Will Our Church Go Forward?

WILL OUR CHURCH GO FORWARD?

Dennis Priebe

“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn , and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:19-21) We are certainly in a dark place and in need of light, and we have a problem of many private interpretations. Verse 21 is the great divide in modern Bible study. Did the prophets come up with good ideas and then the Holy Spirit would add further impressions, or did they speak and write only as moved (carried along) by the Holy Spirit? Is the prophet’s teaching limited to his own culture, or does the prophet speak across cultures to our time?

There is a growing number of people who profess Christ as Savior but who relegate selected portions of the Scriptures as nothing more than opinion pieces. This plays out most noticeably when they encounter Biblical instructions that contradict their desires. Instead of openly receiving the Word and permitting it to do its corrective work on their hearts, they chalk it up as the bias of the Biblical writer. A growing phenomenon of Western culture is religious pluralism, which means that opposing views are equally valid. Unfortunately, the effects of religious pluralism are having some impact relative to certain issues within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When we filter Scripture through the lens of culture, accommodation to unbiblical traits of culture can prevail. Most of our problems today are due to looking to society and culture, exactly as Israel did in Canaan.

Issues in Creation

Recently a young Adventist bemoaned “the Biblical literalism and fundamentalism rampant in our church.” Perhaps it may help to review a few simple texts.

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Ex. 20:11) This sounds like a pretty literalistic, fundamentalist spin on Genesis 1 and 2.

“For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1 Tim. 2:13, 14) That’s about as literalist an interpretation of Genesis as there could be.

“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” (Heb. 11:4,5) This sounds as if Paul believed that these people were real, and the Biblical accounts of their stories were true.

“And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly.” (2 Peter 2:5) Could Peter, a prophet and apostle, have actually taken the Noah story as it reads?

But what about Jesus? Was He a Biblical literalist? “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matt. 24:37-39) Jesus not only believed the Noah story; He gave it added theological significance by linking it with the second coming, a crucial doctrine that we take in the most literal sense possible.

“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19:4-6) Is this not a literalistic spin of the Creation story coming from Jesus Himself?

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt. 12:40) Jesus not only believed the Jonah story but tied it directly to His resurrection, another crucial doctrine that Adventists take literally.

We say that the Bible interprets itself, and that through the study of the Bible we can learn to interpret it correctly. The above examples show that these Bible writers, and even Jesus Himself, interpreted the Scriptures literally. If that’s how they did it, is it not reasonable for us to do the same?

Following are some excerpts from a new book (not Adventist) trying to harmonize a loving God with all the evil occurring in the world.

Natural evil and suffering were “built into the universe from its origin.” Suffering and natural evil are allowed because “God’s intention is to create life through the processes of evolution.” Predation, death, and extinction are “intrinsic to the processes that give rise to life on Earth in all its wonderful diversity.” “Toil and death are the consequences of the finely tuned laws of physics that allow us to be here.” Evil, pain, and suffering are the “unavoidable by-product of conditions” that the natural world has to obtain “in order that there be intelligent life at all.” In other words, suffering and death , instead of being the result of free beings who abused that freedom, were wired into the creation by God Himself.

The whole purpose of the great controversy scenario is to vindicate God from the responsibility for the evil that theistic evolution attributes to Him by virtue of how He created. But however wrong these scholars are, at least they have the intellectual honesty not to play word games and make broad statements about believing in the Genesis creation when they don’t. They have taken their premise, theistic evolution, to its inescapable conclusion—God is responsible for the evil that He, Himself, built into the universe.

I came across a rather strange statement made by an Adventist professor. “What I’m skeptical is the absolute necessity of believing that the only way a Creator God could do things is by speaking them into existence a few thousand years ago.” An individual writing to the Adventist Review said, “God could have used multiple ways to effect creation. But He chose to speak our world into existence. Since He chose to do this by speaking, and it is recorded in Genesis, why would we have any reason to question that this was the way it was done? If we question Genesis...how can we be sure any of the rest of it is true?...We either take all the Bible at face value, or we discard all of it....There’s no half- way about this. I choose to believe all my Bible, including the account of creation, in which God spoke our world into existence, one day at a time. Yes, God could have used other methods to create our world; but the fact that He did not is enough for me.” Another person wrote, “If this is not a serious issue, there are no serious issues. When someone holds a knife to the church’s jugular vein, people need to know.” (Adventist Review, May 27, 2010)

Let us look at our universe for just a moment. Imagine being on a starship traveling at the speed of light, which is 11 million miles per minute. At this fantastic speed we’d zip past our sun in less than nine minutes, and fly by the distant Pluto in only five and a half hours. Continuing on into deep space, we’d have to travel four and a half years before we’d pass Alpha Centauri, the nearest fixed star. One hundred thousand years would slip by, however, before we’d cross our Milky Way galaxy, and another two million years would become history before we’d even approach the great galaxy of Andromeda, know to contain 100 billion suns. And then we’d have only begun. For beyond Andromeda lie at least 2 billion other galaxies, each containing billions of suns. And according to Scripture, the One we know as Jesus of Nazareth created all these vast systems!

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Ps. 8:3,4) Why would the Creator of all those magnificent star systems care to notice a race of micron human rebels living on a speck of dust called Earth in a far corner of His universe?

“Myriads of gigantic suns,
Racing through the trackless void
On courses known but to an omniscient mind.
Splendor beyond description!
Each flaming mass screams with a silent voice,
‘God is my maker.’
Men on one tiny orb declare:
‘There is no God!’
Yet the God whom they say does not exist,
Went to that dejected world,
And DIED—for me!”
(Thurman Petty, “The Silent Voice”)

There is really only one basis for the existence of Adventism—we believe that the Bible is the voice of God, speaking to us directly, literally, and plainly.

Mission of Adventism

If we believe the Bible to be literally true, we must take the next step. What is the reason that this infallible God decided to bring another movement into existence? Many members within the Seventh- day Adventist Church are searching for a truly Adventist identity. Are we just another church denomination? Is another denomination really necessary? If we are not simply another denomination, then what makes us unique?

It is not our lifestyle that makes us unique. Orthodox Jews and Muslims abstain from eating pork; being a vegetarian is becoming popular among many health-conscious people; and there are various groups that promote an alcohol-free lifestyle. There are other Christian who pay tithe, and some Christian groups dress more conservatively than we do.

But what about our doctrines? We have not contributed much in the way of new Biblical truth or knowledge. We have rather rediscovered forgotten truths and brought together fragmented Biblical knowledge within the framework of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.

Since we are not really unique in lifestyle or doctrine, why did God see fit to call us into existence? We are being told constantly that our mission (our reason for existence) is to witness and to serve, to call people to the gospel for the purpose of their salvation. But isn’t that exactly what Billy Graham has been doing and what countless televangelists are doing? Doesn’t the Catholic Church have a worldwide network of hospitals and charities to serve suffering humanity? Yes, it is true that our doctrines and our lifestyle and our witness and our service are very important, and that they help to define us. But are we missing something?

I found a perfect example of this blind spot in the 2009 issue of the Week of Prayer readings in the Adventist Review. In the introduction by Jan Paulsen are these words: “Our church is a movement of hope with a mission of hope to the human race....It is our mission to move across the surface of the planet, planting the seed of true hope in the human hearts....The readings for this week are not doctrinal expositions; they are sermons that seek to describe our mission.” (Sept. 24, 2009)

Thus the theme for the week was our mission, our purpose, our reason for existence. In the first articles were these statements: “The mission of the Son consisted in giving His life for others.” “Our primary mission [is] to proclaim the message of the three angels to the world.” The remaining articles continued the theme of proclaiming the three angels’ messages.

Only when we arrived at the last article, taken from Ellen White’s writing, did we begin to see a different emphasis. “We are placed under the discipline and government of God, to form characters and acquire habits for the higher life....We are forming characters for everlasting life....We should bring solid timbers into our character-building, for we are working both for this life and eternal life. And as we near the close of this earth’s history, we advance more rapidly in Christian growth, or we retrograde just as decidedly....It is when you are looking to His throne, offering up your penitence and praise and thanksgiving to God, that you perfect Christian character, and represent Christ to the world....My brother, my sister, I urge you to prepare for the coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven. Day by day cast the love of the world out of your hearts. Understand by experience what it means to have fellowship with Christ. Prepare for the judgment, that when Christ shall come,...you will be among those who will meet Him in peace....God will bring those who reflect His image to behold and share with Him His glory.”

There was much good material in all the other articles, including the three angels’ messages, but there was nothing about perfecting character and reflecting God’s image until Ellen White was allowed to speak. Our mission is more than doctrine or lifestyle or witnessing—it is perfecting our characters under the final atonement for the purpose of vindicating God’s law and character and finishing the great controversy.

We are so close to the final battle between good and evil. Do we really sense it? Bill Knott wrote an outstanding editorial in the Adventist Review. “It is the night before the battle, or put more precisely, those odd, unwieldy hours when we have given up on sleep before the crisis that arrives at dawn....It is Elizabeth I pacing the bluffs of Tilbury as Spain’s great Armada lumbers up the English Channel....We see Henry V, hidden in his cloak, wandering through the campfires of his men....Across the span of Adventism just now one hears the tread of all that predawn pacing, the restlessness of millions of believers who correctly sense that all this waiting will soon yield in battles both intimate and titanic. The alignments of the principalities have mostly taken place. The hosts arrayed against the followers of the Lamb have been massing strength and weaponry in almost every theater of war: media, theology, science, education, culture, even government. The skirmish lines have long been drawn: we hear the cries of midnight pickets as those who quarrel with the Word push hard on the ground of origins; on the trustworthiness of Scripture; on the sanctity of marriage; on obedience to a seventh-day Sabbath; on the necessity of Adventist mission; on the rights of believers to freely speak and preach their faith; on this people’s historic insistence that belonging to Jesus results in a lifestyle and behaviors different from the world. Emissaries, some with smiles, recommend that we surrender things distinctive about which Adventists have rallied for a century and a half. The flag proposed to us is not some scarlet banner decked with mystic symbols: no, it is simple, white, and deadly. So here’s a call to find our nerve in all this predawn jostling—a call to understand that these hours are, in fact, our most vulnerable moment as a people raised by God to be His remnant in these last days. This is a time for visiting each other’s tents; for borrowing each other’s courage; for deep, intense, and honest prayer as we beseech the Sovereign Lord to assure of His presence—and His power—in the struggle just ahead.” (March 11, 2010) What a call to arms. We are on the edge of eternity, and there is only one more battle to fight.

Following is an example of a smiling emissary recommending the surrender of a distinctive and vital (though politically incorrect) Adventist truth. “For over a century,...we Adventists have regarded the Roman Catholic Church leadership, typified in the first beast of Revelation 13, as our arch- nemesis,...the enemy that takes the evil part in the apocalyptic scenario against God’s remnant. Here are...reasons why it may be time to question them in that role. More than a hundred years have passed since our prophet approved these prophetic applications...Isn’t it possible that some details of the apocalyptic scenario set out in the 1890’s may have changed by the 2010’s?...Ellen White fingered Catholicism in a very different world. Historians have shown that 19th-century American anti- Catholicism grew out of a general anti-immigrant nativism....The Roman Catholic Church of today is a much different institution than it was during Ellen White’s time. The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1962-1965) radically altered that denomination’s theology and practices....Today’s Catholic Church is not the same Catholic Church referenced in our 19th –century eschatological studies....Far more Christians have been killed, persecuted, or denied their religious liberty by Communism, military Fascism, and Islamist extremism in the past century than by Roman Catholics....God has given us time to become a world church, and that changes the cast of characters in our eschatology. The ‘antichrists’—opposers of Christ—to many of today’s world Christians are radical imams or cruel dictators....Religious liberty has arguably improved in countries where Catholicism has influence. During my lifetime, the papacy has frequently been a force for peace and freedom....Some of us still think that calling the Pope the Antichrist is necessary to win souls to Christ....But perhaps we needn’t single out Roman Catholicism any longer.” (Adventist Today, Winter, 2010) Do I hear a denial of prophecy here? Do I see a white flag of surrender being held by an Adventist pastor? This is indeed a very vulnerable time in the existence of the Adventist movement.

A President’s Appeal

Something very unique just happened at the 2010 General Conference. At this meeting we elected a new president. That in itself is nothing special; we elect a new president rather regularly. But did you listen closely to his inaugural address? Elder Wilson identified by name and specifically eleven points of apostasy which must be corrected if we are going to fulfill our mission. He spoke again at the 2011 ASI convention. I am going to quote parts of those presentations in case we have forgotten. “I have felt convicted in the past weeks to speak out in a stronger way about certain subjects that, in my opinion, are removing us from God’s mission for His remnant church.” Please notice that the points he mentions must be corrected if we are going to fulfill our “mission,” in other words, finishing the work.

1. “I humbly ask for your prayers that the message I share today is heard clearly and that the messenger not be lifted up. To that end, if there is a particular point with which you agree, please respond with a heartfelt ‘Amen’ instead of applause. Thank you for your help in keeping the message,not the messenger, the center of our time together.” This is not the minor matter that some think it is. Our worship services have become entertainer-centered, encouraging pride and irreverence.

2. “Grace is the promise of God’s pardon and the provision of God’s power—justification and sanctification. You cannot separate which Christ does for you...from what He does in you....This is the everlasting gospel spoken about in the first angel’s message. It is righteousness by faith....The great controversy theme is all about God’s grace to save sinners and through His power to transform them into His sons and daughters.” What a needed corrective this was to the popular half-gospel— cheap grace—theology we have been subjected to for the past 25 years.

3. “God used Ellen G. White as a humble servant to provide inspired insight about Scripture, prophecy, health, education, relationships, mission, families, and so many more topics. Let us read the Spirit of Prophecy, follow the Spirit of Prophecy, and share the Spirit of Prophecy....The Spirit of Prophecy is one of the identifying marks of God’s last-day people and is just as applicable today as ever before because it was given to us by heaven itself....May we never make of none effect the precious light given us in the writings of Ellen G. White....Accept the Spirit of Prophecy as one of the greatest gifts given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church not just for the past but even more importantly for the future....It is a heaven-sent guide to instruct the church in how to carry out its mission. It is a reliable theological expositor of the Scriptures. The Spirit of Prophecy is to be read, believed, applied, and promoted....Let me repeat a conviction of mine, there is nothing antiquated or archaic about the Spirit of Prophecy; it is for today and until Christ returns.” This is the single biggest issue facing the Adventist Church today. Will we listen to and obey the prophetic voice or make her writings of none effect by selective use?

4. “This church is not just another denomination; it is a unique, heaven-initiated movement with a mission of salvation to the world that must continually go forward in the humility of Jesus.”

5. “Our success in finishing this work...depends on humbling ourselves before our Creator and denying self so that Jesus can control us and overcome our sin. It depends on whether or not we are ready to humbly ask for revival and reformation in our lives personally and corporately as a church which will lead to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain....In the book Christ’ s Object Lessons we read of Christ’s wish for His people. ‘Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain.’” How much ridicule has been heaped on this teaching in recent years. It is called harvest theology or last generation theology. This is our mission, which is more important than doctrine or lifestyle or witnessing. If we accomplish this we succeed. If we do not, we fail. This, by the way, is the only way the gospel will go to the whole world. We will never accomplish our task through Global Mission, or the 10-40 Window, or years of evangelism.

6. “Do not succumb to the mistaken idea, gaining support even in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, of accepting worship or evangelistic outreach methods merely because they are new and ‘trendy.’ We must be vigilant to test all things according the supreme authority of God’s Word and the counsel with which we have been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White. Don’t reach out to movements or megachurch centers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church which promise you spiritual success based on faulty theology.” The church growth movement and the megachurch centers have become our modern groves on the hilltops where we are worshipping Baal and Ashtoreth.

7. “Stay away from non-Biblical spiritual disciplines or methods of spiritual formation that are rooted in mysticism such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted. Look within the Seventh-day Adventist Church to humble pastors, evangelists, Biblical scholars, leaders, and departmental directors who can provide evangelistic methods and programs that are based on solid Biblical principles and ‘The Great Controversy Theme.’ ...Guard against mystical beliefs and practices that are finding their way into the church through formats like spiritual formation and the emerging church....Stay away from mystical forms of prayer such a contemplative prayer, prayer labyrinths, repetitive prayer using one word or a certain phrase, or centering prayer that seem to have become popular but lead to the occult since in many cases all thoughts are eliminated....Avoid the practice of inviting major spiritual speakers who are not Seventh- day Adventists to speak to church meetings, men’s meetings, women’s meetings, retreats, pastoral meetings, youth meetings, and large convocations....They probably have no concept of the great controversy theme....We need to be very proactive in requesting humble, Bible-centered Seventh-day Adventist speakers to instruct our church members in fully understanding God’s great Biblical messages for this time.” Very few realize how spiritualism is entering our church through emerging church practices and supposedly helpful methods of spiritual formation coming straight out of Catholicism.

8. “Use Christ-centered, Bible-based worship and music practices in church services.... Don’t go backwards into confusing pagan settings where music and worship become so focused on emotion and experience that you lose the central focus on the Word of God. All worship, however simple or complex, should do one thing and one thing only: lift up Christ and put down self. Worship methods that lift up performance and self should be replaced with a simple and sweet reflection of a Christ-centered, Biblical approach....Resist worship styles and music that have more to do with self- centered entertainment than a humble worship of God....We need to focus on worshipping God and not elevating self. Music should lift us to the throne room of heaven....If music sounds like it belongs to a hard rock concert or a nightclub, it should stay there.” The real danger of contemporary worship styles is the focus on performance and self and surface emotions, which is the opposite of true worship of God’s holiness.

9. “Don’t succumb to fanatical or loose theology that wrests God’s Word from the pillars of Biblical truth and the landmark beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Don’t be swayed with every little whim of ‘new’ theology or complicated time chart purporting to carefully explain unusual or obscure concepts that have little to do with our overall theology or mission. The historic Biblical beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not be moved.” Faithful Adventists are being deceived and beguiled by “new light” unknown to Ellen White. God apparently forgot to tell her in 70 years of prophetic ministry crucial truths needed to prepare us to receive the seal of God. Satan doesn’t care whether we are caught in the ice of indifference or the fire of fanaticism.

10. “Stand firm for God’s Word as it is literally read and understood....That which the Lord in His mercy has given to us in clear language to be taken as fact simply because He said so must not be shrouded in skepticism. Don’t go backwards to misinterpret the first eleven chapters of Genesis or other areas of Scripture as allegorical or merely symbolic...If God did not create this world in six literal days and then blessed the Sabbath day, why are we worshipping Him today on this seventh-day Sabbath as Seventh-day Adventists? To misunderstand or to misinterpret this doctrine is to deny God’s Word and to deny the very purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist movement as the remnant church of God called to proclaim the three angels’ messages with Holy Spirit power. Don’t go backwards to atheistic or theistic evolution....Seventh-day Adventist church members, hold your leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable to the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture.”

11. “Let Scripture be its own interpreter. Our church has long held to the Historical-Biblical method of understanding Scripture, allowing the Bible to interpret itself;...However, one of the most sinister attacks against the Bible is from those who believe in the Historical-Critical method of explaining the Bible. This unbiblical approach of ‘higher criticism’ is a deadly enemy of our theology and mission. This approach puts a scholar or individual above the plain approach of the Scriptures and given inappropriate license to decide what he or she perceives as truth based on the resources and education of the critic. Stay away from this type of approach because it leads people to distrust God and His Word. Selected Messages, Book 1, pp. 17-18 speaks directly to this issue. ‘When men, in their finite judgment, find it necessary to go into an examination of Scriptures to define that which is inspired and that which is not, they have stepped before Jesus to show Him a better way than He has led us....Let not a mind or hand be engaged in criticizing the Bible....Cling to your Bible, as it reads, and stop your criticisms in regard to its validity, and obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost.’” This problem has been affecting our higher education for the past 30 years and is the basis for most of our disagreements and controversies.

Have you ever heard anything close to this from a General Conference President in the past 35 years? How much we need a Moses to lead us out of our wilderness wanderings. Now is the time for earnest prayers from the 7,000 in Israel for God to manifest His mighty hand.

After this presentation, an individual wrote to the Adventist Review. “It was really satisfying when I heard that our new General Conference President made a call for revival and reformation....But that raises some questions: What are the specifics of revival and reformation? What are the ‘nuts and bolts’?...Does that mean we will be reading articles in our church papers and hearing sermons from the pulpit on how to keep the Sabbath properly, or the need for modesty in dress, or that we need to abstain from wine, tea, and coffee? Will someone be speaking out against expensive houses and trips and big people’s toys? Will there be evinced a concern about how many of the habits, customs, and practices of the world have crept into the church? Will our members be urged not only to be students of the Scripture but to read Ellen White’s writings?” (Nov. 17, 2011)

The major problem with the Jews of Christ’s time was not faulty doctrine or lifestyle, but a faulty understanding of their mission. They simply did not know their reason for existence. They were saturated with their dreams about national preeminence and their restoration to the days of David and Solomon, instead of preparing the way for God’s Son to lead them to eternal realities. Do we understand our mission any better? Is our focus on church growth and respectability blinding us to our mission to participate in the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary by cleansing our hearts of all rebellion, and thus allowing God to be vindicated in His final battle against Satan’s false charges? Do we believe without question in the pillars of Adventist truth? Do we accept the politically incorrect truths of Adventism, such as the nature of sin, the nature of Christ, perfection, and last generation theology? Will we stand firmly with Christ, our High Priest?