Sanctification by Faith

Vineyards at sunset(Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series I’m doing on “Three Wrong Views of Minneapolis,” which discusses three of the most prevalent wrongly-held views among Adventists about what happened at the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For my introductory thoughts on this entire topic, click here. For Part 1, entitled, “Too Much Jesus?” click herePart 3, to come in the near-future, is called “Nothing to See Here.”)

Many times, when I hear people talk about “1888,” there seems to be a preoccupation with a narrow explanation of the event and message. This emphasis usually comes from the more “conservative” end of the spectrum and it essentially goes thusly: the main point, and grand theme, that Jones and Waggoner brought to our attention is that we can, by faith, live completely victorious lives. We can overcome sin, attain perfection, live righteously by faith.

This is the “most precious message” that they brought to our consciousness.

Indeed, the thinking goes, their primary focus was sanctification by faith and imparted righteousness. And this is what we should talk about today because the church never accepted that message.

First, let me be clear: Jones and Waggoner did spend a lot of time talking about victorious living and imparted righteousness. One of their common refrains, for example, was that the word “justify” means not only that God declares us righteous, but that He actually makes us righteous. Indeed, in perhaps one of the most shocking quotes from Waggoner, he proposed, “Let no professed Christian take counsel of his own imperfections and say that it is impossible for a Christian to live a sinless life. It is impossible for a true Christian, one who has has full faith, to live any other kind of life” (The Glad Tidings, p. 81).

Let that one sink in!

It cannot be denied that these two men spent a great deal of time talking about God’s ability to completely transform the sinner who is living by faith. One need only read the classic Lessons on Faith to see how important this was for them.

And yet, if this is the full picture that we paint of Minneapolis, or even the most important of a few different ingredients from the event, we have missed the mark. If, for us, the main message of Minneapolis is that God can perfect us by His grace, then we’ve actually undermined the very thing we’re trying to achieve.

This is because Jones and Waggoner, and Ellen White, spent a great deal of time talking about the objective truths of the Gospel – God’s love for man; Christ’s death on the cross; His forgiveness of sin.

I was reminded of this again as I leafed through Waggoner’s The Glad Tidings today – and though there is definitely a lot of talk about overcoming faith, he opens the book focusing chiefly on the love of God and sacrifice of Jesus. He thus says stuff like, “Christ has by grace tasted death for every man, so that every man in the world has received the ‘unspeakable gift'” (p. 15), and, “The love of God embraces the whole world, but it also singles out each individual” (p. 16). He even goes so far as to address this hypothetical question – which many of my sanctification-heavy brothers and sisters have a hard time with:

‘What! do you mean to teach universal salvation?’ We mean to teach just what the Word of God teaches,—that ‘the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men.’ Titus 2:11, R.V. God has wrought out salvation for every man, and has given it to him; but the majority spurn it, and throw it away. The Judgment will reveal the fact that full and complete salvation was given to every man, and that the lost have deliberately thrown away their birthright possession.” (p. 22)

So even from this very cursory survey of the first few pages of just one of Waggoner’s books it is evident that the objective elements of the Gospel – what God has done for us in Christ – was an absolutely essential component to Jones and Waggoner’s “most precious message.”

Indeed, I’ve written before on the revival meetings that took place in South Lancaster in 1889 – which served as the very first stop after Minneapolis for Jones, Waggoner, and Ellen White, in their attempt to bring directly to the people this message that was rejected by church leadership – and noted how this was foundational to their preaching. Recounting in the Review and Herald what took place, Ellen White talked about how they seemed to “breathe in the very atmosphere of heaven” at these meetings.

And what was so enrapturing? She mentions how “the knowledge of God’s love is the most effectual knowledge to obtain,” adding that Jesus “leads us as children to take views of his goodness, mercy, and love.” Further, Christ “ever directed the minds of his disciples to God as to a loving Father,” educating his followers to “look upon God with confidence and love.” We see the “Father revealed in the Son, for God is love” (Review and Herald, March 5, 1889). She also noted specifically how attendees rejoiced in the knowledge that their sins had been forgiven.

In fact, when she recounted the story five years later at a Camp Meeting in Australia, she noted how “every student” in the college in South Lancaster was converted during those meetings, and it was due to their preaching on the “simple story of the cross” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, p. 308).

The importance of this must not be overlooked. Perhaps Ellen White, herself, best underscores the significance of this in her classic Steps to Christ. There, she explains how it all works:

When, as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in the heart. Every burden is light, for the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that before seemed shrouded in darkness, becomes bright with beams from the Sun of Righteousness. (p. 57)

Don’t miss it: it is the objective, pardoning grace of God that creates a love in our hearts, which results in a life of joyful obedience. In other words, the key to sanctification – which is the fruit – is a firm grounding in justification – which is the root.

Though I wouldn’t make a huge deal of it, this is perhaps why Ellen White often preferred the term “justification by faith” to “righteousness by faith” (if you search for the terms in the 1888 Materials on the CD-Rom, the former phrase comes back with 30 hits, while the latter has only 4 – and yet we often use the latter phrase in our modern conversations more frequently). The term “justification” seems to center us more on Christ’s work for us, whereas the term “righteousness” seems to often entail Christ’s work in us to a greater extent. But the key here is that Christ’s work for us is that which prepares our hearts for Him to do a work in us – and when we focus more on the latter, Christ won’t be able to accomplish the former. This is the great irony.

It is any wonder, then, that we must return to this quote – which I shared twice in my last post:

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. 18)

Let us thus not turn Minneapolis – and its message – into an unbalanced presentation of the subjective fruits of obedience and sanctification. Because, if that is the message, we ultimately won’t be able to move beyond the legalism that characterized Adventism before 1888 – and still haunts us today.

The Surprising Connection Between Football and the Latter Rain

1911carlisleIn his most recent book, Wounded in the House of His FriendsRon Duffield continues examining the theme of the “latter rain” within Adventism, tracing its historic development. The bulk of his attention centers on the General Conference session in 1893, held in Battle Creek, Michigan. Unlike the 1888 General Conference session in Minneapolis, where the message of justification by faith presented by Jones and Waggoner was chiefly met with resistance, the 1893 session was a great victory and was essentially the highpoint of Adventism’s experience with this “most precious message.”

In fact, Ron presents quote after quote from people who felt they had experienced drops of the “latter rain” at the event, and many confessions were made by key leaders who resisted the message in Minneapolis. This incredible revival continued over the next few months at various Camp Meetings and Weeks of Prayer. Almost everyone who experienced the revival felt that it would soon usher in earth’s final scenes.

But, sadly, they didn’t come.

And one of the most intriguing parts of Ron’s research is his unearthing of some of the underlying factors that contributed to the undermining of this movement. His reflections are sobering. The one that caught my attention the most, however, is also the one that brings the most conviction to me on a personal level.

What was it?

Football.

Yes, football.

Essentially simultaneous to the development of this latter rain movement in Adventism was another movement gaining momentum in the colleges of America, including Adventism’s own Battle Creek College. American Football was first introduced at Princeton, and by the early 1890s it had reached Battle Creek. Although it was banned there in 1891, it was re-introduced in 1893, reaching a feverish pitch just months after the 1893 General Conference, in the very same city in which the conference was held. In fact, in the summer of 1893 (the GC session was held in the winter), the college found itself playing the local high school, an event that was reported on in the local newspaper. And apparently, the Adventists didn’t carry themselves too well, protesting vehemently when the game ended in a tie due to what they perceived to be a bad call.

Through a series of events, news of this got back to Ellen White, who was living in Australia at the time, and she was sorely distraught by what she heard. Her distress was not simply over the events themselves, however, but in their relation to the revival work that had started just a few months before. Through articles in the Review, and letters to W.W. Prescott – who was the college president at the time, as well as one of the key presenters at the GC session a few months before – she drew out the incredible implications. Speaking not only of football, but all the frivolous recreational activities that were happening at Battle Creek College, she sharply asked,

Has not the playing of games, and rewards, and the using of the boxing glove been educating and training after Satan’s direction to lead to the possession of his attributes? What if they could see Jesus, the man of Calvary, looking upon them in sorrow, as was represented to me. Things are certainly receiving a wrong mold, and are counteracting the work of the divine power which has been graciously bestowed . . .

“Satan and his angels are laying their snares for your souls, and he is working in a certain way upon teachers and pupils to induce them to engage in certain exercises and amusements which become intensely absorbing, but which are of a character to strengthen the lower powers, and create appetites and passions that will take the lead and counteract most decidedly the operations and working of the Holy Spirit of God upon the human heart.

“What saith the Holy Spirit to you? What was its power and influence upon your hearts during the [1893] General Conference and the conference in other states? Have you taken special heed to yourself? Have the teachers in the school felt that they must take heed?. . . The amusements are doing more to counteract the working of the Holy Spirit than anything else, and the Lord is grieved” (first paragraph, taken from this letter to Prescott; other two from Spalding and Magan Collection, pp. 69-70)

What catches my eye the most is that last sentence: “The amusements are doing more to counteract the working of the Holy Spirit than anything else, and the Lord is grieved.” She repeated similar sentiment on numerous occasions, noting how all the great that had been accomplished at the 1893 GC session was being counteracted by the indulgence of these amusements and games.

But could it be true? Of all the things that could counteract the deep movings of the Holy Spirit that reached a crescendo a few months before, could a simple game of football really have been the greatest factor?

Apparently so – at least in Battle Creek (which just happened to be the center of the Adventist world at the time).

Of course, to be clear, elsewhere Ellen White says that she does not “condemn the simple exercise of playing ball,” yet even here we need to keep reading the sentence: “but this, even in its simplicity,” she continues, “may be overdone” (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 322). So an innocent, casual game of ball can be enjoyable, healthy, and re-creational; but it can often get carried away and become too consuming, intense, or competitive.

Such a message is sobering for those of us who both have an incredible burden for Christ’s “most precious message” and the heralding of it in end-time proportion, while also being plagued by the proclivity to “overdo” the “simple exercise” of playing and watching ball. When we allow these amusements to overtake us, it completely counteracts all the good that God has done in our hearts through the gospel. It’s like the seed that is cast by the wayside in Jesus’s parable, only to be devoured by birds.

It’s even more sobering for me because I’ve read Ellen White’s counsel on football before but never stopped to notice the context. To see a direct historical connection between sports and the delay in the proclamation of the “most precious message” is a connection that is too convicting for me to ignore. It hits close to home.

Of course, such a convicting message may sound discouraging to some of us; after all, a life that is devoid of these “innocent” amusements sounds boring. How are we going to fill those three hours on Sunday afternoons? Going door-to-door instead, asking people if they want Bible studies, is an unattractive alternative!

Yet Christ is not asking us to do anything that isn’t more exciting (and it may not even include going “door-to-door”). Life in Christ is not characterized by gloom, doom, boredom, or sadness. “The gospel,” in E.J. Waggoner’s words, “is a message that brings joy” (The Everlasting Covenant, p. 7).

Indeed, when we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), we will find greater fulfillment, excitement, and joy than we ever have before – causing the “the things of this earth,” to quote the old hymn, “to grow strangely dim.” Or, to quote the late Robert Wieland, “The person who knows he has a million dollars in cash will never stoop to look for a nickel lost in the street mire” (taken from “Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?” Signs of the Times July [1987]: 11).

And then, when this happens, the latter rain will once again begin to fall.

(Just a note of clarification: the picture above was not from Battle Creek College.)

Purple Hair, Outside the Lines

Photo Dec 03, 8 50 54 AMMany mornings, when I’m hanging out with my kids, I will print them out pictures that they can color. Occasionally, I will draw the pictures myself – mostly to save on ink (if you haven’t noticed, ink is expensive). Such was the case this morning. I drew a picture for Camden and Acadia, and then let them do their thing.

After spending a few minutes drawing Acadia’s picture, I was mortified when I walked by the table and saw what she was doing to it. No, I thought to myself, she can’t be coloring the girl’s hair purpleI invested my time drawing that. I, of course, wasn’t excited about her careless coloring outside the lines, either.

But like a bolt of lightning, something all of a sudden hit me. This little object lesson can be taken many different ways, to be sure, but this is what hit me in particular (warning: sappy material ahead): I suddenly experienced a little insight into God’s heart, realizing the frustration, and even pain, when He sees what we do to the works He has spent so much time and energy creating.

It’s a simple thought, really, but it suddenly hit me with great profundity. The investment God has made in me reaches far beyond hitting a button to print a page. He has invested His life, His time, indeed, the existence of His Son, in both creating and re-creating my life – and the people and the world around me. And yet how do I respond? Do I treat such a purchase carelessly, coloring outside the lines and burying the image of Himself He has put in me?

Of course, Acadia is only three: she’s right where she should be developmentally. And I take great joy in her childish abilities and spirit at this point. And such is the case with so many Christians. They can’t be expected to color inside the lines before they learn how to hold a crayon.

Yet, what a tragedy it will be if Acadia is still coloring outside the lines, and giving girls purple hair, when she’s 23. Similarly, Christ is eagerly waiting for us to respond to His love and grace – and creative power – in such a way that we will finally grow up “to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). He’s eagerly waiting for us to grasp the depth of the investment He’s made in creating and re-creating us, so that we might, indeed, “glorify God in [our] body and in [our] spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Until then, He will still keep patiently drawing those pictures, investing His time and creative energy, hoping that we will finally allow Him to teach us how to color.

We See Our Thorns; God Sees Our Roses

I have just been with Jesus and been brought to tears. I have been fairly open in the past – even admitting it in a published book – that I have underlying struggles with self-worth and value. This came as a shock to me the first time I discovered it about five years ago because I thought I had the opposite problem: an inflated opinion of my own worth.

It’s not as though I am constantly consciously battling with these thoughts of anxiety, but every once in a while the Holy Spirit puts His finger on it. Such was the case this morning. Greatly discouraged in my personal worship time, I, for some reason, decided to search the words “talk faith” in Ellen White’s writings and I was floored when I came to a few of the results. Specifically, I was brought to a whole chapter in Daughters of God that talk about the importance of having a healthy “self-respect” (not to be confused with, though certainly a similar genre as, “self-esteem”). Apparently, the compilers felt that women battle with this issue more than us men – but perhaps it’s just because most of us men are too scared to admit we have the same issues!

At any rate, I came across such incredible insights throughout this compiled chapter, including comments like, “Cultivate respect for yourself because you are Christ’s purchased possession,” and “it is not pleasing to God that you should demerit yourself.” These speak incredibly to my own challenges as I am far too often my own worst critic, seeing only my own faults rather than Christ’s grace in my life.

What touched my heart the most, however, is a full letter at the end of the chapter that they included. With the exception of the first couple paragraphs, that are simply formalities, I want to quote the whole letter because it is so powerful. It seems to me that I had read Ellen’s dream before because it was a little familiar, but I had either forgotten about it, or didn’t understand the context.

I would encourage you to read all of it. It is incredible. The first paragraph is an editorial explanation, and then Ellen’s words to this weary-soul. What also catches my eye is that Ellen pulls back the curtain a little bit on her own experience for us, sharing some of her own struggles. That always warms my heart. It’s also tremendous insight on how we should approach others with words of encouragement and the gospel.

There are many specific parts of the letter that I’d love to expound further upon, but I will let the Spirit speak to your heart individually.

Without further ado, here it is, taken from Daughters of God, pp. 145-148

Written to Martha Bourdeau, a woman afflicted with feelings of self-doubt, despondency, worthlessness, and discouragement. [Martha Bourdeau was the younger sister of George I. Butler, a prominent leader in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She was first married to William Andrews, brother of J.N. Andrews. They had three children, among whom was Edith Andrews, who would soon die of tuberculosis. A.C. Bourdeau went to Europe in 1884, and Martha, now a widow, married him. They labored together in Italy.]

Dear Sister Martha,

. . .

My mind goes to you, Martha, in Torre Pellice [Italy], and I believe that yourself and husband should attend the meeting of the conference. We want to see you, and we want to see you trusting fully in the precious Saviour. He loves you; He gave His life for you because He valued your soul. I had a dream not long since. I was going through a garden, and you were by my side. You kept saying, “Look at this unsightly shrub, this deformed tree, that poor stunted rosebush. This makes me feel bad, for they seem to represent my life and the relation I stand in before God.” I thought a stately form walked just before us, and he said, “Gather the roses and the lilies and the pinks, and leave the thistles and unsightly shrubs, and bruise not the soul that Christ has in His choice keeping.”

I awoke; I slept again and the same dream was repeated. And I awoke and slept and the third time it was repeated. Now I want you to consider this and put away your distrust, your worrying, your fears. Look away from yourself to Jesus; look away from your husband to Jesus. God has spoken to you words of encouragement; grasp them, act upon them, walk by faith, and not by sight. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1.

Jesus holds His hand beneath you. Jesus will not suffer the enemy to overcome you. Jesus will give you the victory. He has the virtue; He has the righteousness. You may look to yourself to find it and may well despair in doing this because it is not there. Jesus has it. It is yours by faith because you love God and keep His commandments.

Do not listen to Satan’s lies, but recount God’s promises. Gather the roses and the lilies and the pinks. Talk of the promises of God. Talk faith. Trust in God, for He is your only hope. He is my only hope. I have tremendous battles with Satan’s temptations to discouragements, but I will not yield an inch. I will not give Satan an advantage over my body or my mind.

If you look to yourself, you will see only weakness. There is no Saviour there. You will find Jesus away from yourself. You must look and live; [look] to Him who became sin for us, that we might be cleansed from sin and receive of Christ’s righteousness.

Now, Martha, do not look to yourself but away to Jesus. Talk of His love, talk of His goodness, talk of His power, for He will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able to bear. But in Christ is our righteousness. Jesus makes up our deficiencies because He sees we cannot do it ourselves. While praying for you I see a soft light encompassing a hand stretched out to save you. God’s words are our credentials. We stand upon them. We love the truth. We love Jesus. Feelings are no evidence of God’s displeasure.

Your life is precious in the sight of God. He has a work for you to do. It is not unfolded to you now, but just walk on trustingly without a single word, because this would grieve the dear Jesus and show that you were afraid to trust Him. Lay your hand in His; He is reaching over the battlements of heaven [for it] to be laid confidingly in His. Oh, what love, what tender love has Jesus manifested in our behalf. The Bible promises are the pinks and the roses and the lilies in the garden of the Lord.

Oh, how many walk a dark path, looking to the objectionable, unlovely things on either side of them, when a step higher are the flowers. They think they have no right to say they are children of God and lay hold on the promises set before them in the gospel, because they do not have the evidence of their acceptance with God. They go through painful struggles, afflicting their souls, as did Martin Luther to cast himself upon Christ’s righteousness.

There are many who think they can come to Jesus only in the way the child did who was possessed of the demon that threw him down and tore him as he was being led to the Saviour. You are not of the kind that should have any such conflicts and trials. Richard Baxter was distressed because he did not have such agonizing, humiliating views of himself as he thought he ought to have. But this was explained to his satisfaction at last and peace came to his heart.

There is no requirement for you to take on a burden for yourself, for you are Christ’s property. He has you in His hand. His everlasting arms are about you. Your life has not been a life of sinfulness in the common acceptance of the term. You have a conscientious fear to do wrong, a principle in your heart to choose the right, and now you want to turn your face away from the briers and thorns to the flowers.

Let the eye be fixed on the Son of Righteousness. Do not make your dear, loving, heavenly Father a tyrant; but see His tenderness, His pity, His large, broad love, and His great compassion. His love exceeds that of a mother for her child. The mother may forget, yet will not I forget thee, saith the Lord. Oh, my dear, Jesus wants you to trust Him. May His blessing rest upon you in a rich measure is my earnest prayer.

You were born with an inheritance of discouragement, and you need constantly to be encouraging a hopeful state of feelings. You received from both father and mother a peculiar conscientiousness and also inherited from your mother a disposition to demerit self rather than to exalt self. A word moves you while a heavy judgment only is sufficient to move another of a different temperament. Were you situated where you knew you were helping others, however hard the load, however taxing the labor, you would do everything with cheerfulness and distress yourself that you did nothing.

Samuel, who served God from his childhood, needed a very different discipline than one who had a set, stubborn, selfish will. Your childhood was not marked with grossness, although there were the errors of humanity in it. The whole matter has been laid open before me. I know you far better than you know yourself. God will help you to triumph over Satan if you will simply trust Jesus to fight these stern battles that you are wholly unable to fight in your finite strength.

You love Jesus and He loves you. Now just patiently trust in Him, saying over and over, Lord, I am Thine. Cast yourself heartily on Christ. It is not joy that is the evidence that you are a Christian. Your evidence is in a Thus saith the Lord. By faith, I lay you, my dear sister, on the bosom of Jesus Christ.

Read the following lines [from “Jesus Lover of My Soul”] and appropriate the sentiment as your own:

“Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, O leave me not alone!
Still support and comfort me;
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found—
Grace to pardon all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound,
Make and keep me pure within;
Thou of life the Fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.”

I made two copies of the enclosed, one to send to you; but it was too poor, I thought, to be read, so laid it by and did not send it New Year’s as I intended. I think you can read it holding it up to the light.—Letter 35, 1887.”

Too Much Jesus?

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(Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series I’m doing on “Three Wrong Views of Minneapolis,” which discusses three of the most prevalent wrongly-held views among Adventists about what happened at the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For my introductory thoughts on this entire topic, click herePart 2, to come in the near-future, is called “Sanctification by Faith.”)

I think one would be hard-pressed to find a Seventh-day Adventist – at least one who is at all familiar with our history – who would deny this basic premise: that in the years leading up to the 1888 General Conference meetings in Minneapolis, Adventism was largely characterized by legalism and an unbalanced emphasis on the law.

The testimony of Ellen White is overwhelming and undeniably clear: “We have been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa, without dew or rain,”(1888 Materials, p. 557) she wrote in 1890. A year before she had said that “there have been entire discourses, dry and Christless, in which Jesus has scarcely been named. . . . We need to repent and be converted – yes, the preacher converted. The people must have Jesus lifted up before them” (Ibid.p. 430).

It is thus hard to get around the ubiquity of this sentiment in Ellen White’s writings leading up to 1888 and continuing for a few years after.

But here’s the rub: a common refrain among some Seventh-day Adventists is that that was then; and we have the opposite problem now. In other words, prior to 1888 Adventists struggled with legalism. The present climate of Adventism, however, is such that we have too much Jesus now and not enough law. We have completely overcompensated for our Jesus-deficiency by talking too much now about Jesus and His love and forgiveness and grace, neglecting to talk about obedience, sanctification, the law, overcoming.

This charge is bolstered by the fact that, collectively, we as a people have become a lot more lax when it comes to our standards: that which couldn’t even be imagined 50 years ago is now commonplace – whether it’s entertainment practices, health habits, dress standards, or any other number of practices.

As may already be self-evident, this refrain is often on the lips of those who would place themselves in the “conservative” camp, and many of them have further ammunition when they consider significant historical events in our denomination over the last half-century. In particular, the 1950s was a pivotal decade for Adventists, it is proposed, when the controversial book Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (QOD) was published, undermining a few of our dearly-held doctrines which served as the basis for a sanctification-centric Gospel. Two doctrines in particular – the nature of Christ and the Investigative Judgment – were, at the very least, completely reframed in such a way that they pulled the rug out from underneath our emphasis on sanctification.

From there, it is maintained, Adventism spiraled out of control, leading to an increased emphasis on Jesus and a forgiveness-only Gospel, culminating in the notorious Desmond Ford incident in 1980. Both QOD’s and Ford’s influences have been the prevailing ones today, as is evident by a much larger emphasis on Jesus in today’s Adventism, which might be proven by just dropping into any random Seventh-day Adventist church on any given Sabbath morning.

Thus, for these Adventists, 1957 – the year QOD was published – is the pivotal date, not 1888, and they long for the golden years of the 1930s or 40s when within Adventism obedience, sanctification, perfection, and the law were the main entres.

What shall we thus say to this claim – which seems to be fairly substantiated? After all, is there any doubt that our standards have gotten more lax over the last 50 years? Or could one argue with the fact that Jesus does seem to be preached more today than He was in the 1940s or 1880s?

Truthfully, there have been times when I’ve been tempted to agree with this sentiment and been further tempted to push back, giving the trumpet no uncertain sound and placing great emphasis on obedience and standards and sanctification.

Such an approach, however, is simply an act of going from one ditch to the other, from one extreme to the other.

As I’ve grappled with this issue some more, I have come to a few critical realizations that lead me to conclude that the problem within Adventism in 2014 is still the same problem as it was in 1888 – even if it is framed in slightly different terms.

Consider this:

1. In her classic book, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, Ellen White makes this poignant and powerful statement. Don’t miss it:

The principles cherished by the Pharisees are such as are characteristic of humanity in all ages. The spirit of Pharisaism is the spirit of human nature; and as the Saviour showed the contrast between His own spirit and methods and those of the rabbis, His teaching is equally applicable to the people of all time. (p. 79)

The first time someone pointed out this quote to me, which was this last summer, I was blown away. I had always known this intuitively, but never noticed that Ellen White articulated it explicitly. Don’t miss her point! Simply put: human beings are, by nature, Pharisaical. We are born this way. And what does that mean? In the very next paragraph, Ellen White explains what the Spirit of the Pharisees was: “The Pharisees were continually trying to earn the favor of Heaven in order to secure the worldly honor and prosperity which they regarded as the reward of virtue.”

So follow it with me: human beings are, by nature, born “continually trying to earn the favor of Heaven.” This means that every single baby who has been born into an Adventist home since 1888 has been born a legalist – something that doesn’t just disappear by snapping one’s fingers, or hearing a Gospel-sermon a couple times. Legalism – “trying to earn the favor of Heaven” – as the “spirit of human nature,” is as every bit a force to be reckoned with and overcome as is our proclivity to sin. We thus strive against it our whole lives.

It is no wonder then, that Ellen White wrote in 1890: “The point that has been urged upon my mind for years is the imputed righteousness of Christ. I have wondered that this matter was not made the subject of discourses in our churches throughout the land, when the matter has been kept so constantly urged upon me” (Faith and Works, p. 18). In the next paragraph she then made this mind-boggling statement which cannot, indeed must not, be missed:

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.

We need to hear this again and again and again. Just because Adventists in the 1880s and 90s heard it (and even then, it was only a small percentage of the membership, since it was largely kept away from the church), doesn’t mean they heard it enough, and it doesn’t mean that the church of the 21st-century has inherited it genetically.

2. One of the real “flies in the ointment” is that, statistically, even though we have theoretically been preaching Christ more as a people (though, as I will mention below, I really question even this thesis), there still seems to be a disconnect among our people – especially our young people (those same young people who are born legalists). In 1990, the first Valuegenesis study was done which surveyed 12,000 Adventist young people about a number of issues – including salvation. The results were staggering.

According to the survey (the results of which are discussed, among other places, in the July, 1991 issue of Ministry), a mind-blowing 81 percent of teenegers believed that they “must live by God’s rules in order to be saved.” Furthermore, 62 percent of them agreed that “the way to be accepted by God is to try sincerely to live a good life” and 44 percent believed that “the main emphasis of the gospel is on God’s rules for right living.”

It would be naive of a person to think that, were these same questions asked today (this survey has actually been repeated every ten years, with 2010’s results still not released, I don’t believe), that they would be a whole lot better. Even if those numbers were cut in half (which I would highly doubt), and 30 percent of young people agreed, for example, that “the way to be accepted by God is to try sincerely to live a good life,” that’s 30 percent too many!

Furthermore, it shouldn’t take a person very long to observe that young people are born with the craving to experience love and acceptance – even in a stable home. The fact that more and more young people come from broken homes, where unconditional love and acceptance are not modeled, further exacerbates the problem. And these young people who don’t experience love and acceptance as young people grow up to be adults who are still looking for love and acceptance.

The bottom line is that, as much as we’ve been supposedly preaching about Christ and His forgiveness and grace, we still aren’t preaching about it enough – or, at the very least, in the right way.

But that’s not all: what blew my mind recently is that it is now apparent that Adventists – who are viewed by many to be inherently legalistic because of our emphasis on the Sabbath and diet, etc. – are not alone when it comes to this hang-up. It is not surprising that Catholics would be tripped up by this, but Evangelicals themselves are victims of this same mentality. According to Christianity Today, “Two out of three (68%) said that a person obtains peace with God by seeking God first, and then God responds with grace,” and, further, 56 percent affirmed that they must contribute their own personal effort for salvation.

And yet these are the people – it is often claimed by Adventists – who talk about Jesus and His grace too much! What is going on?

Simply put, “The spirit of Pharisaism is the spirit of human nature,” and it knows no denomination. And since we are admonished to repeat it “more frequently,” I will take the opportunity to do just that in response to these sobering statistics both among Adventists and Evangelicals:

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.

3. I will just touch upon this briefly, but encourage you to review this post I shared a while back where I grappled with the question “Are Adventists Legalists?” How do I know that the problem of legalism in the 1880s is still a problem today? It’s simple: just as in the 1880s, people in the world, by and large, still think we’re legalists. Period.

4. Lastly, I want to turn to a little bit more of a subjective reflection. Simply put, as I mentioned above, I think it would be naive to say that Christ is not “named” in our sermons more today than He was 50 or 130 years ago. Truthfully, I think Christ is talked about more in sermons today than in times past, but here’s the catch: I don’t know that His character and sacrifice and love (in all its depth, not just done so in a superficial way) is lifted up to any greater degree.

Let me explain.

As you survey the counsel of Ellen White on the need to lift up Christ in our preaching, she doesn’t simply leave it there. When she talks about this need she is doing so within the context of redemption and the cross. Thus, she says stuff like, “No discourse should ever be preached without presenting Christ and Him crucified as the foundation of the gospel” (Evangelism, p. 360 – emphasis mine). Elsewhere, she writes, “In every discourse the love of God, as manifested in Christ, the sinner’s only hope, should be dwelt upon until the people realize something of its power and preciousness” (Gospel Workers, p. 227 – emphasis mine).

Further, she writes this beautiful admonition, “The love that Christ manifested in taking human nature, in bearing insult, reproach, and the rejection of men, in suffering crucifixion on the cross, should be presented in every discourse” (Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889).

Can it get any plainer? It is not simply Christ that we need to talk about more; we need to lift up His love, His sacrifice, His forgiveness, His grace, in “every discourse.” Thus, it’s not enough for sermons to simply be christocentric; they need to be cross-centric.

Not to be critical of anyone or any preacher, but I have heard a lot of sermons that talk about Christ (and maybe even His love), but they are either done so in a vague way, with no depth, or done in a way that reduces Christ to nothing more than a wise sage who prescribes good advice, or serves as an example. There’s no cross, no self-sacrificing love, no unconditional pardon. Similarly, there is a sort of “prosperity gospel” Jesus that is present in a lot of Adventist preaching, where He is simply someone who provides for our temporal needs – you know, pays our bills, helps us pass tests, gets us the car for the price we wanted.

But this is not enough to change the heart or awaken us from our legalistic stupor. And it’s why people still check off the boxes that say we have to do something in order to be accepted and loved by God.

Thus, in short, though it might be true that Christ is talked about more, He has not necessarily been lifted up – in all His beauty, self-sacrifice, and love – on the cross any more than He was in 19th-century Adventism.

It is for this reason that what we need today is the same as what they needed in 1888: “Christ our righteousness.”

Three Wrong Views of Minneapolis

Minneapolis interior

(The interior of the church in Minneapolis where the GC session was held a few years before. This rare picture was recently released by GC Archives)

“The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people,” Ellen White wrote in 1895, “through Elders Waggoner and Jones.” She continued to recount how the message brought “more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, 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” (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91).

Elsewhere, Ellen White recounted that she had been preaching this message for 45 years, “trying to present” it before Adventists’ minds. It must not have made much of an impression, however, because she had never heard it spoken by anyone else besides in the conversations she had enjoyed with her husband. Thus, she said, “when another presented it, every fiber of my heart said, Amen” (1888 Materials, p. 348).

Unfortunately, this “most precious message,” which caused Ellen White’s heart to say “Amen” (as well as my own, I must add), has been much maligned – both when it was first presented by Jones and Waggoner, and ever since. And sadly, three prominent views have developed since that General Conference session in Minneapolis 126 years ago that have primarily held the day, causing us to continue to not only avoid what truly happened in 1888, but also what that most “most precious message” is that will “lighten the whole earth with its glory” (1888 Materials, p. 1575).

Thus, over the next three posts, I’d like to look at those prominent views and discuss where they err. They are not going to be long, tedious, in-depth, looks, but enough to do justice to the erroneous views – and, yes, they will be a little more polemical in nature, which is sometimes needed!

The titles of those three posts will be as follows:

Part 1: Too Much Jesus?
Part 2: Sanctification by Faith
Part 3: Nothing to See Here

But I do want to briefly touch upon one erroneous view that seems to be somewhat prevalent in all three views. It’s simply this: some people refer to this “most precious message” as the “1888 message,” a label that is not only promulgated by those who would consider themselves the guardians of this “message,” but one that has been hotly debated for some time.

But those who consider themselves the “guardians” of the message claim, and rightfully so, in my opinion, that the label is a bit of a misnomer – that it wasn’t simply in the singular event of the Minneapolis GC session in the fall of 1888 that this “most precious message” was proclaimed, explained, and shared.

The reasons for this are numerous, but let me just share three of the more compelling bits of evidence that I find persuasive.

1. It is the height of naivete, it seems to me, to think that the “most precious message” which warmed Ellen White’s heart so much, all of a sudden disappeared from Jones and Waggoner’s preaching on November 5, 1888 (the first day after the the GC session ended), or that it was not present prior to the GC session.

Furthermore, it would also be naive to suppose that, despite seeds that were present in 1888, everything they preached at the GC session was even fully developed at the time. In my own preaching, there have been ideas I have preached about at one point that are simply in their infancy, only to have them fully developed a year or two later, after following them to their logical conclusions.

2. In doing some reading this last week on the subject from secondary sources, a few authors pointed out something I had never noticed before: the famous “most precious message” quote from Ellen White was not even written until 1895, and nowhere in the quote does she even say anything about Minneapolis or 1888, or limit it to any sort of specific event.

3. In 1908, Ellen White wrote a letter to A.T. Jones, appealing to him after he had started losing his way. Among other things, she shared this interesting thought:

I have been instructed to use those discourses of yours printed in the General Conference Bulletins of 1893 and 1897, which contain strong arguments regarding the validity of the Testimonies, and which substantiate the gift of prophecy among us. I was shown that many would be helped by these articles, and especially those newly come to the faith who have not been made acquainted with our history as a people. It will be a blessing to you to read again these arguments, which were of the Holy Spirit’s framing. (9MR 278)

How interesting! She was encouraging people to read Jones’s sermons from 1893, and as late as 1897, because they were “of the Holy Spirit’s framing,” such that “many would be helped by” them, not simply as they explained the gift of prophecy, but as they would help those who were “newly come to the faith” to become acquainted with “our history as a people.”

So we can see that the expiration date for Jones and Waggoner’s preaching was not 1888; it reached beyond (this is not to say that they were infallible, of course, nor that Ellen White gave them a “blank check,” but that we should approach their writing and preaching with an underlying attitude of openness, only discarding what is clearly non-biblical, rather than the opposite attitude that many take: approaching them with skepticism, and combing them for error, rejecting almost everything post-1888 carte blanche. For more on this, see this post of mine). [NOTE: My commenter below, John Sheffield, has noted a great compilation done by my good friend, Dr. Fred Bischoff, in which he traces out Ellen White’s continued endorsement of Jones and Waggoner. You can access that here.]

One of the reasons this is important is because many people very conveniently use this “exclusivist 1888″ attitude in their favor on a number of levels: since no notes were taken of the 1888 GC session, they claim that there is no way of really knowing what that “most precious message” really consists of. Ironically, these are the same people who then turn around and proclaim that what certain people are preaching is not the “1888 message.” How can they really know this though? One can’t have it both ways. A person can’t say, on the one hand, that we don’t know what Jones and Waggoner preached, and then turn around and say that he or she knows what they didn’t preach.

So with this underlying erroneous view dispelled, we will next move forward to Part 1: Too Much Jesus?

Ellen White, the Case of Too Many Horns, and Today

Ten hornsBack in 1888, one of the unfortunate side-shows that became a distraction was the identity of the tenth horn in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13. Uriah Smith, long considered the resident expert on prophecy within the Adventist church, took umbrage with A.T. Jones claiming that the tenth horn was not, in fact, the Huns, as Smith had long maintained, but the Alemanni.

Though there is some discussion among historians about the extent to which the conflict grew, and who the real agitators were, it is evident that lines were drawn over this issue that they perceived to be of vital significance. Finally, after much discussion, someone had the bright idea to ask Ellen White if she was an “Alemanni” or a “Hun,” to which she apparently humorously and poignantly replied, “There are too many horns.”

She never did offer a perspective on who the tenth horn was, revealing just how important the issue actually was.

Such an approach was not necessarily exceptional for her. She would repeat this posture on a number of occasions over a number of issues. When it came to the contentious issue of the “daily” in Daniel 8, she seemingly never committed to a particular view, and requested that people not use her writings to support either perspective. Even when it came to the hotly debated question of the law in Galatians, she avoided making a proclamation for a long time, and ultimately seemed to split the difference, saying that it was both the moral and ceremonial laws.

All this is to simply say that some of our issues that we might deem to be of vital importance may not in fact be so. And those issues that we sometimes hotly contest may not be as “life or death” as we have made them out to be.

This is not to say that Ellen White never took a stand or always deemed theological debate to be distracting or unnecessary. On the contrary. There were some issues that she thought were of tremendous significance and were worth fighting for. One such issue was the message of justification by faith – and thus, in writing to Uriah Smith in 1892, she lamented about how “the many and confused ideas in regard to Christ’s righteousness and justification by faith are the result of the position you have taken toward the man and the message sent of God” (1888 Materials, p. 1053).

The key for her, of course, was being able to determine which issues were of lasting consequence and which issues were of less importance. She wanted to major in the former and minor in the latter. She wanted the “main thing” to remain the “main thing,” and not overreact when two people disagreed on a minor issue.

I don’t think one can overstate the importance of this concept. It is probably best encapsulated in the well-known expression, perhaps coined by a 17th-century Lutheran, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”

I fear, however, that our tendency today – including myself – is to blow minor issues out of proportion and to draw battle lines over them. As one who has not yet committed to a position on the hotly debated question of “women’s ordination,” I can’t help but wonder if this is just such a case. I have heard people on both sides of the issue frame the question in almost-apocalyptic terms. “The future of the church is in the balance right now,” one pastor has posited. Others prognosticate that if we allow women to be ordained then homosexuality is the next thing that will walk through our door.

On the other side of the aisle, I have observed individuals wringing their hands about how we will lose our youth if we refuse to ordain women.

This type of talk – again, to me – seems to be drawing battle lines over a “non-essential,” and placing it within the framework of great heat and extremism. I, of course, am willing to admit I might be wrong (I plan to finally study the issue out once-and-for-all in the next month or two), and I want to be fully sensitive to those who do deem it to be an issue that has incredible import. But, still, can we ever really say that the question of women’s ordination is of such consequence that the future of our church depends on getting it exactly right? And, either way, is it really one of the “pillars” of our faith, a foundation upon which the edifice of our church will really stand or fall?

I want to stand with unrelenting commitment for the Gospel and those things which are unequivocally clear and important in Scripture, and I will insist until my last breath that we unite over these things. But I don’t want the success of this mission to be compromised, undermined, or altogether neglected because of bickering over issues that are of much less consequence.

I Want This!

A timely thought (for me, at least) from my devotional time today, taken from Christ’s Object Lessons:

Looking unto Jesus we obtain brighter and more distinct views of God, and by beholding we become changed. Goodness, love for our fellow men, becomes our natural instinct. We develop a character which is the counterpart of the divine character. Growing into His likeness, we enlarge our capacity for knowing God. More and more we enter into fellowship with the heavenly world, and we have continually increasing power to receive the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of eternity. (p. 355)

What a thought! So simple, and yet so profound. What strikes me, and is particularly relevant to my own current battles, is the distinction between root and fruit, between our part and God’s part. What are we to “do”? “Look,” “behold.”

And what happens as a result of our “looking unto Jesus” and “beholding” Him? “We become changed.” But notice what that brings in its train: “Goodness, love for our fellow men, becomes our natural instinct. We develop a character which is the counterpart of the divine character.”

This is powerful! I want this. I need this.

But this isn’t the result of my own efforts, of my diligent striving, of trying to get my act together before I come to God, of trying to conjure up a desire to repent. No, all I do is simply look to Jesus and behold Him. So doing gives me the desire to repent, the desire for holiness, the desire to be changed by Him, a love for my fellow man; indeed, these things – O blessed thought – become my “natural instinct.”

Really?

Really.

And it all happens when I simply “look unto” and “behold” Christ.

Thank you, Jesus!

Who’s Afraid of Forgiveness?

A few years ago, Roy Gane wrote a book entitled, Who’s Afraid of the Judgment? in which he addressed – and tried to alleviate – the fears that many have when it comes to facing the judgment. I wonder, however, if an appropriate sequel to that title might be Who’s Afraid of Forgiveness? This is because, ironically, I find that there are equally as many people who are afraid of forgiveness as there are who are afraid of judgment.

It almost seems funny to write this – and yet I’ve found it to be frustratingly true time and again.

The reasons, I’m sure, are legion – and stem from diverse thought-processes. You know what is perhaps the most common refrain, of course: that if a person gets settled into the idea that Christ freely forgives him or her, this will somehow lead to willful, deliberate, presumptuous sinning. But even if this was a frequent response to Christ’s free forgiveness (which I don’t find to necessarily be the case), this in no way means that the problem is in the forgiveness but with the person who has been forgiven.

There are others, no doubt, who fear forgiveness for psychological and emotional reasons: they feel a certain level of comfort and safety in holding on to shame and guilt or they feel pride in somehow being able to demonstrate to God that they can atone for their past sins and make good on the wrongs they’ve committed.

Whatever the reasons are for our fear of forgiveness, however, we need to get over them. Recognizing Christ’s unilateral, unconditional forgiveness is actually the mechanism by which we become liberated from fear, shame, guilt and, believe it or not, even the power of sin in our lives. In fact, that which allegedly produces laxity in the Christian’s life has the complete opposite effect (when properly understood): it produces victory.

It would thus be well for us to frequently reflect upon this powerful prayer from the lips of Christ: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This prayer, we are told “embraced the world . . . [taking] in every sinner that had lived or should live, from the beginning of the world to the end of time” (The Desire of Ages, p. 745).

But such an idea doesn’t sit well with some people. “We need to first do something before we are forgiven,” some will insist. Why does it have to be so? Why, again, does it have to be about us? If Christ wants to unilaterally forgive us, refusing to hold our sins against us and to cancel our debt, who are we to say He can’t?

The most frequently-used Hebrew word that is translated “forgive” is nasa‘, which also means to “bear” or “carry” or “lift.” That’s what forgiveness is: it’s the act of bearing or carrying or lifting someone else’s wrong and placing it upon one’s self. It means that one refuses to cause another to reap the penalty for the wrong he or she has committed but instead chooses to take the loss on himself or herself.

It’s what Christ did at the cross, when He “bore [nasa’] the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12 – which, interestingly, stands in parallel with v. 11 where it says that “My righteous Servant shall justify many.” See also Hebrews 9:28, where it says that He did this “once”). He bore our guilt, shame, and sin Himself – indeed, He experienced the “wages of sin” so that we wouldn’t have to. We live now because Christ paid these wages.

Such a thought, when fully understood and embraced, produces incredible gratitude in the heart of the recipient, which produces obedience in the life. It is, in fact, the key to victory.

Notice these two thoughts from Ellen White, demonstrating the reality of this: “When, as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in the heart. Every burden is light . . . Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure” (Steps to Christ, p. 57).

Elsewhere, reflecting on the message of justification by faith that Jones and Waggoner introduced in 1888, she noted, “The thought that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, not because of any merit on our part, but as a free gift of God, is a precious thought. The enemy of God and man is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken” (Review and Herald, September 3, 1889).

It is abundantly clear: recognizing and embracing Christ’s forgiveness (what she called “pardoning grace” and “imputed” righteousness in the above quotes) is that which changes the heart, making obedience a delight, and breaking Satan’s power in our lives. Indeed, in 1889, when Ellen White, along with A.T. Jones, presented this powerful message in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, in what was their first post-Minneapolis meetings that were aimed at the laypeople (meetings at which Ellen White said they seemed to “breathe in the very atmosphere of heaven”), one of the most common refrains from all who attended was that they “testified their joy that Christ had forgiven their sins” (Review and Herald, March 5, 1889). This led to incredible confession of sin – and the righting of wrongs.

So I ask the question again: who’s afraid of forgiveness?

And why?

Ellen White on “Total Depravity”

Most Adventists probably don’t realize that Ellen White never “graduated” from her basic Wesleyan views on anthropology – that is, that humans, because of Adam’s fall, have a natural bent towards sin, that we are enslaved to it, and, if left to ourselves, we would never seek God or His grace, or be able to live a life of obedience.

Some theologians call this idea “Total Depravity,” and though we could probably quibble over the nuances and question some of the finer points and versions, as well as where this idea has taken some theologians and theologies (to their loss), it is basically a Biblical concept that is incredibly important and critical.

But that’s another discussion.

My concern is with Ellen White and her views on the nature of man. In this, I have been reminded again of her perspective this week as I’ve been preparing a series of lectures for NETS (Northeast Evangelism Training School run by the Atlantic Union on the campus of Atlantic Union College) on righteousness by faith that I will be delivering next week.

For example, in at least three places, in her classic book on salvation, Steps to Christ, she is pretty clear on the inability of man to do anything good of himself – even the exercise of the will.

Notice:

It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them. ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.’ ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ Job 14:4; Romans 8:7. Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness (p. 18).

She then adds 30 pages later:

You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. . . You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections (47)

And then, on page 62, she repeats:

Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law.

She also says, quite plainly, in an article in Review and Herald, on January 4, 1881:

We must remember that our hearts are naturally depraved, and we are unable of ourselves to pursue a right course.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that!

But this isn’t simply an arcane theological discussion. The reason it is so important is because if we are not clear on our own powerlessness, depravity, and corruption, then we will not be clear on what the solution to our sin is. Instead, we will have an experience where, according to Ellen White, we will trust “partly to God, and partly to [ourselves],” an experience in which, according to her, “there are no victories” (Faith and Works, p. 38).

Indeed, we need to come to the place where we can say, with the hymn-writer, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

Unfortunately, I would dare say that because many Adventists (from all places on the theological spectrum) are not clear on this important teaching, they are not clear on the gospel. Put another way: because many Adventists don’t realize just how deep and serious the human condition is, they do not realize just how deep and serious the gospel-solution must be. And that is a huge problem.

And, by the way, just as a side-note: it should be recognized that John Wesley, upon whom a lot of Ellen White’s theology was based, was a classic Arminian in this sense, and that Arminius was a classic Calvinist in this sense, and Calvin was a classic Augustinian in this sense, and Augustine was a classic Paulinist (if that’s a term), in this sense. To be sure, White, Wesley and Arminius rejected a lot of bad Calvinism and Augistinianism – but not in this regard. And thus, we shouldn’t be quick to reject certain teachings simply because someone (e.g., Calvin or Augustine) may have also espoused them – or because those correct teachings logically led some people to other incorrect teachings (e.g., predestination, eternal security [read: once saved, always saved], etc.).

It should also be noted that a pessimistic view of man’s nature and abilities doesn’t necessarily lead to a pessimistic view of what he is, by God’s grace, capable of ultimately achieving. That is, subscribing to “total depravity” does not lead one away from also subscribing to “perfection.” John Wesley was fully committed to the idea of “total depravity” while at the same time being fully committed to the idea that, through God’s prevenient and perfecting grace, man could reach a state of Christian perfection. So the two ideas are not at odds with one another; in fact, I would say that the latter can only be achieved in light of the former and is thus dependent on it (which is a great irony).

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