Friday, February 26, 2016

Lesson 9: The Great Controversy and the early Church

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Rebellion and Redemption
Lesson 9: The Great Controversy and the early Church
The grand finale of the work of God's Spirit will be a work of extraordinary beauty and simplicity. Ellen G. White describes it this way: "Those who wait for the Bridegroom's coming are to say to the people, 'Behold your God.' The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory." [1]

The good news is that these words will come true! The announcement will yet be sounded, "The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Rev. 19:7, 8). The key to fulfillment lies in the repentance that Christ calls for.

The secret of the early church's success was an understanding that "ye crucified Christ," and then true repentance followed. Christ crucified became the central appeal of all the apostles' ministry. The Book of Acts would never have been written if the members of the early church had not realized their share of the guilt of the murder of the Son of God, and likewise shared in the joyful experience of appropriate repentance.

Pentecost—A Glorious Model and Its Antithesis
Pentecost was a glorious model and ideal that inspired God's people for nearly 2000 years. What made those grand results possible? The people accepted the principle of corporate guilt, and frankly confessed their part in the greatest sin of all ages. "When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).

The antithesis of Pentecost was the refusal of the Sanhedrin to accept Stephen's portrayal of corporate guilt through their national history. Evidence proved that Jesus was the Messiah. But the total, final rejection came when Stephen stood before the leaders of the nation and called them to repentance by laying bare the history of the nation. Listen to his testimony:

"Stephen ... took up his defense in a clear, thrilling voice that rang through the council hall. He proceeded to rehearse the history of the chosen people of God in words that held the assembly spell-bound. He showed a thorough knowledge of the Jewish economy, and the spiritual interpretation of it now made manifest through Christ. He began with Abraham and traced down through history from generation to generation, going through all the national records of Israel to Solomon, taking up the most impressive points to vindicate his cause.

"He made plain his own loyalty to God and to the Jewish faith, while he showed that the law in which they trusted for salvation had not been able to preserve Israel from idolatry. He connected Jesus Christ with all the Jewish history. He referred to the building of the temple by Solomon, and to the words of both Solomon and Isaiah: 'Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.' 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?' ...

"When Stephen had reached this point, there was a tumult among the people. ... Although he was just in the midst of his sermon, he abruptly concluded it by suddenly breaking away from the chain of history, and, turning upon his infuriated judges, said, 'Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.'" [2]

The stoning of Stephen was the final rejection of the witness that the Holy Spirit brought, and for this malady there was no further remedy. But in that very hour when Israel sealed her eternal doom by murdering Stephen, a process began to work itself out in honest human nature that would lead to a corporate and national correction of the sin of Israel. When the "witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul," they little realized that this young man with a disturbed conscience would soon think through the structuring of a worldwide "body of Christ." It would eventually display the blessings of corporate and national repentance which the Jews tragically refused.

Chosen to Fulfill a Divine Destiny
And now, in this end-time we profess and accept that we are the Israel of God, chosen, called to fulfill a divine destiny. As children of Abraham in the last generation, are we able to learn from our spiritual forefathers of 2000 years ago and our pioneers of 150 plus years ago? When we see that the Jews rejected Christ because they rejected their own written history, does it open our eyes to the peril we face?

In 1888 we rejected "in a great measure" the "most precious message" sent by the Lord to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones." [3] The Holy Spirit which the Lord wanted to impart was shut away from us. "The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world." [4] But the "tradition of the elders" says this is not so. The thrust of well over 1800 pages (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials) supports the denial, continuing to proclaim that there was no denominational rejection. Like the Jews we deny our own history. How can the marriage of the Lamb ever take place when the Bride says, "I didn't," and the Groom says, "Oh yes you did."

Solemn consideration declares that the root of our denominational problems is to be found in our 1888 episode. The fruit of that event becomes a little more bitter with each passing year. Heavenly insight proclaims there is no need for this church to continue indefinitely. Eternity can be ushered in soon! The work can be finished in an incredibly short time. But it will require more than we have been willing to face thus far. It will require acceptance of the heavenly "eyesalve." It will require the repentance of the ages, accepting the "love" and "rebuke" which the True Witness gives. It will require an understanding of the truth of our history that so far has eluded us. It will require the correction of theological confusion. It will require the abandonment of worldly policies and man-made programs. Every species of legalism will have to die. Finally, the ultimate experience awaiting the church is like that which Jesus went through at Gethsemane. Only God's very own will be willing to accept that.

From Eden to Calvary to Laodicea the universe has watched the outworking of sin. But now the last church is on the scene. There is no eighth church. The stubborn rejection of past years can be overcome. Jesus said He would build His church. When the church accepts all that the Lord wants it to have it will fulfill the same role that Christ filled when He was on earth. His work for the "short period of three years was as long as the world could endure the presence of the Redeemer." [5] The work of God's people at the end will be as effective and will be cut short for the same reason.

A repentance like that of Pentecost is what Christ calls for from us today. It will come, like a lost vein of gold in the earth that must surface again in another place. Like medicine taken in quantity sufficient to produce a concentration in the blood stream, our repentance must be comprehensive, full-range, in order for the Holy Spirit to do a fully effective work. Some are living in the serious awareness that this is the great Final Day of Atonement. Join them!
—From the writings of Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short

Endnotes (Ellen G. White):
[1] Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 415, 416.
[2] The Story of Redemption, pp. 264, 265.
[3] Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91.
[4] Selected Messages, book 1, p. 235.
[5] The Desire of Ages, p. 541.

Raul Diaz