Volume 16, Number 3
Will Our Church Survive?
Mark A. Finley
Speaker/Director, It Is Written
What is our churchs calling and its destiny? Will we fulfill them?
There is a subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle struggle raging for the soul of the Seventh-day Adventist church today. Serious questions are being raised.
Some members wonder why we exist at all. Is the Seventh-day Adventist church simply another denomination? Do we have a unique mission and message? Have we been raised up to perform a specific task? Le Roy Edwin Froom sums up these questions in his Movement of Destiny: "Just why are we here today, as an organized entity? Do we assuredly have an authorized and authentic commission from Goda mission and message assigned to us that command our respect and demand our all, for the fulfillment of which we are solemnly accountable to God?"1
Other members are asking questions of an opposite nature. They believe the Seventh-day Adventist Church was providentially raised up by God to accomplish a specific mission. But they believe that the church has compromised its integrity and apostatized from doctrinal purity. They are convinced that God has called them to leave the "organized church." They see themselves as part of a "remnant of the remnant"modern representatives of that select group of "faithful souls" who have constituted the church in every age. They define the church as "committed believers," not as an organized institution.
Lets candidly examine some of these issues together.
A Look at These Questions. Scripture uses a variety of symbols to describe Gods church. It is "the light of the world," "the body of Christ," the "bride of Christ" and the "flock of God."2 Christ is its Head,
its Husband, its Shepherd.
The embryo of the church was formed in Genesis. As sin widened the gap between Christs followers and the followers of the evil one, "Humanity began to divide into two categories, the sons of God and the sons of men."3 God established a group of people to preserve His name, His truth and His worship. "Though His special group receives different names in the Biblechosen people, people of God, Christian churchits main purpose remains the same."4 Gods people represent His loving, righteous character and communicate His message of truth to the rest of the world. They are His witnesses in the lives they live and the words they speak. Their lives of absolute trust, loving obedience and passionate commitment to truth reveal, to a watching world, His way of life. The church is Christs witness in the world.
Gods Purpose, Our Commission. Our church was providentially raised up by our Lord to accomplish His purpose. It is not a manmade, human entity. It is a divine institution established by God. Jesus stated, "I"not someone else"will build my church." Then He declared that no one will ever destroy it. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it"(Mt 16:18). All the powers of evil can never destroy the church Christ has founded.
Jesus Himself gave the commission to His early disciples. His words echo down the corridors of time: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19, 20 NIV).
That commission is just as relevant today as when Christ first spoke it. "The church is Gods appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. . . . The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, the final and full display of the love of God. Ephesians 3:10" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9).
Be sure to note that last statement! The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been raised up by God to "manifest . . . the final and full display of the love of God." Seventh-day Adventists are not just another denomination. Our doctrinal understanding reveals depths of Gods love and unique aspects of His character that are often misunderstood by fellow Christians who embrace doctrinal errors. What are doctrines, anyway? They are objective statements about the character of God.
Our Doctrines. Recently I discussed the concept of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a people called out by God to accomplish a special mission with someone who felt I was quite "narrow" in my thinking. Their understanding was that Seventh-day Adventists are no more called by God than any other denomination. This individual, although an Adventist, sees the Adventist church as merely part of the larger people of God, the Christian church.
This persons understanding of our mission is that we should convert secular people or the unchurched to Christ, and nothing more. I detected nervousness when I mentioned the concepts of the remnant, the true church, the three angels messages, the mark of the beast and the fall of Babylon.
During our discussion I asked, "Is it possible for a church to fully reveal the loving character of God if at the same time it teaches the doctrine of eternal torment in an ever-burning hell?" Does a persons concept of hell say anything about their concept of God?
I also asked my friend, "What about the doctrine of the immortal soul as opposed to the concept of physical, mental and spiritual wholeness?" The Greek philosophers separated the soul from the body. This had a dramatic impact on their ideas about life and death, and I wanted to know how my friend saw these things.
The Sabbath. As our discussion continued, I pointed out that one reason the Sabbath is important is that it leads us back to our roots. It speaks of the God who made us, our loving Creator. It is a weekly reminder that we are more than skin covering bone; we are the creation of a loving God who cares for us intimately.
The Sabbath connects us in a unique way to the cross, for it is a symbol of rest, not works.
I suggested to him that, rightly understood, the Sabbath is a symbol of righteousness by faith. Each Sabbath as we rest from our works we trust in the completed work of Christ. We cease from our labors to save ourselves and trust in Jesus finished work at Calvary.
To accept Sundaya manmade substituteis to accept a day that man, not God, has decreed for worship. In a sense, this leads subtly to trusting a human workthe change of Gods dayrather than by faith accepting a divine command.
In the great controversy being waged in the universe between good and evil, the Sabbath anchors us in our loving Creator. It leads us, by faith, to rest in His grace, and it reminds us of the day when God will create a new heaven and a new earth.
Each doctrine of Scripture, rightly understood, reveals another facet of Gods loving character. God raised up the Seventh-day Adventist church to portray fully the magnificence of His character.
Our Picture of God. It is not possible to understand the depth of the divine character fully and at the same time embrace the doctrinal errors of modern Christendom. I am not implying that doctrine saves anyone. There are millions of committed Christians who have embraced some doctrinal errors but who have accepted Christs death on the cross and will be saved. The gift of salvation is theirs.
But, sadly, they do not have a complete picture of God. Their distorted view often leaves major gaps in their understanding. Many of these sincere Christians are groping, seeking to find answers, longing to understand the significance of the great controversy between good and evil.
As Seventh-day Adventists, God has raised us up for this hour. We have a message for both the churched and the unchurched. We have been called of God, brought into existence at this time, to preach the "eternal gospel . . . to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev 14:6). Ours is a special message for a special time, with a special calling. Ours is to proclaim the fullness of the truth about God in the final moments of earths history, to prepare a people for the coming of Jesus.
"We are not here to primarily build churches, schools, medical institutions, dispensaries, publishing houses, conference headquartersexcept as they are the means to the one end of saving souls. All material thingscorporeal, mundane, earthly thingswill be consumed at the Second Advent, irrespective of their purpose and use. Redeemed souls alone will leap the abyss separating time from eternitymarked off by the Second Adventand abide forever."5
Organization. Some people ask, "What do you mean by the church?" They presume Gods church has no organization. They assert it consists of "faithful believers" who must meet in house groups because of the apostasy of the larger body.
W. D. Frazee dealt with this erroneous idea in a sermon he titled, "The Church Our Mother."6 Frazee agreed that faithful souls constitute the church. He showed that Ellen White expresses agreement with this view in The Acts of the Apostles, page 11. But, he pointed out, there is nothing in her statement to support the idea that Gods true people must be unorganized or disorganized in order to constitute the true church. As that thrilling hymn says, "Like a mighty army moves the church of God."7 Gods church is not a disorganized mob; it is a well-organized body. And, concerning the remnant who receive the latter rain and go forward to give the loud cry, Ellen White wrote, "They moved in exact order, like a company of soldiers" (Early Writings, p. 271).
Elder Frazee quoted two powerful statements from Ellen White: "Oh, how Satan would rejoice if he could succeed in his efforts to get in among this people and disorganize the work at a time when thorough organization is essential and will be the greatest power to keep out spurious uprisings and to refute claims not endorsed by the Word of God" (Testimonies for the Church, 9:257, 258).
A little further on in this same section the prophet declared, "Some have advanced the thought that, as we near the close of time, every child of God will act independently of any religious organization. But I have been instructed by the Lord that in this work there is no such thing as every mans being independent" (ibid., p. 258). The Seventh-day Adventist Church "is not to be disorganized or broken up into independent atoms. There is not the least . . . evidence that such a thing will be" (Selected Messages, 2:68, 69). "Nothing else in this world is so dear to God as His church" (Testimonies for the Church, 7:242). "The Majesty of heaven has . . . the concerns of His church, in His own charge" (ibid., 5:753).
"God has not passed His people by and chosen one solitary man here and another there as the only ones worthy to be entrusted with His truth" (ibid., 5:291).
Our Destiny Still Unfulfilled. Many thoughtful Seventh-day Adventist leaders and lay people openly acknowledge that the church has not yet fulfilled its destiny. In spite of its marvelous triumphs, its rapid growth, its worldwide influence, its extensive educational and medical institutions, it does not yet fully reflect the character of our Lord.
In 1935 Elder C. H. Watson, at that time president of the General Conference, wrote, "There is setting in on this people a tide of worldliness to which we are surrendering."8
Elder J. L. McElhaney, who followed Elder Watson as president of the General Conference, gave expression to his deep concern over worldly trends in the church in these words: "Our greatest danger today is the attitude taken by so many of our people of accepting with apparent satisfaction their present low spiritual condition, and not being very much concerned about it. . . . The time has come for a thorough reformation to take place. . . . There has come into the church a listlessness, a carelessness that is deplorable."9
Ellen White concurs with the observation of these two godly leaders. "God calls for a spiritual revival and a spiritual reformation. Unless this takes place, those who are lukewarm will continue to grow more abhorrent to the Lord, until He will refuse to acknowledge them as His children. A revival and a reformation must take place, under the ministration of the Holy Spirit" (Review and Herald, Feb. 25, 1902).
Will this revival occur within the Adventist church today? Will there be a thorough reformation? Or, on the other hand, will God eventually refuse to call us His children? Will the church which calls people out of Babylon become a part of Babylon?
The promises of Scripture clearly teach that Gods church will be revived, not discarded. Revelation 18:1 describes a time when the earth will be lightened with the glory of God. Gods glory is His character. (See Ex 33:18, 19.)
According to Song of Solomon 6:10, our God will appear as glorious as the morning, radiant with the magnificence of His character: "Fair as the moon, clear as the sun and awesome as an army with banners" (NKJV).
The apostle Paul affirms this truth in Ephesians 5:25-27: "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
God will not fail His people. His promises will be fulfilled in His church. For, as "enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 12).
"The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out" (Selected Messages, 2:380).
God has a church on earth who are uplifting the downtrodden law, and presenting to the people the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The church is the depository of the wealth of the riches of the grace of Christ, and through the church eventually will be manifested the final and full display of Gods love. The world will be lightened with its glory. The prayer of Christ, that His church might be one with Him as He is one with His Father, will finally be answered. Take time to read Testimonies to Ministers, pages 32-62, and notice that the prophet of God unequivocally denies that the Seventh-day Adventist Church ever was, is now, or ever will be Babylon. Her statements are too plain to be misunderstood.
"For years I have borne my testimony to the effect that when any arise claiming to have great light, and yet advocating the tearing down of that which the Lord through His human agents has been building up, they are greatly deceived, and are not working along the lines where Christ is working. Those who assert that the Seventh-day Adventist churches constitute Babylon, or any part of Babylon, might better stay at home" (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 36, 37).
Victory Assured! Gods church will fulfill its destiny.
It will complete its mission.
It will accomplish its purpose.
A revived church with members filled with the Holy Spirit will carry the gospel to the world. The promised latter rain will fall from heaven on a praying church. The wind of the Spirit will blow. Sins will be confessed. The chains of evil habits will be severed. The spell of worldliness will be broken. The hypnotic enchantment of earthly pleasure will be replaced by the pure joy of sharing Christ with the lost.
"Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. . . . The message will be carried not so much by argument as by the deep conviction of the Spirit of God" (The Great Controversy, p. 612).
The work of God on earth will be finished.
Gods purpose will triumph.
His church will be victorious!
Along with you, I long for that day. Would you like to commit yourself to Jesus to be part of His glorious, triumphant church in earths final hours?
1 Le Roy Edwin Froom, Movement of Destiny (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1971), p. 629.
2 Mt 5:14; 1 Cor 12:12, 13; Eph 5:27; Ezek 34:29-31.
3 Fernando Chaij, The Impending Drama (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1979), p. 15.
5 Froom, Movement of Destiny, p. 654.
6 W. D. Frazee, "The Church Our Mother," ADVENTISTS AFFIRM 7/1 (Spring 1993), pp. 18-25.
7 Sabine Baring-Gould, "Onward, Christian Soldiers," No. 612 in Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.
8 C. H. Watson, "Separation from the World," Review and Herald, Nov. 21, 1935, p. 6.
9 J. L. McElhany, "Dangers Threatening the Church," Review and Herald, Dec. 3, 1936, p. 4.
1 Le Roy Edwin Froom, Movement of Destiny (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1971), p. 629.