understanding is in harmony with the fourth commandment which includes “heaven, earth, sea and all that is in them,” 4 ) the popular geologic dating results are not in harmony with the Biblical record, so they must be revised to correlate with Scripture. In the next article, we will look at the three elements that God created in the “beginning” of the first day (verse 2)- “heaven,” “earth” and “water” (including “the deep”). In the final article we look at why any of this is relevant.
 “Creation” in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, ed. Don F. Neufield, 35
 The specific Hebrew form of resheet used in Genesis 1:1 is B’resheet
 Jastrow, Hebrew-English Dictionary, Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon, William Osborn, English-Hebrew Lexicon, W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon, Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon
 Josiah Willard Gibbs, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 Jastrow, Hebrew-English Dictionary, William Osborn, English-Hebrew Lexicon, William Duncan, English-Hebrew Lex.
 Jastrow, Hebrew-English Dictionary
 Mitchell & Davies Hebrew/Chaldean Lexicon
 William Roy, Hebrew-English Dictionary
 Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon, William Roy, Hebrew-English Dictionary, Jastrow, Hebrew-English Dictionary, Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, Thomas R. Brown, Lexicon, W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon
 William Osborn, English-Hebrew Lexicon
 Thomas R. Brown, Lexicon
 Josiah Willard Gibbs, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 Jastrow, Hebrew-English Dictionary, William Roy, Hebrew-English Dictionary, Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon, William Osborn, English-Hebrew Lexicon, Josiah Willard Gibbs
 W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon, Mitchell & Davies Hebrew/Chaldean Lexicon
 Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon, W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon
 William Roy, Hebrew-English Dictionary, William Osborn, English-Hebrew Lexicon
 William Roy, Hebrew-English Dictionary
 Josiah Willard Gibbs, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 Mitchell & Davies Hebrew/Chaldean Lexicon
 Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon, William Osborn, English-Hebrew Lexicon, W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon, Thomas R. Brown, Lexicon, Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon, W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon
 John Parkhurst, Hebrew Lexicon
 John Parkhurst, Hebrew Lexicon
 Jastrow, Hebrew-English Dictionary, Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon, Josiah Willard Gibbs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, Mitchell & Davies Hebrew/Chaldean Lexicon, John Parkhurst, Hebrew Lexicon
 Thomas R. Brown, Lexicon
 William Osborn, English-Hebrew Lexicon
 “in the beginning” does not refer to the “beginning of the universe,” the “beginning of time,” etc. A thorough refutation of this idea can be found in Ferdinand Regalado’s article- “The Creation account in Genesis 1: Our world only or the Universe?” (Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 13/2, Autumn 2002) http://www.atsjats.org/publication_file.php?pub_id=54&journal=1&type=pdf
 The Institute for Creation Research has written- “No other cosmogony, whether in ancient paganism or modern naturalism, even mentions the absolute origin of the universe. . . the concept of the special creation of the universe of space and time itself is found nowhere in all religion or philosophy, ancient or modern, except here in Genesis 1:1. . . this verse records the creation of space (“the heaven”), of time (“in the beginning”), and of matter (“the earth”) . . .”
 Gen. 10:10; Jer. 26:1; 27:1; 28:1; 49:34; Deu. 11:12; Nu. 24:20
 Nu. 15:20, 21; Neh. 10:37; Deu. 18:4; 1 Sam. 2:29; 2 Ch. 31:5
 Pr. 1:7; Mic. 1:13; Pr. 17:14
 Gen. 49:3; Deut. 21:17; Ps. 111:10; 78:51; 105:36, Jer. 49:35
 Job 8:7; Job 42:12; Ecc. 7:8; Prov. 8:22
 Hasel, Ministry, Op. Cit.
Dr. Hasel notes: “Moses could not have used any other construction to denote the first word as in the absolute state, but he could have opted for a different construction to indicate the construct state. . . [the] Vulgate, Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus, Targum Onkelos- All place the first word of the Bible in the absolute state- - and an independent main clause. . . [furthermore] The Masoretes (who supplied the Hebrew text with vowels and accents, Placed the first word in Genesis with a disjunctive accent tiphha- construing it as an absolute.
 Ex. 39:32- Tent of the Congregation 2 Chr. 4:11- Huram finished the work that he was to
Ex. 40:33- Moses finished the work 2 Chron. 7:11- Solomon finished the house of the Lord
1 Ki. 6:9- So he built the house and finished it Dan. 12:7- all these things shall be finished
1 Ki. 7:22- so was the work of the pillars finished
 William Wallace Duncan, Hebrew and English Lexicon
 Edward Mitchell and Benjamin Davies, Complete Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, Josiah Gibbs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, Jastrow, Hebrew-Aramaic-English Dictionary
 Edward Mitchell and Benjamin Davies, Complete Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon
 Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon
 Other genealogies would also include: Gen. 6:9- the generations of Noah, Gen. 10:1- the generations of the sons of Noah, Gen. 11:10- the generations of Shem, Gen. 11:27- the generations of Terah, Gen. 25:19- the generations of Isaac, Ex. 6:19- Levi, according to their generations, Nu. 3:1- the generations of Aaron, Ru. 4:18- the generations of Pharez, etc.
 Hasel, Ministry, Op. Cit.
 Hasel, “Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1,” The Bible Translator 22, 1971
 Hasel, Ministry, Bible Translator, Op. Cit.
 N.H. Ridderbos, “Genesis 1:1-2,” (Oudtestamentische Studien 12, 1958), 231
 D. Kidner, Genesis, p. 44
 Hasel, Ministry, Op. Cit.
 Hasel, Bible Translator, Op. Cit.
“And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light‘. . . every thought is begun with a conjunction, so we know that all of this is part of the continuing action.”
 Hasel, Ministry, Op.Cit.
 Hasel, Ministry, Op. Cit.
 Hasel, Bible Translator, Op. Cit.
 Quoted in E.G. White, Ministry of Healing, p. 414
 Quoted in E.G. White, Ministry of Healing, p. 414
 John Parkhurst, Hebrew-English Lexicon; William Roy, Ibid, Mitchell & Davies, Ibid; Brown-Driver-Briggs, Ibid
 Thomas Brown, Hebrew Lexicon
 William Roy, Hebrew-English Dictionary
 William Roy, Hebrew-English Dictionary
 John Parkhurst, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 John Parkhurst, Ibid; William Osborn, Ibid; Josiah Gibbs, Ibid; Brown-Driver-Briggs, Ibid; Samuel Pike, Hebrew Lexicon
 William Roy, Ibid; Mitchell & Davies, Ibid; William Duncan, Ibid; Brown-Driver-Briggs, Ibid
 Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon; Jastrow, Hebrew-Aramaic-English Dictionary
 Josiah Gibbs, Hebrew-English Lexicon; William Duncan, Hebrew-English Lexicon; William Duncan, Ibid; Jastrow, Ibid
 John Parkhurst, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 John Parkhurst, Hebrew-English Lexicon; W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon
 William Roy, Hebrew-English Critical Dictionary; W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon
 William Osborn, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 Jastrow, Hebrew-Aramaic-English Dictionary
 W.H. Barker, Hebrew Lexicon; John Parkhurst, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 William Roy, Hebrew-English Critical Dictionary; John Parkhurst, Hebrew-English Lexicon; Josiah Gibbs, Lexicon
 Brown- Driver- Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 Brown- Driver- Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon
 John Parkhurst, Hebrew-English Lexicon
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The Problem (Part I)
The question of the nature and identity of the church whose triumph is promised in Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy writings, has often raised vigorous arguments among reform-minded, theologically conservative Seventh-day Adventists. Whenever denominational leadership at various levels has seriously disappointed the striving faithful—from the apostasy of A.T. Jones on through the Questions on Doctrine crisis to the dilemmas we face today—conservative Adventists in varying numbers have wrestled with doubt as to whether the Seventh-day Adventist Conference structure continues to be worthy of their presence and support, and what in fact its final role will be in the ultimate conflict of the last days.
During the decades that have elapsed since the Glacier View conference in the summer of 1980, this struggle in the minds and hearts of conservative Adventists has been perhaps the deepest and most wrenching of any time in our history. The unfinished business of the Desmond Ford controversy—the fact that Ford’s dismissal from church employment was not followed either by a sufficiently thorough repudiation of his theology or by the holding of most of his fellow travelers to the same standard of accountability—gave birth in the coming years to renewed flourishing of the evangelical doctrine of salvation so strongly championed by Ford and others, increased reduction of emphasis by popular speakers and thinkers on uniquely Adventist teachings, initiatives aimed at church growth and youth retention involving notable compromises in faith and practice, along with significant relaxation in many circles of the church’s classic lifestyle expectations. Many similar trends during the same period could be cited.
Many conservative church members during this time found their voices of protest against these developments increasingly ignored. It is quite beyond the scope of this article or series to address at length the question of how and to what extent, in various settings, godly courage on the part of such persons might have benefited from greater tact and wisdom. Important as this consideration surely is, it would lead too far afield for our present purposes. The bottom line is that the last two decades of the twentieth century saw a growing number of First World conservative Adventists turn increasingly to independent ministries, even independent worship, as the preferred solution to theological and spiritual problems in the official church.
Ideas are often sought or crafted as a means of legitimizing chosen behaviors, and thus it was when despair at the state of the church drove various conservative Adventists into self-supporting venues of expression and congregational life. As disregard of the church’s doctrinal, liturgical, and moral landmarks became increasingly widespread, a growing number of reform-minded, conservative members became increasingly open to theories about the church which marginalized and even denigrated the importance of the visible, organized Seventh-day Adventist global structure, either for the overall divine plan or the need for faithful members to maintain their presence and loyalty thereto.
(Perhaps a brief word would be helpful regarding my use of the phrase “reform-minded conservative Adventists.” The term “reform-minded” is intended to separate conservative members with a deep, active concern for the church’s prosperity from what one might call status-quo conservatives, who may concur in theory with the beliefs and standards of fundamental Adventism, but for whom public disciplinary initiatives and spiritual risk-taking in corporate church affairs are generally avoided as too disruptive of the routine religion with which they have grown comfortable.)
Since the 2010 General Conference session and the dramatic change in leadership that took place there, it is fair to say that at least in public, negative sentiments regarding the organized church among conservative Adventists have diminished considerably. Perhaps the most accurate observation regarding the 2010 GC session is its stunning impact on the perspective of thoughtful members on both ends of the denominational spectrum. The refreshing candor regarding controversial issues from the GC president in Atlanta was certainly of a sort not heard for decades from an Adventist chief executive, and the response of large numbers of the striving faithful to the president’s inaugural sermon was nothing short of joyous relief.
Typical of the conservative reaction to Wilson’s election was seen in The Remnant Herald, an Australian-based self-supporting publication founded by the late Dr. Russell Standish, which has often featured pointed criticisms of various elements within the organized church. Following the 2010 GC session, this newsletter published the full text of Elder Wilson’s inaugural sermon (1), a gesture probably unique in this particular publication’s history so far as sitting church leaders are concerned. Not long thereafter, a favorable report on Elder Wilson’s convictions and election to the GC presidency was published in the same newsletter by Dr. Colin Standish, president emeritus of Hartland Institute in Rapidan, Virginia (2).
On the other side the reaction was equally unequivocal, though of an exactly opposite nature, perhaps best characterized by the anonymous comment of one retired church leader to a former pastor: “It took only a few days for the church to regress fifty years” (3). Many conservative members couldn’t help recalling that it was approximately that long ago when so many negative trends in the church began, thus demonstrating that what some call regress is recognized by others as the needful retracing of steps in order to rightly move forward.
This article is the first of seven in a series addressing a cluster of errors held by some conservative Adventists regarding the nature and destiny of God’s true church. The titles and topics of these articles will be as follows:
- “The Problem”: a general introduction to the topic.
- “Open Sin and the Church Militant”: Can God’s true church contain open apostasy and sin and still remain God’s true church?
- “Shaken Out of What?”: Will the church’s apostate majority in the last days be shaken out of the visible church structure, or simply out of the true faith?
- “The Principle of Conditional Prophecy”: To what extent are Ellen White’s predictions of the triumph of organized Adventism conditional?
- “The Voice of God in the General Conference”: Is the collective voice of the General Conference in global session still to be respected as the voice of God?
- “What Causes Divine Rejection of the Corporate Faith Community?” At what point does probation cease for God’s people, thus annulling their charter as His covenant community?
- “Where From Here?” Practical steps for reform-minded conservative Adventists as they address problems within the church
Experience Never a Guide
I hope all in this conversation can agree that personal experience cannot determine what we believe about anything in matters spiritual. Conservative Adventists have rightly admonished many of their fellow church members not to permit experience to influence their theology, worship styles, church growth methods, or lifestyle choices at the expense of the written counsel of God—the latter including both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White. We who offer these warnings would do well to heed them ourselves. Just because we see apostasy exploding all around us, with truth apparently on the scaffold and error seemingly on the throne, does not necessarily mean we should change our understanding of what the church is, or entertain doubt regarding God's ability and that of His faithful servants to turn a seemingly hopeless situation around.
More than once I have encountered conservative church members who have stopped worshiping in a Conference church, have stopped returning tithe to their local Conference, and embraced a negative view of the organized church’s future, because of a collection of bad experiences on their part with local pastors, congregations, Conference officials, and more. This is truly a poor testimony to the courage of those seeking to stand as worthy heirs of the robust faith of our pioneers. Often I have found myself wondering how such people expect to stand in the vastly worse environment of the end-time crisis if they can’t handle the slings and arrows of local church conflict in these days of comparative comfort. The admonition of Jeremiah comes soberly to mind: “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?” (Jer. 12:5).
If our understanding of the church and its future purification has been erroneous, it is the inspired evidence alone which can decide this, not negative experiences on anyone’s part with the organized church. It is such aberrations as the evangelical understanding of the gospel, often called the New Theology, that encourage Christians to trust personal experience as a trustworthy guide in the choice of beliefs and practices. Those currently advocating full gender equality in ministry, as well as those promoting acceptance of homosexual intimacy within the church, often use the same reasoning. If someone “experiences the call” to be an ordained pastor, it is claimed, how can the church stand in the way? If sincere Christians find homosexual relationships personally fulfilling, how can their brothers and sisters possibly condemn such behavior as sinful?
Conservative Adventists cannot fall back on similar appeals to personal experience as a way of defining who and what is God’s true church, or in determining what their relationship to the denomination should be. Only the written counsel of God has the right to do this. The striving faithful have no more right to base their beliefs or practices on experience or presumably compelling circumstances than do those practicing unscriptural divorce, those promoting acceptance of homosexual behavior in the church, or those seeking to eradicate gender distinctions in ministerial roles. For us, as much as for those in the church resistant to our convictions, Bible truth and its amplification in the Spirit of Prophecy must remain our exclusive authority.
It is long past time for faithful Seventh-day Adventists, who hold to the supreme authority of inspired writings in spiritual affairs, to articulate once and for all the issue of who and what is God’s true church, and how that church is destined to defeat and surmount the challenges of history’s final crisis. None of us can be certain how long time will last; Inspiration is clear it is the spiritual readiness of God’s people which will ultimately determine when Jesus will come (II Peter 3:10-14; I John 3:2-3; Rev. 7:1-3; 14:5) (4). Between now and the final events, we can be sure the faithful will again, from time to time, experience disappointment with the decisions of church leaders. Such experiences cannot be permitted to bend or mold our view of the written counsel of God. It is hoped by the present writer that the articles in this series will demonstrate the clarity inspired counsel offers regarding this pivotal issue.
- Elder Ted Wilson, “Inaugural Sermon give at General Conference Session, July 2010,” The Remnant Herald, , Sept.-Oct. 2010, pp. 2106-2113.
- Colin D. Standish, “Insights Into the Election of Elder Ted Wilson as GC President,” The Remnant Herald, Jan.-Feb. 2011, pp. 2148-2150.
- Ron Gladden, “An Open Letter to Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Adventist Today online, Aug. 2, 2010 http://www.atoday.org/article/595/features/articles/2010/an-open-letter-by-ron-gladden
- Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69.
Have you ever wondered whether we should praise God for everything that happens to us? I believe that we have sound biblical counsel to praise God in every situation and for every situation. The Bible talks of a sacrifice of thanksgiving and a sacrifice of praise. (Ps. 116, Jer. 33:11, Heb. 13:15) It isn’t all that hard to praise and thank God for the things that make me happy. That doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to me. But to praise Him when I am hurting and bad things have happened or are happening, I have to put aside my feelings and die to self. I have to look with eyes of faith at the goodness of God, and by faith take hold of His promises. To praise Him in my pain is a choice to trust that He does not lie and will make all things work together for good for me because I do love Him and know that He has called me. Paul tells us to give thanks for all things, and in all things. (Eph. 5:18, 1 Thess. 5:18) He says that the things that happen to us are the will of God. In Phil. 4:4-7, Paul also tells us to rejoice always, not to worry, but instead take our requests/problems to God with thanksgiving. When we choose to do this by faith, we can also claim His peace that passes understanding.
James tells us to count it all joy when we have trials. This again has to be by faith, because trials don’t feel good. James says that the trials produce patience, if we let them. (James 1:2-4)
Peter tells us to rejoice at fiery trials because we are partaking of Christ’s sufferings and when His glory is revealed we will have exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12, 13)
We can rejoice in our trials because we trust Him. (Ps. 33:18-22)
I really love the practical counsel in the book Ministry of Healing. It has a whole chapter that gives me reasons to praise God in my trials. It is called Help in Daily Living.
God uses trials: They show me my defects so that they can be corrected. They prepare me to do His work. And they purify me. I need all this! Often my plans fail so God’s plans can succeed. This is really good; His plans are always better than mine! I am never really called to sacrifice anything- even the good that God asks me to surrender He is using to give me something better. In heaven I will see that the prayers I thought God didn’t answer, as well as my deepest disappointments, in reality were my greatest blessings. I can’t find peace until I make a complete surrender. These really are all things to praise God for, but they have to be seen through eyes of faith. It’s not always easy to do or even easy to remember that we should.
I have a friend that recently went through a rough divorce. For months we prayed together and claimed God’s promises. Many times her children joined us as well. Not long after her divorce she called me and told me that she had been talking with a friend and heard herself telling her friend the same thing I had been telling her all this time. “Praise God for the blessings He has planned to give you through this trial.” For the first time, she confessed to me that when we began praying together she was annoyed every time I said it. And I said it a lot! and in many different ways: Jehoshaphat and the choir going out before the army, Paul & Silas singing praises and the prison doors being opened, my own testimonies of how God has answered my prayers when I have chosen to stop griping and start praising Him for His will being done in my life.
We talked about Job as well. Job praised God in all his trials but he still went through more. We looked at the blessings God gave him after the trials. God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we think is best when we praise him. I shared with her an experience I had almost 20 years ago. I had one toddler and was pregnant with our 2nd child. We had chosen for me to stay home with our children. But going from two incomes to one is hard. One Friday, my husband and I knelt down and gave God our finances. We surrendered it to His will. Monday, my husband was laid off. No income was definitely not what we had planned! And yet, God used the trying situation to answer so many of my prayers- including our prayer about finances. Looking back, I could trace the hand of God, showing my friend how God really does do for us that which we would choose for ourselves could we see the end from the beginning, if we let Him.
In our recent phone call, my friend said that she laughed when she found herself giving the same ‘annoying’ counsel. The beautiful thing was she was also able to share her testimony of choosing to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the midst of her turmoil. She was able to encourage her friend by sharing how God was already using the situation to bless her family, and answer her prayers. And the blessings were because of the fiery trial she had gone through, not in spite of them.
Constituency delegates approved a series of changes to La Sierra University’s bylaws during a special meeting held on the campus on May 23. The revised bylaws document passed by a vote of 69-10, or 87 percent, well beyond the two-thirds vote required for passage. The bylaws revisions provide refinement to La Sierra University’s governance, while addressing some concerns about the university’s bylaws expressed since 1996 by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, La Sierra’s regional accrediting agency. This follows an information session held on February 21 in which constituents offered feedback and suggestions on the proposed bylaws revisions.
“We all need to appreciate the difficult task that our Articles and Bylaws Committee members have had to complete,” said Ricardo Graham, Pacific Union president and current La Sierra University board chair. “During their nearly two years of study and review, committee members have listened to constituency delegate feedback, and have used care to ensure the revised bylaws meet current governance needs while reinforcing La Sierra University’s clear and unequivocal connection to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its mission and philosophy.”
The significant bylaws changes fall into two main areas:
- Changing the way in which the board chair is selected.
- Making clear the specific roles of the Board of Trustees and the university President.
Delegates approved bylaws changes that require, in consultation with Pacific Union Conference officers, La Sierra University’s Board chair to be elected by the board itself from one of the four ex officio member Union officers, rather than automatically being the Union president. This change allows the trustees to select their own chair, while simultaneously ensuring that the chair will always be an officer of the Pacific Union. An additional key limitation would be that neither the chair or vice chair of La Sierra’s board can serve concurrently as chair or vice chair of another university or college board. This resolves Pacific Union Conference’s unique issue in its operation of two institutions. La Sierra University and Pacific Union College both faced questions from the accrediting agency on this issue that are not faced by institutions in the rest of the North American Division.
Since 1990, La Sierra’s board membership has included nine ex officio members (the Pacific Union Conference president, secretary, treasurer, vice president; the Pacific Union Conference education director; the presidents of the Arizona, Southeastern California, and Southern California Conferences; and the university president); and 14 members elected by the constituency. No change in that composition was considered during this process. Additionally, the revised bylaws require all 14 elected trustees be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Previously one elected trustee could be from outside the Church.
The approved bylaws charge the Board of Trustees with ensuring that the mission and major policies of the university reflect the goals and objectives of the Adventist Church. Other changes recognize the limitations of expecting a board to manage day-to-day details of a complex institution.
The board will continue to appoint the president, provost, and vice president for financial administration, and grant tenure to members of the faculty. This allows the board to have direct interaction with the administrative, academic, and financial leaders of the university. It allows trustees to maintain financial oversight of the university, and to establish the policies necessary to university governance. The president is identified as the university officer accountable for implementing the board’s broad policies into daily operations.
Trustees will also focus on providing strategic vision for the university, establishing governing policies, and protecting the university’s assets. The full bylaws document identifies 18 specific governance functions retained by the trustees under the revised bylaws. The full document will be posted on the university website after the bylaws committee completes editorial changes voted by the delegates
“God’s spirit was evident throughout the session,” Graham said. “I appreciated how delegates cared so much about these issues, as demonstrated through the robust discussion and their insightful questions.
“I am optimistic about La Sierra University’s future,” Graham concluded. “The board, administration, and faculty are committed to building this outstanding institution of higher education and developing the Christian commitment of every student.”
For Immediate Release May 23, 2013 Larry Becker firstname.lastname@example.org
The line, “If you go into a movie theater, your guardian angel will wait outside” is now frequently viewed as another artifact of Adventism’s embarrassingly legalistic past. A rhetorical question I’ve heard used as a counter-argument to this statement is “Does that mean that if I watch a movie on TV, the angels will leave my house?” Here are some statements from Messages to Young People regarding the theaters of the day:
Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school for morality and virtue, as is so often claimed, it is the very hotbed of immorality. Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals. Every youth who habitually attends such exhibitions will be corrupted in principle. There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life, than theatrical amusements.
The love for these scenes increases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drink strengthens with its use. The only safe course is to shun the theater, the circus, and every other questionable place of amusement.
The true Christian will not desire to enter any place of amusement or engage in any diversion upon which he cannot ask the blessing of God. He will not be found at the theater, the billiard hall, or the bowling saloon. He will not unite with the gay waltzers, or indulge in any other bewitching pleasure that will banish Christ from the mind.
To those who plead for these diversions, we answer, We cannot indulge in them in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The blessing of God would not be invoked upon the hour spent at the theater or in the dance. No Christian would wish to meet death in such a place. No one would wish to be found there when Christ shall come (398).
In response to the first statement, I’ve heard many Adventists repeat the mantra that “theaters are different today.” While this statement is obviously true on some levels (moving pictures and surround sound are new additions to the theater environment), look again at Ellen White’s description of the problem: “Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals.” This description of theatrical entertainment is still dead-on. Even when it appears that a movie portrays the triumph of good, what is really being portrayed is exactly the opposite. (See "The message from Hollywood.")
If we accept Ellen White’s first statement, then the second one follows. Why would we desire entertainment that serves to strengthen our vicious habits and sinful propensities?
In light of these statements from Ellen White, is the saying “If you go into a movie theater, your guardian angel will wait outside” outdated or too harsh?
It has become clear to me over the years from personal experience and from observing others that God often protects his wayward children. However, the temptations of Christ teach us that to trust in God’s protection while acting outside of His will is presumption. When Satan tempted Christ to jump from the temple, and quoted Psalm 91, saying “He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone,” Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” If we intentionally place ourselves on Satan’s territory, we cannot claim God’s promises of protection.
If we bring the insidious influence of the television into our homes, we should expect it to drive out the influence of the Holy Spirit and the holy angels. If we wish to remain in the shadow of the Almighty, on the other hand, we should do all in our power to become more receptive to the Holy Spirit, and make our homes places where the Holy Spirit is free to work.
Since my “Open Letter to Ted Wilson” regarding the proposed changes to La Sierra University's bylaws, the university has released four press releases that appear to respond to the issue. On March 5 LSU noted that the vote on the bylaw changes, which was to have been held on February 21, had been postponed until May 23, 2013, at 1 p.m. The meeting had been scheduled at the Pacific Union Conference headquarters in Westlake Village, but that violated the bylaws, which required that constituency meetings be held at the La Sierra campus.
According to the story, 72 delegates attending what became an “informational meeting,” examined the proposed changes, “asked probing questions, and shared suggestions about a number of items in the proposed Bylaws document. Members of the Articles and Bylaws Committee attended the February 21 meeting to hear the constituents’ comments. They will meet to consider the feedback, and adjust the proposed changes where advisable.” But if the bylaw changes have been modified at all, no new version has been posted online.
Next, on March 15, LSU posted a press release titled "Is La Sierra University Leaving the Adventist Church? No!"
This raises the question: How many other Seventh-day Adventist colleges have to answer questions about whether they are leaving the church? What is it about La Sierra that leads people wonder whether it is leaving the church? The article states:
Several groups and individuals are using postings on independent websites to allege proposed changes in La Sierra University’s bylaws are an attempt to weaken or break the school’s historic ties with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Then LSU tries to argue that this is not true. But according to LSU, these changes to the board structure have been demanded by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and WASC has indeed stated that “an educational institution’s board and administration should preserve their independence from . . . external parties, such as related entities,” the term “related entities” including sponsoring denominations. The stated purpose of the bylaw changes is to satisfy WASC that the university is sufficiently autonomous from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. LSU can hardly argue both that the bylaw changes are necessary to satisfy secular accreditation, and that they do not weaken the church's control over the University. That's trying to have it both ways. If the bylaw changes address WASC's concerns, then obviously they are intended to weaken the university's ties to the church.
The March 15 posting has several numbered statements. The first states:
1. Throughout the university’s accreditation conversations and bylaws revision process, La Sierra University’s Articles and Bylaws Committee maintained the position that the university would remain distinctively Adventist. Governance concerns expressed by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), our regional accrediting body, prompted the bylaws discussion. But WASC’s concerns were focused on the University’s governance practices, not on its mission. During their two years of careful work to resolve WASC issues, committee members also ensured the bylaws remained in alignment with the University’s mission and values, developed and voted by the faculty, staff, and trustees.
The real question is why does WASC have governance concerns about La Sierra? La Sierra's Board of Trustees is structured exactly like every other union-affiliated Seventh-day Adventist college in North America. Why has no other secular accrediting body in North America expressed concerns about the board structure of an Adventist college?
WASC has taken the remarkable stance that, “Concerns can arise when the board chair is responsible to a related entity, such as a religious institution, . . .” But all SDA tertiary educational institutions have a union president or other church official as their ex officio board chair, who obviously is “responsible to a related . . .religious institution.” All union-affiliated colleges have the union president as their board chair. So WASC has just fired a shot across the bow of the entire tertiary educational apparatus of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. WASC is casting aspersion on all of our colleges’ governing boards. WASC is, in effect, demanding that the church cut loose its entire higher educational structure. If the LSU constituency caves in to this pressure from a secular accrediting authority, it jeopardizes the entire SDA tertiary educational establishment in North America.
The author of LSU's press release makes a distinction between governance and mission, but if the mission of La Sierra is to be governed by the SDA Church, then changes to its governance will impair its mission. This board structure, used throughout North America, has been developed in order to ensure that the SDA Church retains control of its schools. Without structures in place to ensure church control, the church has no way of making certain that its schools continue to support and promote the mission of the church. To change the board structure is to undermine the ability of the church to ensure that La Sierra is faithful to its mission.
2. The proposed bylaws require the Board of Trustees to ensure the mission and major policies of the university are well aligned with the goals and objectives of the Adventist Church. The board oversees the strategic plan and its progress. Adventist mission is central to the function of the board.
The proposed bylaw changes transfer almost all governing power away from the Board of Trustees and vest it in the president of the university, so the board will no longer have the power to ensure anything. For example, all power to hire and fire is removed from the board and given to the president; the board will not even retain oversight in this area. So how can the board ensure that faculty hires are aligned with the goals and objectives of the church? If the mission and major policies of the university are not aligned with the goals and objectives of the Adventist Church, the board will have no power to do anything except fire the president and hope for better luck next time.
3. The revised bylaws make no change in the number or offices of the church leaders who serve the board on an ex officio basis. The board will continue to have among its members the Pacific Union Conference president, secretary, treasurer, vice president, director of education, and the presidents of the Southern and Southeastern California conferences and the Arizona Conference.
But the quorum rule is changed so that there is no quorum unless lay members outnumber ex officio members. And the Pacific Union Conference president can no longer serve as the president of La Sierra's board of trustees as long as he continues to chair PUC's board of trustees. Moreover, the chair changes from an ex officio to an elected position, which obviously weakens the power of the board chair relative to all other board members and the university president. Again, remember that these changes are designed to satisfy WASC that La Sierra has sufficient independence from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That is the stated purpose of the changes to the structure of the Board of Trustees, so it is disingenuous, to say the least, to argue that they do not loosen the SDA Church's control over the university.
4. La Sierra University’s comprehensive Spiritual Master Plan (entire document available at: http://www.lasierra.edu/index.php?id=8122) makes the following clear statements about the university’s commitment to the church:
- La Sierra University is committed to the Seventh-day Adventist faith and life.
- La Sierra University embraces the biblical Sabbath as a gift of sacred time.
- La Sierra looks to the future with eagerness, anticipating the fulfillment of the Advent hope.
La Sierra University remains deeply committed to the Adventist philosophy of education. Our mission of seeking truth, knowing God, and serving others is daily experienced by our students and those privileged to accompany them on their educational journey. The university’s Spiritual Master Plan guides our work in providing invigorating classroom conversations, meaningful worship experiences, and transformative service opportunities,” says Randal Wisbey, president.
La Sierra claims to embrace the biblical Sabbath “as a gift of sacred time,” but the Sabbath is sacred because God hallowed it at the creation; it is more than just a gift of time, it is a memorial to God's work of creation in a literal week. Adventism came into existence largely to call people back to worship on the day that God set aside at the creation. (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11; Rev. 14:7) If mainstream science is correct in its theories about origins—life spontaneously self-assembled and self-vivified, and evolved from single-celled forms over the course of some six hundred million years, and humans evolved from an apelike ancestor some two million years ago—then the Adventist faith is utter nonsense. Yet La Sierra has been teaching this view of origins as truth for many years, and has resisted all efforts to reform this aspect of its curriculum. This casts grave doubt on the university's commitment to the Adventist faith.
La Sierra points us to a “Spiritual Master Plan,” but having a plan for the future is no substitute for upholding plain Bible truth right now. Moreover, the plan raises more questions than it answers. It discusses a science-faith seminar, but previous efforts in this area were probably more corrosive to Adventist faith than the biology classes.
According to the “Spiritual Master Plan,” subjects that will be featured at campus-wide assemblies include “earth care, women’s issues, service, mission, social justice, Christian responsibility,” a litany of liberal enthusiasms.
The problem with any “Spiritual Master Plan” that La Sierra might devise is that it will be implemented by the extremely liberal religion faculty. That faculty was formed by Fritz Guy, who recently co-wrote a book arguing that the writer of Genesis intended to convey that the raqia [Heb. = expanse, firmament, sky] is actually an inverted metal dome:
Then there's John Webster, who told the students in the seminar class that the literal (Historical-Grammatical) method, which is the approved method of Biblical interpretation is “not particularly helpful,” and it might be more helpful to view the opening chapters of Genesis not as how the world came into being, but how it was inaugurated to be God’s dwelling place. Then there's Tricia Famisaran, who urges us to repent of our sins of heterosexism and patriarchy, and suggests that since Lady Gaga has determined that homosexuals were “born that way,” the rest of us should act accordingly:
In sum, a “spiritual plan” is only as good as the people who implement it. A fine-sounding plan cannot take the place of a dedicated and committed Board of Trustees having real governing power, who will put in place a dedicated and committed president and faculty.
Much of LSU's official response to the bylaw change issue is aimed at trying to get the LSU constituency—which has an ethical obligation to inform itself, from any and all sources, regarding the nature, details, and effects of the bylaw changes it is being asked to vote for—to pay no attention to anyone other than the current LSU administration:
While the theories these critics present appear to be objective, they omit important information about the bylaws, the revision process, and recent actions by the university’s board, administration, and faculty. . . . Critical voices are often loud, and their accusatory tone attracts attention. Their self-assured manner suggests that they are speaking with authority. But be assured, there are other more credible voices to be heard.”
But the constituents can judge for themselves what is truth while considering several points of view. “In a multitude of counselors there is safety.” Prov. 11:14. It is always better to consider both sides of the story. “He that speaks first in his own cause seems just; until his neighbor comes and examines him.” Prov. 18:17. It should be clear that when Wisbey advocates these bylaw changes, he speaks in his own cause.
Moreover, LSU Constituent Members do not represent the current administration, nor do they exist to rubber-stamp the existing administration's agenda. The constituency represents the entire Adventist community in Southern California and the Pacific Union, and its commission is to ensure that the University remains faithful to its mission and founding purpose. For LSU to discourage its constituent members from hearing all points of view is like the president discouraging your congressman from listening to your point of view on pending legislation.
Next, on April 5, LSU treated us to a brief history of its accreditation.
The point of this press release seems to be to claim that WASC first raised board structure/governance concerns in 1996, long before Wisbey became president (and, in fact, early in Larry Geraty's tenure as president). We are told that the two main items WASC wanted addressed way back in 1996 were:
1. The number of trustees not employed by any entity of the SDA Church (deemed insufficient at the time), and
2. That the president of the Pacific Union Conference also served as chair of the Pacific Union College board. WASC recommended four steps to take in beginning to address this issue.
We are expected to infer from this information that WASC's intrusion cannot have been solicited by Randal Wisbey, because WASC had these same concerns 11 years before Wisbey became president of La Sierra.
Now, let me see if I have this straight: WASC raises concerns about La Sierra's board structure back in 1996, does nothing for fourteen (14) years, grants LSU accreditation for a full 8-year term in 2010, then says, “oh, by the way, fix your board structure like we said back in 1996.”
To whatever extent WASC raised a concern about board structure in 1996, it was obviously answered back then. The notion that WASC allowed a concern to fester, unaddressed, for 14 years is a non-starter. The concerns were addressed, and WASC was satisfied, back in 1996. Moreover, if the board structure were such a grave concern to WASC, would WASC have extended full accreditation to La Sierra in 2010—fourteen years after the concerns were first raised without them ever having been addressed? Bear in mind that LSU's accreditation is valid until 2018, a full 22 years after the concerns were first raised.
The idea that there is continuity of concern between 1996 and 2010 is surreal. Obviously, the governance issue somehow got put back on the front burner after 14 years of being a non-issue. Why? Because (one strongly suspects) Randal Wisbey wants bylaw changes that he knows he cannot push through without a threat from the accreditors.
But is WASC being consistent in making these demands? There are three separate Brigham Young Universities, the main one in Provo, Utah, another in Idaho, and a third in Hawaii. All three are separate institutions; the Idaho and Hawaii schools are not branch campuses of the BYU in Utah. These three schools share one (1) board of trustees headed up by one (1) man, Thomas S. Monson, the current president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All of the board members are high officers in the Mormon Church, and most if not all are paid by the Mormon Church. There are no elected lay members on the board; all board members are there by virtue of their offices in the Mormon Church. In other words, they are all ex officios.
The Brigham Young University in Hawaii is within WASC's territorial jurisdiction. Is WASC demanding that BYUH have a separate board? Is WASC demanding that Thomas Monson step down as board chair of BYUH because he also chairs the board for the Utah and Idaho schools? Is WASC demanding that the Mormon Church pack its unitary board with lay members who hold no high offices in the church? The answer to all these questions is, of course, no. Why? Because WASC understands that it exists to ensure basic academic standards, not to dictate to religious denominations how they shall govern their educational establishments. In fact, in 2008, WASC reaffirmed BYUH's accreditation for 10 years.
Finally, on April 12, LSU posted an article explaining the importance of accreditation.
But no one disputes the value of accreditation, and accreditation is not the issue here. La Sierra could retain its current board structure throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity without ever jeopardizing its secular accreditation. The problem is that Randal Wisbey wants to be his own boss, with no real possibility of any meaningful interference from the larger Seventh-day Adventist community. These bylaw changes are a huge step in that direction. WASC doesn't really care about these changes; in the case of BYUH, WASC has not challenged a single, unitary board and board chair governing three separate Mormon institutions, consisting only of church ex officios, with no elected lay members.
The constituency of LSU must not allow itself to be stampeded by an empty, solicited accreditation threat into approving bylaw changes that should never be approved, and that place at risk the entire tertiary educational structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Last year, ADvindicate broke the story that La Sierra University had issued $24 million dollars in tax exempt bonds. Pursuant to the California Supreme Court ruling that allows “pervasively sectarian” schools such as La Sierra University and Cal Baptist University to issue tax-free bonds, the issuing institution is required to sign a solemn covenant stating:
The Corporation covenants and agrees that no portion of the proceeds of the Bonds will be used to finance or refinance any facility, place or building used or to be used for sectarian instruction or study or as a place for devotional activities or religious worship or in connection with any part of the programs of any school or department of divinity,
This restriction applies for the useful life of any structure financed or refinanced with bond proceeds. Given the language of the covenant—which was repeated several times in the bond documents, and signed by La Sierra President Randal Wisbey and Vice President for Finance, David Geriguis—the public discussion naturally revolved around the secularization of specific buildings and structures financed by tax-free bond money, most notably the Thaine B. Price Science Complex.
But now a California court has ruled that participation in the tax-free bond program effectively secularizes even a private, sectarian university, converting it into a secular business establishment and severely limiting its right to uphold its own religious standards.
The story begins when Domainlor Javier Cabading, an immigrant from the Philippines, enrolled in the nursing program at Cal Baptist University, a private institution in Riverside, California, that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The 25 year old Cabading, who goes by the name “Dominique Javier,” is biologically male, but has always identified as female, and hence clicked the “female” box on Cal Baptist's online application form.
In April, 2011, Cabading appeared on the MTV show “True Life” and revealed that “she” was actually a he. “I’m a girl trapped in a guy’s body,” Cabading said on the show. On August 30, 2011, Cabading was expelled from Cal Baptist for “committing or attempting to engage in fraud, or concealing identity,” and for presenting false or misleading information in university judicial processes.
California state law, specifically the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civ. Code § 51), prohibits “business establishments” from discriminating based upon several categories—sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation. The act defines “sex” as including “a person's gender identity and gender expression” and hence outlaws discrimination based upon gender identity. On February 25 of this year, Cabading sued Cal Baptist claiming “she” was expelled because “she” identified and dressed as female, but was biologically male. Cabading is claiming $500,000 in damages.
Cal Baptist demurred, arguing that the Unruh Act did not apply to Cal Baptist University because it is not a “business establishment,” but a private educational institution with a religious mission that integrally includes inculcating religious beliefs and values. Citing a recent case in which a Lutheran high school expelled two female students for sexual impropriety--Doe v. California Lutheran High School Ass'n (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 828—Cal Baptist asked Judge Matthew Perantoni to dismiss the Unruh Act claims.
Cabading's attorney, Paul Southwick of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, argued that Cal Baptist University (“CBU”) had effectively admitted that it was in the secular education business in statements made in connection with issuing the tax-free bonds:
Moreover, as a participant in California Statewide Comm. Dev. Auth. v. All Persons Interested's tax free bond financing program, CBU has obligated itself to demonstrate that, despite its inclusion of a religious viewpoint in otherwise secular classes, “it provides an education that is secular in substance.” California Statewide Comm. Dev. Auth. v. All Persons Interested (2007) 40 Cal.4th 788, 805 fn 9 (“CSCDA”). When an educational institution provides a broad curriculum in secular subjects, “the bond program assists the religious school in providing educational opportunities to California residents, enhancing their employment prospects[.]” Id at 803.
Moreover, CBU joined an amicus brief [in the CSCDA case], promising the court that monies raised through the bonds would be spent exclusively on projects that advanced CSCDA's secular goals and would “not be used for activities that the outside world would typically view as religious or sectarian.” . . . In so doing, CBU holds itself out as an institution whose primary service is to the state and the community, and not to its religious denomination.
Arguing that schools are public if their potential constituency is more public than private, Southwick stated:
The same is true of CBU. However, it is even more public in that it is . . . a beneficiary of a public bond program through which it has raised over $100 million, and is seeking an additional $115 million, to construct educational facilities to be used exclusively in support of secular education.
On May 7th Judge Perantoni sided with Cabading and Southwick, ruling that the lawsuit against Cal Baptist, including the Unruh Act claims, could go forward.
La Sierra University has participated in the same tax free bond program as Cal Baptist. La Sierra admits many non-Adventist students; by some reports, 40% of the student population is non-Adventist. In its bond documents, La Sierra made the same admissions as Cal Baptist regarding the secular nature of its curriculum: “Thus, La Sierra does the things most other universities do: all information and coursework used to teach secular subjects are neutral with respect to religion.” If Cal Baptist loses this case, it will create a precedent that will certainly apply to La Sierra.
Some commentators have already noted that issuing the tax exempt bonds might interfere with La Sierra's ability to uphold its own standards of conduct and deportment. Michael Peabody, who operates the Religiousliberty.TV website, was way ahead of the curve on the issue. In an article on the bond issue published in February (just before the Cabading lawsuit was filed), Peabody wrote:
Finally, when it comes to allowing student clubs on campus, La Sierra may . . . no longer legally prohibit recognition for a gay and lesbian club. This issue made news in November 2012 when a gay and lesbian club was denied recognition because, in the words of the campus spokesperson, the club “does not align with Seventh-day Adventist beliefs on sexuality. La Sierra is a Seventh-day Adventist university, so we support the values of the SDA Church. That is why they were turned down.”
It does not appear that the bond has been used by any parties to expand their rights on campus, but the bond would seem to give many groups a right of legal action in the event that they feel discriminated against by the university because of their religious beliefs. From a religious liberty angle, religious institutions have long held the “right to discriminate” in order to protect their interests and religious missions, but what the California Supreme Court seems to be saying is that they also have the right to contract away some of these protections in return for tax-exempt bond funding.
From the other side of the ideological spectrum, T. Joe Willey, has also suggested that, because of the bond financing, La Sierra may not be able to prevent a homosexual student group from meeting on campus. It is becoming ever clearer that La Sierra was likely wrong when it asserted, through counsel Kent Hansen, that:
The issuance of the bonds does not alter La Sierra's rights of religious preference in employment and student admissions or Adventist standards reflected in the policies of the campus.
The truth is that none of us knew with certainty what legal effect issuing the bonds would have. My own legal analysis turns out to have been less perspicacious than Michael Peabody's, but even a year ago when ADvindicate first broke the tax-free bond story, I noted that the monetary savings were not worth the legal risks of issuing the bonds:
But rather than try to guess how much legal jeopardy La Sierra has placed itself in, the question you should be asking is why? Why would any Seventh-day Adventist institution voluntarily place itself in a position where it may not be able to teach exactly what it wants in exactly the way it wants? Why should we ever, in order to save 2% of interest, promise anyone that we won't teach in a sectarian way, and promote our specific doctrine and worldview? Why would we ever promise that our classes will be “neutral with respect to religion”?
We now have a clearer picture of the problems La Sierra has blundered into by issuing the tax-exempt bonds. The problems are worse than I would have guessed.
Exciting things are happening in Chiapas, Mexico. Lela and I were blessed to go on a medical mission trip to the town of Ocozocoautla in Mexico’s southern-most state this month. Dr. Jeff Hardesty, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Loma Linda, and an official ministry of Loma Linda University organized the trip. Each year Dr. Hardesty leads a trip to Chiapas with a team of nurses, physicians and allied health professionals as well as anyone else to wants to go along to carry out whatever missionary opportunities God opens. This is the 9th year a team has gone. Lela and I went down separately from the rest of the team, as we needed to bring our three-month-old son, Josiah because he is still nursing. With Josiah so young, we prayed much before deciding to come, as the region does have some malaria risk, as well as a significant history of kidnapping. To minimize his exposure, we came down three days after everyone else and arrived the evening before the medical outreach was to begin.
Our travel itinerary included dropping off our three older children, Hadassah, Nathaniel and Moriah, with Lela’s parents who live in Phoenix, and who were kind enough to carry out a mission of their own by taking care of them while we were out of country. Then we traveled to Los Angeles where we caught our flight to Mexico City. Here a miracle occurred. We had to go through customs before catching our connecting flight to Tuxtla-Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. If you have ever traveled with us, you known that we always plan ahead, and we bring anything we might need. On this trip, we especially wanted to be prepared to get our three-month-old jewel safely through a week in the mission field (stove, bottle/pump sterilizer, sani-wipes, Clorox wipes, mosquito netting, baby toys, stroller, car seat, bassinet, inflatable baby tub, medicine, thermometer, medications for any condition that might occur, blankets, changes of clothes, diapers, etc.) plus enough clean American food to feed us for a week, PLUS literature. We knew that we were going to be meeting with El Presidente de Ocozocoautla (the mayor of the town where the team carried out its medical mission), so, in addition to the magazines on health, the birth and life of Christ, and the Sabbath which were to be given out to all of the patients and family members and which were generously supplied by Ron Goss of Project Restore, we also brought two cases of full-text Spirit of Prophecy books, all in Spanish, of course, to be given El Presidente as well as the members of his cabinet and other administrators with whom the team interacted.
In Mexico City, we had to deplane, go through immigration, find our luggage, go through customs, re-check in and go back through security in time to board again. By the time we had all of our carry-on items plus our gate-checked items and made it down to customs, we found a line in front of us that snaked back and forth, filling a room about 25 by 25 meters. The time was 3:30 pm, and our connecting flight was set to depart at 4:45 pm, and on Aeromexico, airline personnel seem to like boarding early. This was only the first line where we would have to wait in in order to get through the process by 4:45, and from the looks of things, there was no way we were even going to make it through the first line by 4:45. We had been praying quite a lot before and during the trip, and we needed a miracle if we were going to make it to our destination to join the rest of the team and not get stuck in Mexico City. Lela went over to talk to an official standing off to the side. He looked at us and then the line in front of us, and told her that she was not going to make her flight. Then, looking at Josiah he said, “But for the baby, follow me.” Walking past the enormous line full of people, one-by-one he moved the line barrier pylons to the side just enough to allow us to pass by, stroller and all, and delivered us to the immigration official who examined our passports. In the next warehouse-sized room, we had to find our luggage and get it to the customs agent at the far end of the building. Out of nowhere, two men with carts appeared and told us to come with them. Quickly they led us to the right area where we found the luggage from our plane. The men had not even asked for the name of our city of departure. Passing by all of the large, scary dogs sniffing for South-American contraband, they picked up our bags. Then a woman appeared who began talking to Lela. Lela told her why we were going to Chiapas with a medical team that was already at our destination, and she took us right to the customs official. Because we were bringing our own food, when I filled out the customs form, I had checked the first box which indicated that I was attempting to carry either food, dangerous chemicals or insects into the county. Despite this potential problem, a short conversation between this mystery woman and the customs official, and the official had signed off on our baggage, four suitcases and three suspicious-looking boxes and all, and the men were whisking us through some double doors out of customs.
Now we needed to get checked in for our next flight. Again, out of nowhere, a man appeared and told us to follow him. He asked no questions, but took us down a hall which seemed to be going the opposite direction that someone had indicated we needed to go, up an elevator and down the corridor to the ticket counter, past another giant line, and to the front. Dropping us off at the ticket counter, he gave some quick instructions to us as well as the ticket agent and was gone. Including immigration and customs, this all took about seven minutes, and it was a good thing, because when we got to our gate, passengers were already boarding, and the plane taxied away from the gate several minutes early. After finding our seats, we bowed our heads and thanked God for His blatant miracle in getting us safely on our flight, but as we were about to learn, this miracle was small compared to the work God is doing in the region we were to visit.
Once in Tuxtla-Gutiérrez, we were picked up at the airport by a retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor named Pastor Pedro. Fortunately, he had driven his pickup-truck. During the hour-and-a-half drive to Ocozocoautla, we had time to learn about the work God has been doing in Chiapas. The people of Chiapas are very poor, hence our mission trip to provide medical and surgical care that they would otherwise be unable to obtain. Many of the people are indigenous, descendants of the Maya civilization. The population of the state of Chiapas is just under five million and, to the praise of God, in some areas, as many as an incredible 42% are Seventh-day Adventists! In Tuxtla-Gutiérrez alone, there are over 300 churches and we later learned that they need 40-50 more! There are nowhere near enough pastors to go around, so most pastors shepherd between 20-30 churches each! Nonetheless, by God’s blessing, the growth continues. Unbeknown to us, on Sabbath, one week before our arrival, Elder Ted Wilson had had the privilege of speaking at a special service celebrating and promoting religious freedom and liberty of conscience held in a soccer stadium attended by 25,000 people: 20,000 Seventh-day Adventist members plus “cinco mil” [5,000] more brothers and sisters who were baptized that day! Prior to coming to work in Chiapas just over 25 years ago, Pastor Pedro had worked as a pastor in California for 17 years. He said he came to Chiapas because the need for workers was so great. He also told us that 25 years ago, when he was working for the Chiapas Union, there were only 80,000 Seventh-day Adventists, and now, there are 218,000 members on the books with estimates as high as 300,000 in attendance on Sabbaths! Pastor Pedro said that the church is growing because of Bible studies, Daniel and Revelation seminars, and members sharing the three-angels’ messages with their neighbors. He explained the growth with the word, “laicos,” which refers to lay people working to spread God’s truth. Each church is participating to finish the work.
Every day we were in Ocozocoautla, our group was divided into a medical and a surgical team. Those on the medical team went to the clinic where hundreds of men, women and children came to be treated. Due to the poverty of the region, some suffer months or years with no relief from health conditions, so patients were very appreciative, and many traveled great distances to receive help. Many of the patients had brought their children with them, and these children were able to attend a special children’s program where they received coloring books about health which depicted the eight laws of health. They were artfully illustrated by Sarah Esslinger. Betty Gilbert, from Phoenix Arizona, who has dedicated her life to ministering to children through cradle roll, was unable to go on the trip, but beforehand she spent days making special, colorful take home items portraying the second coming and other Bible themes. These were gladly received and prized by the children in Chiapas. Meanwhile the surgical team went to the hospital in Ocozocoautla and performed hysterectomies, bladder suspensions, cholecystectomies, hernia repairs and other much needed surgical procedures. Pastor Eloy, chaplain for the trip, made sure that each patient received magazines containing precious truth. Eager to learn more, some patients asked for multiple different magazines or for extra copies for a friend. Some patients had unusual or advanced conditions that we do not often encounter in the United States such as a woman with a 6-pound fibroid uterus (usual weight is 2-3 ounces). She was very appreciative to have this taken out of her belly. Another patient had the unfortunate finding of cancer which had spread to different parts of her belly. In addition to optimal tumor debulking, she also received counseling and literature on what she can do with her diet and lifestyle to help her fight the cancer, as well as the wonderful news of a crucified and risen Savior.
The day before the team left, the mayor of Ocozocoautla gave a special thank you dinner for the team which he attended as well as his cabinet members. He gave his personal testimony on how God had given him victory over alcoholism, and he also declared that he believed that God had put him in office in order to help facilitate the care that his citizens were receiving from our team. Wonderful groundwork was laid for further cooperation between his office and our church in Chiapas, and the mayor expressed much gratitude for what the church is doing. With much appreciation, each official received a copy of El Ministerio de Curación [Ministry of Healing], and the local pastors were given a case of El Gran Conflicto for future distribution. Please pray that the important seeds of truth contained in these books will find fertile ground in the hearts of these men and women, and that God will bless and give the increase, and that the church will continue to grow in Chiapas (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Thinking back, now, about the trip, two things strike me most about the people of Chiapas, and one is how readily they received the literature that we brought. For instance, there were always quite a few people outside the hospital each day as we came and went, so we would pass out present truth magazines to them. Not once did anyone turn down a magazine, and when we came back out of the hospital, the people were always reading the magazines, and I never saw one magazine on the ground or in the trash. It occurs to me that we have the Bible and the other writings inspired by the Spirit of Prophecy, namely, the writings of Ellen White. Do we value these as much as the people of Chiapas treasured their magazines? Do we allow hours to pass watching television or doing frivolous surfing on the internet or social media when we could be spending that time reading and coming closer to God? Perhaps it is time to rethink how we spend our free time. The other lesson I took home was the importance of each of us working as God’s laicos—His lay workers—by actively seeking opportunities to share with our neighbors, friends and associates the Bible’s message of love and warning that God has given us as a people. And it may even be that these two lessons fit together, such that the more we treasure and spend time with God personally, the more we would have to share with those with whom God puts us in contact, so I’m making a commitment to God to spend more personal time with Him in the morning each day, so that I can be more useful to Him the rest of the day. Do you want to make that commitment too?
According to a statement voted yesterday by the Seventh-day Adventist Danish Union, all future ordinations for new pastors will be suspended until the General Conference session in 2015. Also, it will no longer distinguish between genders when appointing pastors because the special priesthood reserved for men, because of sin, was fulfilled in Christ. Read the unions statement:
Because of sin, God instituted a special priesthood reserved for men. This special priesthood with its sacrifices and functions found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. There is no longer any special priesthood. Jesus Christ is our only true priest, the exalted high priest in the true temple in heaven. Now all have free access to God (Hebrews 4-5).
All of Christ's followers – both men and women – were lifted up to be a "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, to declare His praises" (1 Peter 2:9).
This royal priesthood has a common purpose, namely to proclaim the gospel.
This ministry is based on the spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit gives equally to men and women (1 Chor 12). Paul mentions some specific grace based ministries in the Church, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (i.e. pastors), and teachers (Eph 4:7-16).
With background in this biblical understanding, the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Denmark will not distinguish between genders when appointing pastors, and wishes to see equality between genders in all areas of responsibility. As a result, the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Denmark will suspend the ordaining of any new pastors until the General Conference session in 2015.
Voted at the Danish Union session, May 12, 2013
The General Conference has circulated a five page discussion draft of a new policy on board independence at Seventh-day Adventist tertiary educational institutions. The document emphasizes that board independence does not mean independence from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, its mission, and its educational policies:
Boards of trustees function as stewards of the institution and are given authority to govern within the context of Seventh-day Adventist identity, doctrine, and educational purpose. Board independence therefore must not be interpreted as freedom to disregard denominational interests, policies or goals for higher education. Nor is it the liberty to lead the institution in a direction that runs counter to what the Church intends through its educational institutions.
For Seventh-day Adventists, board independence functions within rather than outside of a prior commitment to the Church and its mission. Broadly stated, board independence is the constituency's confidence and expectation that the board, relying upon its own processes and commitments to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to quality education, will ensure that the operations of the institution serve the educational mission of the Church and provide practical benefit to the community and the world. Boards must earn and maintain the respect and trust of their constituencies by demonstrating accountability to denominational identity in education, to quality in student learning outcomes, to regulatory agencies and to the needs of society.
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has lately been hinting that even denominational schools must be independent from their sponsoring denominations. In a letter to Randal Wisbey, WASC President Ralph Wolff stated:
WASC Standards of Accreditation call for institutions affiliated with or supported by religious organizations to have "education as their primary purpose and [operate] as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.’ Institutions are expected to have a history free of ‘interference in substantive decisions or educational functions by … bodies outside the institution’s own governance arrangements." (July 5, 2011 letter from Ralph Wolff of WASC to Randal Wisbey)
The 2013 WASC policy manual contains a section titled “Policy on Independent Governing Boards," WASC states, “A general principle of governance is that an educational institution’s board and administration should preserve their independence from donors, elected officials, and external parties, such as ‘related entities’ described above.” Elsewhere, it states that, “A related entity may be a . . . religious sponsor . . .” WASC is thus saying that a higher educational board must preserve its independence from its sponsoring denomination.
There seems to be conflict here. WASC contends that a higher education board must be autonomous and independent from the institution’s sponsoring denomination, but the General Conference policy on tertiary educational boards states that such boards must govern within the context of Seventh-day Adventist identity, doctrine, and educational purpose, and board independence must not be interpreted as freedom to disregard denominational interests, policies or goals for higher education.
WASC has complained about—and the proposed bylaw changes are designed to address—the fact that both Pacific Union College and La Sierra University are affiliated with the Pacific Union, and therefore Pacific Union president Ricardo Graham is ex officio chair of the board of both schools. WASC has even hinted that there is a conflict with having the president of an organizational unit of a church serve as chairman of a college board:
Concerns can arise when the board chair is responsible to a related entity, such as a religious institution, or serves as chair of more than one educational institution. The board chair has a special leadership role, for example, in setting agendas, making appointments, and leading discussions, and therefore can wield more influence than other board members. Whatever loyalties the board chair may have to other entities, the board chair must act in the best interests of the educational institution when acting as board chair. . . . Finally, a serious potential conflict exists if one person serves simultaneously as board chair of two institutions of higher education, which may be competing for students, faculty, and/or resources; therefore this practice is discouraged and will be subject to careful scrutiny by teams. (WASC “Policy on Independent Governing Boards,” emphasis added.)
The GC document deals directly with this issue, as follows:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes, with certain limitations, that a trustee may serve simultaneously on more than one board. General Conference policy outlines the following framework for persons serving on multiple boards: “Because of the common objectives embraced by the various organizational units and institutions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, membership held concurrently on more than one denominational committee or board does not of itself constitute a conflict of interest provided that all the other requirements of the policy are met. However, an officer, trustee, or director serving on an organization’s board is expected to act in the best interest of that organization and its role in denominational structure.
Thus, whatever WASC thinks about Ricardo Graham chairing two college boards, it does not violate General Conference policy.
It cannot be a coincidence that the GC released this document two weeks prior to the scheduled vote on proposed La Sierra bylaw changes. Clearly, the GC is acutely aware of the vote on May 23rd and is weighing in with a repudiation of WASC's views on board autonomy. The church leaders in Silver Spring are awake at the switch, so to speak.
A confrontation between WASC and the Adventist Church has clear religious liberty implications. Secular accreditation authorities exist to ensure that educational institutions achieve a basic standard of educational and academic competence, so that the public is not defrauded and public financial aid to education is not diverted into fraudulent enterprises. Secular accreditors have no authority to decree that religiously-affiliated or pervasively sectarian schools must be autonomous from their denominations. WASC is now essentially arguing that that a denomination can found, but cannot actually govern, a tertiary educational institution. WASC's aggressive position sets up a potential First Amendment Freedom of religion lawsuit.
WASC's position vis-a-vis La Sierra and other Seventh-day Adventist is complicated by the fact that it has a former Adventist minister and a former Adventist college president on its staff. Richard Winn is the Executive Director of WASC. Winn is a former Adventist minister who left the church over doctrinal differences. At an Adventist Society of Religious Studies meeting in November, 2011, Winn argued that Adventist institutions such as our colleges need to accommodate “cultural Adventists,” i.e., “Adventists” who reject the church's doctrines but still appreciate the sociological and sub-cultural aspects of Adventist life. He is now in a position to implement his stated ideology. Additionally, Richard Osborn is a Vice President of WASC; he was president of Pacific Union College between 2001 and April, 2009, when Osborn and the PUC board reportedly reached an amicable agreement that he step aside. Osborn's current feelings toward Elder Graham and the Seventh-day Adventist Church are not known.
I have pointed out elsewhere that it is inconceivable that WASC would be taking its current intrusive stance without assurance from LSU insiders that no legal action will be taken against WASC. Randal Wisbey has obviously been complaining to WASC of interference from the larger Seventh-day Adventist church. Possibly, Wisbey is finding a sympathetic ear among former denominational employees now working at WASC. Whatever has happened, the end result has been that WASC has recommended changes to the structure of the board that will allow greater autonomy of the university from the SDA church. Because of the disastrous precedent it would set, however, the church can ill afford to allow these changes to be voted under pressure from secular accreditors.