As the last manifestation of God’s truth and God’s character to the world, this remnant church carries a tremendous responsibility. As our name indicates, we are the remnant, or final end-piece, of a long illustrious line of loyalists whose minority voices have been heard in every generation since Christ was here. Those same neglected doctrines and standards which were so dear to our spiritual forebears have been handed to us to defend in the last generation. What a privilege!
The early church suffered and died for those principles. The Waldenses, Reformers and Puritans laid down their lives in defense of the original faith delivered to the saints. We are now charged with the protection and proclamation of the same pure gospel. Dare we dilute it or allow it to be changed?
Perhaps we need to be reminded of how those persecuted ancestors of ours exercised unbelievable courage in standing for unpopular truth. In 1593, the English Parliament branded as “disloyal persons” all who worshiped outside the Church of England. They did this because increasing numbers of ardent, reform-minded Puritans were withdrawing from the state church and organizing independent congregations. Death or expulsion from the country was decreed against all who did not stay with the Church of England.
But the spirit of reform could not be suppressed. By the time Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, fully ten percent of the Anglican clergy were converted to the Puritan views. And when King James arrived in London that same year to assume the crown, he was immediately waited upon by a delegation of ministers who presented him with the “Millinary Petition,” so-called because it was signed by one thousand members of the Church of England clergy. In the New King James Bible, printed by Thomas Nelson, a historical supplement in the back of the Bible describes some of the requests made by those concerned preachers in their Petition to the new king. “The Petition asked that the sign of the cross be abolished in baptism, the use of the ring be dropped from the marriage ceremony, and that the wearing of a cap and surplice—the loose fitting white gown worn by some of the clergy—be made optional.” (p. 222).
Although it may seem puzzling to modern Christians that one tenth of the Protestant ministers of England should have been so concerned over such seemingly trivial matters as wedding rings and crosses, we need to understand the basis for their protest. They were living closer to the heathen origin of those practices, and held stronger convictions against mingling the holy and the profane. Sister White explains why they made these matters such issues of reform:
“The English Reformers, while renouncing the doctrines of Romanism, had retained many of its forms. Thus though the authority and creed of Rome were rejected, not a few of her customs and ceremonies were incorporated into the worship of the Church of England. It was claimed that these things were not matters of conscience; that though they were not commanded in Scripture, and hence were nonessential, yet not being forbidden, they were not intrinsically evil. Their observance tended to narrow the gulf which separated the reformed churches from Rome, and it was argued that they would promote the acceptance of the Protestant faith by Romanists.
“To the conservative and compromising, these arguments seemed conclusive. But there was another class that did not so judge. The fact that these customs tended to bridge over the chasm between Rome and the Reformation was in their view a conclusive argument against retaining them. They looked upon them as badges of the slavery from which they had been delivered and to which they had no disposition to return. They reasoned that God has in His Word established the regulations governing His worship, and that men are not at liberty to add to these or to detract from them. The very beginning of the great apostasy was in seeking to supplement the authority of God by that of the church. Rome began by enjoining what God had not forbidden, and she ended by forbidding ding what He had explicitly enjoined.
“Many earnestly desired to return to the purity and simplicity which characterized the primitive church. They regarded many of the established customs of the English Church as monuments of idolatry, and they could not in conscience unite in her worship.” The Great Controversy, pp. 289, 290.
I have quoted at length so that you can get the inspired picture of why the religious ancestors of our own church rejected those worship customs which were tainted with Romanism and paganism. Even
though the wedding ring and crosses were not specifically forbidden in the Bible, the reformers evidently knew the background of those customs and considered them “monuments of idolatry.” They wanted nothing which would link them to the manmade traditions of the apostate Catholic Church.
Evidence that the heathen connection was well known by the Church of England leadership is fully established by the famous statement of John Henry Newman. After he forsook Anglicanism to become, later, a cardinal of the Church of Rome, he wrote: “Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward adornments to which they had been accustomed in their own. It is not necessary to go into a subject which the diligence of Protestant writers has made familiar to most of us. The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints ... incense ... candles ... holy water ...processions...the ring in marriage, turning to the east, images at a later date ... are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church.” An Essay On the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 373. (Emphasis supplied.)
Surely if this apostate of the Church of England i understood the religious elements which had been inherited from paganism, the loyal Puritans would have been more aware of them. Newman said that it was the diligence of Protestant writers which had made these facts well known. No wonder the protesting Puritans felt uncomfortable about the use of the wedding ring.
It is significant that Ellen White enjoined the Puritan principles on dress as the model for modern Christians.
“Puritan plainness and simplicity should mark the dwellings and apparel of all who believe the solemn truths for this time.” Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 189.
“Not one penny should be spent for a circlet of gold to testify that we are married.” Testimonies to Ministers, p. 181.
“That ring encircling your finger may be very plain, but it is useless, and the wearing of it has a wrong influence upon others.” Testimonies, Vol. 4, p. 630.
“To dress plainly, abstaining from display of jewelry and ornaments of every kind, is in keeping with our faith.” Testimonies, Vol. 3, p. 366.
It was those courageous Puritan protesters against remnants of error and idolatry who made their way to this continent and established the Protestantism of America. How sad it is that their bold convictions did not continue to prevail among the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers. Some did hold on to the true faith and became links in maintaining and restoring those principles to the Seventh-day Adventist Church when it emerged in the midnineteenth century. John Wesley was greatly influenced by the Puritan ethic of revival and reformation within the established church.
Our own church leaders in one of the earliest Review and Herald magazines paid tribute to Wesley as an ancestral champion of our view on high Christian’ standards. In defense of the Adventist stand on jewelry’: they quoted Wesley’s appeal to the early Methodists:
“I exhort you to wear no gold, no pearls, or precious stones.... I do not advise women to wear rings, earrings, necklaces.... It is true these things are little, very little things; therefore, they are not worth defending; therefore give them up, let them drop, throw them away, without another word; else a little needle may cause much pain in the flesh, a little self-indulgence much hurt to your soul.” (Review and Herald, July 10, 1855).
Today it is sobering to see how Wesley’s fears were fulfilled. He was addressing a smaller church than our own, who held standards very little different from ours. Those early Methodists were instructed, not only against a wedding ring, but against drinking tea, dancing, etc. Yet, that little needle which Wesley referred to-that tiny bit of worldly leaven-has permeated the ten million member Methodist Church to such a degree that 82 percent of its ministers do not even believe in the inspiration of the, Bible anymore. Drinking, smoking and gambling are no longer foundational issues, even among the pastoral leadership of the church.
Some Methodist ministers are perceptive enough to recognize how this tragedy happened, and why, today the church is losing many more members than it is gaining. Dean M. Kelly, ordained Methodist minister; author and church growth expert, wrote an article for the Ministry magazine entitled, “How Adventism Can Stop Growing.” It appeared in the February, 1983 issues
After citing the declining membership of his own church, as well as other large, formal, mainline Protestant churches, he gave this candid advice to the Seventh-day Adventist Church:
“If Adventists want to stop growing and begin declining like everybody else, all they have to do is to emphasize that abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and caffeine isn’t really essential to salvation. Decide that vegetarianism isn’t actually all that important, and foot-washing is a little tacky.... Recognize that membership in labor unions might not be altogether a bad thing, and that tithing, like the requirements already mentioned, can be a form of righteousness by works....
“The things that I have mentioned...are the things that make the Seventh-day Adventist movement unique, distinctive and demanding. They give it its bite, its convincingness, its seriousness. Each church needs its own way of insisting that ‘you’ve got to live up to this to be one of us.’ If you strip the requirements all away, you can render the movement feeble, pallid, and ordinary overnight. So there’s the answer to the question: How can the Seventhday Adventist Church stop growing? Be like the Methodists.” (p. 7.)
Did you follow that amazing concession? Be like the Methodists if you want to lose power, vitality and membership. What did they do? They lost those unique high standards that demanded sacrifice and self-denial. Are we heeding the lesson to which he is pointing us? Are we able to learn from the record of our Puritan ancestors, from John Wesley, and from the example of these once-virile church giants which now sit in decay and apathy?
Perhaps I should also tell you that in the following issues of Ministry magazine, four strong letters of protest were registered against the article. Were they written by Methodist preachers? No, they were written by Adventist ministers who, believe it or not, contended that Kelly’s position was too works-oriented. They were already busily rejecting the counsel of the Methodist minister by trying to emulate the Methodists. Perhaps they had read and believed that Adventist publication which declared, “We are not given salvation because of our good deeds, nor are we deprived of it because of our misdeeds.” If so, Dean Kelly’s final paragraph must have irritated them to no end. The Methodist advice to the Adventist ministry was this: “Now I know it’s true that there is no particular thing you can do to commend yourself to God, but there are a lot of things you can do that will separate yourself from God. They are called sins.” Shades of John Wesley! All Methodists haven’t forgotten. Have we?
It would be a most profitable experience to follow the course of those dynamic religious movements through the years, and confirm the erosive process of compromise which finally did them in. But as a church, we have not yet been willing to face up to it. For some reason, we still seem to believe that more members can be acquired if we lower the restrictions and make it easier to qualify. That is surely the most popular road to follow, but is it the right one? Even if we could win larger numbers, they would be a weakness instead of a strength to the corporate body.
Sister White said:
“We are not to elevate our standard just a little above the world’s standard; but we are to make the line of demarcation decidedly apparent.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 288-289.
Again she wrote:
“The test of discipleship is not brought to bear as closely as it should be upon those who present themselves for baptism. It should be understood whether those who profess to be converted are simply taking the name of Seventh-day Adventists, or whether they are taking their stand on the Lord’s side to come out from the world and be separate and touch not the unclean thing.” Testimonies to Ministers, p. 128.
I’d like to suggest that there are four reasons for Satan’s incredible success rate in sweeping so many Seventh-day Adventists into his snare of popular, worldly indulgences. First: We have been deceived into thinking that attention to external concerns is a form of legalism and totally irrelevant to salvation. Second: We have been deceived into believing that God does it all, and any effort on our part to overcome sin is an exercise of the flesh. Third: We have failed to understand that we are responsible for closing doors of temptation and removing ourselves from the circumstances creating the temptation. Fourth: We have been deceived into an accommodation of culture in order to appear less isolated, unfriendly and peculiar to the society around us.
How safe is it to seek a cordial coexistence with culture? Should there indeed be congeniality with those majority elements in society which dictate how people should live? I submit that we as Seventh-day Adventist Christians should make no attempt to tailor our standards in order to be more socially acceptable. There is not a country in the world whose culture is not carnal. We owe no degree of allegiance to the worldly lifestyle of an AIDS-stricken, entertainment-mad society.
I am fearful even to think about the future consequences of the seeds which have already begun to grow in our young people. Researchers from Andrews University reported that nineteen percent of Seventh-day Adventist youth see nothing wrong with premarital sex and another nineteen percent are not sure that it is a sin. This is almost forty percent of our total young people surveyed. We have no reason to believe that their confused moral values are not leading into the same promiscuous excesses as the rest of society. Adventist ministers are spending more and more time counseling those who have contracted venereal diseases as well as those who have alcohol and drug problems.
As the AIDS plague penetrates deeper into the heterosexual community, will our own college students be protected from infection? If nearly forty percent of them have no conviction of conscience to protect their virtue, how can they escape the predicted holocaust of death which no vaccine or treatment has been able to arrest? And what about those young people who will be at risk on our campuses because they innocently believe every Adventist college to be a “haven from the world”?
Please do not assume that I am placing the responsibility upon the colleges. The break-down of morals really begins in the home and the church. The wicked, perverted principles of Satan have filled the minds of our boys and girls from their earliest years. How can one hour of Sabbath School each week counteract the twenty or thirty television hours of implicit (and often explicit) instruction in sin?
We must also ask what they are hearing in the church which prepares them to reject the entertainment of the world. Pastors and Pathfinder leaders often accompany our children to the exciting sports arenas where teams fiercely compete to beat each other down.
Incidentally, there surely must be a parallel between Intertestamental times and our own day. During those four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew, God wanted His people, the Jews, to be preparing the world for the first coming of Jesus. But history tells us that they became Hellenized, and were almost swallowed up by assimilation into the Greek culture. Especially were they fascinated by the great Olympic sports events of the stadiums. We are told that the Jews began to take part in the athletic competition, even to the point of exercising nude in the sacred temple precincts. Some of the priests were involved in the gymnastic activities. This hellenization program led finally to acceptance of many pagan practices. Parents changed the names of their children from the combinations of Yahweh to the names of corrupt Greek gods and goddesses.
Now we live in another special age just before Jesus is to come the second time. Again, we find the people of God obsessed with the spirit of rivalry and commercialized competitive sports. The “gods” of this age are the idols of baseball, basketball, football, and tennis. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has not gone as far as the Jews, but we have been so impacted by the frenzy that we have officially discussed the issue of intercollegiate sports as an accepted feature of our church and school system. Will this secularization affect us in the same way it did God’s people of old? Will we be so busy practicing our games, and competing to “beat” the other team, that we have no time for sharing the good news about Christ’s soon coming?
Should we not begin to speak out against these preoccupations that dull our spiritual sensibilities and open up avenues of the mind for Satan’s influence? We need not apologize for writing articles and preaching sermons about the incredible emotional assaults of Satan against the senses. These things may not be tests of fellowship, but they might well be tests of obedience for these special times. It is a fearful thing to take pleasure in those activities that God hates. This is a mark of half-hearted Laodicea.
Someone might ask at this point, who then can be saved? If the mind can be so easily influenced, and the flesh has such incredible appeal, what hope do we have for victory? Not even the most concentrated forces of temptation can cause a person to sin unless he gives mental consent and physical cooperation to the tempter. All who are controlled by Satan must choose to be controlled by him. By choosing to cooperate with Christ, we are immediately allied to a source of irresistible strength and victory. We have the final word. A decision to serve Christ will bring to our side the same kind of angel messengers who ministered to Daniel and Joseph in their besetments.
It would be just as serious for us to underestimate the power of our ally as to misjudge the strength of our enemy. We have no cause to be discouraged. He that is for us is greater than he that is against us. The secret is in the will-the power of choice. Once we have made the decision to accept Christ as the Lord of our life, we also receive the insulating energy of the Holy Spirit to protect all approaches to the newly-committed mind. But we need to say it again: THAT PROTECTION IS NOT AUTOMATIC. The power is there, and the victory is there, but we must exercise it in resisting the entrance of sin through the five senses. This is faith that works. We get no credit for the victory, because without Him we can do nothing.
Yet, after recognizing the glorious truth that all may have the victory, we must sadly confess that the majority in the church today are in the lukewarm state of Laodicea. They are not laying hold of the precious experience of true righteousness by faith. There is an alarming lack of concern over the honor of God’s law, and reflecting God’s character. It is all through our ranks, at all levels of laity and leadership. Few would deny this. We would be less than honest if we pretended that only the unordained church members are having struggles in keeping self under subjection to Christ. The fallen nature is waging exactly the same kind of battle against the spiritual mind in every single individual, no matter what our position in the church. Not one of us can retain the mind of Christ unless we are receiving the imputed and imparted merits of our Saviour on a continual, daily basis. How easy it is to start depending on human effort, neglect the personal hours of devotion, and begin deviating from the blueprint of God’s Word. It is only as we saturate our minds with the inspired counsels of the Holy Spirit, and follow those counsels, that we can be true shepherds and administrators of God’s work.
It is a tremendously weighty responsibility to be chosen as an officer or leader in the remnant church. Qualities of character and leadership are not conferred upon certain positions, but upon persons who meet the spiritual requirements of the office. The wisdom to be a good deacon, elder or conference president will accrue only to those who seek for it in a deep, personal way. In this time of compromise and Laodiceanism, we desperately need overseers who can lead us back to the “first love” experience in Christ. If leaders are “blind” and “naked” it bodes very ill for the lukewarm local body which gropes for
direction from those over them.