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Dennis Priebe

Our Failure - God's Victory

Heresy is often less destructive than disunity. Disunity can do what heresy cannot. Disunity does not necessarily require false doctrine. Only a little intemperance of spirit. Disunity, for the devil, can be better than heresy. We were told in 9T 221, "If Christians were to act in concert, moving forward as one, under the direction of one Power, for the accomplishment of one purpose, they would move the world." Much of what we remember of the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session is a history lesson on what happens when personal vindication—administrative, theological, or otherwise— triumphs over meek submission to counsel. It is not so much false doctrine the devil needs as disunity. The great tragedy of 1888 is the disunity that fractured God's purpose for His people to move forward as one to the soon coming of Jesus. But the greater tragedy is that we have failed to learn from this experience. We are continuing in disunity with no serious attempt to change.

Recent Reflections

On October 10, 2013, the Adventist Review published a special edition reflecting on the messages that came to Adventism through Elders Jones and Waggoner. A very thoughtful and accurate analysis of these messages was presented by Bill and Shawn Brace.

Nearly 125 years ago Ellen White...boldly proclaimed, "One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other—Christ our righteousness." (RH 12-23- 1890) This was Ellen White's singular focus....This is why, when she heard that same message proclaimed by two young upstart preachers, Alonzo T. Jones and Ellet J. Waggoner, she recounted that "every fiber of my heart said, Amen." (1888 Materials, p. 349) What they heralded she called a "most precious message." (Ibid, p. 1336)...In fact, she proposed, it was the "loud cry" of Revelation 18 that was to "lighten the whole earth with its glory." (Ibid. p. 1575)...

"This message," she wrote, "was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world....It invited people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God." (RH 3-11-1890)...Waggoner declared that one of the "most encouraging things in the Bible" was to realize that "Christ took on Him the nature of man" in its sinful condition. (Christ and His Righteousness, p. 61)...

Ellen White passionately highlighted a critical component of this message: "There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequent- ly, or established more firmly in the minds of all, than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works." (1888 Materials, p. 811)... Souls were invited to receive by faith Christ's righteousness—both its imputed And imparted aspects....White, Jones, and Waggoner appreciated the ability of the change one's heart and save him or her from sin, not in sin....

"The Lord has raised up Brother Jones and Brother Waggoner," Ellen White declared..."to proclaim a message to the world to prepare a people to stand in the day of God." (1888 Materials, p. 1814)...Waggoner and Jones both grasped this, with the former writing in 1890, "And so we find when Christ cover us with the robe of His own righteousness, He does not furnish a cloak for sin but takes the sin away. And this shows that the forgiveness of sins is something more than a mere form, something more than a mere entry in the books of record in heaven.... And if [a person] is cleared from guilt, is justified, made righteous, he has certain- ly undergone a radical change." Indeed, "the new heart is a heart that loves righteousness and hates sin." (Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 65, 66)..."When the Lord comes there will be a company who will be found 'complete in him.' (ST 12-28-1888)...

Their message...was a much fuller explanation of the gospel than existed both within and without Adventism. This message has still not been given the fullest expression it deserves.

Now keep these points in mind as we summarize another article in the same issue, written by Woodrow W. Whidden. Waggoner "died in 1916, leaving behind a distressing personal and theological legacy....Waggoner's teaching came to involve extremely mystical and excessively subjective interpretations. He adopted an explicit 'post-Fall' view of the humanity of Christ in early 1889....His adoption of the mystical view of the atonement led him to understand justification as a subjectively 'effective' experience. A believer is declared justified because the mystically indwelling Christ makes them truly righteous in character. This is similar to the Roman Catholic view....Waggoner's heretical and morally compromising theology issued from this decline into subjectivity. He came to an extreme view of perfection."

Another article in the same issue was written by Alberto Timm. "Correcting the assumption that 'Christ's nature is precisely our nature,'...White...warned,...'Not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity.'" (5BC p. 1128) Of course this statement is being used widely today to prove that Christ did not take our fallen nature, but was exempt from parts of it. This is another clear point of opposition to the 1888 message.

These articles moved me to write a letter to the Adventist Review.

The recent issue on the 1888 period and message was very puzzling. In one article the authors stated correctly that Jones and Waggoner taught the post-fall nature of Christ, the effective nature of justification (justification = making righteous), and the reality of character perfection before the second coming. The article stated that this was "a much fuller explanation of the gospel," and appealed to "all to proclaim this powerful message that has been ordained to 'lighten the whole earth with its glory'"

Two other articles stated that the post-fall nature of Christ, the effective nature of justification, and character perfection were "extremely mystical" as well as "heretical and morally compromising theology," which led Jones and Waggoner into apostasy.

What exactly do the editors of the Adventist Review want us to understand? Is the 1888 message crucial to the latter rain/loud cry aspect of what we have always called "finishing the work"? Or is the 1888 message a heretical teaching which will lead us into legalism and apostasy?

I find it strange and distressing that our official church magazine would present these opposite views as if they were simply differences of opinion over which we might flip a coin to decide. These issues are critical to understanding the mission and message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

And so the disunity continues to this day, with opposite view on the gospel being presented in churches, schools, and even in the same issue of the Adventist Review. It is a simple reality that Christ cannot return until the loud cry has done its work in giving the final warning to the world. In turn, the loud cry can never come until the Lord's people receive from Him the loud cry message, both in theory and in actual living experience.

A Brief History

Tragically, the sins of our fathers have become our sins. When they rejected that light, they took a stand which they taught to their children and their children's children. In this way their sin has become our sin because we have not corrected their teaching. Consequently, we are participants in their rejection of that message back then.

Over 60 years ago two Seventh-day Adventist ministers, Elder R. J. Wieland and Elder D. K. Short approached the leaders in the General Conference and presented to them the plea that they turn to the study of the message sent by God in 1888 and make it fully available to the people.

The General Conference officers responded in a letter (December 4, 1951) to this appeal. "Throughout your manuscript it is evident that you feel the denomination should rectify certain things pertaining to 1888....The following extracts are quoted from your manuscript: 'Every failure of God's people to follow the light shining upon their pathway for the past century must be completely rectified by the present generation before the remnant church can be granted any divine vindication before the world.'" (p. 2)

"We do not believe that it is according to God's plan and purpose for the present leadership of the movement to make acknowledgement or confession, either private or public, concerning any of the mistakes made by the leadership of a bygone generation.... We have no need to go back to 1888; those days are past, decades in the past....We need to think in terms of today." (p. 9)

Present Results

Following is an ongoing legacy of our refusal to understand and teach the message which was designed to prepare us for the seal of God and ultimate translation.

In the April 17, 2014 issue of the Adventist Review was a column written by Cliff Goldstein.

The person I was 35 years ago would not recognize the person I am today. But not totally. Clinging fiercely, some of the old me remains, as close as breath. And if I were to live another 35 years, or another 135 years, it's hard to see all of this being purged. If every speck of sin, self, and character defect must be gone in this life in order for me to have life in the next, then however good the news, it's just not good enough for me.

I know the Ellen White quotes. I know the Bible texts....If they mean that before I die I have to have a character as selfless, as loving, and as giving as Jesus; if they mean that I must have perfect motives in all I do; if they mean that I must never harbor a wrong, covetous, or evil thought; and if they mean that before I die every trace of self and sinfulness must be purged from me, then my end is assured: "the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."...

How interesting that Ellen White wrote to John Harvey Kellogg: "I have a most earnest desire that you shall enter the city of God, not as a culprit barely pardoned, but as a conqueror." (8T 125) I long to enter the city of God as a conqueror. I really do. But as "a culprit barely pardoned"? I'll take it, for even that's more than I deserve.

Here we have a perfect example of placing inspired statements in contrast with personal experience, and allowing personal experience to trump some inconvenient truths from God's spokespersons. Following are just two inconvenient truths of many that could be listed. "The truth of God...removes from us every imperfection and sin, of whatever nature." (2T 356) "Before (Christ) shall come, everything that is imperfect in us will have been seen and put away." (3SM 427)

A subsequent letter to the editor put it this way. "The 'Truth' is Jesus, and not man. Jesus tells me I can be perfect. Jesus tells me I can live without sin....'How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?' (Rom. 6:1,2) Ellen White writes,...'Almost but not wholly saved means to be not almost but wholly lost.' (1SM 399) And here's what it says in 1 Corinthians 2:14: 'But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.'" But another letter writer said, "I identify with Goldstein's words because they resonate with my own experience." Once again, personal experience seems to be the final authority, superseding inconvenient truths.

A thought question in a Sabbath School Bible Study Guide went like this. "Many well-meaning individuals stress the need for us to attain 'perfection.'...Unfortunately, those who embrace this doctrine not only promote self-sufficiency as a key to salvation, but they also ignore the reality of sinful human nature....How, then, can we be careful that while seeking to live godly, faithful lives, we do not get caught up in any theology that puts the hope of our salvation in anything other than the righteousness of Christ covering us?" Two tragic conclusions are drawn in this thought question. First, those who believe that what God promises He will produce, actually promote self-sufficiency and deny Christ's righteousness. Second, sinful human nature is ultimately stronger than God's promises and His power.

In the October 10, 2013 issue of the Adventist Review, Angel Manuel Rodriguez wrote "Theology of the Last Generation."

The theology of the last generation was developed and popularized in the Adven- tist Church by M. L. Andreasen (The Sanctuary Service). Andreasen was build- ing on insights from A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. This theology introduced a strong element of legalism in some sectors of the church by claiming that the character of God, maligned by Satan in the cosmic conflict, will be vindicated through the holy and perfect life of obedience of the last generation of believers. ...Once this happens, the Lord will return....It is based primarily on a particular reading of the writings of Ellen G. White....In the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White the cosmic vindication of God is the exclusive result of the sacrificial death of Christ....Christian perfection is a constant growth in grace accompanied by a constant reliance on God's forgiving grace....We will perfectly reproduce the character of Christ in our lives through growth in grace and by absolutely relying every day in Christ's forgiving grace.

First, this is a direct attack on Waggoner and Jones as well as Andreasen, stating that their theology produces legalism. Second, he refers to "a particular reading" of Ellen White's writings. It would have been much more accurate if he would have said, "a straightforward reading of very clear statements" in her writings. Third, he claims that the vindication of God exclusively refers to the death of Christ. But what about RH April 16, 1901: "All heaven is waiting to hear us vindicate God's law"? Clearly some aspect of God's vindication will be seen in the final generation. Fourth, he states twice that we will always need forgiving grace. What happens when forgiving grace ends for all eternity when Christ steps out of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary and closes human probation?

In the August 2014 issue of Ministry Norman R. Gulley stated, "God does not ask us to be preoccupied with our own perfection but with His." This sentence makes perfection very distasteful by the words "preoccupied" and "our own perfection." If perfection means anything at all, it is the ultimate gift of God's grace to weak and helpless human beings.

A letter writer, in the October 17 issue of the Adventist Review, made this point. "Regarding the article by Andrew Kerbs, 'A Memorial to Salvation: Do Works Matter?':

I came from reading the article with the perception that works do matter, but because they do not save, they do not matter that much when it comes to salvation....Ellen White writes, 'Our good works alone will not save any of us, but we cannot be saved without good works.' (God' s Amazing Grace, p. 309) If we cannot be saved without good works, they must matter very much to our salvation. Kerbs writes, 'The Lord saved them not by works,but by faith in the blood of the Passover Lamb.' If they had not killed the lamb, put the blood on the doorposts and stayed in the house, works all done in answer to belief and faith in the God who had instructed them, salvation would not have been theirs. The author continues, 'We live holy, consecrated lives not so that we may be saved, but because we are saved!' It might be better said, 'We can live holy, consecrated lives and will do good works,because we are saved!' Works, good works, ...are the result of living, walking, and working according to the faith we have in the One who is the source of our salvation." In the referenced article, we have another example of placing works in opposition to faith, instead of making it very clear that true faith always works, because the works are the fruit of the Holy Spirit controlling the life. This point was constantly stressed in the 1888 message.

The disunity, seen so tragically in the 1888 period, is still very much alive among us because we have refused to deal honestly with the 1888 message rejection. We are repeating their history and further delaying Christ's return. "O, Lord Jesus, How Long?"

Practical Issues

In the January 16, 2014 issue of the Adventist Review, Andy Nash wrote a very perceptive and important column.

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight....For they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel." (Isa. 5:20-24) The people who do the most damage to the kingdom of God aren't sinners themselves. They're the people who tell sinners that what they're doing isn't really sin. These people are particularly dangerous when they reside within the community of faith itself. On the pretense of being the most loving, they are, in actuality, the least loving....There is no one more un- loving than those who encourage others—by word or by silence—to travel down the path of sin.

In Isaiah's day, as in ours, that's what was happening. In a weak-kneed bow to popular culture, some in the community of faith were calling "evil good and good evil."..."But the dangers from without," wrote Ellen White, "overwhelming though they seemed, were not so serious as the dangers from within. It was the perversity of his people that brought to the Lord's servant the greatest perplexity and the deepest depression." (PK 305, 306)...If we're struggling with sin, our worst possible enemies are those who call "evil good and good evil," who encour- age us to continue our lives of sin....Our best possible friends are those who call evil evil and good good—who invite us to receive the grace of God, and, as another young Prophet and King once said, to "leave your life of sin."(John 8:11)

Now let's be practical about the gospel and calling evil evil and good good. How does it impact our daily living. Jill Morikone wrote in the Adventist Review, October 17, 2013:

I pondered how often I had surrendered my all to Jesus, little realizing the greater part of my heart was still unconverted, full of undiscovered sins....He'd shown me my heart, bit by bit. First, there was some jealousy stuck over here. Ouch! I hadn't even realized it existed! Thankful, I asked Him to cleanse my heart, to grant me the spirit of contentment. Next, He showed me the bitterness that lurked just beneath the surface....In desperation I turned to Him for forgiveness and peace. Later He showed me where pride had taken root and had already begun reseeding itself with amazing rapidity. In shame I turned to Him for cleansing, for grace, for victory.
True humility is asking God to dig deeply into the part of me that are hidden to me, that I conveniently ignore. This means facing failure and learning from our mistakes. In fact, the humble believers who allow Jesus to confront their toxic (and possibly hidden) motives can best grasp the power of His love. Ellen White writes in SC 64-65, "No deep- seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness....If we do not see our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the beauty and excellence of Christ."

We are often unaware of the power of our own selfishness. We want to have His help, even when it means that conviction of our hidden motives strikes us like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky. If we ignore the power of our own dark motives, then we ignore the power of temptation. A healthy fear of our selfishness can actually empower us. An honest, healthy fear of self-centeredness helps keep Jesus' love a first priority. It's humbling, but it draws me closer to Him.

If we allow the process of identifying our character flaws and turning them over to Christ to continue, then we can have the same experience that Paul had. "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." (2 Tim. 4:6-8) He saw beyond what others thought was his end. His focus was on an imperishable prize. He was ready to die, and ready for triumph, coronation, and victory. Paul fought, crucified with Christ, yet living; living a miraculous new life in the flesh by faith in the self-sacrificing Son of God. The celebration of the cross is the celebration of victory in that struggle.

"Christians who live in the light of God's countenance are always accompanied by unseen angels, and these holy beings leave behind them a blessing in our homes." (AH 445)

The Final Generation

The five foolish bridesmaids represent the Bible-quoting church member who has not been transformed by the Holy Spirit into a Christ-reflecting exhibit of the power of God, and he is shutting himself out of the kingdom of God. But the five wise bridesmaids are advent-oriented Christians whose lifestyles have become a light to the honest in heart all over this planet. In this parable picture of the last days we learn that God is waiting for the character preparation of a significant number of mature Christians to rightly represent the character of Jesus.

Love in action is the phrase that sums up the lifestyle of the faithful and wise servant who is ready, day and night, with whatever his fellowmen need. "The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within—when the sunshine of heaven fills the heart and is revealed in the countenance." (COL 384)

John the Revelator looked toward that day when faithful and wise latter-day Christians will help to settle the remaining questions in the great controversy once and for all. God has something more to say than words only; He has an exhibit ready. "Here they are," God says, "Take a good look at these people. These are My people. This is the way I have wanted everyone to live. Here they are—those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."

This remnant will have demonstrated that faith such as Jesus had, produces character such as Jesus had. This demonstration completes the vindication of God's character and government and settles the question of His justice and mercy forever. "The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people." (DA 671) Some generation of Christians will yet confirm in word and deed the "good news" announced by our Lord— that sin can be overcome, that sinners can be overcomers!

"Just as soon as the people of God are sealed in their foreheads—it is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved—just as soon as God's people are sealed and prepared for the shaking, it will come." (4BC 1161) This "settling into the truth" experience is another way of describing the sealing work wherein the character of the faithful, empowered by the Holy Spirit is brought to that place where God can, without reservation, honor them with His seal of approval.

"Those who are uniting with the world, are receiving the worldly mold, and preparing for the mark of the beast. Those who are distrustful of self, who are humbling themselves before God and purifying their souls by obeying the truth, these are...preparing for the seal of God in their foreheads....Their characters will remain pure and spotless for eternity....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 an ambitious, world-loving man or woman....All who receive the seal must be without spot before God—candidates for heaven." (5T 216) It is very simple. Those who develop the character of Satan will receive his mark or seal, and those who develop the character of Christ will receive the mark or seal of His approval.

The question of Revelation 6:17 will be our question: "For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" The wrath of God underscores the seriousness of sin. When the Bible speaks of God's wrath, it speaks of it as the absolute hostility of the holy God to every form of evil. It is not an unpredictable flare-up of personal animosity, but God's holy and unquenchable antagonism toward evil.

That Jesus delays His coming, waiting for a quality people to whom He may impart the immeasurable power of the latter rain, is historic Adventist theology. E. J. Waggoner, speaking at the 1897 General Conference, said: "But God has left the vindication of His character to His children. He has, as it were, risked His character with men....The time when we are judged is the time when God is judged. At that time all the dealings of God with His creatures will come up before the universe....The Lord still waits for us. He... bears with us because He has His character at stake. The only way in which He can demonstrate the perfection of His character, and take away His reproach, is in perfecting a people to His praise."

Only those who call Jesus Lord, as well as their Savior, and demonstrate their sincerity by doing what He says, here and now, only they will be safe to translate. They will have proved to the unfallen angels and to other worlds that in them sin would never arise again. They will have shown that stealing, hate and killing, disrespect and selfishness, no matter what form it takes, dishonesty wherever it is seen—these are not ineradicable habits of human nature. God is able!

They will have proven in an undeniable demonstration that "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23) are all possible, here and now. Predictably, unfailingly—a truly glorious vindication of God's decision to wait.

Seventh-day Adventists are a people with a special message for a special time. No other Christian church has had this message in the past and no other church has it today. To be the kind of people God is waiting for is the most exciting challenge ever given to man as well as the most sobering. To share this excitement with others, within and without our church, should be the greatest desire of an authentic Adventist.

We are living in the great antitypical Day of Atonement. The antitypical Yom Kippur was supposed to end a long time ago. As preposterous as it may sound—it is this movement, tiny and insignificant though it may seem, which in part holds the keys to the biggest event ever to take place. In the plan of salvation, God is dependent on the response of human beings and He works with them. This is the true raison d'etre for Adventism. Let's humble ourselves so it can be soon! Let's seek God's presence daily, hourly, always. We have the incredible privilege to be part of God's final mission to Planet Earth.