Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"The Church"

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic 

The Teachings of Jesus

Lesson 8: "The Church"

Our Sabbath school lesson writers are concerned that the unity of the church is being threatened. Thus this theme is emphasized. Indeed, there are many social issues in the church that divide activists in the church. But the biggest threat to unity is the combination of Arminian-Calvinist theology. God has revealed in our 1888 history an understanding of righteousness by faith, which is consistent with the cleansing of the sanctuary. Continued resistance creates a vacuum for the ideas of modern Protestantism to enter.

The 1844 movement was as near to being love-filled and unselfish as any group of people since the early church of the apostles who gave their wealth in an outpouring of love (agape) to help people in need, inspired by the then-recent demonstration of God's love in Christ. These 1844 people, members of many different denominations, were the true "ecumenists" of all time. They seriously sought to fulfill Christ's prayer that His followers "all may be one" (John 17:21). It was Bible truth that brought these people of many different persuasions and cultures into that oneness. There was no fanaticism; just a sweet harmony in their common belief in the love of Christ.

How can millions of Christians around the world be unified? It's important, because Jesus said that the only way the world can be brought to believe in Him is when His followers "all may be one, ... that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:21). Something He calls "Thy truth" is the only thing that will unite them (John 17:17). Paul calls it "the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:5, 14). The success or failure of Christ's mission for the world therefore depends on that "truth" bringing His people who profess to "keep His commandments and the faith of Jesus" into one (Rev. 14:12).

Can anyone follow Christ truly and not be engaged in warfare? Jesus Himself is heavily engaged in a war known as "the great controversy between Christ and Satan." Why is there so much opposition when truth is proclaimed, even sometimes in the church?

For example, Bible teaching is clear as sunlight that the new covenant is the "better promises" of God, and the old covenant is the worthless promises of the people (Heb. 8:8-10): yet old covenant ideas keep cropping up, and there is tension and suspicion where there should be pleasant fellowship and harmony among the people of God.

He has told us not to be surprised by the painful opposition coming sometimes from God's true people in the last days. He says to us, "The disciple is not above his master, ... Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword. ..." (Matt. 10:34, 39). As Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), so He prays today.

And the prayer will be answered: God does forgive His people for opposing and rejecting the beginning of the latter rain and the loud cry; but He will also be very severe. He gives any generation only one chance to accept or reject "the beginning" of that rare and most precious gift of the latter rain.

Unity is essential. But unity cannot truly be achieved by a denial or suppression of truth. Jesus prayed for His disciples, "That they all may be one" (John 17:21). Just before, He said, "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). And He had given them the promise, "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Ellen White writes: "We are to receive sanctification through obedience to the word and the Spirit of truth. We can not surrender the truth in order to accomplish this union; for the very means by which it is gained is sanctification through the truth. Human wisdom would change all this, thinking this basis of union too narrow. Men would effect a union through conformity to popular opinions, through a compromise with the world. But truth is God's basis for the unity of His people." [1]

A temporary illusion of unity may follow in the wake of threats and fear; but only the Holy Spirit, who is "the Spirit of truth," can bring us all into the unity for which Christ prayed. Apparently, controversy or agitations is not always and necessarily an unmitigated evil." [2] The Holy Spirit guides us into unity through coming together in submission to the Word. Those who depart from the truth are responsible for any lack of unity which may result, and the only way to secure unity again is to renounce error and accept the truth.

One area of conflict that has raged in minds and hearts for hundreds of years is "justification by faith." The battle has been going on for most of the 2000 years since Christ. One entire book in the New Testament is devoted to the conflict--the Book of Galatians. There was no way one could be a Christian then and not take a side either for what Paul declared is "the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:5, 14) or for the false teachers who came from "Jerusalem" to oppose him. And the battle has not subsided even today!

When Jesus the night before His death prayed His last prayer to His heavenly Father in John 17 in the presence of His few disciples, He clearly settled the issue of "justification by faith." [3] This is the dynamic of the 1888 message.

Jesus distinguished between two groups of people: The first group is the "all flesh" mentioned in John 17:2. He says that the Father sent Him into the world so that He might "give to them everlasting life." "As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him." Jesus has saved the word before anyone in the world has asked Him to save them. So many refuse their salvation made effective by Christ. By persistent resistance to Christ they are lost.

The second group is the people whom the Father gave Him who are "out of the world" (17:6). "I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word." To them He says He "has manifested Your name, and they have observed [or received]" the blessing which the Father has given to the world "in Christ."

The fact that many "in the world" don't want to receive the gift God has given them does not mean that the gift was not given to them. If a person refuses to believe in Christ, that does not mean that Christ did not die for him. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" long before you or I chose to believe or disbelieve! Our unbelief cannot annul the faith of God, says Paul in Rom. 3:3. In the final judgment before the Great White Throne at the end of the biblical millennium (Rev. 20:11-15) the lost will realize that their life-long unbelief was a rejection of the "everlasting life" which the Father had given them "in Christ."

What makes the 1888 understanding of righteousness by faith consistent with the cleansing of the sanctuary truth (which our High Priest is revealing to us), is the fact that when Christ's gift is appreciated, it reconciles the heart to God. The at-one-ment with God is achieved, for divine agape motivates faith which works obedience to all the commandments of God. The good news is: Jesus saves us and we are yoked with Him for service in harmony with His law.

Jesus has a burden on His heart that last night: the disunity that has plagued His followers through the ages. Could it be that the root of that tragically persistent disunity is the unconscious refusal of "Christian" hearts to appreciate that the gift was given to the world? Could it be that in our "lukewarm" hearts we want to circumscribe or limit the love of Christ and reduce salvation to a mere offer? Do we want to glory in our own initiative to receive? When we enter the New Jerusalem do we want to say, "I'm here because I believed! I grabbed the offer! I took the initiative in my salvation!"

It seems very likely that those who enter will beat upon their breasts and say, "I'm unworthy! I'm here only because of the grace of God, not because of my taking the initiative to believe. To Him alone be all the glory!" Oh, may the realization of the gift given move our hearts out of our collective lukewarmness today!

--Paul E. Penno


[1] Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 391.

[2] "The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God's people, should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. There is reason to fear that they may not be clearly discriminating between truth and error. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what.

"I have been shown that many who profess to have a knowledge of present truth, know not what they believe. They do not understand the evidences of their faith. They have no just appreciation of the work for the present time. When the time of trial shall come, there are men now preaching to others, who will find, upon examining the positions they hold, that there are many things for which they can give no satisfactory reason. Until thus tested, they knew not their great ignorance" (ibid., p. 298).

[3] "Great truths that have lain unheeded and unseen since the day of Pentecost, are to shine from God's word in their native purity. To those who truly love God the Holy Spirit will reveal truths that have faded from the mind, and will also reveal truths that are entirely new" (Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 473).
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Raul Diaz