Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Growing in Christ
Lesson 8: "The Church: In Service to Humanity"
Many say they like Jesus and they like the Bible, but they have no use for "organized religion." We now face a "vegetarian" version of this within the Seventh-day Adventist Church--people who like the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, but are doubtful about the "organized church." Is the true church merely a non-cohesive, unorganized scattering of "faithful souls"?
Abraham's descendants were elected by God to be the ancient equivalent of today's organized church. "I will make you a great nation" (Gen. 12:2). They were publicly to share and exemplify his faith. That nation became known as Israel. Her history records a series of ups and downs, with many dark episodes of corporate failure. (The "downs" were the direct result of the old covenant idea they had embraced on their own.) But her terrible backslidings, such as in the days of Elijah and Jeremiah, did not cancel the original election of God. Although they were severely punished for their apostasies, neither Israel nor Judah ever became Babylon. Even while they were captives in Babylon they remained Israel. Baal-worship was a disease that afflicted the body but did not transform it into Babylon.
Who is "Israel" today? From the beginning, Abraham's true "seed" were never merely natural descendants. Not in Ishmael but "in Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Rom. 9:7). Righteousness by faith was as true in Abraham's day as in Paul's.
Isaiah saw ahead of time what would happen in Israel's final test:
"It shall come to passThat the glory of Jacob will wane,And the fatness of his flesh grow lean. ...Yet gleaning grapes will be left in it,Like the shaking of an olive tree,Two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bough,Four or five in its most fruitful branches" (Isa. 17:4-6).
We have frequently heard a popular saying that the church will never experience repentance and reformation until persecution hits us. But the test for ancient Israel was not brought about by external force from the Roman Empire but by the gospel. What brought the nation to her final crisis was the life and death of Christ and the apostles' clear testimony at Pentecost of what it all means.
In 34 A.D. the physical nation of Israel was rejected, but the true Israel repented at Pentecost because of faith in Christ, for "if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's sees, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). That's how these contrite believers became the new Israel, the church, the true "nation bearing the fruits." The church was not an appendage or off-shoot from Israel; it was the true descendants of Abraham (Dan. 9:24; Matt. 21:42-45; Luke 20:16; Acts 13:46; Rom. 9:7, 8; 11:17, 25-27).
Likewise, it will be a revelation of the truth of righteousness by faith that precipitates the final shaking today, not persecution from the world. The Lord will do the work, not Satan. Persecution will come, but it's impossible that a lukewarm church can be persecuted by Satan. He wants to keep that church lukewarm! Only those "who live godly in Christ Jesus" can be persecuted.
It's natural for some to fear that the church and its institutions are now too big and complicated ever to be successful. But the Bible gives no hint that the growth of the body makes the Holy Spirit's work difficult or impossible. Overall, what will unify the church is pure, unadulterated truth promulgated wholeheartedly and unreservedly by its leadership.
Since the true Head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is Christ Himself, His honor and vindication are involved. He knows the way to bring healing and unity to His "body." Ellen White clearly identifies the organized SDA church as this "remnant": "In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light-bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world, ... [the] proclamation of the first, second, and third angels' messages. ... The most solemn truths ever entrusted to mortals have been given us to proclaim to the world (Testimonies to the Church, vol. 9, p. 19).
"The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out--the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place" (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 380).
How has Christ regarded this organized church? As He called Abraham and his descendants to witness to His truth in a world of paganism, so He has called Seventh-day Adventists to witness to the apostate Christian churches and to the entire world, including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and paganism.
But, if we have a firm faith that the Lord Jesus is the true Leader of this church, then we can have confidence that he will cleanse and purify it as He has promised to do. If it was the Lord Jesus who initiated this church's calling, we can be sure that He knows how to see it through.
The prophecy of Revelation 3:19 calls for a people to be raised up in the last days who fulfill the will of God and bring honor and glory to the Lamb. They will provide a convincing answer to the long-delayed Lord's prayer, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." They share executive authority with Christ in the conclusion of the great controversy. Their loyalty to Christ in no way merits salvation, but it gives convincing evidence that the gospel has the power Christ claims for it.
The Lord needs human agents through whom He can work to "set everything in order." It is not His plan to work independently of them. It is not appropriate for us to pray, "Lord please do something," and then sit back and do nothing. Those who cooperate with Christ in this work are not made of sterner or better stuff than others; they have simply seen something that others have not--the reality of the cross of Christ. This is true faith, and it has nerved them to stand for the right wherever they are, even though the heavens fall. They are the true Israel who exercise the faith of Abraham.
In a word, it is genuine righteousness by faith that has transformed these naturally timid, shy people into brave Christlike servants of truth. (In Elijah's day, there were "seven thousand" who did not bow the knee to Baal.) They may appear to be hidden, but they await only the revelation of the full truth of righteousness by faith to support fully and fearlessly its regenerating, life-giving work. The Lord needs millions of "Elijahs" who will lovingly yet firmly stand for the right, who have received and appreciated that agape which casts out fear.
The foundation text of the Seventh-day Adventist Church declares that for once in history, history will not be repeated: "Unto two thousand and three hundred days [years]; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" (Dan. 8:14). That cleansing or making right has not yet taken place for the body of the church. In order for the heavenly sanctuary to be cleansed, the Lord's sanctuary on earth must first be cleansed. The books of heaven can never record the "blotting out of sins" until this work is first accomplished in the hearts of His people on earth.
Let us spend our lifetime energies and all that we have in working with Him. "We are in the day of atonement, and we are to work in harmony with Christ's work of cleansing the sanctuary from the sins of the people. Let no man who desires to be found with the wedding garment on, resist our Lord in His office work" (Review and Herald, Jan. 21, 1890). God grant that never under any circumstances or under any pressure may we let ourselves work at cross purposes with Him.
--Excerpts from "Will the Seventh-day Adventist Church Ever Become Babylon?"Grace on Trial, by Robert J. Wieland
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