|Chapter 11: Testing Truth|
Seventh-day Adventists are some of the most successful Sabbatarian proselytizers. Although they adopted the practice of Saturday observance from the Seventh-day Baptists, Adventists have been more successful than Seventh-day Baptists in convincing people to keep Saturday as the Sabbath. The reason for this is that Sabbath-keeping in Seventh-day Adventism is a vital part of an apocalyptic movement. The major arguments for the Adventists' Sabbath are derived from their interpretation of the books of Daniel and Revelation.
In the Adventist system the Sabbath assumes great eschatological significance. It becomes one of the two great identifying signs of the remnant or true church of the last days (Revelation 12:17). (1) It is the eschatological "seal of the living God" which everyone must have to survive the great tribulation and be ready for the coming of Jesus (Revelation 7:1-4). Although Adventism says that Christians who "do not have the light on the Sabbath" may presently be justified, they will not be among the saved of the final generation unless they have this "seal of God." (2)
In its apocalyptic schema, Seventh-day Adventism foresees Protestants and Catholics taking the arm of the state (beginning in the USA) to enforce Sunday observance on the entire world. In this "coming crisis" the Saturday Sabbath will be the "final test" by which the eternal destiny of every soul will be decided. Those who keep Sunday in obedience to the decrees of the church-state alliance will receive the "mark of the beast." Those who remain loyal to the commandments of God in the face of the great boycott (Revelation 13:17) will receive the "seal of God." (3)
An increasing number of Seventh-day Adventists no longer take this nineteenth century apocalyptic fantasy seriously, but many still do. After all, this interpretation of Revelation 13 and 14 has the emphatic endorsement of the visionary Ellen G. White. (4)
Even now, the Sabbath is the "testing truth" for the Adventists. (5) Accepting Saturday observance is synonymous with "coming into the truth." In the interest of good public relations, the offensive nature of this "testing truth" may be kept in the background, but ultimately all other Christians will be judged by the simple test of whether or not they keep the Sabbath. Seventh-day Adventism, by virtue of its apocalyptic Sabbatarianism, is unrelentingly hostile to every other Christian system which adopts another pattern of worship.
What shall we say in response to such a "testing truth"? First, it appears in suspicious company. American Adventism arose in response to William Miller's prediction that the Lord would come in 1843. When the world did not end as predicted, his followers were not daunted but revised the date to October 22, 1844. To speculate about the very day of Christ's coming is bad enough, but what shall we say about making the acceptance of this date a test to decide the fate of the entire world? (6)
As far as the early Adventists were concerned, the October 22 date was such a test. Christians who did not accept this message based on time were increasingly regarded as blind, unintelligent and dishonest. (7) By the summer of 1844 the Millerites were calling the opposing churches and parties "Babylon." Many Millerites even made separation from these "harlot churches" a test of salvation along with the acceptance of the October 22 date. (8)
When Christ did not come and destroy the Millerite opponents, the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism proclaimed that their salvation was past anyway. The Bridegroom had supposedly come to the marriage in heaven instead of on earth, and He had shut the door on those "foolish" virgins (Matthew 25:10) -- i.e., the non-Adventists. Between 1845 and 1851 this stance toward all other Christian groups was known as the shut-door doctrine. It was held so dogmatically that it too became a test question whose acceptance was necessary for salvation. (9) In view of the fact that the date-setting of the first message had been called "a test" and the separatist shut-door doctrine had also been made "a test " it is hardly surprising that when the Adventists added the Saturday Sabbath to their system, it became the great "final test." (10)
In addition to the tests already mentioned, belief in the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White, the novel doctrine of the investigative judgment and belief that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church have all, more or less, become test questions within the Adventist community. All this illustrates that Adventism has had a tendency to make each of its distinctive doctrines a test -- even those it has outgrown and would like to forget.
Before Adventism is too soundly condemned for either its naiveté or arrogance, let us reflect how other branches of the church have made the same mistake in principle. Do not denominations, groups and subgroups tend to unite on the basis of their distinctive teachings more than on the basis of the unambiguous certainties of the common faith? Is it not all too common for these distinctive denominational emphases to become the means of testing whether or not other Christians are sound in the faith? How often has a certain mode of baptism (sprinkling, pouring, dipping or drowning) been made the test of soundness in the faith? But this is worse than making a test of Sabbatarianism. At least the Sabbath touches one-seventh of a person's lifetime, while baptism is simply a once-in-a-lifetime ordinance. In other branches of the church, one may repent of sin, receive Jesus as Lord and Savior and believe all that was spoken by the prophets and apostles, yet if he does not subscribe to a certain view of the supper, he is not received into fellowship. Thus, the supper becomes the "test question." Another segment of the church makes the prohibition of singing hymns other than those taken directly from the Bible a test of orthodoxy. Still another group makes the banning of all instrumental music in the church the issue which tests whether Christians are willing to "go the whole way." Then there are those who make a certain view of the "divine decrees" (which we may reasonably suspect were made in Holland rather than in heaven) the test of orthodoxy. Everyone is examined by the "five points," and those who fail this test are adjudged unsound in the faith. Moving closer to the popular evangelical scene, how often is a particular view on the rapture, the tribulation or the millennium made the test of who will be accepted in the mission field or in an academic position? Or is a certain view of biblical inspiration the touchstone of evangelical orthodoxy? Or whether or not someone can speak in tongues?
What shall we say in response to all these test questions, including Sabbatarianism? As far as the New Testament is concerned there is one final testing truth which God wants everyone to hear -- and that is the gospel of His Son. By the word of the gospel which goes forth in the last days God judges people (John 3:18, 19). Those who obey the gospel are constituted children of God. They are justified and given life eternal (John 5:24; Acts 13:38, 39 Romans 3:24, 25). They are sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-4). Those who disobey the gospel are condemned already. The wrath of God remains upon them (John 3:18, 36). This means that the coming judgment of the last day is already mysteriously present in the gospel (John 3:18-19, 5:24, 9:39, 12:31).
In the New Testament the one test question is this: Do you "confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead? (Romans 10:9). This Jesus is not the Jesus of anyone's imagination but the Jesus who fulfills the Old Testament by being conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification. His sinless manhood, His inherent divinity, His Lordship at God's right hand, His salvation by grace alone, His indwelling Spirit and His coming again to judge the living and the dead are so intrinsically a part of faith in Jesus that we may question whether true faith exists wherever these articles of the common faith are denied. But church history amply demonstrates that genuine faith has existed with or without Sabbatarianism, with or without certain views of baptism, the supper, election, the millennium or certain theories of inspiration, etc.
One may argue that there can be no genuine faith in Jesus where there is no turning from those sins which violate God's commandments. This argument is perfectly true, but we hasten to emphasize that those sins which defy God's authority and arouse His anger are plainly stated in the New Testament. Again and again the apostles give proper names to those sins which will keep those who profess the faith out of the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-8). But the so called "tests" are never found in the lists of gospel denying sins.
With respect to forms of worship and church order, there was far greater diversity in the early church than we have generally recognized. Hebrew-Jewish Christians, Hellenist-Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians from many cultures all developed distinctive forms of worship and congregational life. There were even different theological emphases among various Christian congregations. There was, of course, an underlying unity in the common faith, but there was also great diversity in the form of worship and structure of fellowship. We must be cautious, therefore, in trying to establish a norm of form and fellowship from the early church.
The gospel gives Christians the liberty to keep a day to the Lord. This may be their way of expressing their unity with the Old Testament community. They may find value in the discipline of a regular weekly period for private and corporate worship. Their particular heritage may have invested a certain day with hallowed memories so that they do not feel right if they treat that day like all others. No one should condemn them for this (Romans 14:5). It is one thing for a group to adopt a pattern of worship through which they purpose to honor God. It is quite another thing, however, if they assert that this pattern of worship is the only legitimate one and all others are condemned. For a group to make their own pattern of worship the special point of their testimony is contrary to the entire spirit of the New Testament. External concerns such as the observance of days and food taboos belong to Judaism, not to New Testament Christianity. Jesus nowhere suggested that the observance of a day would be a sign of His people. A man might be a dietary ascetic and yet be a devil. (Hitler was a vegetarian. ) Being a Sabbatarian is no proof of allegiance to God. (The ancient Jews nailed the Son of God to the cross and then hurried home to keep their Sabbath.) But Jesus gave this sign: "All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another" (John 13:35). No man can love and not belong to Christ. "Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). To make the observance of a day (which is nothing unique anyway) the great issue of Christianity utterly fails to represent the spirituality of Christ's teachings. (11) In His description of the final judgment, our Lord shows that the sheep and the goats will be separated by one single criterion: How did they treat their fellow men? (Matthew 25:31-46).
(1) The other distinguishing mark is
said to be "the Spirit of Prophecy" -- believed to be manifested
in the life and ministry of Ellen G. White.
(3) See ibid.
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