Our Church in the Very End Time

Donald K. Short

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over ... all the earth. ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden. ... And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. ... Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field ... and he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit. ... But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it ... lest ye die. And the serpent said ... Ye shall not surely die" (Gen. 1:26, 27, 2:15-17; 3:1-4).

"And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, ... God saw that the wickedness of man was great ... and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast ... for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:1,5-8).

And so the days of Noah came and went. They had been bad days, so bad that the Lord repented of what He had done. But He could not give up. True love never gives up! And so He found Abraham.

"The Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation ... in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:1-3).

The Lord wanted to build a church, an ekklesia that was called out from Babylon, from Ur of the Chaldees. An ekklesia that was not bound to country, kindred, houses, land, father, mother, husband or wife, an ekklesia that would be a body of citizens, saints if you please, that would be concerned with the affairs of God's government, with eternal truth. This would be a corporate body, an ekklesia that Jesus Himself would build, and He said the "gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

When Jesus speaks we should be willing to listen. What He said to His disciples, He says to us. There is no hidden meaning: "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This same Jesus, the True Witness has spoken down through history to the seven churches from the infant Ephesus to the last church on the scene, our church, the church of Laodicea. Though spanning all history from the cross to the second coming and having seven names for various places and eras, yet it is one church, one corporate body, built by Jesus. Surely He must long to have that building completed. Until this temple is finished, the reign of sin must continue.

The fact that the church at this date in history is still incomplete, still being built, must be understood as the result of her own choice. Counsel from heaven makes it clear:

"Had Adventists, after the great disappointment in 1844, held fast their faith, and followed unitedly in the opening providence of God, receiving the message of the third angel and in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming it to the world, they would have seen the salvation of God, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts, the work would have been completed, and Christ would have come ere this to receive His people to their reward. ... For forty years did unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. In neither case were the promises of God at fault. It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration, and strife among the Lord's professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years" (1SM 68, 69).

And so the end is near. It has been for over a century. Will "the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration, and strife among the Lord's professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years" continue to hold us for another hundred years or longer? Is modern Israel doomed to cling to the same "unbelief" that plagued ancient Israel? It need not be so. Once the enmity of the human heart against God had been displayed at the cross, our High Priest could proceed to carry out the plan that would eventually free the universe from sin. It would take some time. The seven churches over the centuries needed to develop a mature understanding of what the High Priest must accomplish.

Finally the seventh church would have to understand the difference between forgiveness of sins and the blotting out of sins. In the end a church would have to be built that was not merely prepared to die, but a church prepared to live without ever seeing death; a church built by Jesus against which Satan and all of his angels could not prevail; a church ready for translation. The books of heaven will continue to "record the sins that would have been committed had there been opportunity" until such time as they are blotted out (5BC 1085; ST July 31, 1901). This involves the work of the High Priest in the final atonement. This involves Laodicea in Christ's last great call for the repentance of the ages. From the garden of Eden to the final hours of Laodicea, the Lord has only asked for repentance. But the responsibility of Laodicea is the greatest in all history. She can see even more than Paul saw. She can truly appreciate that everything that has happened down through the ages is "written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Cor. 10:11).

Laodicea lives in the hour to which all the prophets of old looked. This is the hour when the High Priest is to accomplish through the Holy Spirit a work never before seen in the universe. All creation is party to this final work. This is the day when the Lord says:

"I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn" (Zech. 12:10).

Is there really a need for time to go on decade after decade? Long before now the church should have been out of the stream of time and into eternity.

At this date it is clear that the Advent Movement has not made progress consistent with its prophetic destiny. The fact that the world has not as yet been stirred by the threefold message of Revelation 14 is evidence enough. Only 65 to 70 percent of all Americans have ever heard or read about our church as a church, let alone hearing the message the church has. What the public likes best or least about the church will not count for much when persecution comes upon us. Perhaps more significantly, public opinion will not have anything to do with that other angel that comes down "from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory" (Rev. 18:1). Furthermore his cry that "Babylon the great is fallen, ... and is become the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit," will hardly enhance our public image.

The conviction is deepening in the church that the long delay is assuming vexing proportions. A Review article put it this way: "Adventism has been talking about Jesus' soon coming for more than 140 years. After this time, it is not clear what soon means. The prophetic time periods and 'signs' plausible in the mid-1800s don't seem to matter much to them [our young people] in the late 1900s."

Growing out of this is an ever greater concern to find some program that will prove effective and vindicate the movement before the world. This serious search for answers produces an ever larger array of plans and adjustments in organization. Our "Harvests" have come and gone. When the figures are all added up we will be compelled to ask ourselves if these supplied the church with what it really needed. It was the "church's most aggressive evangelistic plan ever." One had an aim "to double the number of members equipped for soul-winning activities, and to add 2 million members." The budget required millions of dollars. What is the bottom line?

In North America for every 10 people who join the church, almost half simply disappear. When death is considered, it means that for every ten steps forward the church takes, it slides back over six steps. Surely this cannot be the fulfillment of our destiny.

We must ask ourselves if the number of members on our church books is relevant to the work of the High Priest in the final atonement. Are these many thousands of new members the result of understanding Revelation 14 and knowing the terrible conflict that awaits God's remnant church? Will more members contribute to the repentance and contrition required on the great day of final atonement—the cleansing of the sanctuary? Do Seventh-day Adventists really believe that the second coming of Christ is contingent upon an ever larger membership? If current promotional material is being read correctly it appears this is our chief reason for existing. Shall we begin making plans for the year 3000? It cannot be so. The patience of the Lord must be vindicated. Our calling is infinitely higher than these man-made plans.

Anyone who has a mailbox knows that there is a flood of printed material pouring over the Adventist church all around the world. A quick count tells us that between 25 and 30 independent publications are going to our people. Not all of it is wild fanaticism by any means. A considerable amount stems from honest, dedicated church members who are gravely perplexed about trends they see in the church. Many of them are the kind of people who would say "amen" to areas of real concern. There are personal challenges and needs as well as corporate church problems. The difficulty is that when we begin listing problems, "sins" if you please, it would take a book the size of the New York telephone directory to contain them all. And then we would forget some. No, whatever merit this may have, there is something beyond all this.

The individuals or groups who are sending out their viewpoints are not all cranks. They see something in the Seventh-day Adventist Church that calls for solemn serious consideration. Some of them would arouse the church with long quotations from Ellen White. Others would have us believe we haven't understood correctly the prophecies and so they produce involved treatises requiring great concentration to understand and follow—if they can be followed. Others are vindictive and condemn the leadership in scathing terms, which are uncouth and indecent. Still others tell us the brethren have pushed the church over the cliff—there is no hope, "so," they say, "send your tithes and offerings to us, we will finish the work."

A careful, prayerful appraisal of all this tells us that too often there is a spiritual arrogance displayed that is wholly at variance with a correct understanding of the Lord's call to Laodicea. This we must pursue further.

Our conscience dictates that in the day of judgment God cannot lower His expectations for His people and vindicate an unfaithful church. This would imply that His standards were too high all along and Lucifer was right from the beginning. This would be defeat for God. This would show that Jesus was not able to build the church and the gates of hell had prevailed. We have already referred to one of many statements of Ellen White indicating the plan of salvation could have been completed before now; God's cause could have been victorious.

Suppose God's people never do get ready because they cannot or because they will not. If they could have been ready and the first resurrection could have taken place before now, what will eventually precipitate this victory for God? Without it Abraham looked in vain for "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10). We must understand that this city is a victorious community of his spiritual descendants who attain to maturity of Christian experience and faith. This is a corporate body made after the divine similitude. The universe waits to see this victorious community while Abraham sleeps in his grave and all humanity wallows in the misery and woe of sin. Surely the time has come to put our best efforts to understanding what the real problem is. Whatever all these independent publications may say, whatever our official publications may say, whatever the pastor of your church may say, there comes a time when each one of us must measure carefully just what being a church member really means—what is it all about? Is our message valid?

It should be clear that if the first resurrection could have taken place before now had Adventists fulfilled their calling, then from that point onward Adventists are responsible for the continued reign of sin. Inherent in this must be the understanding that our church has a special place to fill and is not merely a church among many churches. The Lord confirms this with ample specific counsel. Among many there is this one:

"I am instructed to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over, God has called us as a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time" (2SM 397; Letter 54, January 21,1908).

Notwithstanding our unique place in end-time history, we also face unique pressures and dangers. It is not very likely that the Methodists, the Baptists, or any of the other popular evangelical churches face having their basic doctrines corrupted, as we have been warned about. Here is a sample:

"We are God's commandment-keeping people. For the past fifty years every phase of heresy has been brought to bear upon us, to becloud our minds regarding the teaching of the Word— especially concerning the ministration of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, and the message of Heaven for these last days, as given by the angels of the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. Messages of every order and kind have been urged upon Seventh-day Adventists, to take the place of the truth which, point by point, has been sought out by prayerful study, and testified to by the miracle-working power of the Lord. But the waymarks which have made us what we are, are to be preserved, and they will be preserved, as God has signified through His Word and the testimony of His Spirit. He calls upon us to hold firmly, with the grip of faith, to the fundamental principles that are based upon unquestionable authority" (1SM 208; 1904).

So we are a people—"God's commandment-keeping people." We are being weighed in the "balances of the sanctuary," and are called to have an experience corresponding to the advantages bestowed upon us. We will be judged by the light we have been given (8T 247). We are warned: "Many will depart from the faith giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils" (8T 249).

As the True Witness measures our situation we have this appraisal: "The heavenly Teacher inquired: 'What stronger delusion can beguile the mind than the pretense that you are building on the right foundation, and that God accepts your works, when in reality you are working out many things according to worldly policy, and are sinning against Jehovah? O, it is a great deception, a fascinating delusion, that takes possession of minds when men who have once known the truth, mistake the form of godliness for the spirit and power thereof; when they suppose that they are rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing, while in reality they are in need of everything*" (8T 249, 250).

Vast amounts of this kind of counsel and exhortation could be paraded before our people. Thousands of pages have been in our hands for decades. But what will bring into focus our real situation which has eluded us for generations? We put many of our eggs into our "Harvest" baskets. One Review editorial proclaimed, "our barns will overflow with the bounty of Harvest 90." We cherish the same hope today. In all candor we must acknowledge that any significant increase we have in membership is found in third-world countries. But other denominations are having the same kind of results in these countries. Experience has shown our treasury department that the greater this third-world membership becomes in some areas, the greater the demands and burden on the home church. This defies the gospel principle which requires that every branch bear fruit. Furthermore simply having a numeric increase will do nothing but make thousands more Laodiceans. This cannot be the answer. The reign of sin is far too deeply entrenched for an ever larger membership to conquer.

The fact that we consider we have a special message for the world, a kind of corporate predestination in the end-time, places us in supreme jeopardy. The ancient Jews were in the same predicament. The apostasy that had overtaken them required years to develop. Their rebellion was so subtle in its manifestation it was not fully unmasked by Jesus Himself. It took another 40 years to bring full fruition and retribution to the nation. The Holy Spirit had to probe ever deeper and so it must be with us to the very end. When at any point the work of the Spirit is refused, we stop short of God's ideal and conversion dies. It was the truth of their history that in the end overcame the Jews. The truth was more than they could bear. Every evidence proved that Jesus was Messiah. But the complete, total, final rejection came when Stephen stood before the leaders of the nation and called them to repentance by laying bare the history of the nation. Listen to his testimony:

"Stephen ... took up his defense in a clear, thrilling voice that rang through the council hall. He proceeded to rehearse the history of the chosen people of God in words that held the assembly spell-bound. He showed a thorough knowledge of the Jewish economy, and the spiritual interpretation of it now made manifest through Christ. He began with Abraham and traced down through history from generation to generation, going through all the national records of Israel to Solomon, taking up the most impressive points to vindicate his cause. He made plain his own loyalty to God and to the Jewish faith, while he showed that the law in which they trusted for salvation had not been able to preserve Israel from idolatry. He connected Jesus Christ with all the Jewish history. He referred to the building of the temple by Solomon, and to the words of both Solomon and Isaiah: 'Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.' 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?' ... When Stephen had reached this point, there was a tumult among the people. ... Although he was just in the midst of his sermon, he abruptly concluded it by suddenly breaking away from the chain of history, and, turning upon his infuriated judges, said, 'Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye'" (Story of Redemption, 264, 265).

The stoning of Stephen was the final rejection of the witness that the Holy Ghost brought, and for this malady there was no further remedy. It was when Isaiah 66 was quoted that demonic frenzy broke loose. The priests and rulers knew all too well the content of their sacred history. To accept this history meant to accept Christ and this meant repentance. To deny was to insult the Holy Spirit and to "mistake the form of godliness for the spirit and power thereof." To be blind to God's purpose is one thing; to be opposed to it is a completely different thing and amounts to being in league with the enemy. Jesus laid down the principle this way: "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth"(John 9:41). A sin that remains is an unpardonable sin. Probation for the Jewish church extended beyond Calvary even to the end of the seventieth week. Jesus had promised the ultimate in understanding: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). When this Spirit of truth was rejected, the Lord had to make another plan.

And now, in this end-time we profess and accept that we are the Israel of God, chosen, called to fulfill a divine destiny. As children of Abraham in the last generation, are we able to learn from our spiritual forefathers of 2000 years ago and our pioneers of 150 years ago? When we see that the Jews rejected Christ because they rejected their own written history, does it open our eyes to the peril we face? Can we understand that every failure of God's people to follow the light shining on their pathway for over a century and a half must somehow be rectified by the present generation before the remnant church can be granted a divine vindication before the world and the universe? Nothing that fails the test of truth can be triumphant in the judgment. The Lord God as judge cannot clear the guilty, whether it be an individual or a movement. To hope that time will erase past rebellion and rejection of truth or rectify theological aberrations of the present is to belittle the King of the universe and cast down His law to the ground.

In 1888 we rejected "in a great measure" the "most precious message" sent by the Lord to His people (TM 91). The Holy Spirit which the Lord wanted to impart was shut away from us. "The light that was to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world" (1SM 235). But the "tradition of the elders" says this is not so. The thrust of well over 1000 pages supports the denial, continuing to proclaim that there was no denominational rejection. Like the Jews we deny our own history. Can the cleansing of the sanctuary ever be completed in such an environment? How can the marriage of the Lamb ever take place when the Bride says, "I didn't," and the Groom says, "Oh yes you did."

Solemn consideration declares that the root of our denominational problems is to be found in our 1888 episode. The fruit of that event becomes a little more bitter with each passing year. The theological deviations in our midst become a little more subtle, a little more soul destroying. The greed for quick riches becomes ever more pervasive. The vindictive spirit demanding litigation consumes ever larger amounts of money and effectively kills the Spirit. But this grows out of not hearing, not seeing, not understanding the message the Lord wanted to give us a century ago. All this can be reversed. "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3, 4).

Heavenly insight proclaims there is no need for this church to continue indefinitely. Eternity can be ushered in soon! The work can be finished in an incredibly short time. But it will require more than we have been willing to face thus far. It will require acceptance of the heavenly "eyesalve." It will require the repentance of the ages, accepting the "love" and "rebuke" which the True Witness gives. It will require an understanding of the truth of our history that so far has eluded us. It will require the correction of theological confusion. It will require the abandonment of worldly policies and man-made programs. Every species of legalism will have to die. Finally the ultimate experience awaiting the church is like that which Jesus went through at Gethsemane. Only God's very own will be willing to accept that.

From Eden to Calvary to Laodicea the universe has watched the outworking of sin. "He who was ever touched by human woe, who healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the dumb, who fed the hungry and comforted the sorrowful, was driven from the people He had labored to save. He who walked upon the heaving billows, and by a word silenced their angry roaring, who cast out devils that in departing acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, who broke the slumbers of the dead, who held thousands entranced by His words of wisdom," this Jesus, our Saviour, the True Witness who could do all of this, "was unable to reach the hearts of those who were blinded by prejudice and hatred, and who stubbornly rejected the light: (DA 541).

But now the last church is on the scene. There is no eighth church. The prejudice and hatred, the stubborn rejection of past years can be overcome. Jesus said He would build His church. When the church accepts all that the Lord wants it to have it will fulfill the same role that Christ filled when He was on earth. His work for the "short period of three years was as long as the world could endure the presence of the Redeemer" (DA 541). The work of God's people at the end will be as effective and will be cut short for the same reason. The world will not be able to tolerate the 144,000. The prince of darkness will be furious, astonished, but vanquished. God's truth will do this. There is no need for the church to be here for years to come.

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