An incredible story comes to us from Africa. A small group of Adventist youth heard God calling them to reach people living in a very difficult and dangerous area. But before moving ahead, they spent much time in prayer, pleading for God to guide them.
Along Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast lies a town of more than 8,000 inhabitants. The town is predominantly of a non-Christian faith, with more than 99 percent of its inhabitants belonging to that faith. It is known to be a highly superstitious town, causing many people to fear the town and its people.
Several attempts were made over the years to introduce the townspeople to the three angels’ messages, but none was successful. In the year 2000, however, a group of young people dared to conduct an evangelistic series in this town. Knowing the work before them was delicate and risky, they decided to spend two weeks in earnest prayer, pleading for God’s intervention for the salvation of the people there.
Amazingly, a few days later they received permission from the town government to hold religious meetings. It then became public knowledge that young Adventists would be conducting meetings. The young people continued to pray earnestly, choosing to have their special times early in the morning by the seashore, before the people of the town were awake. The young Adventists faithfully met by the sea every morning before dawn, crying to the Lord on behalf of the townspeople and for the meetings.
One morning a few young people were sent by the town elders to go and kill these young Adventists before they started their meetings in town. They had learned that the Adventist youth started their day with prayers by the sea at 5:00 in the morning, and decided that would be the best time and place to kill them.
So one morning the would-be killers went to the shore and found the Adventist youth kneeling in earnest prayer by the sea. As they approached, ready to kill, the attackers saw a wall of fire surrounding the Adventist youth. They were shocked and dared not attack. Terrified, they ran away.
The Adventist young people went on with their plans and started the meetings. But the elders of the city were determined to stop them. They sent their youth to steal equipment and furniture that were being used for the meeting in an open area. But one night when they approached the place where the equipment was kept, the would-be thieves saw a very tall man wearing a white gown, holding a shining sword, and walking around the equipment. They again failed to execute their wicked plan.
Finally the elders in the city said to their youth, “You are cowards and don’t know how to do these things! We will take matters into our own hands and destroy these Adventist young people!”
Soon after, as the meetings were going on in the open area, two elderly people dressed in full traditional regalia walked through the crowd, heading toward the front, where one of the young Adventists was preaching. But before they reached the front, the town elders started running and jumping, screaming, “We’re burning! We’re burning!” They rushed toward the preacher, but then went out behind him. While no one saw any flames, the attackers acted as though there were on fire. Later these same leaders explained how they wanted to attack the preacher, but saw a wall of fire surrounding him.
After this, the young men of the town approached the Adventist young people, inquiring about the superstitious powers they were using to protect themselves against the attacks. The Adventist youth told them they didn’t believe in superstition and would have nothing to do with it. The Adventists happily explained that they serve the living God of heaven and have the protection of divine angels sent by God. It became a big story all across that town and surrounding towns, and in the end many people were baptized.
A journalist came and reported the story in a nationwide newspaper. There are now three organized churches in that town, with a total membership of nearly 200 people.
Scripture prophesies of this very thing. “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” (Zechariah 2:5) Ellen White agrees. “Heavenly angels bend lovingly over them and are as a wall of fire round about them.” (SL 13) “We shall walk among the angels. They will be like a wall of fire about us; and we shall one day walk with them in the city of God.” (IHP 30)
So who will qualify for protection by a wall of fire? The simple answer is, anyone who stands for truth and risks all to declare that truth, if it will glorify God.
Standing for Religious Liberty
A sample of this spirit was seen 130 years ago. Towards the end of the 19th century there was a religious movement that felt compelled to launch a campaign to formally recognize Sunday as the day of rest in the United States. They wanted to unite the country and strengthen the morality of the nation by getting everyone to go back to church on Sunday. Different Protestant churches, reformed groups and temperance movements mobilized together into a religious/political coalition. They found a champion to lead their cause—U.S. Republican Senator from New Hampshire, Henry W. Blair. Senator Blair, a staunch prohibitionist and ardent Christian, proposed a National Sunday Rest Bill to Congress on May 21, 1888.
This would have amended the U.S. Constitution and established Sunday as the mandatory day of rest for everyone under the jurisdiction of the United States in the name of “education.” Commercial transactions would have ceased, and public amusements would be closed. Interstate commerce would be suspended, as would all festivities, secular activities, parades and military drills.
After Senator Blair introduced his legislations, his fellow lawmakers referred the Sunday rest bill to the Senate Committee on Education and Labor. Testimony was heard by the committee from both sides. Alonzo T. Jones, a Seventh-day Adventist spokesman, lodged the strongest protest against this Sunday measure. Jones spoke boldly and clearly before the committee on December 13, 1888. “The government has no right to make any law relating to the things that pertain to God, or offenses against God, or religion. It (the government) has nothing to do with religion.” He said that attempting to legislate the Sabbath was a terrible infringement that both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution strongly prohibited. Jones stressed that even if the government reflected the will of a majority, it had no more authority than has a king or a pope to violate the God-given liberty of conscience and freedom to worship. He concluded his testimony by saying that government should leave religion to “every man’s conscience and his God.”
These words left a lasting impression upon the senators, and as a result the Sunday law bill and Christian Education Amendment failed to receive the necessary votes to move on and it died in committee. However, Senator Blair was unfazed by this defeat. He resubmitted variations of the Sunday law bill on December 9, 1889, but in every instance he was met with the same fate—failure to get the necessary votes in committee. This was a great victory for God’s people and for religious liberty.
In 1892 Sunday law agitators were able to make up some ground with regard to national Sunday law. Senate Bill 2168’s purpose was “to prohibit opening on Sunday any exhibition or exposition for which the United States government makes appropriations.” This bill said that if the U.S. government was to fund any major event, fairs or otherwise, Sunday would have to be kept sacred. This was done in anticipation of the largest, most significant commercial event in the history of the United States—the Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Even though this bill failed to pass the Senate, it inspired another effort to push through a Sunday law. This second measure was introduced through the House of Representatives, and was called a “Sunday Civil Bill, loaning $5 million to the Chicago World’s Fair, conditioned on Sunday closing.” This House bill was passed and became law on August 5, 1892.
But this was not just any fair. This fair would last 6 months. People from around the world would attend. Unknown to everyone, the event planners for the Chicago World’s Fair retracted the condition of staying closed on Sunday. They saw a financial benefit for staying open seven days a week. So they opened the fair on Sunday and all 65,000 booths and exhibits began to conduct their business. The people came in droves, hundreds of thousands daily.
This caused a volatile response from the angry Sunday law agitators who demanded that everything be closed immediately. They began to picket and campaign with the strongest denunciations. It began a national debate and the Sunday agitators began to lobby Congress to enforce the law. Even the Roman Catholic Church took advantage of all the controversy over Sunday closing. The famous Roman Catholic Cardinal Gibbons from Chicago gave his famous “Rome’s Challenge” during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He wrote a series of articles that openly challenged Protestants as to why they keep Sunday holy and why they were fighting for something that belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. (Catholic Mirror, Sept. 2,9,16,23, 1893) Rome was laughing at all the controversy as they saw the Protestant churches fighting to establish Sunday laws in America.
Again, Alonzo Jones met that challenge. In 1892 and 1893 he spoke in defense of religious liberty and denounced the oppression by the national churches in using the arm of the state to impose their religion. Jones again stood before the U.S. Congress and spoke to the House Committee on Columbian Exposition. This time he came with a signed petition of more than 350,000 signatures from citizens who were opposed to the Sunday law. As a result, the government held its peace and allowed the fair to remain open on Sunday.
In this debate there were two clear voices that stood out from all the conflicting voices and confusion. First, Rome’s clear call that Sunday is her “mark,” and all those who support this institution are honoring the papacy. Second, A.T. Jones stood out on the side of truth.
Issues in Our Time
The world saw many shocking images as rioters forced their way into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. One of the most disturbing was of a large flag unfurled outside the Capitol. Designed to look like a campaign banner, the flag suggested that the unfolding chaos had an endorsement from an unlikely source. It read, “Jesus 2020.” There is no doubt that an ideology known as Christian Nationalism motivated some of those who rampaged through the halls of Congress.
Christian Nationalism is an attempt to link Christianity closely with national identity—the idea that to be a true patriot, one must also be a Christian. Individuals believe that hostile forces are assailing a once-Christian nation, and Christians are therefore called to battle those forces to regain lost territory for their faith. It is hardly surprising, then, that the ideology of Christian nationalism is shot through with ugly threads of hate toward any ethnic or religious minority that is perceived to be out of step with the dominant form of Christianity.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is absolutely clear on how it views Christian nationalism: this ideology is antithetical to our theology and beliefs and alien to our deeply held values. The church, its various institutions, and its representatives will never align with any political party, or political ideology. We will not seek political preference, and we do not use our influence with political and civil leaders to either advance our faith or inhibit the faith of others. Seventh-day Adventists should not seek to harness political power to create a uniquely Christian public square. In any of its forms and variants, Christian nationalism will always damage our witness to the gospel.
But these noble words have not always worked out in modern practice. A pastor wrote recently of his plans to leave a successful ministry career earlier than expected. “The last year has been tough. I have decided to retire. I have had a hard time figuring out how religion and politics got so tangled up in even the Adventist Church.” His lament has been echoed a dozen times by those who tell of unprecedented conflict in the congregations or institutions they serve.
Honesty forces us to look at the ghastly spectacle of American politics, in which a “winner takes all” imperative drives partisanship and polarization on a scale never before witnessed. Not even the remnant church could be immune to the slash-and-burn strategies that have pitted races against each other, the protection of accumulated wealth against the well-being of the less privileged, and made enemies of those who previously could sometimes be gracious with each other about their political or theological differences. The church now often mirrors the culture.
The church’s struggle is always with itself. Can we covenant to live together with all our differences—in skin color, wealth, and political viewpoints? The gospel’s call to teach and practice the virtue of humility is the most countercultural act of which the believing church is capable. Are we willing to listen patiently to each other, to acknowledge the possibility of our own mistakenness, and to gather around our shared commitment to the Lord? Without the essential quality of humility, the remnant church is only a fractious collection of theological partisans held tenuously together by tradition and custom.
The witness that wins the world is the revelation of a people who refuse the polarization wrought by prejudice and pride and who practice the humility without which there can be no community of believers.
There is a famous quotation from Ellen White about the future of the United States. “National apostasy will speedily be followed by national ruin.” (RH June 15, 1897) Some have read this statement and concluded that the current pope is working to bring the United States and the rest of the world under his dominion by way of a leftward shift in the politics of the nations. They then conclude that socialism, globalism, and environmental policies will bring the nation to financial ruin. But is this how prophecy portrays the string of events leading to the end-times?
No doubt, Satan can and will use all sides of the political spectrum to bring about his plan—left, center, and right. But inspiration spells out, often in remarkable detail, the steady tread of events to take place in the future. Wouldn’t it be better to allow the inspired writings to guide us?
First, the greatest danger to liberty in America is not an overbearing “state” or a “leftist government” controlling its people. The greatest threat to liberty is a combining of church and state instigated, not primarily by a pope, but by Protestants. “When Protestant churches shall unite with the secular power to sustain a false religion,…then will the papal Sabbath be enforced by the combined authority of church and state. There will be a national apostasy, which will end only in national ruin.” (Ev. 235)
Note carefully these points. Protestant churches are the impetus. They unite with the state to sustain a false religion. Sunday enforcement is the dominant issue. Church and state unite. This results in national apostasy, which brings national ruin.
Second, In America it is not Catholics that will be foremost in bringing us under tyranny—it is Protestantism. “Romanism in the Old World and apostate Protestantism in the New will pursue a similar course toward those who honor all the divine precepts.” (GC 615)
Third, the greatest threat to liberty is not from the state, but from an apostate church. “Let the principle once be established in the United States, that the church may employ or control the power of the State; that religious observances may be enforced by secular laws; in short, that the authority of church and State is to dominate the conscience, and the triumph of Rome in this country is assured.” (GC 581) Who is in control? The church. What do they enforce? Religious observances. What is it that assures the triumph of Rome in the United States? A redistribution of wealth? Socialism? Environmental policies? Globalism? No, it is when the church controls the secular state and enforces “religious observances.”
This pattern of the apostate church dominating the state is seen throughout history. The Roman state (Pilate) tried to save Jesus from the cross. It was the apostate church leaders mobilizing the masses that demanded, manipulated, and pressured until the state finally gave in. The dark ages reveal a similar pattern. The apostate Christian church dominated and controlled the secular state and together they persecuted millions.
At the start of this section we quoted: “National apostasy will speedily be followed by national ruin.” (RH June 15, 1897) Some apply this to what they perceive to be a looming threat of leftist welfare policies of redistribution of wealth, socialism, and globalism promoted by the present pope and welcomed by a new leftist government in America. This is how the United States will come to national ruin, in their thinking.
However, in the writings of Ellen White, whenever the phrase “national ruin” is applied to the United States, the context is in relation to Sunday legislation. This is brought on by agitation, not primarily from Catholic sources, but from leading Protestant churches. The issue in the final conflict is Sunday versus Sabbath, not capitalism versus socialism.
Church affiliation is not the best predictor of the future actions of a government leader. We need to look deeper—at their policies, philosophy, and past actions. An example of this comes from a 2008 Washington Post article. “George W. Bush could well be the nation’s first Catholic president….Yes, there was John F. Kennedy. But where Kennedy sought to divorce his religion from his office, Bush has welcomed Roman Catholic doctrine and teachings into the White House and based many important domestic policy decisions on them. ‘I don’t think there’s any question about it,’ says Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a devout Catholic, who was the first to give Bush the ‘Catholic president’ label. ‘He’s certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy.’” (“A Catholic Wind in the White House,” Washington Post, April 13, 2008)
But inspiration focuses on religious legislation, the joining of church and state, and the enforcement of Sunday, all propelled in America by Protestants. “When our nation, in its legislative councils, shall enact laws to bind the consciences of men in regard to their religious privileges, enforcing Sunday observance, and bringing oppressive power to bear against those who keep the seventh-day Sabbath, the law of God will, to all intents and purposes, be made void in our land, and national apostasy will be followed by national ruin.” (7BC 977) “To secure popularity and patronage, legislators will yield to the demand for a Sunday law.” (LDE 132) This demand will come from the people, and they will obviously be religious people. “Protestants are following in the steps of papists. Nay, more, they are opening the door for the papacy to regain in Protestant America the supremacy which she has lost in the Old World.” (GC 573)
Inspiration repeatedly warns of the threat to civil and religious liberties coming primarily from Protestant churches who, having lost their ability to persuade society with their version of the gospel, turn to coercion to enforce morality upon America. Apostate Christians, the leading Protestant churches of America, have been, and increasingly will be, moving to compel the state to enforce her dogma and support her institutions.
Nowhere do the writings of Ellen White indicate that America will impose a leftwing, atheistic, humanistic system of tyranny as a prelude to a reactionary response from the rightwing to then bring in religious laws.
Note how clearly it is spelled out in the following passage: “Even in free America, rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance.” (GC 592)
Notice that America is still spoken of as “free” when rulers and legislators give in to public pressure demanding the enforcement of Sunday observance. Instead of a leftist-imposed tyranny that supposedly leads up to a time when the mark of the beast is enforced, America will still be free according to the words of inspiration. Should we not trust God on this one and let His inspired word be our guide?
In spite of these dire predictions of national apostasy, we can take courage from this prophecy. “Among earth’s inhabitants, scattered in every land, there are those who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Like the stars of heaven, which appear only at night, these faithful ones will shine forth when darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the people. In heathen Africa, in the Catholic lands of Europe and of South America, in China, in India, in the islands of the sea, and in all the dark corners of the earth, God has in reserve a firmament of chosen ones that will yet shine forth amidst the darkness….Even now they are appearing in every nation, among every tongue and people, and in the hour of deepest apostasy, when Satan’s supreme effort is made to cause ‘all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond,’ to receive, under penalty of death, the sign of allegiance to a false rest day, these faithful ones, ‘blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke,’ will ‘shine as lights in the world.’ The darker the night, the more brilliantly will they shine.” (PK 188-189)
I will end with an uninspired but thoughtful dialogue. “Whom have you left behind to carry out the work?” asked the angels. “A little band of men and women who love me,” replied the Lord Jesus. “But what if they should fail when the trial comes? Will all You have done be defeated?” “Yes, if they should fail, all I have done will be defeated; but they will not fail!”
“Wilt thou follow Me?”
The Savior asked.
The road looked bright and fair,
And filled with youthful hope and zeal
I answered, “Anywhere.”
“Wilt thou follows Me?”
Again He asked.
The road looked dim ahead;
But I gave one glance at His glowing face
“To the end, dear Lord,” I said.
“Wilt thou follow Me?” I almost blanched,
For the road was rough and new,
But I felt the grip of His steady hand
And it thrilled me through and through.
“Still followest thou?” ‘Twas a tender tone,
And it thrilled my inmost heart.
I answered not, but He drew me close,
And I knew we would never part.
The way lies through Gethsemane, through the city gate, outside the camp. The way lies alone, and the way lies until there is no trace of a footstep, only the voice, “Follow Me!” But in the end it leads to “the joy set before him” and to the Mount of God.
(I am indebted to David Qualls for information in the section on National Apostasy)