|WHEN WILL WE SEE OUR CONFUSION?
The dialogue that our church leaders conducted with the Evangelicals in the 1950s seems to have a parallel in sacred history that reads like a solemn parable. In the days of King Hezekiah, "princes of Babylon" who were wise in the study of astronomy saw the shadow on the sundial turned back ten degrees. They marveled. The news was soon out that this miracle was the result of King Hezekiah's prayer to the God of Judah for a stay of death. Not only was he healed and promised fifteen additional years of life, heaven confirmed the blessing by a token that astonished the scientists of the day.
The circumstances forced mighty men of the world who knew the movements of the sun to visit this king of tiny Judah who had recovered so miraculously. Ambassadors from Babylon came to King Hezekiah to congratulate him on his recovery and to learn about his God who had performed such a wonder.
Here was an opportunity for the king to tell the notables from Babylon about the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. This would be a test of his gratitude and a display of his appreciation of the truth God gave to His people. The record says: "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart" (2 Chronicles 32:31).
Hezekiah was "taken in" by these emissaries. With his heart lifted up in pride, his desire to be accepted in the society of worldly men overcame him. Those who worshiped the sun, moon, and stars, and knew not the true God of heaven, became his confidantes. He was ashamed of the message which God had entrusted to Israel. In his pride he showed them what he thought they wanted to see—the silver and gold and material riches God had placed in the hands of His people. The vast wealth of the sanctuary vessels forged and shaped to minister truth, was degraded to the values of Babylon. The utensils dedicated to the service of the Creator eventually became vessels to hold wine on the tables of Babylon. The value and sustaining power of the oracles of God that had been committed into Israel's hands were depreciated and despised. Such compromise eventually brought destruction and ruin to the sanctuary.
Had Hezekiah improved his opportunity to witness to the power and glory of the truth entrusted to Israel (which was the gospel!), light would have been shed abroad among the heathen. Instead, the concepts of Babylon became the norm for God's people. The evil seed that was sown sprang up later and yielded a harvest of desolation. Hezekiah's sin was to bring wrath upon Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:25).
Our reception of the emissaries from evangelical churches in the 1950s led us to show them things we considered they would appreciate and wanted to see. It was not wrong to "receive" them. What was wrong was that we hid from them the "third angel's message in verity," the "most precious message" which the Lord sent us. We spread before them a confusion of the message God gave to us. To this day we insist we said the right thing. Yet we now have changed what we told them, but again we haven't really changed. Our confusion of face is only multiplied.
Unlike Hezekiah, we have neither repented nor acknowledged our sin. "Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah" (2 Chronicles 32:26). From the king and the leadership of the nation to the lowliest inhabitants in Jerusalem there was remorse and repentance for the breach of trust. But the evil seed had been sown and in time it would yield a harvest of desolation and woe.
God Had a Plan
The visit of the princes of Babylon to King Hezekiah was not without purpose. The record states plainly that God had a plan; He wanted "to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart" (2 Chronicles 32:31). Hezekiah did not know his own heart. If he had died in his sickness instead of having fifteen years added to his life, the sorry experience with the princes of Babylon would never have taken place. Unknown to him there were dark recesses in his mind that needed exposure.
Has the experience of the remnant church with the emissaries of the evangelical world been different? We thought we would make an impression on them. We hoped we would be accepted, or, in the words of Christianity Today, be considered "an essentially orthodox Christian body" though a bit unusual. But our Evangelical critics are not satisfied with what happened in the 1950s and they suggest we are now moving in the wrong direction. Likewise many of our membership are not satisfied in the light of what Scripture says. They consider that we are leaving the "landmarks," in fact they are sure of this. What does the record say? Did we fail like Hezekiah and thwart God's plan?
Has Our Identity Been Forfeited?
The Evangelicals have measured carefully the confusion we have brought upon ourselves. They know when and how our problems started. They are acquainted with early Adventist history and how the pioneers studied and went forward with the conviction that they were a "remnant people" with a unique truth. This was no secret when the Evangelicals came to us in the 1950s, but they scorned the idea. They plainly proclaim that we are "experiencing an identity crisis," and that this is in "direct contrast to the confidence of Adventism's pioneers." They would have us and the world to understand—
There is not a shadow of uncertainty in the words they use to make their appraisal of us. They go even further and suggest that there is a reason for our liberalism that searches for "theological and cultural respectability." They assess our divergence from the past as the fruit of graduate degrees. They explain how this came about. They comment in this journal and tell the world:
Unfortunately history supports what they say. We have forfeited our identity. We have been robbed of our distinctiveness and seem willing to be merely a church among churches. We have denied our reason to exist, but this is not unique to us. Our spiritual forefathers, the children of Abraham in a former generation, became entangled in the same mistake.
More than half a century ago a bloodson of Abraham, who was a Seventhday Adventist minister, warned the leadership of our church. Elder F. C. Gilbert, in December 1933, published an article in The Ministry that has turned out to be a prophecy. His article explained, "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus as the Messiah." His research and account of Hebrew rationalization display an astonishing picture of what has happened to us during the past six decades.
He points out that the world may wonder why the Jewish nation rejected Jesus when the Scriptures are filled with prediction, type, and prophecy regarding His advent. Why did the seed of Abraham, the Sanhedrin refuse the Messiah? In sad detail he explains: "It seems wellnigh inexplicable for some to harmonize the rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees while they were recognized as the leaders who sat in Moses' seat." As he unfolds their history the reasons become clear.
After Alexander the Great worshiped in the temple at Jerusalem, a spirit of friendliness developed between the Greeks and the Jews. "Greece assured the Jews that they desired to be their friends and benefactors. They were desirous of learning more of the God of the Hebrews." And so the Greeks suggested that talented young Jewish men go to Alexandria for training and instruction in the philosophies, sciences and learning of the Greeks. But many elders of Israel feared the results while they counseled against the plan. They cautioned it would be ruinous to the future of the Jewish race. But the advice of Greece prevailed and the stage was set to reject the "son of David, the son of Abraham." The account reads like a sorrowful funeral oration:
Elder Gilbert could not know that his article was a forecast of our times. He closed his significant review of Jewish history by reporting: "The leaders of Israel had, to a great extent, yielded to the demands of the Greek culture and learning, thereby hoping to gain prestige and influence. They had been led to believe that they could make better progress in their Godgiven task by assimilating worldly standards of education than by clinging with tenacity to the old standards bequeathed to them by their godly ancestors." The world knows the result: They rejected the true Christ when He came!
All this is in the Adventist archives, but the proof of what the Evangelicals say about us can be found easily without research in our current publications. Once we grasp the issues, the quandary we face will be clear. The question is: Who is this "Christ" that all popular Christianity professes to follow? There is only one true Christ portrayed in the Bible although it clearly teaches there is a false christ.
Different dimensions for the "chief corner stone" are impossible. There can be only one foundation for the building erected to be a holy temple unto the Lord, and a habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:2022). The remnant church cannot build a "holy temple" following more than one architectural plan.
The Building Plan Is Blurred
Sacred history tells us that the early church received the blessing of the Holy Spirit when "they were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1). This history informs us that the church in the endtime will demonstrate a character and unity that are outstanding. It will be "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing … holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). The members of this last church will speak with one voice, and experience genuine unity. "In their mouth [is] found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God" (Revelation 14:5). There is good reason for our church to inquire why such a standard has not been realized before now. We need to seek this unity as soon as possible.
It was with this goal in mind that we made an attempt for unity early in 1990. In several January and February issues of the Adventist Review, mentioned in chapter one, a plan was set before the world church in a sixpart series of articles, entitled, "Model or Substitute, Does It Matter How We See Jesus?" The lead article, "Pressing Together," stated the purpose as "a call to unity." But its instructions to the church membership are blurred and leave in question how to achieve this oneness. The dimensions of the "corner stone" are uncertain, so that those who would build in harmony with the "call to unity" are in confusion. They do not know how to go about their assignment. Until we reach a decision about the "corner stone" and know if it is really the one and only, the uncertainty of the "Appeal" document must stand.
This means that church members who "hold certain positions on the human nature of Christ" may be considered "divisive." Consequently "there can be no strong unity within the world church of God's remnant people. … [Therefore] these topics need to be laid aside and not urged upon our people as necessary issues."2 But the condemned "divisive" view is the view expressed in Hebrews 2:17: "Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren ... to make reconciliation." The only unity possible is that based on Bible truth.
How can the Adventist conscience lay aside the "chief corner stone" and hope to build a glorious church, holy and without blemish? How can church members be silent when the Adventist Review, premier press medium of the church, presents one of the most confusing series of articles ever to appear in a denominational publication?
It was represented that these articles were to examine the nature of Christ, but the real issue is sin. What is it, and are perfection of character and sinless living possible? The Augustinian view proclaims that a person is a sinner by nature at birth, already condemned and so commits acts of sin unavoidably and inevitably. It sets the stage for no possibility of sinless living so long as we have this fallen sinful nature, despite many inspired statements to the contrary. This is not the theology of Scripture.
One such beautiful assurance among hundreds that run counter to the theme of the articles, is this one not quoted often:
The little word "too" used here carries tremendous weight. It tells us that our victory over sin can be as complete as Christ's victory. Assurance is given in these three sentences that Jesus was tempted, that He resisted the temptation, that He overcame the temptation, and that "we too" may do the same through genuine faith in Him.
Because many Evangelicals have imbibed Augustine's theology, it is impossible for them to agree that Christ took fallen human nature and overcame sin in that nature. But these are the concepts that color the entire series of Review articles. Instead of accepting the straightforward counsel of Inspiration, there is confusion about the effects of sin and sin itself. The idea promoted is that sin occurs automatically at birth, rather than when the mind chooses to harbor sinful thoughts. The articles go into involved polemics, and while not accepting the dogma of the "immaculate conception," which obviously is heresy, replace this dogma by a new concept called "miraculous conception." It is true Jesus was miraculously begotten of the Holy Spirit; what is not true is the assumption that His virgin birth gave Him virtually holy flesh, different than our fallen, sinful flesh.
Among the many ambiguous and illogical thoughts presented, this series of six articles tells the Seventhday Adventist church:
The key word is "experience." It is true Christ never "experienced" sin. No Seventhday Adventist who believes the 1888 message of Christ's righteousness has ever implied such in the least. But He did experience our temptations to sin, yet without ever in the least yielding. Through subtle distortion, the articles seek to cast contempt on a truth which the Lord "sent" to Seventhday Adventists.
Adventist church members who appreciate the "most precious message" of 1888 will recognize the confusion promoted in these six articles. Besides the stated irregularities, there is an undercurrent of inference and innuendo to support preFall "exempt" ideas of Jesus' nature. Superficially these may appear harmless, but they were fathered by Augustine and are the essence of the "spirit of antichrist."
The Building Material Is Defective
The church that is to be built in the endtime is to stand throughout eternity as a monument to the power of the gospel. It will be that corporate body Abraham could see by faith and is described as "a glorious church … holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). This can mean only one thing; the material that goes into this structure must be without fault. In the words of Peter, this spiritual house will be built so that the "stone" once rejected would become the "chief corner stone." Other "lively stones" must be joined with it to make a "holy nation, a peculiar people … called … out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:59).
This people must "know" the "stone" and being built together with Him must be like Him and see Him as He is at His return (1 John 3:2). They must not be deceived by any counterfeit or false prophet. They must "know" the Spirit of God that confesses that Jesus came "in the flesh," and not be ensnared by the spirit of antichrist that denies He came in the flesh (1 John 4:13).
A grave parable confronts us today. As our spiritual forefathers "disallowed" and cast aside the "chief corner stone," so their house was left unto them "desolate." The foundation which the Lord wanted His people to build upon became the "stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence" (Matthew 23:38; 1 Peter 2:48).
There is no possible way for God's endtime people to be "lively stones" built into a "spiritual house," as long as they try to use two corner stones. The "offense" taken at the biblical account of the Christ who was "made like unto his brethren" continues to be a "stumbling block." Present solemn reality suggests that the ancient rejection of the "chief corner stone" finds a parallel today in the church as many deny that the Word was made "flesh." A correct understanding of the atonement and the worth of the gospel is impossible without comprehending the human nature taken by the true Christ.
The awful truth is that this series of articles in the Adventist Review denies that Jesus Christ came "in the flesh." Consider only a few points:
The plan of salvation had to employ methods connected to reality! This eliminates a Saviour who was exempt from anything. If Christ's victory was because He was separated from us in any way and did not partake fully of human nature, then His experience is one that we cannot share. His call to us to take up His cross is unfair. His declaration of conflict with His own will is meaningless and deceptive. (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
Because Christ's testimony is irrefutable, a mystical theory is designed called an experience of "equivalency in intensity." This is supposed to absolve Him from "urgings of sinful humans." But temptation in no way implies sinning. Temptation is not sin. The evidence and proof of this is found in Christ's three temptations in the wilderness. The first was from physical hungering. The second was to break His faith and confidence. "Satan flattered himself that he could take advantage of the humanity of Christ to urge him over the line of trust to presumption.'"4 The temptations were severe in the extreme, but clearly Satan failed.
The third temptation would be the most severe and decide the destiny of Satan and determine "who should be victor." "This last temptation was the most alluring of the three. … The eye of Jesus for a moment rested upon the glory presented before him; but he turned away and refused to look upon the entrancing spectacle. He would not endanger his steadfast integrity by dallying with the tempter."5 The whole experience in the wilderness proved that our human nature need not be overcome as Adam's had been. It proved that no matter what the tactics of Satan might be, or which avenue of the soul he might try to use, temptation could not lead to sin if the tempted one refuses to dally with temptation thus choosing not to yield.
By refusing to yield to temptation, Christ sealed the principle of the cross that had been established "from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). As He left His power and glory in heaven and came to this world in the "flesh," He confirmed forever that there is power in the cross for anyone who will take it up as He did. In the cross is found the cure for all egocentric exaltation. The cross provides the reason Jesus could invite His disciples to follow Him. This is the road to victory that He took and that the redeemed will follow here and hereafter (Revelation 14:4).
This road of victory over sin was not traveled by Christ alone. It is the way of the cross which He and His people are to travel together. This is made clear by Paul when he exclaimed: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). His battles are our battles. His victories are our victories. The human will of Christ was tempted by self as we are. The magnitude of this mutual conflict is brought to the church by the Lord in powerful enabling words of encouragement:
With positive counsel of this magnitude, why should anyone suggest that His temptations were not like ours ? Why does the human heart want to exile Christ to a different realm of experience that is foreign to humanity? Could this grow out of an unconscious desire to find an excuse for sinning? For the encouragement of the remnant church, this warped understanding of the nature of Christ is not universal.
Not All Adventists Are Confused
Some church members were not willing to accept the defective ideas offered in these articles as the method to build unity. Powerful comments were published opposing the sixarticle series, as evidenced in "Letters" to the Review editor, April 5, 1990. There is no way for readers to know how many letters came in, but of the eight that were published, seven were aghast at the theology presented. Strong reactions were put into words such as these:
Evidently letters from readers were numerous enough and had such a tone that they could not be ignored. The Review of April 26, printed another seven letters, four strongly opposed to the articles. The objections point out various fallacies presented. Here are some further reactions:
Because adverse reaction from readers was so emphatic, there was published with the first batch of letters a comment from Review editors in the April 5 issue. The notice indicated that a threepart editorial series was already being published "designed to deal specifically with the concerns expressed in the foregoing letters." The series was published in the issues of March 29, April 19, and April 26. Just how this came about is difficult to understand for the previous series had created consternation enough among church members. The new series brought only further confusion. However, no letters of reaction were published later, and subscribers cannot know what the readers said. But the content of the articles is blatant enough.
Was Jesus "like Adam or like us?" The biblical answer was discussed briefly in the first chapter of this book. But the articles further tell us that "the incarnate Christ was neither just like Adam before the Fall, nor just like us. He was unique."
And so He was "unique," but not in the way the articles suggest. With subtle inference Ellen White is made to speak two ways on this subject. Thus the church is told that when theologians talk about "original sin," "some Adventists have denigrated it without careful analysis of its meaning." This suggests that Augustine's teaching can be accepted. The resultant theory is that it is impossible for people in sinful flesh to overcome sin truly. This emphasizes the heresy that Jesus was exempt from the temptations that assail humanity.
This teaching presents the church with a serious problem. Should Augustine's teaching of "original sin" be incorporated into Adventist beliefs because Evangelicals accept it? If not, the "original sin" theory is far more than something that is "not an altogether happy expression." It is heresy from Babylon. It sets up a false proposition by confusing the effects of sin with sin itself and thus a chain of erroneous conclusions is the result. The weakest link in this chain proposes that a fallen nature is sin and thus men and women are unable to obey the law.
This demands that Christ came into this world without really being "made like unto his brethren." Whether we call His birth "immaculate" or "miraculous conception," the result is the same. He is thus placed outside the true stream of humanity and cannot be what the Scriptures proclaim: "Made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3). To accept Augustine's proposal is to support the idea given to the church that "Jesus could not experience the inner sinful urgings of sinful humans."7 This means the Scripture is incorrect in stating that our High Priest "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).8
It is a theory that logically nullifies the 2300day prophecy and rejects the sanctuary teaching. There is no way for the sanctuary to be cleansed if God's people are doomed to perpetual sinning until the Lord comes. It denies that our "sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). It makes the Day of Atonement a hollow ritual without the practical result of sin being taken outside the camp. It prohibits the Lamb of God from taking away the sin of the world, for if the Saviour does not save from sin, He is not a Saviour and the angel spoke a lie in proclaiming that "he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
The Augustinian view of sin may have a long tradition in Christian history, but it is a teaching that cannot be harmonized with the three angels' messages.
This drama of confusion cannot bring unity. The debate about the nature of Christ, and the growing confusion in our church today will only increase until the 1888 truth is understood correctly. Only wheat is fit for the garner and it is wheat that must be harvested in the end. There is a terrible responsibility resting upon every sabbathkeeper to know that Jesus was "made like unto His brethren" and yet He overcame perfectly, even as He calls us to overcome.
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