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Chapter Twenty Six
The Place of the Adventist Church in the Larger Christian World.
Looking back through history we can see how God's hand was at work. We can see how He prepared the world for the first coming of Christ. In Galatians 4:4 Paul tells us how in due time God sent His Son. At this time there was a loss of faith in pagan religions. All over the world men and women were looking for something better. Roman peace made it possible for the apostles to travel from country to country. There was a common Greek language which enabled men and women from different cultures to communicate with each other. The stage was set for God to send forth His Son.
In the 16th century the stage was set again for the great Protestant Reformation. There was political unrest in Germany and much of Europe. Princes and rulers were upset that money from the sale of indulgences was leaving their country and going to Rome. The recent invention of the printing press made if possible for the Bible to be printed in the language of the people. It also made it possible to print the tracts of Luther and other reformers. The work of Erasmus as a critic of the Papacy is said to have "laid the egg that Luther hatched".
The 19th Century Setting
Once again in the early 19th century the stage was set by God to raise up a special message to prepare His people for the events which were to unfold and prepare His people for the coming of Christ. It was in this century that Darwin produced his book The Origin of the Species. This book proved to be one of the most significant books ever
written in modern times in that it challenged long held ideas on the creation story as expressed in the Bible. It also helped to give life to a radical form of biblical criticism. It was also during this century that Marx and Engels wrote their book, The Communist Manifesto. This book was to produce some "earth shattering" political upheavals during the 20th century and cause many governments to go to war against the Christian church. It was during this century that the Fox sisters heard the rappings in their home in Hydesville NY which were to give birth to the modern form of spiritism. The 19th century also commences the writings of the Existential writers denying the adequacy of any system of beliefs and a revolt against rationalism. This system was to lead into the "Death of God" theology of the 20th century.
The 19th century was also a time when the Christian church as a whole lost its emphasis on the nearness of the second coming of Christ. This was due in part to the prevailing idea that the coming of Christ was to be preceded by a 1000 years of peace on earth.
God Raised a Movement with a Special Purpose
It was in the 19th century that God raised up a movement which would have a special message to give to both the Christian and non-Christian world. It would emphasize:
The everlasting gospel as the only way to find peace and salvation in a troubled world.
The Sabbath as God's memorial of creation. The Genesis story of creation reminds us that we are not orphans. We are sons and daughters of God. Life has meaning and purpose.
The soon coming of Christ as a "blessed hope" and the way out of all the troubles the world faces.
That we only have immortality through Christ which is bestowed at His second coming.
The Relevance of Adventism
The core teachings of this movement are as relevant to the modern era as air to lungs, as seed to the soil. The main ideas of
movement would, if correctly understood, meet the needs of the world as it faces the end time.
It would answer atheistic evolution. There is a creator and we know this and show it by keeping His Sabbath day of rest. If you tell people you keep the Sabbath you make clear many other things you believe. It means you believe in the Genesis story of creation. You believe God is there caring for this world. Life has meaning and purpose. We were put here to care for this world and we are not doing it too well.
It would answer spiritualism, occultism, and new age movements by declaring that we are not immortal and only have life in Christ.
In an age of falling morality and anarchy it would point to the law of God.
It would point to the Great Controversy theme to give meaning to life and suffering.
But at the heart of it all was to be the everlasting gospel. Without this nothing else has meaning or even a place. All else works out from this. If it not in its rightful place then we finish up with legalism, the religion of the Pharisees.
Amazing Origin of Adventism
When I look at the founding of Adventism I cannot help but be amazed. Many streams of theological thought fed into the river. Methodists, Baptists, Christian Connectionists, etc.
The Founders of Adventism lived through the great disappointment. They were mostly young people. There was not one professionally trained Bible scholar among them. About all that they had were their Bibles and a concordance. Sometimes they are naive.
They are self -taught and often use terrible arguments to prove a point. They grew up in a primeval soup of theological thought. It is amazing that they came out as well as they did with the key teachings which today are so central to Adventism. In part they came out as well as they did because the Gift of Prophecy was manifested among them in a remarkable way in the person of Ellen White.
She told them that they had "many things to learn and unlearn" and that they had "but the faintest gleanings of the light which was yet to come". It was true, as she had often told them, that they did not get everything right. But whoever does? God can still be with people even if they do not get everything right. If He had to find people who had a correct understanding on everything, who could He ever use?
God Works with Ordinary People
Remember Luther told the princes to "stab them, hang them" at the time of the peasant's revolt.
The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon was a Calvinist and preached eternal hell.
John Wesley developed second blessing theology which today is central to the Pentecostal movement. He also makes an eloquent defense of infant baptism.
God has to work with ordinary human beings. No one person or movement is ever wholly right or wholly wrong. Our acceptance before God does not depend upon our being right in every area of theological thought. However God does expect His people and His church to be open and honest in their attitude towards truth.
It should not surprise us that a new generation is going to see some things different and express them differently. This has been happening all through history. It has also been happening in Adventism. We have shed some terrible arguments used in defending the law and the Sabbath. We have changed our views on prophecy and Armageddon.
Amazing Adventist Truths
The thing that amazes me is how they got so much right. And how much we have been able to retain.
The Great Controversy theme helps us to understand that God in control even when we see so much suffering around us.
As law and order and anarchy set in and relativism dominates culture the world in which we live needs to know that there is a Creator God who has told us what is right and wrong. He has given us His law. There is objective right and wrong. It is a sin to break that law.
The Second Coming of Jesus gives hope to a world very short on hope. Where will we all be in the future? Will we be just another civilization buried? Will we blow ourselves up? Choke in our own garbage? Or will we be walking the streets of the New Jerusalem?
Advents Relevance for Today
The main ideas of Adventism are relevant. We do have a message that the world needs to hear. And that message will be heard and it will be successful, providing we keep one idea central. That is the good news about Jesus Christ.
Why would you keep the Sabbath? Only because you want to honor the One who died for you on Calvary. The Creator of Genesis is the Christ of Calvary.
I only have life in Him. He who has the Son has life. I want to honor Him in the way I treat my body. He who made us in the beginning is coming back again to take us home.
If we leave out the gospel we have missed the heart of Adventism. Correct doctrine without the gospel just makes a lot of legalistic Pharisees.
The gospel will always be relevant in any age and in any culture. Because men and women are always lost sinners needing a Saviour.
We cannot hope to stay back in a world that no longer exists. To insist on a Signs of the Times of a world that is no longer with us may actually weaken belief in the soon coming of Jesus. It may preserve the letter; but miss the spirit of what Adventism was meant to be. As they were relevant in their culture so we must be in our culture. It was the open spirit they had after the disappointment which caused them to open their minds to the leading of the Spirit. They never wanted to lock the movement into a creed. They wanted to be open to God's leading in the future.
The Place of Adventism in Today's World
We are better educated than they were. We have trained scholars. We have gone out after education. EGW urged us to teach the youth to be thinkers not mere reflectors of other men's opinions. And that is what has happened. So we do need to expect that some new thoughts will be arriving on the scene. But to have this is still to have the essential essence of what Adventist was always meant to be.
The tree is not just its roots. If it is alive it bears fruit because it maintains contact with its roots and produces fruit because of that. But it must not become root bound. So what is our place in the religious world? Do we matter at all? We are so small and insignificant.
Jack Provonsha sees the Adventist movement acting as a catalyst as it preaches at the end time. The preaching of this message under the power of the Holy Spirit ignites last day events. Just exactly how that will happen will be best understood at the time.
Luther was the catalyst for igniting the Reformation. It just took one man to make a stand and all rallied around him. The stage had been set and then it happened
The great truths which we preach are a message from God to prepare a people for the coming of Jesus. This message has been planted around the world ready to be used as a catalyst. The stage is set. We will be amazed at how and when God will ignite it all.