What Shall We Say to the World?
ASI has a history. It was formed in 1947 on a foundation that had been years in the making. Our church also has a history. We trace our origins as a people to 1844.
Twenty-five hundred years earlier, God had given a series of prophetic visions to Daniel. Hanging a provocative veil of mystery over those prophecies, the angel Gabriel told Daniel that his book would be “sealed” to human understanding “till the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9). The apostle John received a follow-up vision in which an angel handed him a “little book” and told him to “eat” it. He did so and discovered it to be sweet in the mouth but bitter in the belly (Revelation 10).
In exact fulfillment of John’s vision, the Advent movement arose on the stage of history in the early 1800s. Eager men and women who longed to understand their place in prophetic history studied the book of Daniel. They concluded that the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14 pointed to October 22, 1844. Excited by their discovery, but mystified as to what event might occur on that date, they wrongly concluded that it must be the second advent of Jesus. The expectation was, indeed, sweet to the taste. But when the date passed and Jesus did not come, the whole experience turned agonizingly bitter. And yet, that wasn’t the end of the story.
John was then shown that the Advent movement, after the great disappointment, would be called upon to “prophesy again before many peoples, nations, tongues and kings” (Revelation 10:11). The movement was not over, but rather just beginning. A message was now to be given to the world.
But what message? This was (and still is) the big question looming large with eternal significance over the Advent people.
The answer began to come clear as those early “pioneers” entered by faith and Bible study into the Most Holy Place. To their studious minds, “the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the Ark of the Covenant was seen in His temple” (Revelation 11:19). Making their way into the Holy of Holies, something astounding began to happen. A cohesive system of truth unfolded before them: the immutability of God’s Law, the Sabbath, the judgment, the great controversy, the natural mortality of the soul, the true nature of hell, the second coming, and a connected grasp of end-time prophecy.
So far, so good.
But then, as these vital truths came to light, something tragic happened. The Advent people began settling into the Laodicean condition. As early as 1852, God revealed to Ellen White that “[t]he words addressed to the Laodicean church describe their present condition perfectly” (Review and Herald, Dec. 31, 1852).
Meaning what, exactly?
The Laodicean condition is not characterized by inactivity, but rather by diligent activity in the wrong direction. It is essentially a self-centered orientation rather than a Christ-centered message and experience. Having received a wealth of doctrinal information, Adventism began to view itself as “rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing,” while in reality we had become “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). The movement became spiritually arrogant in its zealous argumentation of doctrinal facts, while the most essential elements of truth were largely missing from Adventist preaching and experience. The testimony of the True Witness to the Laodiceans made clear what was lacking:
“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:18).
“The gold tried in the fire is faith that works by love” as opposed to a salvation by works orientation (see Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 158). The “white garments” symbolize the free gift of Christ’s righteousness as opposed to our own self-generated, law-centered righteousness. And the “eye salve” represents spiritual discernment to see ourselves as we really are. These were, and still are, the vital elements largely missing from Adventism, especially from Adventism in its most active forms.
As the years went by we developed a style and content to our evangelistic preaching that reflected our Laodicean condition. We became so deeply entrenched in preaching “the truth” without Christ at the center that God had to intervene at the General Conference session of 1888.
“The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His spirit in a large measure. . . . The message of the gospel of His grace was to be given to the church in clear and distinct lines, that the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, the law, but do not teach or believe Christ” (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91-92).
In our Laodicean pride, the message delivered by Jones and Waggoner was largely resisted: “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” (1888 Materials, p. 1575).
In the years that followed 1888, having blocked the gospel of God’s grace from taking its rightful place at the center of our message, Adventism proceeded to perfect the art of factual doctrinal preaching while increasingly losing sight of Jesus. Ellen White issued warning after warning:
“As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. . . . We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth” (1888 Materials, p. 560).
“On the one hand, religionists generally have divorced the law and the gospel, while we have, on the other hand, almost done the same from another standpoint. We have not held up before the people the righteousness of Christ and the full significance of His great plan of redemption. We have left out Christ and His matchless love, brought in theories and reasonings, and preached argumentative discourses” (1888 Materials, p. 822).
“The danger has been presented to me again and again of entertaining, as a people, false ideas of justification by faith. I have been shown for years that Satan would work in a special manner to confuse the mind on this point. The law of God has been largely dwelt upon and has been presented to congregations, almost as destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His relation to the law as was the offering of Cain” (1888 Materials, p. 810).
“There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone” (Faith and Works, p. 19).
“The preaching of Christ crucified has been strangely neglected by our people. . . . There must be a life-giving power in the ministry. Life must be infused into the missionaries in every place, that they may go forth giving the trumpet no uncertain sound, but with heaven-sent, awakening power, such as can be found only in the preaching of Jesus Christ—His love, His forgiveness, His grace” (1888 Materials, pp. 842, 844-855).
“There is one great central truth to be kept ever before the mind in the searching of the Scriptures—Christ and Him crucified. Every other truth is invested with influence and power corresponding to its relation to this theme” (The Faith I Live By, p. 50).
“The truth for this time is broad in its outlines, far reaching, embracing many doctrines; but these doctrines are not detached items, which mean little; they are united by golden threads, forming a complete whole, with Christ as the living center” (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 87).
If we are to take Ellen White’s assessments seriously, the greatest danger we face as a people is that we would continue in our deeply ingrained Laodicean habit of preaching “the truth” as a list of provable doctrinal facts void of “Christ as the living center.” To do so is to persist in a path that the prophetic voice of Ellen White explicitly warned against. It is high time that we take notice of our history, that we awake from our Laodicean pride, that we preach Christ and Him crucified, Christ in all His matchless love, Christ alone as our righteousness by the free gift of God’s grace.
Only then will we fulfill God’s purpose for us as a people.