To prepare people for eternal life.
The Cooperative Spirit of Heaven
In the great family of heaven, each one has his own individual personality, each has freedom, yet no one misuses that freedom to act independently, for all are held together by the cords of humility toward self and love toward one another.
As the bee extracts the honey and leaves the pollen, so in heaven, each one receives in order to give — each works so as to benefit one another.
Thus there is perfect harmony, yet with each maintaining his own identity, uniqueness and function.
Even God does not act independently. In fact, we should say especially God! Everything He does is for the well being of His creatures. In all that He does, He elicits the love and cooperation of those He has created. Consider the creation of Adam.
As soon as he was created, God set him to work to assist Him.
God asked him to name the animals. How much easier it would have been for God to have named the animals without Adam’s help.
When Adam was created God programmed his mind with words and language —
but He intentionally left out of his vocabulary the names of the animals so that Adam could unite with Him, as far as possible, in the work He was doing. The Bible says,
“We are God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3: 91).
Then God went far beyond merely having Adam name the animals.
He told Adam and Eve that they and their descendants were to continue the work that God had begun of populating the earth.
God created just enough people so that they could continue His work. Again, how much easier it would have been for God to simply create, in a moment of time, enough people to populate the earth at the beginning — and they would have all been perfect! No one would have been raised by faulty parents!
What a risk God took, and how poorly most people have done in carrying on the procreation work of God by the way they have raised their children. Yet, in spite of failure, God has not taken the responsibility away from the human family.
God would rather suffer loss than to act alone without our cooperation.
God has gone to more trouble than any other being to elicit our cooperation, calling us
“kings and priests” (Revelation 1: 6), rather than to act alone and independent.
As it was on earth with Adam and Eve, so it was in heaven with the angels. God did not create a hierarchy or a dictatorship, but a family.
That is why there was a war m heaven. When Satan chose to rebel, God could have simply spoken the word, and Satan would have been banished from the society of heaven.
But God did not do that, for the angels were His fellow workers, and even in this crisis situation He did not take the reins into His own hands, but allowed the angels, as far as possible, to decide the issue (Revelation 12: 7).
Even after the war, Satan seems to have been allowed to come back to represent the earth at the councils of heaven. In the book of Job, God presented Job’s fidelity and challenged Satan’s claim to represent the earth.
Satan did not represent all the inhabitants of the earth, but evidently the angels allowed him to remain. But that time of tolerance ended at the cross.
I have often contemplated the account by Ellen White where she was shown that,
“All the angels that are commissioned to visit the earth hold a golden card, which they present to the angels at the gates of the city as they pass in and out.” —EW, 392~
Why must the an- gels who visit the earth present a golden card at the gate?
Before the crucifixion of Christ, the angels continued to allow Satan access on what he considered official business (Job 1), because many still had some sympathy for him.
At the cross Satan’s “disguise was torn away. . . . Henceforth his work was restricted.
Whatever attitude he might assume, he could no longer await the angels as they came from the heavenly courts and before them accuse Christ’s brethren of being clothed with the garments of blackness and the defilement of sin.
The last link of sympathy between Satan and the heavenly world was broken 3 .” —DA, 761.
Thus the angels decided that Satan could no longer visit heaven as the representative of earth.
Jesus was henceforth to be the only representative of this planet.
But how were they to keep him out? They evidently decided to issue golden identification cards to all who were commissioned to visit the earth, which they were to present upon exit and entry.
Heaven is a very real place, and the angels have far more to do with the running of the government than most realize.
Heaven is not run like a communist hierarchy, or like the totalitarian government of Satan, but as a loving family, each with his own part to act, each with a voice, and each with total faith in the wisdom of the Father.
Today there is a judgment going on in heaven. And why a judgment?
Does God need a judgment? Of course not!
He knew who would be saved and who would be lost from the very foundation of the earth!
(Ephesians 1: 4; Isaiah 46: 10).
The reason there is a judgment is because God is not running a hierarchical dictatorship.
He has made the beings of heaven His fellow workers, and in order for them to be a practical part of the process, they need a judgment.
They do not have all knowledge like God has. They must keep records and review them.
God could have decided the eternal destiny of each, with complete accuracy, in a moment of time.
But what He could do instantly by Himself takes much longer when He involves the cooperation of the angels.
He is willing to expend the extra effort and energy in order to work with His angels rather than apart from them.
What a lesson for parents.
How much easier it is, when children are young, for parents to make the beds, do the dishes, fix the food, and change the oil in the car by themselves without the help of the little ones.
The “help” the little ones give takes so much more of the parents time!
It is so much easier to simply tell a child to go off and play for awhile or to watch TV, while we do the work without him.
But that is not the way God works. He says:
“I want the cooperation of men and angels, even if it costs more work, trouble, and heartache.”
A Change Takes Place in Heaven
So heaven is built on the principle of cooperation and unity, and thus it had always been throughout all the ceaseless ages of eternity, until one arose to begin his own independent ministry and organization.
This was sinful independence for it sought to work apart from God and His plans and organization.
Independent ministry and self- supporting work were never a part of God’s original plan.
But there was one who came along in a perfect environment, a perfect government, and began his own ministry in competition and opposition to the regular and established ministry of heaven which had been in operation for ages.
When that spirit of independence came to earth, this world entered into the darkness and misery of sin.
The first great temptation of man was to be independent.
The Bible says, “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God does know that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3: 4, 5).
Thus the serpent tempted Eve with the thought that she would be unwise enough to act independently, knowing good and evil herself, without having to depend upon God for guidance. Multitudes still cling to this lie.
Thus this earth became a part of the independent ministry of Satan, which made things rather confusing on planet earth, because nearly the whole population of earth, with a few exceptions such as Noah, became loyal to Satan’s independent ministry.
Now those who remained loyal to God, became themselves independent of the rebellion that persisted on earth.
Thus those who were independent with Satan became the establishment, while those who humbly remained loyal to God appeared to be independent. The appearance was the opposite of the reality.
God’s Training for Heaven
God’s plan has always been for humble cooperation. God is trying to teach each one of us the essential character traits of humility and submission. This is the character of heaven.
Every experience of life is to instill within us these precious traits of character so that we can fit into that society which Satan forfeited because of his pride and independence.
That is why Paul tells us in Romans 13 that we are to learn to be submissive to the civil government and to obey their laws.
Ephesians 6: 5, 6 tells us that we are to learn to be submissive to our employers. That is what is fundamentally wrong with labor unions.
We can choose where we want to work, and whether we want to continue to work in a certain place, but, while there, we are to “be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh.”
Peter tells us that the younger are to be submissive to the elders, that the elders are to learn the principle of submission also, and are to show themselves thus unto the younger.
“Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, ‘for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ “ (1 Peter 5: 5, 6).
A lot of people don’t like the idea of submission, unless they are the ones who are “on top.”
Many husbands revel in Paul’s counsel for wives to “submit to your own husbands,” but they overlook the verse before which says that both husbands and wives are to submit to each other.
Ephesians 6 tells us that children are to learn the lesson of submission.
God wants everyone to be saved — husbands, children, workers, older people and younger people, and thus he is trying to teach each one the lessons that will allow them to fit within the society of heaven.
The spirit of humble submissiveness will be exemplified in the life and character of the 144,000.
The Bible describes them as “the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14: 4).
There is no spirit of independence here. And yet they appear to be independent to human appearance, for
“these are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins.
” Women, in the Bible, represents churches and religions, and so the 144,000 are those who are not defiled with false religion and the false religious philosophies that predominate throughout the world.
They are independent from man- made tradition, yet the Bible says they are “followers” — followers of the Lamb.
Appearance is not Always the Reality
From the beginning of sin, those who have remained submissive and dependent upon God by “following the Lamb, wherever He goes,” have found themselves out of step and independent from the world. Think of Noah.
He was given the warning of the coming flood and he determined to follow the Lamb and to build the ark as God had directed.
Yet, the rest of the world remained independent of God and His counsels. The churches and religious leaders counseled and legislated against the project.
Only Noah and his family remained submissive to God. How alone and isolated Noah and his family seemed. How aloof from counsel he appeared to be!
How independent they were accused of being! And yet they were the only truly non- independent ministry on earth.
Satan scored a major victory in the days of Noah when he succeeded in causing the whole world to join him in his independence.
Yet his greatest victory came when he caused the whole church, God’s church, to be- come independent of God and of His counsels.
God established His church with the children of Israel, and He led them out of Egypt by the hand of Moses. But the people rebelled against Moses and the leadership of God.
From the very beginning the “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7: 38) showed their independence from the Lord’s direction. Upon the return of the faithless spies:
“All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation (the Old Testament word for church, see Acts 7: 38), said to them. . …….
Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?
Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt. So they said to one another, ‘let us select a leader and return to Egypt’ “( Numbers 14: 2- 4).
This was the first great nominating committee of the Hebrew church. They were going to select their own leader instead of the one God had chosen for them.
Caleb and Joshua remonstrated with the people, saying:
“Do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us.
Do not fear them. And all the congregation said to stone them with stones” (verses 9, 10).
Caleb and Joshua, m this instance, became independent of the organized church — they did not accept the leader the church was choosing nor the decisions they were making — and so the church chose to disfellowship them by stoning! (Stoning is the ultimate in disfellowshiping.)
Thus those who refused to become independent from God became independent from an independent church. And the penalty for independence from the church was disfellowshipment by stoning.
Now, the question at stake is, who was right — those who remained loyal to the church or those who appeared to be independent and were therefore disfellowshiped?
It is easy to give the answer when looking back at the Bible account, but not so easy when faced with the situation.
In the old covenant types, God often revealed His pleasure or displeasure immediately, as a “type” of the future reward and punishment of the new covenant which will be fulfilled at the last judgment (Revelation 22: 12).
In this case, the unfaithful leaders “died by the plague before the Lord.” Yet, so entrenched was this spirit of independence and insubordination in the heart of the people, that not even the direct intervention of God seemed to be able to uproot it from their midst — and yet they thought they were just right, the holy people of God!
Moses Accused of Being Independent
Two chapters later in the book of Numbers, this sinful spirit of independence sprang up again in the rebellion of Korah.
“Now Korah the son of Izar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown” (Numbers 16: 1, 2).
Like our church, the Israelites had a representative form of government. Today, when representatives of the church come together, we call it a constituency meeting, or a General Conference.
These “representatives of the congregation” were “men of renown,” and Korah was their chosen leader, with Dathan and Abiram his assistants.
These leaders of the people “gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them,
‘You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them.
Why then do you exalt yourself above the congregation of the Lord? ‘ (Numbers 16: 3).
Moses and Aaron were accused of being independent from the church, and taking too much upon themselves without the approval of the church.
After all, it was God’s church that Korah and his associates represented, and the church, they said, was holy, for God had chosen it for Himself. Surely, when the entire church, through their appointed representatives, decides on something, it is as the voice of God to the people!
How could Moses and Aaron not come under the authority of the church and the leaders the church had chosen? How could they justify their “independent” ways?
Yet, Moses and Aaron were not independent — again, as in Noah’s situation, they were the only truly non- independent ones within the church.
Appearance was again deceptive. The church body had become independent, whereas those accused of being independent were the ones who had remained loyal and true to the government of heaven.
A peripheral reading of this story might lead to a false conclusion.
I have heard ministers and leaders liken their ministry to that of Moses, and anyone who is not in harmony with their plans or the plans of the conference, regardless of their reasons or convictions, are likened to Korah, Dathan and Abiram. But, in writing to the leaders of the church, Ellen White warns:
“The question of religious liberty needs to be clearly comprehended by our people in more ways than one.
With outstretched arms men are seeking to steady the ark, and the anger of the Lord is kindled against them because they think that their position entitles them to say what the Lord’s servant’s shall do and what they shall not do.
They think themselves competent to decide what shall be brought before God’s people, and what shall be repressed.
The Lord inquires of them, “Who has required this at your hand? Who has given you the burden of being conscience for My people?
By what spirit are you guided and controlled when you seek to restrict their liberty?
I have not chosen you as I chose Moses — as men through whom I can communicate divine instruction to My people.
I have not placed the lines of control in your hands. The responsibility that rested on Moses — of voicing the words of God to the people — has never been delegated to you.” —MR, # 1335, Aug. 1, 1895.
It should be noted that Moses was not the elected leader of the Children of Israel — he was never elected by the people. Rather, Moses was the one whom the people rejected (Acts 7: 35).
Moses was a type of Christ (Deuteronomy 18: 15), whom the leaders of the church hated and crucified.
He was a prophet, chosen by God.
The elected leader whom the people chose was Korah! “And Korah gathered all the congregation (or church) against” Moses and Aaron “at the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (Numbers 16: 19).
Did God recognize Korah’s position simply be- cause the whole church was behind him?
Would to God that we, today, would remember the lessons of Korah and seek more for the will and direction of God rather than for position, victory at the polls, or referendum mandates.
Will we learn the lesson that no committee or conference or power on earth has the authority to change one precept of truth, as the beast power claims to be able to do?
God is seeking the cooperation of His fellow workers on earth, but He has not abdicated the throne, nor will He allow mankind to develop and assume kingly and controlling power over His heritage, which are His purchased possession.
John was Independent of Sanhedrin
When God called John the Baptist, a prophet equal with Moses (Matthew 11: 11), to prepare the way for Jesus’ first coming, leaders like Korah were in charge of the church.
Though John was faithful to the church, he did not recognize the authority of these self- appointed leaders, and he fearlessly reproved them for their pride and arrogance.
“John had not recognized the authority of the Sanhedrin by seeking their sanction for his work; and he had reproved rulers and people, Pharisees and Sadducees alike.” —DA, 132.
John’s calling and authority did not come from man, but from God, and John the Baptist respected the authority of heaven.
The Sanhedrin, the highest human authority in the church, had tried to
assume prerogatives and authority that belonged to God alone, thus making themselves independent of God, and John the Baptist did not join in their independence by submitting himself to them.
Moreover, he reproved rulers and elders just as well as the common people — he was no respecter of people. Though some would consider that criticism of the leadership, John recognized clearly that sin in one was as bad as sin in another, and public sins that were unrepentant of needed to be publicly reproved.
When John the Baptist “saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them . . . . “bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our father, ‘ for I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ “ (Matthew 3: 7- 10).
John taught the people not to put full faith in any system, profession of personal piety, or institution — for “every tree which does not bear good fruit” will be “cut down.”
Every independent person, congregation, conference, institution, or ministry, however large or small, that becomes independent from God, will be cut down.
“God has a church. . . . It is the people who love God and keep His commandments.” —Upward Look, p. 315. God’s church, His people who are totally dependent upon Him and who “follow the lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14: 4), will go through to the end, and they will go through unitedly as a body of Christ.
Yet it must be understood that the movement is much more than systems, buildings, and legal documents.
When the Seventh- day Adventist headquarters at Battle Creek became independent, God burned it down, but the church itself survived, and will ultimately triumph.
We want to triumph with it. God is not going to start a new church or a new movement. But the movement must be purified from every element of independence from Him.
The Jews thought that because they could trace their lineage and system back to Abraham, they were secure.
But John said that God was not dependent upon them to have a people — He could take the stony hearts of the Gentiles and graft them into the true stock. In commenting upon John’s message, Ellen White elaborates:
“Not by its name, but by its fruit, is the value of a tree determined. If the fruit is worthless, the name (Jew, Israel, Christian, or Seventh- day Adventist) cannot save the tree from destruction.
John declared to the Jews that their standing was to be decided by their character and life.
Profession was worthless. If their life and character were not in harmony with God’s law, they were not His people.” —DA, 107.
Somehow John did not seem to understand, as the leaders did, that the church (which to them meant the visible structure that was under their control) was going through regardless.
“The Jews had misinterpreted God’s promise of eternal favor to Israel:
‘Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: If these ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.
Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord’ (Jeremiah 31: 35- 37).
The Jews regarded their natural descent from Abraham as giving them a claim to this promise. But they overlooked the conditions which God had specified.” —DA, 106.
The Jews trusted in the promises of the Bible that they would last forever, as long as the sun and moon existed.
They could tauntingly argue with John the Baptist, asking “is the sun still shining, John? You see then, God must not have cast us off, has He?” But they had overlooked the conditions upon which the promises were based. John assuredly warned them that “every tree which does not bear good fruit” will be cut down and “thrown into the fire.” — Even Israel and Jerusalem!
When John warned the church that God could work without them, in their eyes he committed the unpardonable sin. Instead of taking his message to heart and working to purify the church so that the conditions of acceptance with God could be fulfilled, they sought to silence the reprover.
To them the church was the structure of buildings and the human leadership in Jerusalem, and that system was as secure in their eyes as the throne of God itself. Yet “from the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church.” —AA, 11.
Never has the Lord, either anciently or today, made His work or His church totally dependent on physical structure.
God removed the structure in Jesus’ day, but the true church survived. Throughout the Old Testament
God had promised that “in the place where it was said
‘You are not My people, ‘ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God’ “ (Hosea 1: 10).
As it is today, so it was then, God was not dependent upon the established church to preserve a people. He could raise up children to Abraham from the stony hearts of the Gentiles, for “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3: 29).
John warned that it is “not, by its name, but by its fruit, is the value of a tree determined.
If the fruit is worthless, the name cannot save the tree from destruction.” —DA, 107.
When God’s people begin to worry about the semantics of their name, seeking to protect the words themselves by crucifying people who use it, as they did Jesus upon the cross, it is a sure sign that they have lost the true significance of the name.
The primary purpose of a name is to signify the character within. If Jesus had not called Himself a Jew, the Jewish leaders would not have put Him to death.
It is time again for the message and ministry of John the Baptist to come to God’s heritage in order that we might be prepared for Jesus’ second coming.
Today, we are called to do a work similar to that of John the Baptist, and to give the same message in even stronger terms, yet in a spirit of love.
“In this fearful time, just before Christ is to come the second time, God’s faithful preachers will have to bear a still more pointed testimony than was borne by John the Baptist.
A responsible, important work is before them; and those who speak smooth things, God will not acknowledge as His shepherds. A fearful woe is upon them.” —lT, 321.
It is a fearful thing to be a minister and speak smooth and popular messages that please the people. Though they may receive the credentials and tithes of the conference, God does not acknowledge them as His ministers.
“ ‘Peace and safety’ is the cry from men who will never again lift up their voice like a trumpet to show God’s people their transgressions and the house of Jacob their sins.
These dumb dogs that would not bark are the ones who feel the just vengeance of an offended God.” —ST. 211.
Jesus, our True Example
Probably the only person in the Bible who talked straighter than John the Baptist, as God’s preachers today are to do, was Jesus.
When Jesus met the religious leaders, He did not simply call them poisonous snakes, as John had done, He plainly stated that they were the children of Satan.
The Jews had argued with Him that they were assuredly God’s people because they had the official name and the official organization that had been sacredly handed down for centuries (John 8: 39- 41), but Jesus said:
“If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8: 42- 44).
You may think you represent God because you have the official name and represent the official organization, but if your life is not in harmony with God’s expressed will, you are most assuredly not His representatives.
When Jesus came, He was viewed from the very beginning as being independent, but of all the people on earth, He was the least independent person who ever lived. He said: “I can of Myself do nothing.
As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5: 30).
Jesus was the least independent minister who ever lived, as far as His own will was concerned, but He was independent from the church organization on earth because they had become independent of God.
He would like to have been united with them, but He could not unite with them and remain dependent on His Father, for the two were not in harmony.
As the Bible says: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3: 3).
Thus, to outward appearances, He manifested what appeared to be an independent attitude.
“Under the synagogue teachers the youth were instructed in the countless regulations which as orthodox Israelites they were expected to observe.
But Jesus did not interest Himself in these matters. From childhood He acted independently. . . .“ Jesus was viewed as being independent, but what was He independent from?
Let us finish the sentence. “From childhood He acted independently of the rabbinical laws. The Scriptures of the Old Testament were His constant study, and the words, ‘Thus saith the Lord, ‘ were ever upon His lips.” —DA, 84.
If one wants to cause trouble, let him ask for the authority from the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy when confronted by the church manual. But that is the kind of trouble Jesus caused.
(It was because we did not want our church to become like the Jewish church that we decided not to have a church manual when it was first proposed in 1883, but the decision was reversed in the General Conference of 1931.)
Though Jesus tried, “in every gentle and submissive way . . . to please those with whom He came in contact . . . He would not be influenced by their teaching.” —DA, 85.
The priests could not tolerate this spirit of independence in Jesus.
“They urged Him to receive the maxims and traditions that had been handed down from the ancient rabbis, but He asked for their authority in Holy Writ.
He would hear every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; but He could not obey the inventions of men.” —DA, 85.
I can hear them urging Him: “Jesus, don’t you believe that this is God’s church?” “Yes,”
He would answer. “Well, don’t you believe that God has guided and directed in this church down through the ages?” “Yes,” He would answer again.
“Then you must believe the practices and teachings of this church which have been decided upon and practiced for centuries.
You don’t believe that all these rabbis were wrong, do you?” (Notice, it was the “maxims and traditions that had been handed down from ancient rabbis” which they urged upon Jesus.) But Jesus would simply answer, “Where does it teach that in the Bible?”
Even Jesus’ own mother, who was a converted person and a conscientious member of the church, thought Jesus was too independent.
“Mary often remonstrated with Jesus, and urged Him to conform to the usages of the rabbis.” —
DA, 90. What a trial this must have been for Jesus. All alone Jesus bore His fidelity to truth. He was misunderstood by the best people in church — they could not understand how any sincere, consecrated person could become so independent from the teaching of the much respected rabbis of the past and present, since they had been ordained of God.
For Jesus, there was no inspired manual other than the holy Word of God.
But so hierarchical had the church become that they knew of no other way that the church could function other than by man- made rules and authority and a strong, Jerusalem- centered structure.
But Jesus elevated truth above structure.
Jesus was viewed as being so independent of the structure that the leaders of the church decided that if He was allowed to continue He would destroy the church — and there is no question that their power structure would have been destroyed.
“He who was the foundation of the ritual and economy of Israel would be looked upon as its enemy and destroyer.” —
DA, 111. The pious leaders of the church tried to
prevent His influence from destroying the church in every way possible.
They tried to prove Him wrong. They warned the people against listening to Him.
They prevented Him from speaking in the churches. They spread lies and rumors about Him and His ministry.
They tried everything to limit His influence (and they were quite successful at this) but nothing seemed to stop Him.
Finally, as a last resort, they “regretfully” decided that they must put Him to death.
They undoubtedly “hated” to do this, but the church must be preserved — its reputation and name must be protected from such irresponsible people as Barabbas and Jesus.
Jesus and Barabbas, of course, were quite different — one was a murderer and one was a life- giver. But they were both independent, and of the two, Jesus was the most dangerous, because His doctrines and practices fooled the common people.
And once the spirit of independence gets started, they figured that there was no way to protect the church.
It was inconceivable to them that God could protect and preserve His church if they would purify themselves and call upon Him for His protection — no, if they did not preserve it, the church would be destroyed. It was either Jesus or the church (John 11: 50).
Therefore, Jesus must be destroyed so that the church could survive.
“If He stands in the way of Israel’s well- being, is it not doing God a service to remove Him?
Better that one man perish than that the whole nation be destroyed. . . . In their opinion, He had set aside the priesthood.
He had refused to acknowledge the theology of the rabbinical schools. He had exposed the evil practices of the priests and had irreparably hurt their influence. . . . Satan told them that in order to maintain their authority they must put Jesus to death. This counsel they followed. . . . Such was their deception that they were well pleased with themselves. They regarded themselves as patriots who were seeking the nation ‘s salvation.” —DA, 540- 541. Thus Jesus was disfellowshipped and the people who disfellowshipped Him thought they had saved the church from some great independent calamity that was threatening their very existence.
The Basis for True Authority
But though they tried, and verily thought they had succeeded, they could not disfellowship Jesus from the church. Jesus was the church. They merely succeeded in disfellowshipping themselves from the true church. For God “has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1: 22, 23).
The church is still to be “built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. The Saviour declares, ‘All ye are brethren. ‘ All are exposed to temptations, and are liable to error. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. ‘Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm’ (Jeremiah 17: 5).” —DA, 414.
“This principle bears with equal weight upon a question that has long agitated the Christian world — the question of apostolic succession. Descent from Abraham was proved, not by name and lineage, but by likeness of character. So the apostolic succession rests not upon the transmission of ecclesiastical authority, but upon spiritual relationship. A life actuated by the apostles’ spirit, the belief and teaching of the truth they taught — this is the true evidence of apostolic succession. This is what constitutes men the successors of the first teachers of the gospel.” —DA, 467.
Within Christ’s church there is to be no hierarchical, centralized, controlling power that supersedes the headship of Christ. As the messenger of the Lord said, “Battle Creek is not to be the center of God’s work. God alone can fill this place.” —TM, 375. There is a place for order, but it is to be a simple, humble order, always uplifting the primacy of Christ. For “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1: 18).
Thus, as Christ is the head of the body, He is always to “have the preeminence.” Whenever the church assumes preeminence over Christ, or His word, it thereby becomes an idol to the people.
Christ created the structure — it is holy — but it is always to remain subservient to the Word and to Christ as its head. Anything that supersedes God becomes a false God. That’s what the Jews did with their temple. The temple became more important than the truth, or even God’s dear Son. A word of criticism spoken against the temple was worse than a false teaching being taught from its precincts. The final charge brought against Christ was that He spoke against the temple.
In view of this danger of making the system and its leadership a false God, Ellen White has a whole chapter in Testimonies to Ministers entitled, “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me” — She was referring to Battle Creek, its system, and the leadership. She also warns that “the trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ — how the enemy sought every occasion to take control for the minds of the Jews, and today he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants, that they may not be able to discern the precious truth.” —1SM, 406.
Jesus was rejected by most because He was not sanctioned by the visible church. And those who rejected Him were lost. According to the Spirit of Prophecy, this will likewise be our test.
“To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the lord when champions are few — this will be our test.” — 5T, 136.
The Head of the Church
“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12: 28). God is the One who has promised to place various gifts in the church. When the church is pure, God is the one who calls and ordains through His chosen instrumentalities. He chooses through the official channels when He can, but when he cannot, He will call people directly, as in the case of David and John the Baptist. Never has God turned the entire control of His church over to human instrumentalities.
The Lord wants to direct His heritage and His church far more than we give Him opportunity to do. “If ministers and men in- positions of authority will get out of the way, and let the Holy Sprit move upon the minds of the lay brethren, God will direct them what to do for the honor of his name. Let men have freedom to carry out that which the Holy Spirit indicates. Do not put the shackles upon humble men whom God would use.” —RH, July 9, 1895.
It is not being independent for humble men and women whom God has called to act upon their God given responsibilities. In various places around the world I have been told by laymen that they cannot even give a Bible study without the pastor’s permission. In most places, a laymen is not even permitted to hold a prayer meeting in his own home, if it is called a prayer meeting, without the church’s permission — and if the pastor wants to come in and take control, he assumes that prerogative. Not long ago I was asked to have some meetings in one of the major cities of America. Previous to my coming they had had Ron Spear and Cohn Standish in to speak. This meeting was held in a private hall, and one of the local pastors was in attendance and expressed great appreciation for the meetings. However, the pastor of the largest church in town, where this laymen held office and membership, asked him not to have these meetings. The laymen, however, felt that the Lord wanted these meetings, and as they were not a part of any church function or on church property, and as those who were asked to speak were all ordained Seventh- day Adventist ministers and members in good and regular standing, he felt impressed to quietly go on with the meetings. He had no intention of having a conflict with the pastor, but was simply trying to serve the Lord. Yet, because of his supposed “independence” from the pastor he was duly disciplined by the church by way of official censor and removed from being an elder.
But who was acting independently — the laymen or the pastor? There is no law in the Bible, or even the manual, forbidding people from getting together and reading and studying the Bible together. For the pastor to arbitrarily make these rules is independence indeed! During the Dark Ages it was against the law to hold private meetings, but America guarantees that right — but have we lost it in the church? It is “Satan . . . [who] works to restrict religious liberty, and to bring into the religious world a species of slavery. Organizations, institutions, unless kept by the power of God, will work under Satan’s dictation to bring men under the control of men. . . . His methods are practiced even among Seventh- day Adventists, who claim to have advanced truth.” —TM, 366.
Today if someone tries to raise up a new congregation or hold a meeting for Bible study and prayer, the question asked is: “By whose authority are you holding these meetings?” That was the question that was asked of John the Baptist and Jesus. “Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority’ “( Matthew 21: 23).
“Laws and rules are being made at the centers of the work that will soon be broken into atoms. . . . The Lord does not ask permission of those in responsible positions when He wishes to use certain ones as His agents for the promulgation of truth. . . . Those who know the truth are to be worked by the Holy Spirit, and not themselves to try to work the Spirit. If the cords are drawn much tighter, if the rules are made much finer, if men continue to bind their fellow- laborers closer and closer to the commandments of men, many will be stirred by the Spirit of God to break every shackle, and assert their liberty in Christ Jesus.” —RH, July 23, 1895.
God has appointed leadership to act under Him, but never in His place. There is a place for organization — heaven is a place of order. God’s church, all through the ages, has been a place of order. The Old Testament church was a church of order, and God’s church today is to be just as ordered and orderly as was the Old Testament church. There is a place for leadership, a place for elders, a place for deacons and administrators. But their job description was never intended to be that of being the head of the church or of controlling the church, but rather they were to be the servants of God to the people. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20: 25- 28).
Do you suppose that I, or anyone else, could ever get to the place where we could supersede God’s authority in the church? We could try, but that would be a false, sinful and assumed authority that God and His true people would not recognize anymore than John the Baptist did (DA, 132). Suppose that I had a lot of charisma and a lot of good leadership abilities, and I made a lot of friends and made some good business or political decisions and so began to climb the corporate ladder in the church, until I got to the very top. Could I ever get to the place where I had enough authority to supersede God’s authority? Could I tell someone whom God had called to preach, for example, that God had not called him to preach, as they told John the Baptist and Jesus? I could tell him, but no matter how much authority I might have assumed or think I had, I could never get enough authority to supersede God’s authority. That would be the epitome of independence. But in my blind presumption, I would probably think that the person whom God had called and who was merely fulfilling His God- given mission was being independent because he had not listened to me! —what pride!
“But,” someone might insist, “someone must have that kind of authority in order to maintain order in the church.” That is exactly the claim of the papal church. “It is one of the leading doctrines of Romanism that the pope is the visible head of the universal church of Christ, invested with supreme authority over bishops and pastors in all parts of the world. . . . God has never given a hint in His word that He has appointed any man to be the head of the church.” —GC 50, 51.
While God has not given any man the authority to say who cannot preach, when the Holy Spirit has made it plainly evident that God has called him to preach, likewise God has not given any man the authority to say that someone can or should preach whom God has not called. No local church should ever be forced by some higher human authority to allow a conferenceappointed pastor or leader to speak when the congregation and elders feel, based upon Biblical evidence, that God has not called him to speak.
In fact, for men to receive those sent to them from the conference whom God has not sent, causes them to become independent from God along with the pastor, and results in the withdrawal of God’s blessings. “As there are woes for those who preach the truth while they are unsanctified in heart and life, so there are woes for those who receive and maintain the unsanctified in the position which they cannot fill.” —2T, 552. “There are fearful woes for those who preach the truth, but are not sanctified by it, and also for those who consent to receive and maintain the unsanctified to minister to them in word and doctrine.” —lT, 261, 262.
Yet, how many ministers whom God has never recognized are lauded and applauded by men, and how many ministers have been scourged and even put to death who were the chosen instrumentalities of God.
For a central, ruling authority to assume controlling power over the local membership, telling them who will preach to them and who will not preach to them, is to place one’s self in the place of God over the people. God has entrusted to His people certain inalienable rights and obligations, such as the right and the obligation to carefully and prayerfully decide who they will receive and maintain to minister to them. The Bible predicted that there would come a power that would seek to put itself in the place of God. “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2: 3, 4). That, in a special way refers to the papacy of the Middle Ages, and we can adopt some of the same policies, until we are “following in the track of Romanism.” —TM, 362.
“The high- handed power that has been developed, as though position has made men gods, makes me afraid, and out to cause fear. It is a curse wherever and by whomsoever it is exercised. this lording it over God’s heritage will create such a disgust of man’s jurisdiction that a state of insubordination will result. . . . The spirit of domination is extending to the presidents of our conferences. . . . They are following in the track of Romanism. . . . Rule, rule, has been their course of action. Satan has had an opportunity to represent himself.” —TM, 361- 363.
These statements from the Spirit of Prophecy were not written to imply that the church does not, or should not, have proper authority. The church is to have a great amount of authority under God. When a point or a decision can be shown from God’s word and from the leading of the Holy Spirit to be from the Lord, the leaders are to have a great deal of authority. Whenever the church utters the utterances of God, it is as the voice of God. But when they become independent of God and assume authority such as the Sanhedrin assumed, then they are no longer the voice of God. It was when the leaders were becoming independent of God, that Ellen White said: “That these men should stand in a sacred place, to be as the voice of God to the people, as we once believed the General Conference to be, that is past.” —GCB, 1901, p. 25.
The 1888 Problem
In the papal church, one central power decided who is called and who is not called, what should be preached and what should not be preached, what people could read and what they could not read, what meetings could be held and what could not be held. The church was a controlling element, and it was being controlled by human wisdom, with “the eyes of a man” (Daniel 7: 8). That was the same type of controlling element that ruled the church in Jesus’ day. The people came to worship the system as their lord and master rather than Jesus.
This false gospel of system worship, where the organization became the master rather than the servant, was what Ellen White recognized as the main problem of the General Conference of 1888. In talking about the problems of the church, she related the cause of these problems in the following letter: “This is largely due to the feeling of Elder Butler (the General Conference President) that position gave unlimited authority. . . . God designs that men shall use their minds and consciences for themselves. He never designed that one man should become the shadow of another, and utter only another’s sentiments. But this error has been coming in among us, that a very few are to be mind, conscience, and judgment for all God’s workers. The foundation of Christianity is ‘Christ our Righteousness. ‘ Men are individually responsible to God and must act as God acts upon them, not as another human mind acts upon their mind; for if this method of indirect influence is kept up, souls cannot be impressed and directed by the great I AM. They will, on the other hand, have their experience blended with another, and will be kept under a moral restraint, which allows no freedom of action or of choice. . . . If we would be wise, and use diligently, prayerfully, and thankfully the means whereby light and blessings are to come to His people, then no voice nor power upon earth would have authority over us to say, ‘This shall not be. ‘ “ —1888, 110- 113.
In a letter to Elder Butler, Ellen White related what was shown her in vision: “My guide. . . stretched out his arms toward Dr. Waggoner, and to you, Elder Butler, and said in substance as follows: ‘Neither have all the light upon the law; neither position is perfect.’ —1888, 93. The question was not simply theology — Elder Waggoner and Elder Jones’ positions were not perfect, but God had given them a message, even though still imperfect, to give to the church. But the leadership thought that every message should have to go through them for their approval. These young men from the West — Jones and Waggoner — had no right to work without the permission of the General Conference officers.
“Never, never feel the slightest disturbance be- cause the Lord is raising up youth to lift and carry the heavier burdens, and proclaim the message of truth. It has been at this point that Elder Butler has failed, and he is a deceived man . . . . I hope there will never be the slightest encouragement given to our people to put such wonderful confidence in finite, erring man as has been placed in Elder Butler, for ministers are not as God, and too much reliance has been placed upon Elder Butler in the past. Even the messages and testimonies were made of none effect through the influence of the words and ideas of Elder Butler. This sin has not been repented of by some of our people, and they will have to go over the ground again and again unless they cease from man, and put their whole trust in the living God.” —1888, 975.
There is a place for counsel, and even for warnings against false teachings, to be given by the leadership. But all such counsel and warnings are to be based upon sound biblical principle, not upon hierarchical authority. People are thus to be taught to depend upon the counsels and warnings of the Word, rather than that of man. We are to teach people to respect leaders, but not to depend upon human wisdom and leadership. “When our people in the different places have their special convocations, teach them, for Christ’s sake and for their own soul’s sake, not to make flesh their a~…. To place men where God should be placed does not honor or glorify God. Is the president of the General Conference to be the god of the people? Are the men at Battle Creek to be regarded as infinite in wisdom? When the Lord shall work upon human hearts and human intellects, principles and practices different from this will be set before the people. ‘Cease ye from man’ (Isaiah 2: 22).” —TM, 375, 376.
As one reads through the over 1800 pages of The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials and the book Testimonies to Ministers, he cannot help but be impressed with both the seriousness and the present prevalence of corporate independence. This was the chief problem in 1888, and it seems that it was never corrected. Supposedly a correction came in 1901, but two years later Ellen White commented: ‘The result of the last General Conference (1901) has been the greatest, the most terrible sorrow of my life. No change was made. The spirit that should have been brought into the whole work as the result of that meeting was not brought m because men did not receive the testimonies of the Spirit of God.” —MR, #1016, 3- 4 (Letter 17, January 14, 1903). It was in 1901 itself that she said: “We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel.” —EV, 696.
Two Kinds of Kings
Kings are independent. That is why the messenger of the Lord associated independence with kingly power. In 1901 Ellen White warned our leaders against independence, insubordination, and rebellion. At the same time she told how this had come into the church — through the exercise of “kingly power,” so that God’s rulership was replaced by human kingship. In her opening address to the delegates of the 1901 General Conference, Ellen White repeatedly stated that we were being governed by “kingly power.” (See Ellen White’s speech in Spaulding and Magan, 162- 174.)
But there are two kinds of kings, both of which lead to independence from the Lord. First, there are those kings who have enough charisma and influence to get followers. We call them the successful kings. There are also those kings that cannot get anyone to follow them, but they are, nevertheless, going to do whatever they want to anyone, as a king without any subjects, independent of the Lord.
Some might wrongly suppose that because there are bad leaders, that gives them the right to become independent and do whatever they want to do. If they do this, they are no better off than the “bad” leaders they are critical of. God has not called anyone to be independent or to act independently. God has called us all to be servants of one another, and to draw together in true unity and love. God is not calling for separationism, but for a purifying of the church, where all can work together in true harmony for the finishing of the gospel. It is true that truth must be paramount, but wherever truth and the salvation of souls are not at stake, we are to do everything we can to live peaceably with all men and to work together in unity and harmony. We are to consider others first and self last. The true following of the principles of God will not lead to disunity, but to the true unity that was manifested at Pentecost, where all “were with one accord in one place” (Acts 2: 1).
God has a church, and it is the Seventh- day Adventist church. This is the church of prophecy and providence, and only God can start a church — it is to be built upon Him, not upon any human founder (Ephesians 2: 20). True, God’s remnant church is described as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” in the Laodicean message of Revelation 3, but it is still God’s church. Leaders and members may not always exemplify God’s character, and for this reason we are still on earth. Whole congregations, institutions, or even conferences may apostatize — the organization itself may become so independent of God that He cannot use them any more, just as happened with Israel — nevertheless God will always have true and faithful Seventh- day Adventist people, registered on the books of heaven (Hebrews 12: 22, 23), who will constitute His church and who will go through victorious to the end. God wants every conference, institution, and congregation to triumph with them, if they will be purified of every sin.
Although we should strive to live peaceable with all men, nevertheless, when God sends His message to purify the church of sin and selfishness, it will cause a reaction. “Just as long as God has a church, He will have those who will cry aloud and spare not, who will be His instruments to reprove selfishness and sins, and will not shun to declare the whole counsel of God, whether men will hear or forbear. I saw that individuals would rise up against the plain testimonies. ft does not suit their natural feelings. They would choose to have smooth things spoken unto them, and have peace cried in their ears. . . . The shaking must soon take place to purify the church.” —2SG, 284.
The Lord is calling for individuals today to do the work of Elijah and John the Baptist, in all humility. But there are many who rise up to give a message on their own charge, without a commission from the Lord. There are many who would seek to steady the ark of God, as Uzzah did, with their own human wisdom and might. How can a person know whether he has been called of God or is simply motivated by feelings of importance?
Those who are truly called of God must be faithful, humble servants, not seeking for notice or first place. Moreover, whenever God calls for an individual to be His instrument, He always lays the burden upon more than simply he himself. Even when Jesus began His ministry, though He was not recognized or acknowledge by the church leadership, He was nevertheless acknowledged by John the Baptist and by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. David was anointed by Samuel. The disciples were called by Jesus. Paul received a vision and was set aside by the church at Antioch. Timothy was called by Paul. Daniel and Joseph were set apart by a series of circumstances and providence called forth by the Lord — but both had been faithful in the little things of life before being called to positions of prominence.