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Dennis Priebe

What Might Have Been

All Seventh-day Adventists agree that the years between 1888 and 1900 were very significant for the Adventist Church. But the analysis of how they were significant varies widely from interpreter to interpreter. I believe that the whole history of the Adventist Church has been different because of decisions made during this period. Most often we think of righteousness by faith as being the significant issue of these years. and indeed it was, but the real significance went far beyond theological issues to decisions regarding how the work of the church would be carried forward. We today live in a church which has been greatly altered because of the decisions made a hundred years ago.

This is a historical study of a few selected events of the past hundred years in Adventism. It is my hope that as we review some crucial aspects of our history, we will learn the lessons of history so that we can avoid repeating the mistakes that were made by well-meaning individuals. Mistakes made by godly men and women were faithfully recorded in Scripture in the hope that later generations would not repeat their mistakes. It is my hope that we can likewise learn from the mistakes made in Adventist history so that we make better decisions as we prepare for the imminent return of our Lord.

Inspired Analysis

Shortly after the events of 1888, Ellen White reflected on what had happened at Minneapolis. Manuscript 30, 1889, can be found in The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials is, pp. 352-381. This was a very difficult time for Ellen White, and she expressed her frustration and disappointment very clearly. “I was passing through the most grievous trial of my life, for from this hour that confidence which I had hitherto had that God was leading and controlling the minds and hearts of my brethren, was not as heretofore. I had felt that when a call came to me, 'We want you at our meeting, Sister White; your influence is needed,' I should not consult my choice or my feelings but would arise by faith and try to act my part and leave the Lord to do the work that was essential to be done. Now a greater burden falls upon me. From this time I must look alone to God, for I dare not rely upon the wisdom of my brethren. I see they do not always take God for their counselor, but look in a large degree to the men they have set before them in the place of God.”

Can we empathize a bit with Ellen White in this experience? Before this time she had agreed to the requests of church leaders rather implicitly regarding where she should speak and work. But now she could no longer accept their decisions quite as easily, because they were following other men instead of God. "I tried at the meeting in Battle Creek (in 1889) to make my position plain, but not a word or response came from the men who should have stood with me. I stated that I stood nearly alone at Minneapolis. I stood alone before them in the conference, for the light that God had seen fit to give me was that they were not moving in the counsel of God. Not one ventured to say, 'I am with you, Sister White. I will stand by you.'"

Can we feel the pain that this messenger of God was feeling during this critical period of Adventism? Perhaps the most important aspect of 1888 was not what Jones and Waggoner did or said, but the attitudes of church leaders to the counsels given through inspiration. Skepticism and doubt always bear a bitter harvest, and the decisions of the next decade were made largely because of the wrong attitudes and spirit of church leaders during this time. "I felt deeply grieved that my brethren who had known me for years and had evidence of the character of my labor should continue to remain in the deception they were in and, rather than confess that they had been mistaken, hold on to the same false impressions as though they were truth."

"Stand out of the way, brethren. Do not interpose yourselves between God and His work. If you have no burden of the message yourselves, then prepare the way for those who have the burden of the message." If only this counsel had been heeded, how many decisions might have been made differently which have affected us to this day. Ellen White.. pinpointed what she saw to be the real problem of 1888. "There is pride of opinion, a stubbornness that shuts the soul away from good and from God. Warnings have been scorned, grace resisted, privileges abused, conviction smothered, and the pride of the human heart strengthened. The result is the same as with the Jews--fatal hardness of heart. It is not safe for the soul to rise up against the messages of God." The real problem of 1888 was human pride and the abuse of authority. Human beings will always make honest mistakes, but when God reproves them and they refuse to change, the resulting rebellion will always seriously damage the cause of God. It was this spirit of rebellion that altered crucial aspects of the work of the Adventist Church, which have never been fully restored in the hundred years following.

About a year later, Ellen White had further counsel for the General Conference delegates. Manuscript 30, 1890 can be found in The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 906--916. "In the fear and love of God I tell those before whom I stand today that there is increased light for us, and that great blessings come with the reception of this light. And when I see my brethren stirred with anger against God's messages and messengers, I think of similar scenes in the life of Christ and the reformers. The reception given to God's servants in past ages is the same as the reception that those today receive through whom God is sending precious rays of light. The leaders of the people today pursue the same course of action that the Jews pursued. They criticize and ply question after question, and refuse to admit evidence, treating the light sent them in the very same way that the Jews treated the light Christ brought them."

"The evil heart of unbelief will make falsehood appear as truth and truth as falsehood, and will adhere to this position, whatever evidence may be produced." Notice that the problem here is not believing error, but refusing to respond to contrary evidence, preferring to hold their own opinions in the face of light sent by God. The problem is always human pride and self-righteousness. "They enter upon a path that leads to the darkness of midnight. They think they are following sound reason, but they are following another leader. They have placed themselves under the control of a power which in their blindness they are wholly ignorant of. They have resisted the only Spirit that could lead them, enlighten them, save them."

"In rejecting the message given at Minneapolis, men committed sin. They have committed far greater sin by retaining for years the same hatred against God's messengers, by rejecting the truth that the Holy Spirit has been urging home." Notice carefully the effects caused by this wrong spirit held by God's leaders. "These rejectors of light cease to recognize light... It has been regarded as darkness and spoken of as fanaticism, as something dangerous, to be shunned. Thus men have become guideposts pointing in the wrong direction." In the years following 1888, pride of opinion and abuse of authority caused leaders of the church to change leaders from Christ to Satan without knowing it. The result of all this was that they pointed the church in the wrong direction. The real problem of 1888 boiled down to pride and authoritarianism.

Of some relevance here is the little book written by A. C. Daniells in 1926, entitled Christ Our Righteousness. Elder Daniells, retired president of the General Conference, was reflecting back to events 38 years in the past. "In 1888 there came to the Seventh-day Adventist Church a very definite awakening message... All these long years they have held a firm conviction, and cherished a fond hope, that someday this message would be given great prominence among us, and that it would do the cleansing, regenerating work in the church which they believed it was sent by the Lord to accomplish... It is difficult to conceive how there could be any misunderstanding or uncertainty regarding the heavenly endorsement of this message... It is evident that the application of this message was not limited to the time of the Minneapolis Conference, but that its application extends to the close of time; and consequently it is of greater significance to the church at the present time than it could have been in 1888. The nearer we approach the great day of God, the more imperative will be the need of the soul cleansing work which that message was sent to do. Surely we have every reason for a new, more wholehearted study and proclamation of that message... It must be expected that the message of Righteousness by Faith, which came so definitely to the church in 1888, will be accorded a dominant place in the closing period of the great movement with which we are connected." (pp. 23-26, emphasis supplied) From Elder Daniells' perspective, the 1888 message had not yet done the work it was intended to do. During the 1890's and 1900's the message had not taken hold. This could only mean that decisions made during that time were not made because of a heartfelt response to that message. We did not make decisions based on that message, but because of opposition to the message. Elder Daniells also voiced the hope that as we near the end of time the 1888 message would have a dominant place -in our study and experience. The soul-cleansing work of this message will be absolutely essential if the remnant church is to complete its work in triumph. We cannot "finish the work" by ignoring or opposing the key points of this message. Just as there was open and hidden opposition to the message during the 1890's, there is the same opposition to the message during the 1990's. It seems that we have a very hard time learning the lessons of history. The rejection of that message then cost the world a hundred more years of suffering. Will we, by our pride of opinion and stubbornness, doom the world to a hundred more years of sin, or will we humble our hearts and let God's message do the work in our hearts today that it could not do a hundred years ago?

Practical Results of Rejection

As with all messages sent by God, acceptance or rejection of those messages has ripple effects far beyond the original message itself. By turning away from the 1888 message, other mistakes were made which are still affecting us today. As we remember that the real problem was pride of opinion and the misuse of authority, it should not surprise us to see animosity and hurt feelings impacting other areas of our work.

It was God's intention that the medical work should be closely connected with the ministerial work. The work of health education and natural treatments was to be the entering wedge of the gospel message, preparing people's hearts to yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God wanted ministers and physicians to work together in small clinics and restaurants throughout the world. But in the years between 1890 and 1900, friction began to develop between medical missionary work and ministerial leadership. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was the leading medical missionary of that time, with a number of medically trained people associated with him. Gradually he became frustrated with church leaders. He felt that they did not really practice the principles of health reform and did not support the work that he was spearheading. As A. T. Jones continued to face open and covert opposition to the 1888 message, he too became frustrated with church leaders. Toward the end of the decade he linked himself with Dr. Kellogg in their joint disagreement with the way church leaders were running the church. Then Dr. Kellogg espoused a form of pantheism, and church leaders, urged on by Ellen White, took a strong stand against Dr. Kellogg's ideas. The bond between medical and ministerial workers was thoroughly broken, with strong feelings of suspicion and distrust on both sides. It is not unfair to state that we have had a hard time reestablishing that bond. Medical and ministerial work have gone their separate ways, with different goals, different methods, and different pay scales. God's plan for medical missionary work has never been fully realized in the Adventist Church, with only isolated examples here and there showing us what might have been throughout the entire church if we would have followed God's counsel carefully.

Another fallout of the 1888 rejection can be seen in our educational work. Within three years after 1888 the leaders of the church managed to separate the team of Jones, Waggoner, and Ellen White. Ellen White was asked to go to Australia, which she did. While there, she decided to implement educational reform in a way which had not yet been done in the United States. At Avondale, she did her best to institute the kind of education which God had given her as the model for all Adventist education. Elder Sutherland became convinced that this was the way education should be conducted in the United States also, and he was asked by church leaders to institute those reforms at Battle Creek, Michigan. Sutherland saw clearly that such reforms could not possibly be carried out in Battle Creek, and so the move was made to Berrien Springs, where Emmanuel Missionary College was born. For two years Sutherland and Magan attempted to follow the example of Avondale in educating young adults. But, for various reasons, they did not succeed, and in 1904 they resigned their posts. After a great deal of soul-searching, they established a new school in Tennessee at Madison, where they attempted to carry out the educational reforms which they had been unable to do in Michigan.

Ellen White had some extremely significant things to say about this new school. "The work that the laborers have accomplished at Madison has done more to give a correct knowledge of what an all--round education means than any other school that has been established by Seventh-day Adventists in America." (Ms. Rel., vol. 11, p. 182) "If many more in other schools were receiving a similar training, we as a people would become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. The message would quickly be carried to every country, and souls now in darkness would be brought to the light." (Ms. Rd., vol. 11, p. 193)

Indeed, the Madison school enjoyed a great deal of success in the years following, and many were hoping that this school would be the model for all Adventist education, allowing the church to regain some of the losses it had sustained from 1890 to 1910. If the church would have been willing to reorganize its regular schools, based on the Madison model, we today would be enjoying the rich benefits of education done fully God's way. But instead church leaders held Madison at arm's length, giving them little help and a fair amount of opposition. Instead of changing our educational program churchwide, the church finally recognized Madison as a "self-supporting" school, which meant that it would be allowed to carry on its work unopposed, but it would never become the model for Adventist education. As a result, we have never had the opportunity of watching God make Adventist education the head rather than the tail of all educational efforts.

The 1952 Bible Conference

A church-wide Bible Conference was convened in 1952 in Washington, D.C. Many excellent messages were presented in that conference, which were recorded in a two-volume set of books entitled Our Firm Foundation. The General Conference President closed the conference with a challenge. "The message of righteousness by faith given in the 1888 Conference has been repeated here… And this great truth has been given here in the 1952 Bible Conference with far greater power than it was given in the 1888 Conference… The light of justification and righteousness by faith shines upon us today more clearly than it ever shone before upon any people. No longer will the question be 'What was the attitude of our workers and people toward the message of righteousness by faith that was given in 1888? What did they do about it?' From now on the great question must be, 'What did we do with the light on righteousness by faith as proclaimed in the 1952 Bible Conference?'" (Vol. 2, p. 617)

Clearly Elder Branson was tying this conference to the 1888 message. He was challenging those attending to do something very meaningful in response to the messages on righteousness by faith which had been given in the 1952 conference. He was suggesting that rather than casting blame on those in the past, we need to ask ourselves what we will do to turn things around. And that is the real purpose of this article. The only reason for reviewing the failures of the past is to understand how we can avoid repeating them. If the Seventh-day Adventist Church lost some very important ground in the years following 1888, our focus must be on how we can regain that ground. What can we do that will undo some of the damage done then, and prepare the way for God to make His final demonstration to the world and to angels? How can we respond to the 1888 message in such a way that God's full blessing can rest on His remnant church, with the inevitable result being the latter rain and loud cry?

Now what did Elder Branson see as the proper response to the messages of the 1952 conference? "We are engaged in an effort to double our church membership in a four-year period from January 1, 1950 to December 31, 1953." It is an admirable goal to double church membership, but is that what the 1888 message is all about? Is doubling church membership the way to undo the damage of 1888? Or is the 1888 message about humility of heart and obedience to God in every way? Is it about letting the righteousness of Christ fill us so that it must overflow to the world?

Well, what did happen in the years following 1952? Were new programs advanced for the success of the church throughout the world? Yes. Did we double our membership? Yes. Did the Holy Spirit fall in the latter rain? No. Did we take the gospel to the world? No. In fact, just four years later, in some major discussions with Evangelical church leaders, we sacrificed some very important aspects of righteousness by faith in an effort to be conciliatory and avoid the "cult" label. Instead of moving ahead in the full light of the 1888 message, we publicly abandoned some of the central points of the 1888 message. Elder Branson's appeal was correct, but the solution suggested--doubling membership--did not address the root causes of the failure in 1888. The problem of 1888 was a heart problem, which is never solved by programs and numbers. Perhaps it is as difficult for us to learn hard lessons from history as it was for the Hebrew nation in the time of Christ. Human pride and public image seems to be an all-consuming threat to heart-surrender and loving obedience. During the 1950's we definitely did not come close to understanding the meaning of the 1888 message or undoing the damage done by rejection and opposition.

The 1973-74 Annual Councils

The Annual Council is the most important yearly business meeting of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Two very significant councils were held in 1973 and 1974. For a short period at each council, business matters were laid aside and the leaders of the church addressed spiritual issues. I believe that every Adventist needs to hear the appeals of our church leaders during those councils.

At the beginning of the 1974 Annual Council, Elder Robert Pierson, President of the General Conference, made the following appeal to the delegates:

The Lord came preciously near to His people during the 1973 Annual Council... It was a period of deep heart searching, not only during Council sessions, but also in our homes and in our hotel rooms. As leaders we recognized that as a church we had come far short of our Master's desires and expectations, and we searched our souls in an effort to discover what could be done to end our Saviour's delay and hasten the coming of Christ. Becoming like Jesus and achieving victory over sin in our lives was the preoccupation of church leaders during the week or ten days we were together... There was a call for a change of direction, for a change of emphasis, for a change of priorities--personally, as well as in the church...

During the 12 months that have elapsed have our priorities changed or have they continued much the same as they were before the Lord visited us? What about our committee and board agendas--have they been that much different? Has business as usual been the order of the day?.. .Some have declared the 1973 Annual Council to be the most significant meeting the Adventist Church has held since 1888. Did the Lord truly speak to us in a special manner? Did He call us to continuing repentance and renewal or was it just a passing emphasis? Did we respond to a lasting victory over sin or did we leave Takoma Park and return home in the same Laodicean experience as formerly? To make it practical--did our fellow workers and church members note any difference in us when we returned from the past Annual Council? Did our wives, our husbands, our children, notice a change? Are you nearer God's ideal this year because you attended the Annual Council last year? Is your character nearer that of Christ our Pattern? Are you kinder, more thoughtful now? Have you gained victory over impurity, over that temper, that unruly tongue of yours? Did the 1973 Annual Council really make a difference?

Perhaps the most probing question of all: if the church membership and its leadership on every level of administration and in every field, entered into the same experience you and I enjoy, could we expect the falling of the latter rain, the resumption of the loud cry soon--very soon?... I want to get this work finished! I want to see Jesus! I want to follow on to know the Lord so that this great controversy can be finished once and for all! We made a start--a good start---12 months ago. Thank God for that beginning. But a good beginning is not enough. Revival once a year at Annual Council time, blessed as it is, simply is not enough. Our revival must grow into a lasting reformation! (Review and Herald, January 30, 1975)
This powerful appeal emphasized several points. First, we have a part to play in ending the delay in Christ's return. Second, this was a conscious attempt to deal with the unresolved issues of 1888. It is of considerable importance to note that not once during these two councils was the subject of doubling membership or baptizing large numbers mentioned. The focus was on spiritual heart reformation, just as it was in the 1888 message. Third, this was a call for a change of direction in personal lives and in the church at large. There was a clear understanding that we could not "finish the work" by better programs or more refined technology. A change of priorities was seen to be the only hope of receiving the latter rain of the Holy Spirit.

As a result of this appeal, a statement was prepared and voted by the 1974 Annual Council. It was printed on the front page of the Review under the title, "World Leaders in Annual Council Speak to the Church."

As church leaders we feel deeply that "the image of Jesus" must be reflected clearly not only in the personal lives of church members hut in Adventist sermons, Adventist literature, and Adventist institutions--schools, hospitals, and publishing houses. The answer to the query What is different about the Adventist way? should be obvious to all who come into contact with any aspect of the remnant church. The Adventist goal is primarily quality rather than quantity… The question Why do we keep Him waiting? should hover over every Adventist home, over every church meeting, large or small. We believe that God is willing to do through this generation what He has wanted to do for many decades. We believe that He ought to be given the opportunity to show through His people today that His grace is sufficient to keep men from falling (see Jude 24), that men and women living amidst temptation and sin can conquer even as Jesus conquered (see Rev. 3:21), and that His way of life produces the happiest, kindest, most trustworthy people on earth... When a generation of Seventh-day Adventists is truly serious about becoming exhibits of what God's grace can do, the moment of final decision by the whole world for or against God will not be long delayed. (Review and Herald, November 14. 1974)
What a remarkable and unusual statement! The delay in Christ's coming will be ended, not by new programs or more energetic evangelistic activity or doubling church membership, but by Seventh-day Adventists "becoming exhibits of what God's grace can do" in overcoming sin and temptation. Satan will be defeated in his war against God when a generation of Adventists get serious about their religion!

Kenneth Wood, editor of the Review, commented on this appeal one week later:

To ignore the message is tantamount to voting for a further delay in the coming of Christ. To heed it is to cast a vote for hastening the coming of Christ. The message was issued as a follow-up to the appeal from the 1973 council. It built upon that appeal, accepting these presuppositions: (1) Christ could have come decades ago, (2) the blame for the delay rests with man, not God, and (3) the delay will continue until the harvest of the earth is ripe--until God has a people who through the faith of Jesus develop the character of Jesus, and thus forever refute Satan's charge that God was unjust in asking man to obey His law perfectly... We believe that at the 1973 Annual Council His Spirit began a work that could lead to the coming of Christ in our day. He began to make needed changes in the church. The church, however, is large, hence changes take time. As someone has pointed out, a rowboat can be turned around quickly, but it takes time to turn an ocean liner. But it can be turned! If God is seeking to turn this church toward repentance, revival, reformation, and world- enlightening witnessing, and if God's people, starting with the leaders, are willing to cooperate, the changes can be effected and the work can be finished! (Review and Herald, November 21, 1974)
Once again, note the focus on changing the direction of the church. The great ocean liner known as the Seventh-day Adventist Church must be turned in a different direction before there can he any hope of a soon return of Christ. In the same editorial, Elder Wood issued a strong warning:

But if leaders and people are unconcerned about what God is attempting, if they are content to stay in this world, if they are satisfied with "business as usual," then, as the president of the General Conference pointed out at the recent Annual Council, "[1973 and perhaps 1974] may be known as the 1888 of our generation. We cannot think of anything sadder. How tragic if we should fail God, and if decades hence Adventist theologians and historians should look back upon our time as an opportunity missed, a time when the Advent Movement and its leaders disappointed God. It must not happen!

Do you know what really happened in the years following 1888? We locked and barred the door to the Holy Spirit. If Christ would have come to us then, we would have treated Him as the Jews treated Christ. We gave Satan the opportunity to go on in his work of tormenting people in this world. We told God that He could not end the great controversy just yet. Why? Because of pride of opinion, pride of position, and refusal to admit error. This is what Elder Pierson meant when he said that we could have another 1888 in our generation. Elder Wood and Elder Pierson were appealing to the church to learn the lessons of 1888, so that we would not make the same mistakes again.

In another editorial, Elder Wood referred back to the 1973 Annual Council:

We believe that the appeal was of unusual importance and that God is using it to create a holy discontent within the church--discontent with the church's spiritual achievements, discontent with its progress, discontent with some of its policies, goals, and priorities. This discontent will, we believe, provide motivation for self-examination; it will lead to deeper study of God's Word, to a closer walk with God, to an understanding of righteousness by faith both as a doc- trifle and as an experience, to an earnest desire for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain, to drastic changes in many denominational institutions, and to a sharpening and strengthening of the church's evangelistic thrust. But few, if any, results will be seen if church leaders and members fail to understand and accept one of the basic premises upon which the appeal was based, namely, that it is possible either to hasten or delay Christ's second advent. (Review and Herald, February 28, 1974)
His point here is crucially important--we must accept the truth that the time of the return of Christ is affected positively or negatively by our actions as a church, or none of this makes any sense at all. Just as the time of the entrance of Israel into the Promised Land was affected by their decisions, so the time of the entrance of the remnant into the Promised Land is affected by their decisions. We have abundant inspired evidence on this point, and if we refuse to believe it, then we will continue to wait in vain for God to do His final work. The painful reality is that God has been waiting for us to catch up with Him for well over a hundred years. Elder Wood also stressed the point that we must not be overconfident about the good work we are doing, especially when we look at our increasing numbers. We need "a holy discontent" with our progress so far, since it clearly has not led us into the latter rain experience. He also suggested that "drastic changes" will have to be made in our institutions. Should we not look back at God's plans and purposes for these institutions, and see where they have strayed off course--largely as a result of the 1888 rejection? If we are really serious about being the remnant church of prophecy, we need to take "drastic" action to move into genuine revival and reformation while the door of mercy is still open.

In 1973, the appeal from the Annual Council was titled "An Earnest Appeal," and appeared on the front page of the Review. It was perhaps the most direct and specific statement which has been printed in our journals in recent years.

God is waiting for a generation of Adventists who will demonstrate that His way of life can truly be lived on earth, that Jesus did not set an example beyond the reach of His followers, that His grace is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish." Jude 24, RSV. Each member of the Laodicean church needs... a genuine and complete surrender of the life and will to the divine authority of the Bible and of the Spirit of Prophecy--a surrender that may well call for revolutionary changes in personal lifestyles and in denominational policies and practices. Every member must recognize that he has a part in either hastening or delaying the coming of Christ… As church leaders at this Annual Council we have faced honestly the fact that there are inconsistencies between the church’s preaching and it’s practices, and to allow these inconsistencies to continue will automatically delay the completion of the church’s mission and the coming of Christ… If we ignore or reject God’s counsels, this may well be defined as an act of insubordination, which will affect our relation to the coming of the Lord.
Notice the dramatic words and concepts in this appeal. We need "revolutionary changes" in our lifestyles and in church practices. This is not just fine-tuning what we are already doing, so that we can eliminate problem spots. Our church leaders suggested that major changes need to be made in the way we conduct business as a church. Our inconsistencies, because we have not heeded God's counsels, are “insubordination,” and if left uncorrected, will further delay the return of Christ. These are strong words from the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Those who use exactly the same words today are called divisive and disloyal. Is it possible that pride of opinion and public image have taken center stage once again in the heart of Adventism?

In their appeal, church leaders, in a very unusual and courageous step, pointed to specific areas in which we stand in insubordination to God.

They have pointed up the need for greater care in Sabbath observance, in stewardship of God's gifts, in guarding the avenues of the soul, and in practicing the broad and specific principles of healthful living… These study groups also have pointed to evidences of sagging morality, including a more casual attitude toward divorce and remarriage. Concern has been expressed over the increasing tendency to imitate the world in dress and ornamentation. These study groups have examined the whole spectrum of Seventh-day Adventist institutional work and have pointed to evidences that some institutions in various respects are losing their distinctive character as instrumentalities for the furtherance of God's work on earth. ...It is recognized that in an age of growing social consciousness and change, Adventist institutions may become involved in worthy endeavors in which the world also participates, while neglecting that work which only the church of the remnant can do... One of the greatest threats to our institutions of higher learning is seen in the counterfeit philosophies and theologies that may be unconsciously absorbed in worldly institutions by our future teachers and brought back as the "wine" of Babylon to Adventist schools (Revelation 14:8-10; 18:1-4) It is recognized that a constant threat to spirituality grows out of increasing creature comforts, rising standards of living, and a desire for remuneration equal to that offered by the world...

As the Annual Council has reviewed these and other aspects of the lives of God's people and the institutions of the church, it has raised the question as to whether much of this represents insubordination to the authority and will of God so clearly expressed through His Word and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. Without attempting to pinpoint areas of insubordination, the council pleads with God's people everywhere to respond to the appeal for revival and reformation--to make whatever changes may be necessary to enable the church to represent Christ adequately and fulfill its unique mission... The delegates at this 1973 Annual Council extend the following appeal to all workers and members throughout the world... Forsake the spirit of insubordination that too long has influenced individual and church decisions. (Review and Herald, December 6, 1973)

One concern of this Annual Council was the increasing tendency of our institutions to participate in worthy endeavors in which worldly institutions excel (war against drugs, etc.), while neglecting those areas which only the remnant can do effectively (natural remedies, medical missionary work, etc.). It is always popular to jump on a politically correct bandwagon, and the temptation will always be strong to focus our energies on these worthy endeavors. We must remember who we are and what we are really trying to accomplish by our "good deeds." The remnant church has a different purpose and mission from any other organization on earth, and we must stay focused on our primary reasons for existence.

In pleading for an end to insubordination among us, the Annual Council said that we must "make whatever changes may be necessary" to get back to obedience to God's counsels. This again is a call for a turnaround in many of our activities and programs, so that we can enjoy the blessing of God on our work. It is too easy to mistake numerical increases for God's approval. It must be our constant concern to be right with God, to he obedient to His will, and then we can bask in the sunshine of God's blessings.

Lessons From Our History

We must always remember that revival never comes without reformation. If revival is really to transform our lives and our church, then we are going to have to change a good number of things we are doing today. God will never send the fullest measure of His grace (the Holy Spirit in the latter rain) while we remain disobedient in many areas. Our church leaders in 1973-74 saw this clearly, but I wonder if our vision is as sharp today. Numerical growth and prestige seem to dominate our thinking, while appeals for reformation and obedience are often perceived as disloyalty and divisiveness. Any appeals for genuine revival must also appeal for reformation in specific areas of disobedience.

Revival, especially the greatest revival of all history--the latter rain--will be grounded in truth, never a mixture of truth and error. Error always destroys and divides. This is the single most important reason for our pluralism and fragmentation today. God is never vindicated by error. Only truth will place the throne of God and the destiny of the remnant church on a secure foundation, one that cannot be shaken by Satan's attacks. We must focus all our efforts on understanding the truth as God gave it, not as human minds have tried to deduce it. And we must be honest enough to admit that we have not upheld and lived that truth very well up to this point. Unless we humble our proud hearts and repent of our pride of opinion, we-this generation- can never receive the latter rain.

I am very fearful that over one hundred years after the 1888 rejection, we still have not learned the lessons God wanted us to learn from that experience. Our pride of opinion and pride of position seems to be as strong as it ever was in the days of Butler and Smith. On January 7, 1988, the Adventist Review published an 1888 commemorative edition. On page 21 was a guide to centennial events and materials. Within one and a half columns the word "celebration" occurred nine times. What are we celebrating? Normally we celebrate victories and great events. We celebrate those things which give us joy and which we would like to repeat. Is that what 1888 was all about? Did the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years celebrate Kadesh-barnea, where, because of disobedience, all but two were sentenced to die in the wilderness? Kadesh-barnea and 1888 are exactly the same thing. If we are to learn the first lesson from history, it is that we must be on our knees in repentance because of 1888. Our repentance is not primarily for the sins of a hundred years ago, but because we today are continuing in the same sins of stubbornness and pride, and we are delaying God's plan even more. As of yet, we have not repented. When we are genuinely sorry for our Laodicean satisfaction and pride, and our eyes see clearly what might have been, we will see radical changes in our personal lives and in our church. We will never be the same again.

Isn't there a tragic significance in the fact that in the commemorative edition of the Review there was not one recommendation to read the messages of Jones and Waggoner. Not one! In the November, 1984 edition of Ministry, this statement appeared: "In 1888 the direction of the Adventist Church took an upward turn at the Minneapolis Ministerial Pre-session. And the church has not been the same since. The 1985 Ministerial Council follows in the tradition of 1888." If we truly believe that our church took an upward turn in 1888, then we have not learned the first lesson from our history. How can we repent for something which we perceive as a great victory?

In a commemorative edition of Ministry (February, 1988) were the following observations:

The church has surely grown in size. There were fewer than 100 delegates to that [1888] General Conference session. Today delegations are so large we can no longer meet in a little church, but seek out the world's largest arenas for our General Conference sessions. In 1890 there were fewer than 30,000 Seventh-day Adventists in the world. Today there are more than 5 million. The church is praying that God will lead us into baptizing 2 million precious souls between 1985 and 1990, and I invite those who say the church is failing to become a part of that success. (p. 62)
This sounds exactly like the appeal in the 1952 Bible Conference, and exactly opposite to the appeals in the 1973 and 1974 Annual Councils. To focus on soulwinning and numerical growth is much more popular than to change our policies and practices from insubordination to obedience. When we really get serious about receiving the latter rain, we will not be talking about doubling our church membership. Our only concern will be the vindication of God's name in the great controversy with Satan. We will want to stop every accusation of Satan against God which he is able to use because of our personal and corporate disobedience. Our concern for God's vindication will take priority over our own desire to be saved. All that will matter to God's people is that Satan's reign on this planet will come to a speedy end. Whatever we do and say will have significance only as it contributes to that goal.

The solutions that are being suggested today for reversing the problems in the church have one thing in common with the attitudes of 1888. They are human methods based on human pride, with corresponding unwillingness to admit major mistakes. There is only one suggestion that has any hope of success, and that lies in the counsels of our church leaders in 1973 and 1974. They pointed the way as they called for character surrender, victory over sin, discontent with the progress of the church to date, and whatever "revolutionary changes" may be necessary to bring us back into full compliance with God's expressed will. These are serious and straightforward challenges, with no human pride getting in the way to protest how good we really are doing throughout the world. Our leaders asked us to be brutally honest with ourselves, and then let God take complete control for once.

It will not do much good for us to start pointing fingers at those who are doing wrong. We have plenty to take care of within our own spheres of influence. We have been content to let others do our thinking for us. We have been content with our affluence. We have been content with God's promises that He will bring the ship through to port. In so many ways we have kept God waiting. It is time for us to say, "How have I delayed your return? Lord, what do you want me to do? I repent of my careless, sleepy attitudes. I will sacrifice my personal pride of opinion to your will." Then righteousness by faith will change from a doctrine to a personal experience. Only then can we be sure that 1974 and onward to our day will not be another 1888 in the experience of God's people. These years that we are living in could be the most dismal failure in Adventist history or the most glorious success that we have ever known. It is possible that this generation can reverse the failures of one hundred years and prepare the way for our King to return in triumph. The decision lies squarely in our hands. What will it be?