Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths,
where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.
The secret of the LORD is with them
that fear him; and he will show them his covenant. Psalm 25:14
Vol. 24, No.8 Straight and Narrow
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great
and precious promises: that by these ye might be
partakers of the divine nature, having escaped
the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:4)
In this issue:
Obergefell v. Hodges
WV Camp Meeting Report
The Great Experiment
Obergefell v. Hodges
Roe v. Wade
On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court released its landmark ruling in the case
Roe v. Wade. The 7-to-2 decision legalized abortion in the United States. No Supreme Court case has been more discussed or fought over since. Until now.
On June 26, 2015, the court released its decision (5-4) on
Obergefell v. Hodges. In this landmark case the Court held that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to homosexuals (today toned down with the term
same sex couples) by both the Due Process clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ruling requires all states to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples and to recognize homosexual marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.
Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion on the case and was joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayer, and Kagan. Writing for the majority Kennedy noted:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf, p. 33)
Kennedy is certainly correct that marriage is profound, and he declares that marriage is “one of civilization’s oldest institutions”; however, he missed a vital point. Marriage is not
one of the oldest institutions of
the oldest institution of
humanity, with its origin from God in the Garden of Eden.
The Court’s decision has brought a round of praise from homosexuals and criticism from Christians. (And no, contrary to political correctness, there is no such thing as practicing homosexual Christians. That is an oxymoron.) Several Republican presidential hopefuls have taken a swing at
Obergefell v. Hodges, with at least one calling for term limits to the High Court.
But this case does one positive thing. It opens the discussion on what marriage is and how it is to be regulated.
To the Christian, the Bible is the source of true human history and guidance for morality. In the beginning we read:
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:18–24)
This early account presents the heaven-approved and the heaven-arranged relationship of a man and a woman. This arraignment was affirmed by Jesus:
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? (Matthew 19:4, 5)
The book of Genesis also reveals that the concept of a man-and-woman-only marriage was the standard that all but the most perverted followed. When Shechem wanted to marry Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, Shechem’s father, Hamor, proposed an arraignment with Jacob:
And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. (Genesis 34:8, 9)
Here the daughters of each family would marry the sons of the other family.
In the New Testament, marriage is always spoken of as a union between a man and a woman.
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2)
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. (Colossians 3:18, 19)
The Greek words for
wives represent males and females respectively. (See also Ephesians 5:22–33; 1 Peter 3:1–7.)
The first marriage
recorded in the Bible is that between Isaac and Rebekah. The Bible tells us that Abraham sent his trusted steward to his family to find a wife for his son. After divine direction in the matter, Rebekah was brought back to be the wife of Isaac. The Bible records the simplicity of the matter: “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her” (Genesis 24:67). It should be noticed that there is no record of any special service, of any marriage license, and of even a preacher. There was, however, the commitment of two people to live as husband and wife.
Polygamy and homosexuality were introduced by those who were in rebellion against God (Genesis 4:19; Genesis 19:1–6), but even then marriage between homosexuals was not done. In fact, as was clearly brought out in the oral arguments in
Obergefell v. Hodges, homosexual marriages were not considered even in societies like ancient Greece, where open homosexuality was “well accepted” (Justice Alito, http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/14-556q1_7l48.pdf; see p. 14).
The main issue in all of this is to point out that marriage is a divine, sacred institution and not a civil institution. It is one of two institutions that come to us from the Garden of Eden.
When the Pharisees afterward questioned Him concerning the lawfulness of divorce, Jesus pointed His hearers back to the marriage institution as ordained at creation. “Because of the hardness of your hearts,” He said, Moses “suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” He referred them to the blessed days of Eden when God pronounced all things “very good.” Then marriage and the Sabbath had their origin, twin institutions for the glory of God in the benefit of humanity. Then, as the Creator joined the hands of the holy pair in wedlock, saying, A man shall “leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one,” He enunciated the law of marriage for all the children of Adam to the close of time. That which the eternal Father Himself had pronounced good was the law of highest blessing and development for man. (Ellen White,
Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, pp. 63, 64)
Marriage has received Christ’s blessing, and it is to be regarded as a sacred institution. (Ellen White,
Bible Echo, August 28, 1899)
If marriage were simply a civil institution, then in a democracy, such as the United States, where there is a Constitution guaranteeing equal protection and rights for all, there can be no protesting against homosexual marriage. But if marriage is a sacred and divine institution, like the Sabbath, what right does the civil government have to define, regulate, or legislate it? None! If the government wishes to create its own pseudo-relationships, such as civil unions, it has the right to do so, but that does not make them marriages, even if they are called marriages. A filthy tavern may be named,
Paradise, but the name certainly does not make it so. Now, we must ask the question: If marriage is a sacred institution, how did it evolve into, in the minds of most, a civil institution?
For most of the history of mankind, marriage was considered a sacred institution. People coveted to be husband and wife and live as such under the eye of God. Even as late as during the founding of the United States, the colonies did not issue marriage licenses. For example, George Washington was married without a license. Records were kept in family Bibles and accepted as such for any legal issues. There were two requirements deemed necessary in most of the colonies for marriage: The parents had to give consent to the marriage (honoring the biblical concept that the children were under the guidance of the parents and not that of the state), and a notice had to be posted for a certain period of time (usually in the church) of the intention to marry.
The first marriage license required in the colonies dates to 1639 in Massachusetts. Gradually their use was expanded to other jurisdictions.
What is little known is the reason that the states began issuing licenses. Before we discuss that let us review the definition of the term
license. According to
Black’s Law Dictionary, the most used law dictionary in the United States, a license gives:
permission, accorded by a
competent authority, conferring the right to do some act which without such
authorization would be illegal, or would be a trespass or a tort. (Black’s Law Dictionary, article: license)
Thus, to marry without the permission of the
competent authority, the one issuing the license, is illegal. There is a principle that the one who grants authority is greater than the one to whom authority is granted. By claiming authority to control the sacred, divine institution of marriage, the civil government (the state) is claiming to be a higher authority than the church and even God and while the Bible tells us to be subject to the higher powers (Romans 13:1), God is the highest power!
God and his Word are to be the highest authority, not men or any civil laws or documents. Before
Obergefell v. Hodges, some Christians were asking that the government define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. However, if Christians demand that the government define marriage in a certain way, or
in any way, they are giving the government the legitimate right to define marriage, thus surrendering authority to the state. But wait! The government does not decide who can be baptized or can take communion. They are not to decide which day is the Sabbath. Those issues are decided by the churches through the word of God, and if this is so, the state has no right to decide which people can become married, and because the state claims and exercises this right, it also claims that it only has the right to dissolve marriages and grant divorces.
Some Christians have proposed that homosexuals be granted “civil unions.” These unions are to be recognized as giving those within the unions certain legal rights that they would not have otherwise (medical rights, inheritance rights, etc.). In a civil society this should not be challenged and can and should be regulated by the state, but this is not marriage.
To be clear, Christians must not promote or sanction that which God’s word condemns. Neither homosexual marriages nor the practice of homosexuality can be sanctioned by Christians (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:21–27). However, like God, we are to show love and compassion to the sinner (John 3:16), but not for the sin.
The history of marriage licensure in the United States has a disturbing origin. Historically it can be shown that the states had laws banning the marriage of European whites with African blacks. Virginia was the first colony with such laws, the first being enacted in 1662 and lasting over four centuries until 1967, when the United States Supreme Court in
Loving v. Virginia struck down the last such statue. Virginia’s original law also prohibited Indians marrying with the Caucasian race. Other state laws prohibited Caucasians marrying Chinese, Japanese, and other races. Such laws flourished in Nazi Germany, when Aryans were forbidden to marry non-Aryans (Jews, Gypsies, etc.) and in South Africa under the apartheid system.
About the middle of the nineteenth century, certain states began allowing interracial marriages (miscegenation), if they petitioned the courts for permission. The states then began to issue licenses to permit these marriages. In other words, according to the law dictionary, they had received permission to do an act which, without such permission, would have been illegal. Gradually the laws against miscegenation were removed from the state statues, but the licensing process only continued full steam forward and stretched its arms in as many directions as possible. One tentacle of the beast has grasped the churches of the United States using the 501–c3 status to induce the churches to bow to the government and acknowledge that Caesar has the authority to grant them permission to exist. Caesar will have the right to decide if the churches live or die. This is all done for the sake of thirty pieces of silver in the form of tax deductions.
The concept of government is not evil, and the Bible instructs the Christian to be submissive to government, where it does not conflict with the Bible. When government, however, attempts to usurp authority from God, the Christian is under no duty to obey that government in that area of usurpation.
Writing in dissent of
Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Alito wrote:
Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage. The decision will also have other important consequences.
It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. E.g., ante, at 11–13. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent. (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf, p. 101)
Those who cannot agree with the new orthodoxy will be out of step with society and will be called racists. What we are now seeing is the government simply reaping the fruit of what has been sown and in many cases planted, with the help of the churches. When the churches abdicated their authority from God to the state on marriage, they set in motion events that could only lead us to where we are today. Fearfully, now that the government has taken full control of this portion of the church, what will be next? Baptism, communion, or Sabbath observance? I think you know what is next, and the same evangelical Christians who are shouting for the government to change marriage will again be urging the government to action, but with more success.
The 60th General Conference
July 2–11, 2015, marked the dates of the sixtieth General Conference Session, held in San Antonio, Texas, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It signaled the continuance of status quo within the ranks of the church, with the conservative wing of the church scoring at least four important victories, while the rest of the body (the liberal wing) was encouraged to unify with the body as a whole.
The conservatives scored a somewhat stunning early victory with the reelection of Ted N. C. Wilson as president on the second day of the conference by a very large majority. It was clear that a significant element in the North American Division was desirous of Wilson’s retirement, but that did not happen. The conservatives also won with the rejection of a motion to allow each division to be given the choice to ordain women as ministers. Their third victory was the acceptance of a re-written statement of fundamental beliefs, including a statement affirming a recent six-day creation. The fourth victory was the passing of most of the material proposed for a new church manual.
This conference will be seen by many conservative Adventists and even by some of the so-called historic Adventists as a time that God reestablished his grip upon a teetering church. The election of a man who claims to prize the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, the defeat of the women’s ordination issue, the establishment of a firm doctrinal position on creation, and even the elimination of the abomination called The Parade of Nations signal, to the conservatives, that God has firmly taken the helm of the ship but as we will see next month when we discuss the doctrinal changes made, the General Conference is not and cannot be the voice of God today. The seemingly good changes are not from the guiding hand of God guiding but rather from the hand of another (ἕτερος) spirit.
As in all General Conferences, the session was highlighted with preaching, with singing, and with testimonies of how it is believed God is working with the Adventist Church around the world.
The Theme of Unity: One of the key themes that recurred in the preaching was the concept of unity. Knowing that a possible volatile vote would be taken concerning the women’s ordination issue, the script had been carefully crafted in the early part of the conference to affirm the position of the church as the remnant of God and to affirm the need to press together. This was coupled with the call to witness, declaring that our unity would be found in giving the message. This call was strongly made by several, including Mark Finley during his preaching, and by President Wilson. In a news conference shortly after being reelected, General Conference President
Wilson, speaking at a 15-minute news conference immediately after his reelection, said he would seek unity in the church by emphasizing spiritual aspects of prayer and how God brings people together through mission. (Adventist Review General Conference Bulletin, July 5, 2015, p. 3)
During the first business session of the church on the morning of July 2, Wilson stated:
Our marching orders are very clear: Take the gospel to the entire world, proclaiming the three angels’ messages, lifting up Christ and His righteousness; then Jesus will come. (Ibid., p. 43)
Near the end of the first session, Wilson also read an appeal that had been voted up at the 2015 Spring Meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee, which said in part:
“We, General Conference and division officers, appeal to all 2015 General Conference session delegates and attendees to accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of some differences of opinion that may be evident on certain subjects. We ask for Christlikeness and humble respect for each other in our words and activities during this General Conference session and beyond. Our humble demeanor and attitudes, through God’s power, will speak volumes to those who are watching. We earnestly appeal that we do all in our power to strengthen the church——this precious Advent movement. We lean completely on Christ for the unifying spirit that we need in proclaiming the three angels’ messages in these last days of earth’s history.” (Ibid. pp. 43, 44)
While all of this sounded good to those assembled at the Alamodome, the site of the conference, it failed to note that the Bible teaches unity comes through truth. Paul writes:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
Notice that this truth especially emphasizes the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Ellen White also notes:
The words are ringing in my ears: “Draw together, draw together.” The solemn, sacred truth for this time is to unify the people of God.(Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 42)
Unify; come into the sanctifying circle of truth. (Special Testimonies, Series B, no. 2, p. 34)
We are to unify, but not on a platform of error. (Ibid., p. 47)
I urge our brethren to unify upon a true, scriptural basis. (Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 175)
The design of the conference was to decide differences by voting on the important issues and then for the minority to submit to the will of the majority. Thus, it is expected now that those who believe in theistic evolution are to stop teaching it and that those who believe some spiritual gifts of women should result in their ordination are now to be silent or at least they are not to leave the church over the issues but are to keep working with the church and in it.
The call for unity drowns out the possibility of the real message being given. Instead of hearing the trumpet make a certain sound, we heard music from Babylon and preaching with Pentecostal and Fifth Avenue styles, devoid of the true bread of life.
Thus it came as no surprise when a high official of the Mennonite Church was introduced and allowed to address the congregation one evening. While there was some discussion about certain areas of common agreement with the Mennonites, there was certainly no clarification that the Mennonites are anti-nomianists, who willingly trample upon the seventh-day Sabbath. Instead of declaring that such teachings are a part of Babylon, we glorify the church leaders of apostasy!
Concerning bringing Babylon into the session, an interesting titbit of information, written by Bert B. Beach, appeared in the first bulletin:
There is also increased professionalism in such things as the music and the mission pageant. When my father was GC secretary, he would use his oratorical gifts to ad-lib the mission pageant; now we use and pay for professional help and provide greater precision. (Adventist Review GC Session Bulletin, July 3, 2015, p. 44)
First Business Session:
Chairperson Lowell Cooper began the first business session by welcoming the delegates. Then he proceeded to explain that an electronic voting system had been put in place for the delegates to use, which would give quick, accurate, and secret voting abilities to the delegates. Although an initial vote seemed to work, the system was later proven to be unreliable and had to be discarded. This was a setback for the anti-Wilson movement, which had hoped for a secret ballot on the presidency to prevent people from being swayed by the voting of their division leaders.
As standard protocol, the agenda had to be approve as well as the Steering Committee, the Church Manuel Committee, and the Constitution and Bylaws Committee.
The discussion moved to approving the rules of order for the conference. This brought up a comment on the upcoming vote on the fundamentals by Finn Echo, of the Trans-European Division, about the need to be in a clear majority to make a shift in any of our fundamentals.
FINN ECKHOFF: I would like to comment on the rules of order. I’m impressed that you have managed to make them very clear, but I have one point I would like to comment on. In a discussion on various items, we generally use a majority vote, but when it comes to Constitution and Bylaws we ask for a two-thirds majority.
This time we will have a big discussion on Fundamental Beliefs. To my understanding, the Fundamental Beliefs are just as important as the bylaws. Therefore, I would like to move that we add to the rules of order a section telling that there is a requirement for a two-thirds majority when we vote on adding to or changing the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
After Eckhoff’s statement the following discussion ensued:
LOWELL COOPER: Before you leave the microphone, let me see if I’m restating the motion correctly. The motion is that we add to the rules of order a provision that requires a two-thirds majority vote on matters relating to the Fundamental Beliefs.
Have I captured that correctly?
FINN ECKHOFF: That’s correct.
LOWELL COOPER: Is there a second to that motion? Yes, the motion is seconded.
Let’s just take a moment to think this one through in terms of process.
[Parliamentarian discussed item with chair.]
Thank you for your patience with our delay here. The question that arises is in respect to the rules of order. The approval of the rules of order come under the authority of the General Conference Executive Committee.
The motion that is before us this morning is to use the rules of order here.
I would like to suggest that this particular item be referred to the Steering Committee, which meets every morning and will be meeting at least three times before we deal with the Fundamental Beliefs issue. And it may be appropriate, in the course of determining how we go about addressing this matter, that we would be able either to come back to this body with a report, or to proceed with an action. That would be the counsel that we have. (Ibid., July 5, 2015, p. 39)
A motion was made, which was acknowledged by the chair and properly seconded, but this motion was then not allowed to move forward because the chair, in discussion with the parliamentarian, decided that such rule changes were only to be made by the General Conference Executive Committee.
Some of the delegates, however, saw a problem with this. The reasoning was that the General Conference in Session is the highest form of government in the church. That government is supposed to derive its power from the people, not committees. In other words, there should and can be no higher authority than the floor of delegates at a General Conference Session. Pastor Louis Torres, representing the North American Division, stated:
LOUIS TORRES: Since you asked the floor to approve the rules of order, you are, by asking us, placing us as the final word on that. Therefore, I believe that to refer it to the committee and allow one person to speak or two people to address the Steering Committee, you are then shifting the authority to the Steering Committee.
In my understanding the floor has a final authority. And if I’m incorrect, please correct me. If we have the final authority, then I would recommend that the floor actually vote this now. Thank you. (Ibid., p. 40)
To this, the chair replied:
LOWELL COOPER: The question that is before us is that the session adopt the rules of order for use at this session. The question about who creates the rules of order is a different question. That’s the matter that has come to our attention. And because the rules of order indicate that the General Conference Executive Committee is that authority to create the rules of order, we really shouldn’t entertain a motion here to change the rules of order.
I allowed the motion before recognizing that the authority is in the General Conference Executive Committee. But by referring it to the Steering Committee, we would want to take into account the essence of the appeal made by the brother who presented the motion. (Ibid.)
The chair then asked permission to send the request for a ⅔ majority for votes on the fundamentals back to the Steering Committee for consideration. The very fact that Cooper requested a vote on sending the request to the Steering Committee acknowledges that the floor still has the power and that the General Conference Executive Committee is not the final authority because, if it were, Cooper would not need the floor to vote on whether or not to send the request to the Steering Committee. This issue did not die here but was brought up at a later time.
If there was one common thread that pervaded all the sessions, it was the lack of good parliamentary procedure. This is not all to be blamed on the parliamentarian, Todd McFarland. The chair often failed to follow proper order and so delegates calling for points of order took up a great deal of time. Louis Torres challenged the chair to follow better order:
LOUIS TORRES: I recognize that. My point of order is: Isn’t it normal for us, if there’s a motion on the floor and it’s seconded, either for the person who made the motion to take back the motion, or for it to be voted up or down, and then to pass to the next motion to ask the floor to refer it to a committee? I’m just asking, because, in the future for other votes, are we going to follow the normal procedure, or are we going to make exceptions? (Ibid.)
To this, the chair responded:
LOWELL COOPER: Thank you very much. We will try not to make exceptions. But there are times that the essence of a question that comes before us perhaps gives us an opportunity to look at different ways to address it. And we have not tried to divert the attention of the delegation from dealing with the essence of the question, but are seeking to understand what might be the best procedure to do so. (Ibid.)
The next issue of business was the approval of the new unions. Thirty-five new unions were approved. Some had been updated from union mission status to union conference status, and some resulted from the division of pre-existing unions.
The acceptance of these unions then caused a concern from Oyebuchi Nwankpa, president of the Enugu Conference, Nigeria from the West-Central Africa Division who noted:
OYEBUCHI NWANKPA: We want to give thanks for what is happening in the reorganization system of the church, which, of course, is invaluable in the hands of the Lord to advance His cause.
When we talk about the leadership of the unions, the leadership of the church, the president of a union is not only an administrative leader, but also a spiritual leader. And as a spiritual leader of the church, the president has heavy responsibilities. I guess that one of the items on the agenda of this session has to handle the issue of ordination. And as a spiritual leader, a president of a union must be an ordained minister. (Ibid., p. 41)
The chair did not deny Nwankpa’s point but avoided it, stating:
LOWELL COOPER: Brother, I’m sorry to interrupt. The motion before us on the floor relates to the acceptance of organizational units into membership of the General Conference.
The question that you are raising deals with another matter outside of this motion. So either I would invite you to speak to the motion, or perhaps we can find some other venue and opportunity to hear the concern you have over the question of leadership. (Ibid., pp. 41, 42)
Nwankpa responded back:
OYEBUCHI NWANKPA: Mr. Chairman, the reason for this concern is that the presidents are standing behind you. And we can see some women, and I wanted to find out why they are there. (Ibid., p. 42)
Again, the chair avoided Nwankpa’s point, stating:
LOWELL COOPER: Brother, I’m sorry, but the comments are not germane to the motion that is before us. So I will ask that we proceed with the consideration of the motion on the floor, which is to accept into membership the organizations that have been reported to us this morning. (Ibid.)
After this the motion to accept the unions was approved without any clarification as to the qualifications of the women union leaders being considered.
The reunification of Hungarian brethren was the next main announcement made by GC President Ted Wilson. This announcement concerned the reunification with some brethren in the nation of Hungary. A separation occurred forty years ago between the corporate church and some of the members protesting the joining of the Hungarian corporate church with an ecumenical group. Some of the surface details were noted in Adventist World:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hungary and a breakaway group of hundreds of former Adventists have agreed to put aside past grievances and work toward healing a 40-year schism.
The Hungarian church split in 1975 amid a protest by young pastors and other members over local church leaders’ collaboration with the Council of Free Churches, a body formed to represent the common interests of small Protestant denominations that later become a tool of the Communist state.
Tamás Ócsai, president of the Hungarian Union Conference, signed a document titled “Joint Declaration on Settling the Past and Building a Common Future” with János Cserbik, leader of KERAK, as the splinter group is known, at a ceremony.
“I am very pleased that this 40-year rift is coming to an end for most of the people,” said Benjamin D. Schoun, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, who played a key role in bringing the two sides toward reconciliation. (Andrew McChesney, Adventist World, July 2015, http://www.adventistworld.org/2015/july/adventists-in-hungary-reconcile-after-40-years/1871-adventists-in-hungary-reconcile-after-40-years.html)
It is amazing that McChesney honestly reveals what the church would not admit forty years ago—the Council of Free Churches was an evangelical body used by the Communist government.
Under the administrations of Robert Pierson and Neil Wilson, the brethren who wished to be faithful were treated as apostates. (More on this in a minute.) Yet now we have Neil Wilson’s son working as a tool to bring these people back into the fold. Notice Wilson’s introduction and then Pastor Rabat Kamal’s explanation of the events:
What a wonderful family we belong to. In another part of the world, in the Trans-European Division, in the country of Hungary, we have faced some unusual challenges and some difficulties, a need to reconcile, a need to bring people together. There has been a particular group that has been disconnected from the Seventh-day Adventist Church for some decades, at some distance. And at this time we are extremely grateful that we have found the Holy Spirit working in a very powerful way. Some years ago I asked Pastor Ben Schoun, who is also with us here on the platform, to work closely with Pastor Bertil Wiklander, then the president of the division, and Pastor Raafat Kamal, who was a field secretary in charge of focusing on that particular situation.
Pastor Kamal has since become the president of the Trans-European Division. Pastor Kamal, please come and share with us this unique and wonderful reconciliation that is developing in the country of Hungary.
RAAFAT KAMAL: It’s quite exciting to celebrate with our Hungarian brothers and sisters the signing of a joint declaration concerning the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Christian Advent Community, also known as KERAK. This took place on April 23, 2015, when God blessed the process over the past years to heal and reconcile a division between family members for the past 40 years. It formally opened the door for many members from KERAK to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
At this point I’d like to introduce to you our Hungarian leaders, starting from the first person on my side here, János Cserbik. Next to him is Zoltan Modele, the second chairman. Next is Tamas Ocsai, the president of the Hungarian Union, followed by Robert Chismedia, the secretary of the union, and Renata Zolyomi, who is the union treasurer.
I just want to encourage you, if you see them, to embrace these brothers and sisters and pray with them. They have been on a journey, sometimes a difficult journey, where God gave them boldness to take big steps, for healing, for reconciliation of a broken family, a family of more than 6,000 members.
So it’s been a turning point in the life of the Adventist Church, where they put behind the pain and the challenges, and they’re moving forward to fulfill God’s mission together as one family.
It’s worth noting that in the KERAK constitution, it’s enshrined there that they’ve always wanted to come back to the mother church. There have been multiple attempts over the 40 years by three GC presidents, two GC vice presidents, four division presidents, and five union presidents to make this reconciliation happen. And we praise God. We’re grateful for the foundation that has already been laid through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Following a meeting with Elder Wilson in Paris in early June 2011, representatives of KERAK expressed an initial interest to be part of the recognized Seventh-day Adventist Church. A series of talks followed. Ben Schoun was appointed by Elder Wilson, and we had very fruitful meetings over the past four years.
So we praise God. We praise God for His healing power as He continues to bring these communities in Hungary together, where Christlike forgiveness, healing, and love continue to take over minds and hearts. Christ is coming soon, and He is uniting our Adventist believers in Hungary to be of one mind and focusing on the end-time mission to be resolved and loved. To God be the glory. (Adventist Review GC Session Bulletin, July 3, 2015, p. 42)
Little background to this situation was given at this General Conference Session and no apology was offered for the way the corporate church had treated the Hungarian brethren. McChesney, in Adventist World noted:
The Adventist Church in Hungary has 4,629 members worshipping in 104 churches, while KERAK has 1,500 to 1,800 members. Local church leaders anticipate that about 600 members will return this summer, while 400 do not intend to come back and the rest are open to the idea.
The long-waited reconciliation document is seen as a first step toward reuniting the two sides. In reaching the agreement, the Adventist Church acknowledged that it had expelled the dissenting group of 518 believers largely without merit in 1975.
“After much turmoil, which rocked the church to the core, the group was disfellowshipped, mostly without a valid biblical reason,” the Adventist Church’s Trans-European Division, which includes Hungary, said in a statement. (McChesney, op. cit.)
What McChesney does not report is then General Conference President Neil Wilson visited Hungary during January 18–30, 1984, at the invitation of the Adventist Hungarian leadership. According to the January 31, 1984, edition of Népszabadsag, a leading daily in Budapest:
“N. C. Wilson and Dense Zarka, the president of the church in Hungary and their respective retinues visited Imre Miklos, the undersecretary of State and president of the Office for Church Affairs. At this meeting N. C. Wilson informed Mr. Miklos of the steps they were going to take concerning the matter of the splinter group within the Hungarian Church. N. C. Wilson stated that, as in other countries, the Seventh-day Adventist world organization recognized only one church organization, the one elected at the electoral conference, and which also the state had recognized.
“N. C. Wilson has expressed his appreciation for the useful and beneficial attitude of the Hungarian State toward the church as well as for the high degree of religious liberty he had experienced in Hungary.” (As quoted by William Grotheer in Watchman, what of the night?, vol. XVII, #9; http://www.adventistalert.com/aawwn/eight/four-js.htm)
It should be noted that this was before the Berlin Wall fell and Communism with it. While most historians agree that Hungary was one of the more liberal places in Eastern Europe, it was still under the control of the Soviets. For Wilson to have gone to Hungary and to have sided with the government against the brethren that today we acknowledge as not having been in the wrong is reprehensible. William Grotheer declared it to be a “crucifixion in Hungary” and that Neal. C. Wilson played the “role of Caiaphas” (Ibid.).
Grotheer documented the treatment of the faithful Hungarian brethren by the corporate church. Quoting a brother in Hungary directly involved, Grotheer published what the Adventist Review was quiet about:
“Full of hatred, they [the corporate church] have terrorized and boycotted them [the faithful brethren] with full force whenever and wherever they could:
1) They ostracized and excommunicated them enmasse from the church;
2) They forbade them to enter the churches;
3) They took their church buildings away from them (where the whole congregation decided to remain faithful to God);
4) They blocked the entrances of their churches on the Sabbath;
5) They vandalized their main place of worship several times and made it completely unusable;
6) They threatened old, retired church members to be cut off their pensions if they dared to join the ‘outcasts.’
“The influence of these opponents of the faithful Adventists reached to their employers, who then dismissed them; or when they applied for a job, the prospective employers had already been warned not to hire so and so, as if they were criminals. The influence reached even as far as the Hungarian State Department and to other authorities so that they have been, for example, denied visas to travel abroad. The reason given was ‘Your travel abroad would be injurious to the general order.’
“Such are the ‘fine brothers’ who are in leadership positions of the Adventist church in Hungary today, and these are recognized by the state. Why not, when they are doing, what is serving the purpose of the State which is to exterminate slowly but surely the true Adventist religion.” (Ibid.)
Grotheer also documents that the association with the Council of Free Churches had at that time a Seventh-day Adventist as its president. The Voice of Prophecy News reported under a photocopy of a picture presented to Dr. Billy Graham at the close of his recent Hungarian Crusade:
The painting was presented to Graham by Sandor Palotay. Himself a Seventh-day Adventist, Palotay is president of the Council of Free Churches in Hungary, an alliance of small denominations that sponsored Graham’s week-long visit. (Quoted by William Grotheer in Watchman, what of the night?, December 1977, p. 8; accessed at http://www.adventistalert.com/aawwn/sev/sev-od.htm)
Grotheer then brings to light, a few years later, another comment by the Billy Graham team
Spotlight ... in its July 3 issue, also commented on the Graham Crusade in Hungary. It noted: In Hungary the recent Billy Graham Crusade was the apparent victim of extortion. The agent who arranged both sites and audiences for the crusade was Sandor Palotoy, a communist whose only allegiances are to money and state - in that order.” (Grotheer, Watchman, what of the night, September 1984, p. 6; accessed at http://www.adventistalert.com/aawwn/eight/four-js.htm)
In making the reunification announcement at the General Conference session, there was no culpability expressed. No repentance, not even regret, was expressed. This is worse than the papacy. When confronted with the atrocities of the Middle Ages, the Roman Church has declared that they can only regret, but not repent, because repentance is a personal matter and not a corporate one.
Perhaps the corporate church has felt enough water has gone over the bridge in the last forty years to bury differences, but a new group of leaders, and not time, has apparently made the difference in Hungary. McChesney in Adventist Word also noted:
After the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989, Adventist leaders from all levels of the church sought to reunite the Hungarian church, but to no avail. Serious talks about reunification ceased around 2000. But in 2011 a new generation of KERAK leaders initiated a series of talks. (McChesney, Op. cit.)
This reminds one of the sad history of the descendants of the reformation:
As the founders, those who possessed the true spirit of reform, pass away, their descendants come forward and “new-model the cause.” (Ellen White, The Great Controvery, p. 385)
To be continued
The Great Experiment
Abraham Lincoln, with rolled up britches and bare feet, roamed the hills, chased rabbits, and threw rocks in the creek, as any boy his age would, but when he became a man, he made decisions of manhood, hard decisions, decisions about nation, slavery, and war. George Washington before him faced hard decisions also, as has every leader of every nation before and after him, but as boys, they skipped through life. They were carefree, innocent, and fun-loving, but when the weighty matters of war and peace, of freedom and bondage, and of honesty and trickery faced them, they put away their childish ways and squared their jaws with manliness, for it is never easy to be the leader of a nation.
On a visit to Walter Reed National Medical Center in 2005, President George W. Bush visited a young Marine who had been injured when his Humvee had been hit by a roadside bomb. He arrived from the Middle East unconscious and had not opened his eyes or communicated in any way with his family or with the medical staff since his arrival. At his bedside were his parents, his wife, and his five-year-old son.
“What’s his prognosis?” the president asked.
“Well, we don’t know sir, because he’s not opened his eyes since he arrived, so we haven’t been able to communicate with him. But no matter what, Mr. President, he has a long road ahead of him,” said the CNO [Chief Naval Officer]. . . .
The family was so excited the president had come. They gave him big hugs and thanked him over and over. . . .
The Marine was intubated. The president talked quietly with the family at the foot of the patient’s bed. I looked up at the ceiling so that I could hold back the tears.
After he visited with them for a bit, the president turned to the military aide and said, “Okay, let’s do the presentation.” The wounded warrior was being awarded the Purple Heart, given to troops that suffer wounds in combat.
Everyone stood silently while the military aide in a low and steady voice presented the award. At the end of it, the Marine’s young child tugged on the president’s jacket and asked, “What’s a Purple Heart?”
The president got down on one knee and pulled the little boy closer to him. He said, “It’s an award for your dad because he is very brave and courageous and because he loves his country so much. And I hope you know how much he loves you and your mom, too.”
As they hugged, there was a commotion from the medical staff as they moved toward the bed.
The Marine had just opened his eyes. I could see him from where I stood.
The CNO held the medical team back and said, “Hold on, guys. I think he wants the president.”
The president jumped up and rushed over to the side of the bed. He cupped the Marine’s face in his hands. They locked eyes, and after a couple of moments the president, without breaking eye contact, said to the military aide, “Read it again.”
So we stood silently as the military aide presented the Marine with the award for a second time. The president had tears dripping from his eyes onto the Marine’s face. As the presentation ended, the president rested his forehead on the wounded warrior’s for a moment.
Now everyone was crying . . . [for] the witnessing of a relationship between a soldier and his Commander in Chief that the rest of us could never fully grasp. . . .
And that was just the first patient we saw. For the rest of the visit to the hospital that day, almost every family had the same reaction of joy when they saw the president.
But there were exceptions. One mom and dad of a dying soldier from the Caribbean were devastated, the mom beside herself with grief. She yelled at the president, wanting to know why it was her child and not his who lay in that hospital bed.
Her husband tried to calm her and I noticed the president wasn’t in a hurry to leave—he tried offering comfort but then just stood and took it, like he expected and needed to hear the anguish, to try to soak up some of her suffering if he could.
Later as we rode back on Marine One to the White House, no one spoke.
But as the helicopter took off, the president looked at me and said, “That mama sure was mad at me.” Then he turned to look out the window of the helicopter. “And I don’t blame her a bit.”
One tear slipped out the side of his eye and down his face. He didn’t wipe it away, and we flew back to the White House.
The responsibility of leadership is heavy, no matter the nation, yet the decisions you and I make every day are far weightier than any ever made by any leader during any time in this world’s history. It is hard to believe that a decision by an individual trumps that made by a leader, even a despotic leader, of millions, but it is true, for a leader can never control the soul of another. Only the individual has that right, and it is a privilege he has for himself alone. Even God cannot—because he will not—control the soul without the individual’s consent, and neither can Satan. We are each mightier than any king or queen of any past or current nation, and even mightier than God himself in this one respect alone, for God will not overrule the decisions we make concerning our individual souls. We hold in our own hands our destinies. None can touch this without our approval. This ability to choose is the greatest gift God gave Adam and Eve, and after the gift of Jesus, it remains the greatest gift sinful man has. Freedom of choice has become the great cleaving principle of the universe. It is and has been God’s only experiment. He who controls deep space and one-celled organisms, will not control the will of any human being. What a wonder! What an experiment! The events in the Garden of Eden have not involved just the fate of man; God’s respect for the sanctity of freedom reaches throughout the limitless universe, and somewhere, somehow, and in some way religious liberty came to earth.
So, let us sweep aside the massive curtain covering earth’s history and look at the canvas of our past.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:3-11)
Is religious liberty embodied in any of these verses? No; not at all. Here we read of total worship of one God and of one God alone. In fact, the principle of religious liberty is not explicitly taught as a doctrine anywhere in the Old Testament. Religious liberty as an individual concept is not promoted, but liberty in general, which has far-reaching tentacles into religion, is established in the Old Testament. Right from the beginning man was given freedom of choice.
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. (Genesis 2:16, 17)
Even though God knew disobeying him would cause untold misery and finally death, he did not deny our first parents their freedom to choose, and what God had so graciously given them and has given us, no man is at liberty, before God, to take away, and this includes the right to worship after the dictates of conscience.
But freedom of worship was a new idea on the eastern shore of North America three hundred ninety-five years ago. In fact, it was a hard-won idea during the millennium prior to that, when the Papacy held sway over the lives of men and women and before that, during the time of Nebuchadnezzar and of other world leaders of antiquity, religious liberty was virtually unknown. Those who insisted on it were forced into hiding in solitary places and often lost their lives.
Karp Lykov was one of those forced into hiding, an Old Believer of the Russian Orthodox sect, who worshiped in the same style as his ancestors of the seventeenth century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great and to Lykov, Peter the Great was a personal enemy and the antichrist in human form. Religious freedom became more curtailed when the atheist Bolsheviks took power, but when Lykov’s brother was shot in his presence by a Communist patrol in 1936 because of his Christian faith, Lykov took his family, along with a few possessions, including a family Bible and some seeds, and fled to Siberia, where they lived in total isolation for decades, until iron ore prospectors found them in 1978. Lykov, a Russian Orthodox and not a Sabbath-keeper, was willing to live in complete isolation rather than lose his religious freedom.
We may find ourselves living in the isolation of mountains and forests, of deserts and rocks, even of prison cell and armed guard, but we will not be alone, and we will not be left to die from hunger. Angels will be our companions.
In the time of trouble just before the coming of Christ, the righteous will be preserved through the ministration of heavenly angels . . . (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 256; all emphasis supplied unless otherwise noted)
Let us turn our attention now to the only beast ever recorded coming up from the earth:
And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. (Revelation 13:11)
Here a new event is painted on the canvas of time and one that resulted in the Constitution of the United States.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Preamble, United States Constitution; signed 1787; ratified 1788)
The first amendment to the Constitution further explains this blessing of liberty:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (Amendment I, United States Constitution; proposed 1789; ratified 1791)
This freedom of religion was supported, among others, by President Jefferson:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802; accessed at http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html on 5-19-15)
These deep and penetrating concepts, however, were not originally part of life in the early settlements along the eastern coast of America; in fact, they represent a profound change from the prevailing theology of the Massachusetts Bay Colony one hundred sixty years earlier. Religious totalitarianism was then the rule.
In the summer of 1633, the Griffin set sail from the coast of England. She may have been a merchant ship like the Mayflower, with three masts and three levels, and aboard her was John Cotton, a clergyman and the preeminent Protestant English scholar of his day. Even though he was a Puritan, he had been able to maintain his position as the minister of a large Anglican Church in England for many years, and he was adamant about not separating from the Anglican Church, even though Puritans had major differences with the church. While many ministers of his time were removed from their pulpits due to their puritan practices, Cotton remained in his for nearly twenty years because he had learned, using a conciliatory and gentle demeanor, the disingenuous art of disagreeing while maintaining the appearance of conformity. He was hypocritical. Cotton wanted to change the church from within while appearing to agree with her. Opposing forces finally became too strong for him, and he was forced to flee to the puritan underground and later boarded the Griffin for New England, where he became the adversary of Roger Williams.
Roger Williams was also a theologian but because of his puritan beliefs, he did not become a minister in the Church of England. Instead, he left England for the New World, arriving at the Massachusetts Bay Colony on February 5, 1631. He was immediately invited to be a minister of the Boston church, but declined because it was an un-separated church. Williams believed the Anglican Church was too corrupt in its practices for him to be part of it, and he taught separation from it. He also declined the offer because he could not agree that civil magistrates were to enforce ecclesiastical law and were to punish anyone who, for example, breached the first table of the Ten Commandment law (which we read earlier) with so-called crimes as idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, false worship, and blasphemy. Williams believed individuals were to have freedom to follow their own convictions in religious matters. He applied for a free man’s status in the colony, which meant he would be a land owner without a church association, but he was denied. Massachusetts Bay was a supposed theocracy, and no man was allowed to own property in the colony unless he first belonged to the church. The separation of church and state was a never-before considered possibility, and Williams was the cutting edge of a new way of thinking. Neither he nor it were treated kindly.
Nearly one hundred fifty years later, after the United States Constitution was signed and ratified and after the ratification of the first amendment guaranteeing religious freedom, the relationship of church and state was still a topic of debate. Edward and Charles Dilly, for example, hosted a dinner in their home in England, and Samuel Johnson was their guest of honor. Samuel Johnson was the author of A Dictionary of the English Language, completed after nine years of arduous labor and with the help of several assistants. Johnson was deeply religious and strongly political.
Also attending the dinner were James Boswell, the author of a future biography of Samuel Johnson; Dr. Toplady, a clergyman and the author of the lyrics of the hymn “Rock of Ages”; and Dr. Mayo, another clergyman. Listen to part of the dinner conversation:
“Every society,” said Johnson, “has a right to preserve public peace and order and has a good right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a dangerous tendency. It may be morally or theologically wrong for the magistrate to restrain the propagation of opinions which he thinks dangerous, but he is politically right to do so.”
Said Dr. Mayo:
“I am of opinion, sir, that every man is entitled to liberty of conscience in religion; and that the magistrate cannot restrain that right.”
“Sir, I agree with you,” replied Dr. Johnson. “Every man has a right to liberty of conscience and with that the magistrate cannot interfer, but people confuse liberty of thinking with liberty of talking and liberty of preaching. Every man has a right to think as he pleases, for it cannot be discovered how he thinks, but no member of a society has a right to teach any doctrine contrary to what the society holds to be true.”
“But, sir, I must be allowed to teach my children what I believe to be truth” argued Dr. Mayo.
“Why, sir,” returned Johnson, “you might contrive to teach your children scandulous things and if the magistrate knows it, he has a right to restrain you. Suppose you teach your children to be thieves.”
“That is making a joke of the subject.”
“Nay, sir, it is not,” said Dr. Johnson. “Suppose you teach your children many plausible arugments for their use of other people’s goods. You teach them that all things were, at first, held in common, that man had a right to anything he could lay his hands on and that it should still be his right. Here, sir, you would put in jeopardy a great principle in our society—a man’s property. Don’t you think the magistrate would have a right to prevent you? Or suppose you should teach your children the notion they should run naked into the streets; would not the magistrate have a right to flog them into their doublets?”
“I think,” said Dr. Mayo, “the magistrate has no right to interfere till there is some overt act.”
Boswell now speaks up:
“So, sir, if a man sees an enemy to the State charging down the street with a blunderbuss [a gun with flared muzzle], is he not to interfere until it is fired off?”
“He must be sure of its direction against the State,” insisted Dr. Mayo.
“The magistrate is to judge that,” said Johnson. “If I think it right to steal Mr. Dilly’s plate, I am a bad man, but he can say nothing to me. If I make an open declaration that I think so, he will keep me out of his house. If I put forth my hand, I shall be sent to Newgate [a prison]. Here is the gradation of thinking, preaching, and acting. If a man thinks erroneously, he may keep his thoughts to himself and nobody will trouble him; if he preaches erroneous doctrine, society may expel him; and if he acts in consequence of it, the law takes place and he is hanged.”
“Sir,” said Dr. Toplady, “you have untwisted this difficult subject with great dexterity.”
And that was Johnson’s reasoning for the preeminence of state authority over religious beliefs—if a belief is promulgated that goes against the commonly-held beliefs, it is to be suppressed as dangerous. No individuality of speech or of action, if schismatic, is to be allowed, for it is detrimental to the well-being of society.
There are not many ways to God, as some may be inclined to think, considering the thousands of religions we find in the world today. The privilege of liberty has given birth to a landscape of religions, but in the Bible religious liberty is not frequently taught as a doctrine of faith. It is a ready principle one derives, however, from (among other incidents) two events recorded in the book of Daniel, a principle God upholds and one we, as Adventists, champion!
In these two experiences recorded in the book of Daniel—the one of Nebuchadnezzar and the worship of his great golden image, the other of the conspirators against Daniel’s service to God—all people are taught in the most impressive way, that the God of heaven forbids any ruler to require His subjects to conform to His ideas in religion, and forbids all people to frame any law on any subject touching men’s relation to God. In these two experiences the God of heaven, in the strongest possible way, teaches all people, and particularly His own people, that in the presence of the rights of conscience, in the presence of men’s relationship to God, and in all matters of religion, the word and authority of every king or ruler must give way; that all laws framed, which touch in any manner men’s relationship to God, which touch any matter of religious observance, are simply naught—are no more than no law at all on such subject. In it all, the God of heaven also teaches to all that He vindicates and declares innocent all who refuse obedience to such decrees of kings and rulers, all who utterly disregard all such laws; and also certifies to all kings, rulers, and people that those who do disregard all such laws do “no hurt” to either king, ruler, or people. (A. T. Jones, Christian Patriotism, p. 59)
The banner of truth and religious liberty held aloft by the founders of the gospel church and by God’s witnesses during the centuries that have passed since then, has, in this last conflict, been committed to our hands. The responsibility for this great gift rests with those whom God has blessed with a knowledge of His word. (Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 68)
Without religious liberty, man’s freedom of choice is lost, which is a freedom even God does not remove from us, and in order to preserve it, he allows religions of every kind today—a liberty that encompasses Buddhism, Islamism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Shintoism, Judaism, atheism, agnosticism, all 30,000-plus versions of protestantism, Confucianism, Santeria, etc. Instead of banishing all heathen/apostate religions, God calls his people out of them into a true worship of him, the only true God. He calls his people to be a peculiar people in the midst of perversity and to be a holy people, strangers and pilgrims in a barren land. It is a solemn time for God’s people, for they have deception on every side and, therefore, must walk trepidatiously, and the very sad part is that all these variant religions will look upon us as a cult, a dangerous cult, which is something the Seventh-day Adventist Church has tried to avoid by accepting trinitarianism, by accepting a completed atonement at the cross, and by accepting the impossibility of perfection of character this side of glorification.
Rita Swan was born in 1943 and raised a Christian Scientist. She is well-educated, having been awarded a PhD from Vanderbilt University. Her husband, also raised a Christian Scientist, is also well-educated, having received a PhD from the University of Vermont. They both are articulate, intelligent, and productive members of society. When their son, Matthew, was fifteen months old, he began having trouble walking. Instead of seeking medical advice, they called a Christian Science practitioner, who prayed for him. The next morning he had a fever and vomited and the next day was in a daze, unresponsive to playfulness. Rita worried the fever, although she knew little about fevers. “Again, Laitner [the practitioner] reassured her that Matthew’s fever was imaginary.” Two days later Matthew was motionless and expressionless. Laitner visited for fifteen minutes, “declaring, ‘Matthew, you cannot be sick! God is your life! You live in the Kingdom of God’” (Ibid., p. 11)! Matthew hadn’t been able to sit, crawl, or walk for three days, and his condition continued to deteriorate over the next few days. The parents changed practitioners, had prayer sessions, and talked about taking Matthew to a doctor in a way that would not violate the rules of their church, but the practitioner dismissed the parents. “‘You are too concerned about what the community thinks,’ she said” (Ibid., p. 13).
Matthew began having seizures and began experiencing delirium. Finally the practitioner gave permission for Matthew be checked by a doctor for a broken neck bone. Their faith allowed medical doctors to set broken bones and since Matthew had once fallen out of bed, it was thought perhaps he could have a broken neck bone. They were clutching at straws. So the parents took him to an emergency room. He was immediately diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, complicated by an abscess deep within the brain, which needed to be drained immediately by surgery. When the practitioner learned that the parents were considering the surgery, she dropped the case. Matthew did have surgery and was found to have not one abscess, but many, and they were too frequent in number and too deeply embedded in the brain to drain. He died a few days later.
The parents left the Christian Science Church. They finally realized they had been part of a cult.
Our children, and perhaps we ourselves, may one day be close to death, and because we will not deny Christ and re-join Babylon so that we can buy and sell and thus get medical care or obtain other needed services in state-required ways, we may very likely be accused of being part of a dangerous cult and not just by a few people here and there, as we sometimes are. At the end of time, the world en masse will press hard against us, and we must be prepared to stand because, by the world’s standards, non-trinitarians are already a cult and because, when we listen to their arguments, we may begin to question and doubt ourselves, which is exactly what Satan wants. He wants to cause doubt and to eventually cause us to deny our faith. We will be compared to, but considered far worse than, Christian Science, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Heaven’s Gate, Scientology, faith assembly of this or snake handlers’ assembly of that because most of the people of these organizations have been or are either trinitarian or some version of it, and we are not.
After probation closes, the masses of the world will be strongly marshaled against us, led in the advance by their ministers and priests:
The forms of religion will be continued by a people from whom the Spirit of God has been finally withdrawn; and the satanic zeal with which the prince of evil will inspire them for the accomplishment of his malignant designs, will bear the semblance of zeal for God. . . .
As the decree issued by the various rulers of Christendom against commandment keepers shall withdraw the protection of government and abandon them to those who desire their destruction, the people of God will flee from the cities and villages and associate together in companies, dwelling in the most desolate and solitary places. . . .
The people see that they have been deluded. They accuse one another of having led them to destruction; but all unite in heaping their bitterest condemnation upon the ministers. Unfaithful pastors have prophesied smooth things; they have led their hearers to make void the law of God and to persecute those who would keep it holy. (Ellen White, The Great Controversy, pp. 615, 626, 655)
“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century a growing number of radical evangelicals—preachers, evangelists, broadcasters, businessmen, Bible-college professors, publishers, and laypeople—began preaching an imminent” return of Jesus, and it resulted in preachers such as Billy Sunday. Sunday was an average, down-to-earth man from the corn rows of Iowa:
I am a hayseed of the hayseeds. . . I have greased my hair with goose grease and blacked my boots with stove blacking. I have wiped my old proboscis with a gunny-sack. I have drunk coffee out of my saucer, and I have eaten with my knife, I have said “done it,” when I should have said “did it, and I “have saw” when I should “have seen,” and I expect to go to heaven just the same. I have crept and crawled out from the university of poverty and hard knocks and have taken postgraduate courses.
But he became one of the most forceful preachers of his time. People came by the thousands to hear him preach, and he kept their attention under the big tent not only with powerful peaching but also with stunts, such as breaking chairs on the platform, while he preached. During this period, other evangelical preachers were hard at work—Dwight Moody and Charles Spurgeon, for example—and then later Billy Graham. Brothers and sisters, we can expect similar forceful preaching during the end of time, and it will be directed against us. The so-called Christian masses will be whipped into action by their preachers and priests, and they also will be propelled into action by the terrible devastation they see and experience on every hand. Think of a disaster scene in a once peaceful neighborhood and repeat that scene in neighborhood after neighborhood across this nation, and you will begin to understand why the masses will be up in arms against us, for we will be denounced as the cause of all their woes:
Those who honor the law of God have been accused of bringing judgments upon the world, and they will be regarded as the cause of the fearful convulsions of nature and the strife and bloodshed among men that are filling the earth with woe. The power attending the last warning has enraged the wicked; their anger is kindled against all who have received the message, and Satan will excite to still greater intensity the spirit of hatred and persecution. (White, The Great Controversy, p. 614)
Some of the characteristics of a cult could cause us to doubt the validity of our Seventh-day Adventist heritage because, at first glance, there seems to be an overlap of Adventism with the main beliefs of a cult. After all, “everything a ‘conventional’ Seventh-day Adventist does seems to be dictated by some fundamental belief of the church, all of which, it is claimed, are [sic] founded on Scripture.” One characteristic of a cult is that it controls the flow information to its adherents. For example,
Rita and Doug Swan were instructed by their church to isolate themselves from all forms of medical information. If a television or radio program described a recent epidemic, they turned it off. If a newspaper or magazine article described a disease, they ignored it. As a consequence, the Swans knew little to nothing about health. When Matthew had a fever, Rita didn’t know that fever could mean infection. Indeed, she had never owned a thermometer.
And Adventists could be considered controlling because we believe that
God is displeased with us when we go to listen to error, without being obliged to go; for unless He sends us to those meetings where error is forced home to the people by the power of the will, He will not keep us. (Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 125)
The ONE thing to remember, however, is, true Adventism does not force anyone to go or to stay! This is counsel to us, yes, but all are free to accept or reject it. We are not to give up our power to think for ourselves!
Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. The men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character. It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought. (Ellen White, Education, p. 17)
Another point of similarity between Adventism and cults is that cult leaders believe they are chosen by God, by history, or by another supernatural way. David Koresh, for example, believed he was Christ himself. Mary Baker Eddy wrote of divine intervention in her life, compared herself to Jesus, and believed that since she had been chosen by God, her ideas were not to be questioned.
We know God chooses us all to be saved and that he has a plan for each person, but we do not believe our leaders are Jesus Christ in the flesh, and we do not put faith in someone who claims to have new light which contradicts scripture, as those do who accept Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy. We may be accused of belonging to a cult, however, because we believe in the inspiration of Ellen White. The ONE thing to remember is that she always pointed away from herself to our heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ and counseled us never to take her words over the Bible.
The testimonies of Sister White should not be carried to the front. God’s Word is the unerring standard. The Testimonies are not to take the place of the Word.--Letter 12, 1890. (Ellen White, Evangelism, p. 256)
Another point: Cults teach that perfection of character is necessary but do not really expect their members to achieve it. This creates an impossible-to-be-reached-standard and results in shame and/or guilt when it is not reached. This doublespeak is present in Scientology and in Christian Science, for example, and while we do believe character perfection is required by God, shame and guilt will not be present when we understand the great love God has for us when we sin and the wonderful forgiveness he offers and when we understand that Jesus is able to present us faultless before the throne of God. Our mistakes will then be turned into stepping stones to success:
Remember this. If you have made mistakes, you certainly gain a victory if you see these mistakes and regard them as beacons of warning. Thus you turn defeat into victory, disappointing the enemy and honoring your Redeemer. (Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 332)
It has ever been Satan’s purpose to cause men to believe God’s standard for men is too high and that it cannot be reached, but we have something that cults never offer their members—the power of God to help us in obtaining perfection of character. Satan does not want us to achieve this and will never help any cult in this effort.
Satan had claimed that it was impossible for man to obey God’s commandments; and in our own strength it is true that we cannot obey them. But Christ came in the form of humanity, and by His perfect obedience He proved that humanity and divinity combined can obey every one of God’s precepts. (Ibid., p. 314)
When we have the mind of Christ, humanity and divinity are combined. What a marvel! And always remember that we cooperate with the omnipotent God:
As the will of man co-operates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings. (Ibid., p. 333)
The next point: A cult does not allow its basic teachings and reverence for its originators to be questioned. Beliefs in a cult are inflexible and absolute.
It is true the law of God is inflexible and absolute and true that God demands reverence, but our worship and acceptance of him and his law is not because he forces us to do so and denies us the ability to think and to choose. He invites us to reason with him (Isaiah 1:18), and he reasoned with Job (Job 38-41).
Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. (White, Education, p. 17)
Sometimes we equate personality with individuality because each personality is unique and individual, but this is not how Ellen White used the term individuality. This quotation helps us to understand that individuality is not a personality different from everyone else but is the power to think and to do. We are individuals when we reason and act for ourselves, hopefully doing that which is right, under the guidance of God, because the gift of individuality comes from him. Ellen White reiterates this concept about individuality by equating it to judgment and conscience:
Will she be allowed to preserve her individuality, or must her judgment and conscience be surrendered to the control of her husband? (Ellen White, The Adventist Home, p. 47)
A final point: A cult’s doctrine is of more value than experience, and character and identity must be reshaped in accordance with the core beliefs of the cult. This is true, to some extent, with all religions. People come to a religion seeking God and seeking a transformation of character. While we believe that a transformation from the old self to a new creature in Christ is necessary, it, once again, is taught but never forced, and we do believe that God’s word, not man’s, is always of more value than experience because man’s experience will fluctuate, but God’s word never changes.
It is important to keep in mind that these various features of a cult were developed by a man, a medical doctor (Robert J. Lifton), as he studied the process of brainwashing. They were written from a secular point of view about issues of communism, nazism, and other regimes of totalitarianism and violence, and they are not inspired, but we have considered them because they may be leveled at us in the end time.
If Adventism reacted so strongly to the threat of cultism by evangelicals Barnhouse and Martin that they wrote Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine and repudiated our God-given theology for a new theology and if they reacted so seriously to the charge that the church elevates Ellen G. White to the same level of authority as the Bible that they do not require new members to affirm a belief in the inspiration of Ellen White but in a belief that the gift of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church (which it is), then we can be sure that the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not want to be called a cult. As non-trinitarians, such a charge does not impact us as deeply as it could because we are used to facing opposition to this belief, but the aforementioned elements of a cult collectively charged to us may impact us strongly, if we have not established the correctness of our position on the various points.
Again, how should we respond to these characteristics of a cult?
- We do recommend the limitation of information—we do not want to expose ourselves to error and to the ways of the world—and we are to guard our senses, but we do not force this on anyone. Everyone is left to decide how, when, and if this is done. It is a decision one makes between himself and God.
- We do believe God raised up Seventh-day Adventism and that Ellen White was chosen by God to do the work she did, but Ellen White never asked to be called a prophetess, and she always pointed men and women to the Bible, first and foremost. Her writings were, and are, a lesser light to lead to the greater light of the Bible.
- We do call for purity and holiness, not because a human leader commands it but because God’s word requires it, but perfection is never forced and is only achieved through the power of God.
- We are inflexible about the law of God and about the reverence due God because God demands this, but, again, one is always free to choose. Forced obedience and forced reverence is abhorrent to God and never acceptable to him, not in the church and not with the adults in a home, although we do, of course, acknowledge the need for children to be trained and taught, but they are never to be abused or neglected.
5) The church is to help shape character—we are to become new creatures—but this change is never forced and is never at the expense of the loss of individuality. Biblical doctrine is preeminent over experience because experience can fluctuate and change from one day to the next, but God and his word never change. Praise God!
Satan has given rise to terrible organizations that can rightly be called cults, organizations that let children die rather than receive medical help; organizations, like ISIS, that control and kill people; organizations that dish out guilt and shame for not bending to the will of the leader; and organizations that lead to the loss of the individuality of its members, and all of this is so pre-orchestrated as to one day cast hatred and contempt upon us at the right time in earth’s history. We can expect to be denounced as a horrible cult. We must be prepared to be attacked on any of these characteristics of a cult because they contain parallels to Adventism, but remember the parallels all stop at this one point—no force is ever used among God’s people. Freedom of choice is always respected and honored. Freedom is utterly essential to God. He allows the terrible state of affairs we see now—gay rights, transgendered people, crack babies, abuse of the environment, abortion, etc.—rather than deny freedom and force the will. We hold in our own hands, brothers and sisters, one of the greatest gifts given to man—freedom of choice, and we are champions of it. So was Roger Williams.
John Cotton and Roger Williams were on opposite ends of the freedom spectrum. To address this disparity, Williams published a treatise entitled The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered, and we will review a few of the tenents because if you ever have to give a reason for your faith concerning religious liberty, these texts may help you, and it may also help you understand how scripture can be used inappropriately to promote intolerance and to justify bloody persecution. In his book Williams calls upon “a witness of Jesus Christ” to provide several texts that teach against the use of persecution, which, in case you are ever tempted to dislike your neighbor because of religious differences, may be of help to you:
1) Matthew 13:30: The wheat and the tares are to grow together until the harvest.
2) Matthew 15:14: The blind leaders of the blind are to be left alone.
3) Luke 9:56: The Son of man came not to destroy, but to save.
4) 2 Timothy 2:24: The servant of the Lord is not to strive, but to be gentle to all men.
5) 2 Corinthians 10:4: The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.
6) Matthew 5:44: We are to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, and pray for them which despitefully use us.
7) Matthew 20:6: Those who are now tares may become wheat, as Saul did, and this may not occur until the eleventh hour.
8) Matthew 10:16: Jesus sent his disciples as sheep among the wolves, not as wolves among the sheep to kill, imprison, spoil, and devour the sheep.
9) Matthew 10:17: Men will deliver us up to the councils and will scourge us, but those who are sent are not to be the ones that deliver up and scourge.
10) Matthew 10:12, 13: When we enter a house, we are to salute it and let our peace be upon it, if it is worthy. We are not to enter the house to ransack it.
11) John 10:11: The Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. It is the thief who steals, kills, and destroys, not the Good Shepherd.
Williams used these texts to show that we are not to persecute those who differ with us in matters of faith. Cotton disagreed with him, however, and wrote a reply to some of the texts, misapplying Scripture at times to support his stance, and ignored the rest of the texts altogether. Cotton did not believe a heretic should be tolerated without showing successive degrees of reproach, the final of which was death, unless the heresy was only about “things of lesser moment” and in four hundred seventeen pages of his book, Williams wrote a rebuttal to the words of Cotton, calling on the reader to be attentive to the cries of souls under the altar (Revelation 6:9).
One portion of Scripture that Cotton did use to support his view of persecution and finally of death for heretics is Deuteronomy 13:6-10, with a focus on verses 9 and 10:
If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)
Cotton explained these verses in this way:
“If men be found to walk in the way of the wicked (i.e., to differ from the prevailing ‘church’), their brethren may deprive them in some cases, not only of the common air of the country by banishment, but of the common air of the world by death . . . It cannot be truly said that the Lord Jesus never appointed the civil sword for a remedy in such cases (heresy), for He did expressly appoint it in the Old Testament, nor did He abrogate it in the New Testament. . . . Deut. 13:9. ‘Thou shalt surely kill him because he has sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God.’”
We must remember, however, that Deuteronomy 13 is literally valid for God’s people when under a theocracy. Cotton, however, was applying it to a man-made government, and “Roger Williams took direct issue with a theocratic form of government established merely by men without a direct authority from God . . . ” (Ibid., p. 105)
The Puritans hoped to establish the kingdom of God in America and attempted to set up a “full-fledged theocracy” (Ibid., p. 106); however, it was a one-sided arrangement, and God was not in it. In like manner, the whole world will attempt to set up a theocracy at the end of time in a desperate effort to quell the devastating calamities and bloodshed, but God will not be in it, and we, like Williams, may find ourselves on the run, ostracized and banished.
What To Expect
While we are sensitive to the beauty of life about us—newlyweds with their tender love for each other, sweet children and their charming ways, movement of wind over tall grass, and music of the highest order—we must not forget the sure word of prophecy. Every day we must ask God to strengthen us for what we know is ahead. He has told us in no uncertain terms what to expect:
. . . the servants of God will be given over to suffer humiliation and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 229)
Their envy and hatred against those who obey the fourth commandment will wax more and more bitter. (Ibid., p. 230)
Those who will be true to God and to duty will be menaced, denounced, and proscribed. They will be betrayed “both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends.” Luke 21:16. (Ibid., p. 231)
Their confidence in God, their faith and firmness, will be severely tested. . . . Satan endeavors to terrify them with the thought that their cases are hopeless, that the stain of their defilement will never be washed away. (White, The Great Controversy, p. 618)
. . . they fear that every sin has not been repented of . . . (Ibid., p. 619)
The season of distress and anguish before us will require a faith that can endure weariness, delay, and hunger—a faith that will not faint though severely tried. The period of probation is granted to all to prepare for that time. (Ibid., p. 621)
The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal. (Ibid., p. 622)
Fearful sights of a supernatural character will soon be revealed in the heavens . . .
As the crowning act in the great drama of deception, Satan himself will personate Christ. (Ibid., p. 624)
But many of all nations and of all classes, high and low, rich and poor, black and white, will be cast into the most unjust and cruel bondage. The beloved of God pass weary days, bound in chains, shut in by prison bars, sentenced to be slain, some apparently left to die of starvation in dark and loathsome dungeons. No human ear is open to hear their moans; no human hand is ready to lend them help. (Ibid., p. 626)
. . . they will be in fear of death by starvation or by violence (Ibid., p. 634)
But God has also told us how to prepare. One way is to consider the events in our lives as his providences for the development of the character of Christ in us. We all have things we wish were not happening to us, but they are God’s providences to further the development of our characters:
God’s providence is the school in which we are to learn the meekness and lowliness of Jesus. The Lord is ever setting before us, not the way we would choose, which seems easier and pleasanter to us, but the true aims of life. It rests with us to co-operate with the agencies which Heaven employs in the work of conforming our characters to the divine model. None can neglect or defer this work but at the most fearful peril to their souls. (Ibid., p. 623)
We are to study the Bible:
Only those who have been diligent students of the Scriptures and who have received the love of the truth will be shielded from the powerful delusion that takes the world captive. By the Bible testimony these will detect the deceiver in his disguise. To all the testing time will come. By the sifting of temptation the genuine Christian will be revealed. Are the people of God now so firmly established upon His word that they would not yield to the evidence of their senses? Would they, in such a crisis, cling to the Bible and the Bible only? Satan will, if possible, prevent them from obtaining a preparation to stand in that day. He will so arrange affairs as to hedge up their way, entangle them with earthly treasures, cause them to carry a heavy, wearisome burden, that their hearts may be overcharged with the cares of this life and the day of trial may come upon them as a thief. (Ibid., p. 625)
And we are to claim the promises of God. Here are a few promises Ellen White used in connection with the time of the end:
Isaiah 30:29—Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart . . .
When you are in the deepest of sorrow, with perplexity pressing in from within and from without, claim the promise of a song in the darkness.
Revelation 3:10—I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.
When you feel you are about to be crushed in the hour of temptation, claim this promise—I WILL KEEP YOU!
Isaiah 27:5—Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.
When Satan is assailing you with your dark and scandalous past, hold on to this promise. You will have peace with God!
Genesis 32:26—I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
And during the time of Jacob’s trouble, when you are overwhelmed with your sin, do not let go of Jesus go until he blesses you, for he will!
We cannot hide our heads in the sand, close our eyes to the future, or float downstream to disaster without jeopardizing our souls. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. We must study as if our lives depended on it, and we must pray something like this every day: Father, we thank thee for the blessings of the day, for the beauty of the earth, and for the love of family, but thou hast told us what is ahead. May we never forget it. Please make us ready. Please strengthen us for that day. And then we must put our hands to the plow. Nothing is more valuable than being ready—no family, no spouse, no child, no job, no leisure activity, and no cherished food. When that day comes, you will agree. Jesus told his disciples beforehand what to expect about his death, but they did not understand. Their thoughts were on something else completely, and they were caught by terrible surprise. Let it not be the same for us. Determine to start anew with God. Jesus answered Satan with the word of God, and this is our only hope of protection in the hour of our greatest need.
Every person in every concentration camp, every person on every battlefield, and every person on every sick bed has had or has that magnificent power of choice to decide whether or not to react to each particular circumstance with anger and hatred or with the perfect trust of a child in his wonderful father.
When we reach the end of this world’s history, God’s people will be looked upon as dangerous and as worthy of death. They will have been called before courts and rulers as witnesses to them and to the world, and when all people have made their decision for or against God, probation will close. God’s children will be marked for death because they will not capitulate to the commonly-held beliefs, Sunday-sacredness being primary.
On a Friday evening many years ago, several people heard Ellen White proclaim “Look, Look!” and afterward, she wrote:
The time of trouble was upon us. I saw our people in great distress, weeping and praying, pleading the sure promises of God, while the wicked were all around us, mocking us and threatening to destroy us. They ridiculed our feebleness, they mocked at the smallness of our numbers, and taunted us with words calculated to cut deep.
They charged us with taking an independent position from all the rest of the world. They had cut off our resources so that we could not buy or sell, and referred to our abject poverty and stricken condition. They could not see how we could live without the world; we were dependent upon the world, and we must concede to the customs, practices, and laws of the world, or go out of it. If we were the only people in the world whom the Lord favored, the appearances were awfully against us. They declared that they had the truth, that miracles were among them, that angels from heaven talked with them and walked with them, that great power and signs and wonders were performed among them, and this was the temporal millennium that they had been expecting so long. The whole world was converted and in harmony with the Sunday law, and this little feeble people stood out in defiance of the laws of the land and the law of God, and claimed to be the only ones right on the earth.
“The angels from heaven have spoken to us (referring to those whom Satan personated that had died, and they claimed had gone to heaven). You will hear the testimony of the heavenly messengers.” They sneered, they mocked, they derided and abused the sorrowing ones. There was much more but I have not time to write it. . . .
Strong and terrible have become the masters of iniquity in the world under the control of Satan, but strong is the Lord God who judgeth Babylon. The just have no longer anything to fear from force or fraud as long as they are loyal and true. A mightier than the strong man armed is set for their defense. All power and greatness and excellence of character will be given to those who have believed and stood in defense of the truth, standing up and firmly defending the laws of God.
Another heavenly being exclaimed with firm and musical voice, “They have come out of great tribulation. They have walked in the fiery furnace in the world, heated intensely by the passions and caprices of men who would enforce upon them the worship of the beast and his image, who would compel them to be disloyal to the God of heaven.
“They have come from the mountains, from the rocks, from the dens and caves of the earth, from dungeons, from prisons, from secret councils, from the torture chamber, from hovels, from garrets. They have passed through sore affliction, deep self-denial, and deep disappointment. They are no longer to be the sport and ridicule of wicked men. They are to be no longer mean and sorrowful in the eyes of those who despise them.” . . .
But I have not time nor eyesight now to write all this wonderful manifestation of God. I cannot get it from my mind day or night. . . .
Oh, may God endue us with His Spirit and make us strong in His strength! In that great day of supreme and final triumph it will be seen that the righteous were strong, and that wickedness in all its forms and with all its pride was a weak and miserable failure and defeat. We will cling close to Jesus, we will trust Him, we will seek His grace and His great salvation. We must hide in Jesus, for He is a covert from the storm, a present help in time of trouble. (Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, pp. 325-327)
Freedom of choice is the one great experiment of God. Of course, he knows the outcome, but the universe doesn’t. They are watching the greatest experiment ever performed live, and it is played out in the lives of you and of me. The movements of nations, the atrocities of Satan-possessed men and women, the pollution of the earth and of the oceans, the cries of innocent babes in horrible situations, significant as they are, all fade collectively as the camera zooms in on us individually, we who are called by his name.
Our Commander in Chief holds each of our faces in his hands as if each were the only one to hold, and symbolically his tears drop on our foreheads because he knows what is before us. He is sensitive to each need, each frailty, each desire, but before he steps in to help, we must choose.
Freedom of choice was the greatest gift God gave beautiful, sinless man, and choosing to obey God is the greatest gift degraded, sinful man can return to him.
Such a gift makes the courts of heaven ring!
Such a gift completes the circle of freedom!
And such a gift as only the 144,000 can give completes the great experiment of God!
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. (Revelation 21:7)