How I missed the gospel as a PK

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I grew up in church. Since birth I was immersed in the church culture. Let’s count the times we connected with religion/church/biblical instruction.

We went to church:

Sabbath School

Sermon

Afternoon witnessing

Vespers

Sunday night

Monday night

Wednesday night

Friday night youth service

We had sundown and morning worship

I also attended an Adventist school

 

Since my dad was also an evangelist, we had months were I spent most nights setting up the three carrousels of projector slides, along with a “dissolver” (Google it!).   I also set up the movie projector with two reels, to watch a movie about the dangers of smoking called “I’m Sorry Baby” and another one about the life of Jesus that was pretty cool. I got a lot of church, but not enough Christ.

 

Yet for 22 years I missed the gospel. How does that happen? Am I the only one this happened to?

 

I liked going to church. The only thing that I struggled with was some the rules and regulations that did not make sense to a teenage boy. They say that rules without relationship leads to rebellion, and that is exactly what happened to me. I was shown the what without the why. I received knowledge without power.

 

That has three negative consequences:

  1. Knowledge without power is frustrating. You never feel secure, because you never know when you have done enough. Should you pray one or two hours? Maybe an all-nighter would be even better. You work towards victory instead of from victory. There is never a finish line. It’s the race where the dog can never reach the rabbit right in front of him. It’s like the song says “Forever running, but losing the race…” One of the most vivid memories of growing up is having a constant feeling of guilt. I knew what was right, yet I couldn’t do it. That was very frustrating. It happens to plenty of Christians every day. Think about it for a moment.

 

  • Millions know about the dangers of smoking, yet plenty choose to do it.
  • Millions know about the benefits of going to school, yet many drop out.
  • Millions know about the consequences of premarital sex. Yet teenage pregnancy is rampant.
  • We know what to do. But we don’t. Why? Because information is good, but not good enough.

 

  1. Knowledge without power is dangerous. It can make you feel superior, and act superior. It can make you think that all you need to convert someone is to share information with them. I had no problem reciting the eschatological timeline. I could produce all the texts that proved why we were the correct church and Catholics were not. This is dangerous, not because prophetic information is not good, it is, but because when conversion has not happened, knowledge can be used as a billy club, even if in your own private life you are struggling with secret sin. This Ellen White quote summarizes what happens in an unconverted heart:

“There need to be far more lessons in the ministry of the Word of true conversion than of the arguments of the doctrines. For it is far easier and more natural for the heart that is not under the control of the Spirit of Christ to choose doctrinal subjects rather than the practical. There are many Christ-less discourses given no more acceptable to God than was the offering of Cain. They are not in harmony with God.”{VSS – The Voice in Speech and Song pg 342.3}

 

  1. Knowledge without power makes secondary issues, primary. The greatest battles in the church I went to growing up were secondary issues. Hair length for guys. Movie theater attendance. Whether jeans were appropriate for church. Long battles. Lively discussions. Always followed by more rules and less freedom. When we make everything a sin, eventually nothing becomes a sin. It seemed to me that the greatest questions of life, were left unattended, especially the most important one, how to develop a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I understood that concept, and the knowledge of a loving Savior traveled the hardest 18 inches in the world, from my head to my heart.

 

One day, when I was still a kid, a well-intentioned parishioner gave me a bag of green army soldiers. It probably had a hundred of them. As a young boy, that was heaven. I started playing war immediately! When my parents came home, and saw what was happening, it was disappointing to them. They asked me to get some scissors, and proceeded to lecture me on the evils of war, and cut off all the guns from the soldiers. They encouraged me to become a medical missionary as they handed over all the green soldiers, which had less arms than before. I tell this story to give you a glimpse of the type of atmosphere I grew up with. I’m convinced my parents did the best they could. They loved us and wanted to see us in heaven, and went about it the best they knew how. Yet, the reality of the Christian experience teaches us that the key to conversion, is to bring Jesus into our heart. Our efforts should be dedicated to that end, because when that happens, real transformation takes place.

 

In summary, it seemed that people in my church (and sometimes in my house), were more interested in compliance, even if conversion didn’t happen. As long as you looked the part, it was OK. Fear was used as motivator to change. The problem with that strategy is that it never lasts. Jesus changes from the inside out and that takes time. What He is after is character transformation, not just compliance to the rules. He wants to make you free, forever.

I’ve tried to correct that in my kids. I will tell you what I did in an upcoming blog.

Don’t miss the gospel. Legalist say Jesus is not enough. Liberal say Jesus isn’t necessary. The gospel says Jesus is all. It drives, permeates and infuses doctrinal understanding, praxis and lifestyle.

Jesus is enough.

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What Concerns Me the Most About #CarsonEndorsesTrump

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“Hypocrite”

“I have lost all respect for him”

“I am never going to invite him to a potluck”

And many other sentiments were used to express the frustration people felt when Ben Carson, an early favorite of the Republican Party, unreservedly and unapologetically endorsed Donald Trump.

Let me say this at the very beginning – I would not endorse a demagogue who has repeatedly discriminated and demonized groups of people for the sake of a misguided ideal for this country. At the same time, I also would not side with another whose political naïveté is unmistakably clear.

I could not agree with both of ’em.

The endorsement from Carson is troubling for many reasons. My social-media feeds have run amok listing all of them, and I resonate with most of them.

But the endorsement is not what is concerning me the most.

What’s concerning me the most is the response to Carson from a specific demographic: My Seventh-Day Adventist church family.

Yes, we have every reason to feel like he’s let us down. The endorsement seems almost anomalous considering his diatribes against Trump’s ideals. Some, if not most of us, have looked up to him as a man worthy of adoration and emulation – a real life illustration of a rags-to-riches story. So the collective angst we feel is valid.

However, I wonder if that’s enough reason to write him off as someone who has “sold his soul”

I wonder if that’s enough reason to openly vilify the man in social media through memes and the like which border on cyber-bullying.

If we are so quick to write off Carson because he’s endorsing someone who seems diametrically opposed to his personal beliefs, then we should also consider writing off Daniel who worked for Nebuchadnezzar.
Sure, Daniel was coerced into his position and never explicitly endorsed the king, but he worked close enough with the political affairs of the king to merit a special sense of favor from him which eventually led to his conversion.

If it took an endorsement of a potential threat for us to ostracize Carson, would we include him back if we found out that President Trump (Heaven forbid) is now attending a local SDA church because of Carson’s influence?

If God can use individuals who were written off as “pagan”, or “unclean” (Rahab the prostitute, The Syro-Phoenician woman, Wise men from the East, Cornelius etc) to make an impact for His kingdom, why is it so hard to imagine that God can’t use the likes of Carson to do the same?

Do we really believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transcend political and theological barriers?

“Oh but Kevin, Carson is not in it for theological reasons, but for political ones.”

Yes. So was Daniel. But that didn’t turn out to be so bad after all.

What if “Carson’s with HIM???” is turned to “Carson’s with him!”

Also, Ostracizing one of our own for a theological difference is one thing (that’s another topic for another day). Ostracizing one of our own for an ideological difference is another. While ideology and theology may well overlap, and one may shed light on the other, I’m curious as to what would happen if we can learn to distinguish between ones ideological (or theological) views and ones person.

Am I able to distinguish between Carson’s ideological or political leanings from the rest of who he is? Does a single act from an individual many looked up to discredit the many commendable things he has done, and may well continue to do, for broader society? And can I not still accept, and even enjoy, fellowship with a brother or sister in my own church who does not necessarily see things in the same way?

I am convinced, more than ever, that it is this mode of thinking that has exacerbated an ethic of acceptance determined by expected beliefs and behaviors in many religious institutions. That is, if you believe what and how I believe, you are now expected to behave in certain ways, and then you get to belong.

But we forget that Jesus turned this upside down! He asked a motley crew of disagreeing individuals to follow him (belong), makes them “fishers of men” (behave), and all of whom, like Peter, will eventually confess through their martyrdom that Jesus is the Christ (believe).

At the end of the day, while Dr. Carson and I may not see eye-to-eye in issues of politics, I will do well not to overlook three fundamental theological similarities between us:

A) both of us are made in the image of God,
B) both of us continue to fall short of the glory of God, and
C) both of us have access to the redeeming, transcending, wall-breaking, grace of God through Jesus Christ.

So this is what I’ll tell Dr. Carson at my place over potluck if he cares enough to come.

“I don’t agree with what you did. Not one bit. And I wasn’t planning on voting for you either. But if you need a place to worship, my church is open. And if you’d fancy some rice and curry, our home is open. Our theological similarities trumps our ideological differences…”

…and no pun intended.”

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In order to understand why Donald Trump is winning, you have to understand my Grandma

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I am writing this anonymously only because I don’t want my family to feel like their dirty laundry is being spread all over the internet.

I am of mostly European descent. My grandma is racist. She may or may not support that statement by literally saying, “I’m racist”. I have heard her express views about Blacks and Hispanics that make me cringe. But her racism isn’t prejudice. It reaches out to every type of Asian, probably strongest against Indians (here is where my dad would say: “dot, not feather.” I am fairly certain that she has some Cherokee in her blood, but I believe she would probably disown that group too.

According to google, racism is: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

I don’t know what attribute she thinks that “white” people have that makes them superior to another race, but it must be something real good. It clearly isn’t poise or reason, lol. I can tell you that because if I compare her diplomatic demeanor with President Obama, she is inferior. She was furious when Obama became president. I found it amusing to watch her rant to the whole family including my stepmom’s family for most of pre-lunch and lunchtime when I was home for a visit a few years ago. (for those of you getting all social justice on me because I wasn’t more angry, please don’t, I do the best I can with my situation). She said that it was because black people got off their lazy butts and voted, in so many words. I explained to her,and everyone egging her on, that black people only make up like 12% of the US population, and that whites are like 65ish. She then started cussing the whites who were “stupid” enough to vote for him. The rest of the family started to join in. I felt like the time had come. I dropped the bomb. “Grandma, I voted for him… he seems to be the most honest fellow I’ve seen in a while.” My grandma started the expletives, “Why you son…” My grandpa began unfolding how Obama was a communist/socialist. I told them that I felt differently, and it was my choice. There was arguing. This all culminated when my grandpa said that Obama was going to take away our choices. He put his fingers in the shape of a gun, and put it against my temple. He yelled BANG!

There was a gasp and everyone went silent.

My aunt said, “Oh dad.”

Now, I have a little problem. It is a personality flaw. Trust me, it is a flaw. I’m working on it. After this all unfolded, I was chuckling. I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of my family, with my mouthy grandma probably the worst, was so racist that they could so easily loose control of their emotions. And so quickly? What the heck. I really love my family, but I really push their boundaries and beliefs to its limits. And when I can, I enjoy demonstrating to them the flaws in their thinking. (I know. Its a problem.). Either way, I can’t tell you the amazingly long list of things my Grandma has said behind closed doors. It would make you cringe. It makes me cringe. I am constantly re-evaluating my own level of racism. It is actually why I love the Kingdom of God so much. It is the only place in this world where there is absolutely no separation based on race. There is total equality. But I digress.

On the flip side, if you put my grandma in public, she becomes quite a saintly picture. That might be a little stretch, but there are no comments about Mexicans when she is with Mexicans. I have seen her laugh, joke, and be overly friendly to “Mexicans” of all latino origin. I have seen her act kind and cordial to blacks. I have seen her play the politician with Asians too. She doesn’t call them chinks to their face.

I have determined that there are 4 types of racists (probably there is a thesis on the millions of variations somewhere, but this is my list). There are the Blatant Racists who own it completely in public and private. There are the Backdoor Racists who don’t act it in public, but do in private. There the False Front Racists who may have actually convinced themselves that they aren’t racist, but totally act racist, a lot. Then there are the Invisible Racists who just have no interest in engaging with any other races, though you never see any active racism exhibited from them. (I personally believe that there are people who aren’t racist as well, but that doesn’t suit this essay)

But this isn’t actually all about Racism. I think this is true about Americanism too. You have Blatant Americans who own what they are completely in public and private. You have Backdoor Americans who fear being known for who they are, False Front Americans who say way too much but act like they aren’t defined by it, and even Invisible Americans who just don’t care to have genuine conversations about anything and just want to believe what they believe.

I think that the largest group of people fall into my Backdoor Americans category. I know that is what my grandma is. I think that much of my family is that way as well. They are comfortable talking in private, but when it comes to public, they are afraid in our politically correct society.

Donald Trump is of the first category, and he is offering to all of the other categories something that they can’t have themselves. He is offering them his blatant disregard for being PC. “You can support me for president because I… will say the things that you say behind closed doors.” The idea of building a wall isn’t new. My family has been referring to it as long as I can remember. This guy will actually build it. Which is another thing that Trump offers to these Americans: He will actually do what he says that he will do. I believe that he will do what he says whether it is through our political system or without. Politicians in Congress and the Supreme Court will not stand in the way of Donald Trump following through on what he has said if he becomes president.

Imagine if all the things you wish you could say were being said by one guy. Imagine if all the things you wanted to happen, you actually believed that one guy could do. Imagine if that man were so rich that you didn’t have to worry about him getting bought out by anyone. Why wouldn’t you vote for him? I know that my grandma probably will.

This isn’t just a thought at the end of this essay. This is really the point of what I hope you consider. In the midst of all the crazy politics right now, I am more concerned that my grandma can overcome her struggles and experiences with the disease of racism. I hope that she can find victory in Christ. Her vote for or against Trump is really the least of my worries. My grandma’s relationship with Christ is what I pray for. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t more concerned about Trump becoming president or Hillary, or Bernie, or Cruz, or Rubio or anyone for that matter than we are about spiritual realities. Are we too caught up in the moment? Is our activity in this political race building or breaking relationships in the kingdom? Ask yourself this question: What can I do today to further Christ’s Eternal Kingdom? (Luke 18:18-29)

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Masturbation—What’s Wrong With It?

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One article in our annual February student-produced issue of OUTLOOK magazine focused on the controversial subject of masturbation. Since God created us as sexual beings, all of us must be good stewards of our sexuality, which is quite a challenge in today’s “sexular” society.

A typical young male reportedly views 50 pornographic video clips a week, and females increasingly are consumers as well. Meanwhile, most pastors and teachers seem reluctant to talk about porn and the accompanying masturbation. But as the church is essentially silent on this matter of common morality, the world is not shy about educating our young people, through sex education in schools and popular entertainment in movies and music.

How unfortunate. Anything that has potential to trouble a conscience needs to be talked about—appropriately yet with clarity—from a biblical perspective. Granted that this is a sensitive topic. If you find masturbation too disturbing to discuss, you might wish to excuse yourself from reading further. Meanwhile, I’ll proceed for the sake of those whose consciences are guilt-ridden, confused or otherwise tormented on this matter. Prayerfully then, I offer the following observations in hopes that some may find them helpful.

From a medical perspective, I’m not qualified to make assessments; but I think it’s fair to conclude that traditional scare tactics regarding masturbation lack credibility. Half a century since the 1960s inaugurated the sexual revolution, we don’t see huge numbers of pornography addicts going blind, needing kidney dialysis or signing up for liver transplants. So let’s be sensible and honest in making the case against masturbation.

I will focus my observations on the moral and theological perspective. Let’s begin with the grace of God, which is our only hope of salvation. The Bible says “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Thus, inflicting guilt upon a sexually struggling teen—or an adult, for that matter—is inappropriate. A believer’s standing with God is not dependent upon the amount of success or failure in measuring up to His moral ideal.

That said, let’s accept that there is a character ideal to which God calls us–conforming us to the likeness of Christ. Scripture admonishes us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). Jesus famously warned against staring at a woman [or a man, for that matter] with lust in the heart (Matt. 5:28). Obviously God’s will—His ideal—calls us to pursue purity in thought as well as deed. But we must not confuse the possibilities of victory over sin with the basis of our salvation, which is always and only God’s grace through Christ for repenting sinners. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins—and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, even as we “press toward the mark of God’s high calling in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:14), He comforts the conscience by assuring us that He knows when “the spirit indeed is willing though the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). God is more compassionate than we can imagine, and struggling believers are recipients of divine grace, not wrath. Jesus in His ministry among us was ever tender toward struggling sinners, even as He condemned their hypocritical accusers.

Based on that biblical/theological foundation, I offer for your consideration the following moral applications regarding masturbation.

To begin with, masturbation tends to depersonalize and therefore degrade sexuality by focusing on pixelated images versus sexual expression as the ultimate relational and bonding experience in marital union, as God intends it to be.

Accordingly, masturbation fosters selfishness, corrupting one’s ability to actually “make love” in the practice of sex within marriage. It is difficult, if not impossible, to flip a switch on one’s wedding night from a “satisfy me” attitude of sexuality to a “sharing with you” mindset. Pursuing one’s own “needs” (i.e. desires, demands) is a sure portend of endless marital conflict. Additionally, sexual selfishness belies God’s creation of us in His loving image when we express our own act of procreation in marriage.

Masturbation also tends to desensitize one’s ability to view people as one’s sisters and brothers, no matter what they look like; instead, they may be evaluated on their external appearance. This puts on a pedestal those who are superficially attractive and disrespects those who are homely or even average-looking, even if they are loving and faithful in character. The outcome is a popular culture in which girls in particular tend to suffer huge self-worth issues if they don’t look picture perfect in a swimsuit. (Even attractive females, from schoolgirls to mature women, often lament that they don’t match the standard set by photos of airbrushed models.)

OK, then. If pornography and masturbation are unhealthy emotionally and spiritually, how does one deal with the hormonal cravings that begin raging even before teenage years? Does God actually want teenagers and young adults to live in sexual celibacy, with unfulfillable cravings before marriage? What value could there be in self-deprivation?

I propose there is value in suffering sexual non-fulfillment as an exercise in self-discipline—which every young man and woman must learn early in life. (This may come as a surprise to those who have imagined that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness rather than to live for the glory of God and the service of humanity.) Without self-discipline, marriage partners may never survive the temptations that reassert themselves all too soon after the honeymoon. Self-restraint learned as a teen serves one well through the next six decades of life, particularly during the infamous mid-life crisis.

So there is purpose behind God’s call for us to be holy in thought, word and deed—but there is also forgiveness when we have given ourselves to God yet find ourselves falling short of His glorious ideal. None of us is perfect (Rom. 3:23). So we may be thankful that with God’s command to sexual purity comes His compassion and grace, which abound even beyond our sinfulness (Rom. 5:20). Much more could be said about immorality and how to overcome it, even as God counts us perfect in Jesus.

Meanwhile, even if we may disagree about a moral component regarding masturbation, we certainly can concur that it is better to be compassionate and reasonable than to frighten guilt-ridden souls when they fail in their sincere struggles (e.g., about re-crucifying Jesus or making angels weep). However well intentioned, such graceless warnings are not only legalistic but constitute spiritual abuse.

To summarize: If we hope to have any kind of credibility or usefulness in the sensitive yet vital ministry of promoting morality, we need to receive for ourselves and express toward others the same balance of grace and truth that characterized Christ’s own life and teaching.

That’s my take on this important yet controversial subject. I hope and pray in Jesus’ name that something here has been helpful.

Note: This article has been republished with permission from outlookmag.org.

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mw_feb2011Martin Weber, DMin, served as pastor, editor, author, evangelist and police chaplain across North America and taught pastors on five continents with the General Conference Ministerial Association. He is currently the Seventh-day Adventist product manager for Faithlife/Logos Research Systems in Bellingham, Washington. Visit his website in defense of fundamental Adventist beliefs: www.SDA4me.com

Church Splits & Petty Divisions: How Jesus’ Love for The Samaritans Confronts Us

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They are the “others” of the New Testament; the outcasts, the untouchables. They appear here and there in the Gospels and Acts as the people the Jews wanted nothing to do with. So naturally Jesus went out of his way to spend time with them. They are the Samaritans.

Some of the most famous, and most intriguing, episodes in the New Testament revolve around the Samaritans. There is the famous parable of the “Good Samaritan”; the Woman at the Well, James and John asking to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan town that refused them hospitality, and Simon Magnus trying to buy the Holy Spirit from Peter. In all of these stories, the Samaritans are characterized as being viewed as second-class citizens by all the Jews except Jesus, who clearly played by his own rules. But who were the Samaritans? Why did they and the Jews not get along?

Nestled between the Galilee and Judea, the region of Samaria was in the heartland of the former northern kingdom of Israel, gone for over 700 years by the time Jesus came on the scene. Indeed, Samaritans and Samaria get their names from the city of Samaria, the old capital of Israel founded by Omri, the father of Ahab and by whose name the Assyrian kings would refer to Israel (Bīt Ḫumria, House of Omri). It is from disposed northerners that the Samaritans descend.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the break between the Samaritans and the Jews occurred. The northern tribes and Judah were always a bit out of sync; often in Joshua and Judges you will see the phrase “Israel and Judah” as if they aren’t quite one entity. Things came to a head during the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor, when he not only refused to lighten the tax load but threatened to make it heavier. The northern tribes rebelled, following Jeroboam and became Israel while Judah stayed with Rehoboam. The two sides never really gotten along after that. Indeed it was King Ahaz of Judah buying off Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria that led to Israel’s ultimate demise.

For the Samaritans, the schism took place even before there was ever a king. According to them, it began when the High Priest Eli, whom they do not like, going so far as to call him “the insidious one,” moved the Tabernacle from its rightful place on Mount Gerizim to Shiloh. For the Jews, the split happened on the other end of history’s spectrum. After the destruction of Samaria and the end of Israel 722/720 BC, the Assyrians initiated a massive and complex deportation program: a majority Israelites were mostly moved to Harhar and Kiššesim (western Iran), whose people were then moved to Assur (northern Ira            q/Kurdistan), whose people were moved to Hamath (Syria), whose people were moved to Samaria. Get all that? (In truth, none of that is really necessary; I just really wanted to write that so humor me).

The point is the people living in Samaria were a mixture of Israelites and foreigners and they began mixing, both racially and religiously. Thus the Jews viewed these people as half-breeds, which led to tensions after the Babylonian Exiles had returned (see Ezra and Nehemiah).

It should be noted, however, that none of these people are called or identify themselves as Samaritans. This simply provides the backdrop for the blood feud, showing that tensions between the north (Samaria) and the south (Judea) had existed for quite some time.

Religiously, the main (and virtually only) point of contention between the two was where the temple ought to be. The Samaritans believed it was supposed to be on Mount Gerizim, hearkening back to the Pentateuch’s command to read the Blessings and Curses from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, sister hills that sandwich Shechem in between. Meanwhile the Jews held the temple ought to be in Jerusalem, pointing out their Davidic tradition (see Jesus discussion with the Woman at the Well in John 4). For several centuries after the return of the Exiles, the two lived in an uneasy peace with a temple on Gerizim (the remains of which can be seen today) and a temple at Jerusalem. However, in 110 BC during the Hasmonean period (started by the Maccabees), John Hyrcanus launched a campaign against the Samaritans which ended up destroying the Gerizim temple. Needless to say, the Samaritans never forgave the Jews for that and the Jews continued to look on the Samaritans as second-class, half-breeds.

One would think from reading the New Testament, the Samaritans and Jews were totally different. In reality, however, they were virtually identical. The Samaritan religion is, for all intents and purposes, a sect of Judaism although neither side will admit it. The Samaritans have their own Pentateuch which is remarkably similar to the Jewish version, with the differences mainly orienting the place of worship to Gerizim over Jerusalem. The Samaritans do not accept the Prophet and Writings, nor do they accept any rabbinic literature. They do have their own synagogues which are identical in layout to the Jewish version, except they orient towards Gerizim, instead of Jerusalem. Fundamentally, the only real difference between the two is over where one ought to worship, something Jesus pointed out as being rather silly since God’s believers worship him in spirit anyway.

It is odd how such simple differences can drive massive wedges between people so similar. Blood feuds are the nastiest and the Samaritans and Jews are no exception, disdaining each other to the point of refusing to interact if at all possible. Petty and pathetic; thank God Jesus doesn’t care about the petty stuff.

But are we so different today? Churches split over the silliest of things, like worship style, ordination, or carpet color. As one who has seen the fallout from these splits, it seems the pettier the reason, the greater the animosity between the two sides. Somehow we seem to forget the Spirit of Christ is to rise above such differences. After all, if Jesus doesn’t care, why should we?

The Samaritans still exist today, about 500 or so in number, centered around Nablus where the woman went to the well and Holon, which is a suburb of Tel Aviv. And so the blood feud lives on.

References

Pummer, Reinhard. 1997. Samaritans. Vol. IV, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, edited by Eric M. Meyers, 469-472. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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How to Avoid Putting Words in Ellen White’s Mouth

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Begin With a Healthy Outlook

First, begin your study with a prayer for guidance and understanding. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the work of prophets across the ages, is the only one who is in a position to unlock the meaning in their writings.

Second, we need to approach our study with an open mind. Most of us realize that no person is free of bias, no one is completely open-minded. We also recognize that bias enters into every area of our lives. But that reality doesn’t mean that we need to let our biases control us.

A third healthy mind-set in the reading of Ellen White is that of faith rather than doubt. As Mrs. White put it, “Many think it a virtue, a mark of intelligence in them, to be unbelieving and to question and quibble. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 255). “God gives sufficient evidence for the candid mind to believe; but he who turns from the weight of evidence because there are a few things which he cannot make plain to his finite understanding will be left in the cold, chilling atmosphere of unbelief and questioning doubts, and will make shipwreck of faith” (ibid., vol. 4, pp. 232, 233).

If individuals wait for all possibility of doubt to be removed, they will never believe. That is as true of the Bible as it is of Ellen White’s writings. Our acceptance rests on faith rather than on absolute demonstration of flawlessness. Ellen White appears to be correct when she writes that “those who have most to say against the testimonies are generally those who have not read them, just as those who boast of their disbelief of the Bible are those who have little knowledge of its teachings” (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 45, 46).

Focus on the Central Issues

A person can read inspired materials in at least two ways. One is to look for the central themes of an author; the other is to search for those things that are new and different. The first way leads to what can be thought of as a theology of the center, while the second produces a theology of the edges. Doing a theology of the edges may help a person arrive at “new light,” but such light in the end may look more like darkness when examined in the context of the central and consistent teachings of the Bible.

What makes the teachings of many apostles of “new light” so impressive is their obvious sincerity and the fact that much of what they have to say may be needed truth. How can we tell when we are on center or chasing stray geese near the edges of what is really important? In her bookEducation, Ellen White wrote, “The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with scripture. The student should learn to view the Word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts. He should gain a knowledge of its grand central theme, of God’s original purpose for the world, of the rise of the great controversy, and of the work of redemption. He should understand the nature of the two principles that are contending for supremacy, and should learn to trace their working through the records of history and prophecy, to the great consummation. He should see how this controversy enters into every phase of human experience; how in every act of life he himself reveals the one or the other of the two antagonistic motives; and how, whether he will or not, he is even now deciding upon which side of the controversy he will be found” (p. 190; italics supplied).

A similar passage on the “grand central theme” of the Bible defines the central theme of Scripture even more precisely. “The central theme of the Bible,” we read, “the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God.” “Viewed in the light” of the grand central theme of the Bible, “every topic has a new significance” (ibid., p. 125; italics supplied).

In such passages we find our marching orders for the reading of both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. Read for the big picture; read for the grand central themes. The purpose of God’s revelation to humanity is salvation. That salvation focuses on the cross of Christ and our relationship to God. All our reading takes place within that context, and those issues closest to the grand central theme are obviously of more importance than those near its edges.

It is our task as Christians to focus on the central issues of the Bible and Ellen White’s writings rather than on marginal ones. If we do so, the marginal issues will fit into place in their proper perspective within the context of the “grand central theme” of God’s revelation to His people.

Account for Problems in Communication

The process of communication is not as simple as we might at first suspect. The topic was certainly at the forefront of James White’s thinking as he watched his wife struggle to lead the early Adventists down the path of reform. In 1868 he wrote that “What she may say to urge the tardy, is taken by the prompt to urge them over the mark. And what she may say to caution the prompt, zealous, incautious ones, is taken by the tardy as an excuse to remain too far behind” (Review and Herald, Mar. 17, 1868; italics supplied).

As we read Ellen White’s writings we need to keep constantly before us the difficulty she faced in basic communication. Beyond the difficulty of varying personalities, but related to it, was the problem of the imprecision of the meaning of words and the fact that different people with different experiences interpret the same words differently.

“Human minds vary,” Mrs. White penned in relation to Bible reading. “The minds of different education and thought receive different impressions of the same words, and it is difficult for one mind to give to one of a different temperament, education, and habits of thought by language exactly the same idea as that which is clear and distinct in his own mind. . . . The Bible must be given in the language of men. Everything that is human is imperfect. Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea. The Bible was given for practical purposes.

“The stamps of minds are different. All do not understand expressions and statements alike. Some understand the statements of the Scriptures to suit their own particular minds and cases. Prepossessions, prejudices, and passions have a strong influence to darken the understanding and confuse the mind even in reading the words of Holy Writ” (Selected Messages, vol. 1, pp. 19, 20; italics supplied).

What Ellen White said about the problems of meanings and words in regard to the Bible also holds true for her own writings. Communication in a broken world is never easy, not even for God’s prophets.

We need to keep the basic problems of communication in mind as we read the writings of Ellen White. At the very least, such facts ought to make us cautious in our reading so that we don’t overly emphasize this or that particular idea that might come to our attention as we study God’s counsel to His church. We will want to make sure that we have read widely what Ellen White has presented on a topic and studied those statements that may seem extreme in the light of those that might moderate or balance them. All such study, of course, should take place with the historical and literary context of each statement in mind.

Study All Available Information on a Topic

When we read the full range of counsel that Ellen White has on a topic, the picture is often quite different than when we are dealing with only a part of her material or with isolated quotations. Many times in her long ministry Ellen White had to deal with those who took only part of her counsel. “When it suits your purpose,” she told the delegates of the 1891 General Conference session, “you treat the Testimonies as if you believed them, quoting from them to strengthen any statement you wish to have prevail. But how is it when light is given to correct your errors? Do you then accept the light? When the Testimonies speak contrary to your ideas, you treat them very lightly” (ibid., p. 43). It is important to listen to all the counsel.

Along this line we find two approaches to the Ellen G. White writings. One assembles all her pertinent material on the subject. The other selects from Mrs. White only those sentences, paragraphs, or more extensive materials that can be employed to support a particular emphasis. The only faithful approach is the first. One important step in being true to Ellen White’s intent is to read widely in the available counsel on a topic.

But not only must we base our conclusion on the entire spectrum of her thought on a topic; our conclusion must harmonize with the overall tenor of the body of her writings. Not only bias, but also unsound premises, faulty reasoning, or other misuses of her material, can lead to false conclusions.

Avoid Extreme Interpretations

The history of the Christian church is laced with those who would place the most extreme interpretations on God’s counsels and then define their fanaticism as “faithfulness.” A leaning toward extremism seems to be a constituent part of fallen human nature. God has sought to correct that tendency through His prophets.

Even though balance typified Ellen White’s writings, it does not always characterize those who read them. Ellen White had to deal with extremists throughout her ministry. In 1894 she pointed out that “there is a class of people who are always ready to go off on some tangent, who want to catch up something strange and wonderful and new; but God would have all move calmly, considerately, choosing our words in harmony with the solid truth for this time, which requires to be presented to the mind as free from that which is emotional as possible, while still bearing the intensity and solemnity that it is proper it should bear. We must guard against creating extremes, guard against encouraging those who would either be in the fire or in the water” (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 227, 228).

Nearly four decades earlier Mrs. White had written that she “saw that many have taken advantage of what God has shown in regard to the sins and wrongs of others. They have taken the extreme meaning of what has been shown in vision, and then have pressed it until it has had a tendency to weaken the faith of many in what God has shown” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 166).

Part of our task in reading Ellen White is to avoid extreme interpretations and to understand her message in its proper balance. That in turn means that we need to read the counsel from both ends of the spectrum on a given topic.

A case in point is her strong words about playing games. “In plunging into amusements, match games, pugilistic performances,” she wrote, the students at Battle Creek College “declared to the world that Christ was not their leader in any of these things. All this called forth the warning from God.” A powerful statement, it and others like it have led many to the conclusion that God frowns on all games and ball playing. But here, as on all extreme interpretations, one should use caution. After all, the very next sentence reads: “Now that which burdens me is the danger of going into extremes on the other side” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 378).

As the following statements demonstrate, Ellen White did not hold for either extreme on the topic of ball playing and games. Speaking of parents and teachers, she wrote: “If they would gather the children close to them, and show that they love them, and would manifest an interest in all their efforts, and even in their sports, sometimes even being a child among children, they would make the children very happy, and would gain their love and win their confidence” (ibid., p. 18).

As we noted in the preceding section, it is important to read the full spectrum of what Ellen White wrote on a topic before arriving at conclusions. That means taking into consideration what appear to be conflicting statements that not only balance each other but may at times even appear to contradict each other. Of course, as shown in the next two sections, the historical and literary contexts generally hold the reason for Ellen White’s extreme statements. When we understand the reason she said something a certain way, we can see how what appears to be contradictory bits of advice often balance each other out. With those understandings in place we will be ready to examine the underlying principles of the particular topic we are studying.

When we read the balancing and mediating passages on a topic, rather than merely those polar ones that reinforce our own biases, we come closer to Ellen White’s true perspective. In order to avoid extreme interpretations, we need not only to read widely regarding what Mrs. White said on a topic, but we need also to come to grips with those statements that balance each other out at each end of the spectrum on a given subject.

Take Time and Place Into Consideration

We need to take the time and place of Ellen White’s various counsels into consideration. She did not write them in a vacuum. Most of them met problems faced by specific individuals or groups in quite specific historic contexts.

For example, in the 1860s Ellen White suggested that women should shorten their skirts. Why? Because in her day skirts dragged on the ground. In the process they picked up the filth of a horse-and-buggy culture among other things. Such skirts also had other problems that Ellen White and contemporary reformers of her day repeatedly pointed out. Thus she could write that “one of fashion’s wasteful and mischievous devices is the skirt that sweeps the ground. Uncleanly, uncomfortable, inconvenient, unhealthful–all this and more is true of the trailing skirt” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 291).

But what was true of her day is generally not true of ours. Of course, one can think of some traditional cultures that still mirror the conditions of the nineteenth century. In those cultures the counsel fits without adaptation. But we must adapt it for most cultures today.

Part of the needed adaptation is reflected in The Ministry of Healing quotation we read above. If the problem with trailing skirts was that they were unclean, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unhealthful, then it seems safe to assume that some of the principles of correct dress in this case would be that it is clean, comfortable, convenient, and healthful. Such principles are universal, even though the idea of shortening one’s skirt has roots in time and place. Further reading in the Bible and Ellen White furnishes other principles of dress that we can apply to our day. Modesty, for example, comes to mind.

It can’t be too heavily emphasized that time and place are crucial factors for our understanding as we read Ellen White’s writings. One way to use her writings improperly is to ignore the implications of time and place and thus seek to apply the letter of each and every counsel universally.

In Ellen White’s writings such counsels as those urging schools to teach girls “to harness and drive a horse” so “they would be better fitted to meet the emergencies of life” (Education, pp. 216, 217); warning both young and old in 1894 to avoid the “bewitching influence” of the “bicycle craze” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 51, 52); and counseling an administrator in 1902 not to buy an automobile to transport patients from the railroad station to the sanitarium because it was a needless expense and would prove to be “a temptation to others to do the same thing” (Letter 158, 1902) are clearly conditioned by time and place. Other statements that may also be conditioned by time and place are not so obvious (especially in those areas we tend to feel strongly about), but we need to keep our eyes and mind open to the possibility.

Another aspect of the time and place issue in Ellen White’s writing is that for many of her counsels the historical context is quite personal, since she wrote to an individual in his or her specific setting. Always remember that behind every counsel lies a specific situation with its own peculiarities and for an individual with his or her personal possibilities and problems. Their situation may or may not be parallel to ours. Thus the counsel may or may not be applicable to us in a given circumstance.

Study Each Statement in Its Literary Context

In the preceding section we noted that it is important to understand Ellen White’s counsel in its original historical context. In this section we will examine the importance of reading her statements in their literary framework.

People have too often based their understandings of Mrs. White’s teachings upon a fragment of a paragraph or upon an isolated statement entirely removed from its setting. Thus she writes that “many study the Scriptures for the purpose of proving their own ideas to be correct. They change the meaning of God’s Word to suit their own opinions. And thus they do also with the testimonies that He sends. They quote half a sentence, leaving out the other half, which, if quoted, would show their reasoning to be false. God has a controversy with those who wrest the Scriptures, making them conform to their preconceived ideas” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 82). Again she comments about those who by “separating . . . statements from their connection, and placing them beside human reasonings, make it appear that my writings uphold that which they condemn” (Letter 208, 1906).

Ellen White was repeatedly upset with those who pick out “a sentence here and there, taking it from its proper connection, and applying it according to their idea” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 44). On another occasion she observed that “extracts” from her writings “may give a different impression than that which they would were they read in their original connection” (ibid., p. 58).

W. C. White, Ellen White’s son, often had to deal with the problem of people using material out of its literary context. In 1904 he noted that “much misunderstanding has come from the misuse of isolated passages in the Testimonies, in cases where, if the whole Testimony or the whole paragraph had been read, an impression would have been made upon minds that was altogether different from the impression made by the use of selected sentences” (W. C. White to W. S. Sadler, Jan. 20, 1904).

The study of literary contexts is not an optional luxury on inspired statements–it is a crucial part of faithfully reading Ellen White’s writings. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of studying Ellen White’s articles and books in their contexts rather than merely reading topical compilations or selecting out quotations on this or that topic through the use of indexes or computer printouts. Such tools have their places, but we should use them in connection with broad reading that helps us to be more aware not only of the literary context of Ellen White’s statements but also of the overall balance in her writings.

Recognize Ellen White’s Understanding of the Ideal and the Real

Ellen White often found herself plagued by “those who,” she claimed, “select from the testimonies the strongest expressions and, without bringing in or making any account of the circumstances under which the cautions and warnings are given, make them of force in every case. . . . Picking out some things in the testimonies they drive them upon every one, and disgust rather than win souls” (Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 285, 286).

Her observation not only highlights the fact that we need to take the historical context of Ellen White’s statements into consideration when reading her counsel, but also indicates that she put some statements in stronger or more forceful language than others. That idea leads us to the concept of the ideal and the real in Mrs. White’s writings.

When Ellen White is stating the ideal, she often uses her strongest language. It is as if she needs to speak loudly in order to be heard. One such statement appears in Fundamentals of Christian Education. “Never,” she exhorted, “can the proper education be given to the youth in this country, or any other country, unless they are separated a wide distance from the cities” (p. 312; italics supplied).

Now, that is about as forceful a statement as she could have made. Not only is it adamant, but it appears to imply universality in terms of time and space. There is no stronger word than “never.” In its strictest meaning it allows no exceptions. She uses the same sort of powerful, unbending language in terms of location–“in this country, or any other country.” Once again a plain reading of the words permits no exceptions. We are dealing with what appears to be a universal prohibition regarding the building of schools in cities. But the statement is stronger than that. Such schools are not merely to be out of the cities, but “separated a wide distance” from them. Here is inflexible language that does not suggest any exceptions.

At this point it is important to examine the historical context in which she made the statement. According to the reference supplied in the book (p. 327), this counsel was first published in 1894. But by 1909 the Adventist work in large cities was increasing. And those cities had families who could not afford to send their children to rural institutions. As a result, Ellen White counseled the building of schools in the cities. So far as possible,” we read, “. . . schools should be established outside the cities. But in the cities there are many children who could not attend schools away from the cities; and for the benefit of these, schools should be opened in the cities as well as in the country” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 201; italics supplied).

By this time you may be asking yourself how the same woman could claim that proper education could “never” be given in Australia “or any other country, unless they [schools] are separated a wide distance from the cities” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 312) and yet still advocate the establishment of schools in the cities.

The answer is that rural education for all children was the ideal that the church should aim at “so far as possible.” But the truth is that the hard facts of life make such education impossible for some. Thus reality dictated a compromise if Christian education were to reach children from poorer families. Ellen White understood and accepted the tension between the ideal and the real.

Unfortunately, many of her readers fail to take that fact into consideration. They focus merely on Mrs. White’s “strongest” statements, those that express the ideal, and ignore the moderating passages. As a result, as we noted above, “picking out some things in the testimonies they drive them upon everyone, and disgust rather than win souls” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 286).

Ellen White has more balance than many of her so-called followers. Genuine followers must take into account her understanding of the tension between the ideal and the real in applying her counsel.

Ellen White had more flexibility in interpreting her writings than many have realized. She was not only concerned with contextual factors in applying counsel to different situations, but also had a distinct understanding of the difference between God’s ideal plan and the reality of the human situation that at times necessitated modification of the ideal. For that reason it is important that we don’t just operate on the “strongest expressions” in her writings and seek to “drive them upon everyone” (ibid., pp. 285, 286).

Use Common Sense

Seventh-day Adventists have been known to differ and even argue over some of Ellen White’s counsel. That situation is especially true of those statements that seem so straightforward and clear. One such statement appears in volume 3 of the Testmonies: “Parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age” (p. 137; italics supplied).

That passage is an excellent candidate for inflexible interpretation. After all, it is quite categorical. It offers no conditions and hints at no exceptions. Containing no “ifs,” “ands,” “ors,” or “buts” to modify its impact, it just plainly states as fact that “parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age.” Mrs. White first published the statement in 1872. The fact that it reappeared in her writings in 1882 and 1913 undoubtedly had the effect of strengthening what appears to be its unconditional nature.

Interestingly enough, however, a struggle over that statement has provided us with perhaps the very best record we possess of how Mrs. White interpreted her own writings.

The Adventists living near the St. Helena Sanitarium in northern California had built a church school in 1902. The older children attended it, while some careless Adventist parents let their younger children run freely in the neighborhood without proper training and discipline. Some of the school board members believed that they should build a classroom for the younger children, but others held that it would be wrong to do so, because Ellen White had plainly stated that “parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age.”

One faction on the board apparently felt that it was more important to give some help to the neglected children than to hold to the letter of the law. The other faction believed that it had an inflexible command, some “straight testimony” that it must obey. To put it mildly, the issue split the school board. An interview with Mrs. White was arranged.

Early in the interview Mrs. White reaffirmed her position that the family should ideally be the school for young children. “The home,” she said, “is both a family church and a family school” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 214). That is the ideal that one finds throughout her writings. The institutional church and school are there to supplement the work of a healthy family. That is the ideal.

But, as we discovered in the previous section, the ideal is not always the real. Or, to say it in other words, reality is often less than ideal. Thus Ellen White continued in the interview: “Mothers should be able to instruct their little ones wisely during the earlier years of childhood. If every mother were capable of doing this, and would take time to teach her children the lessons they should learn in early life, then all children could be kept in the home school until they are eight, or nine, or ten years old” (ibid., pp. 214, 215; italics supplied).

Here we begin to find Mrs. White dealing with a reality that modifies the categorical and unconditional nature of her statement on parents being the only teachers of their children until 8 or 10 years of age. The ideal is that mothers “should” be able to function as the best teachers. But realism intrudes when Ellen White uses such words as “if” and “then.” She definitely implies that not all mothers are capable and that not all are willing. But “if” they are both capable and willing, “then all children could be kept in the home school.”

During the interview she remarked that “God desires us to deal with these problems sensibly” (ibid., p. 215). Ellen White became quite stirred up with those readers who took an inflexible attitude toward her writings and sought to follow the letter of her message while missing the underlying principles. She evidenced disapproval of both the words and attitudes of her rigid interpreters when she declared: “My mind has been greatly stirred in regard to the idea, ‘Why, Sister White has said so and so, and Sister White has said so and so; and therefore we are going right up to it.’ “ She then added that “God wants us all to have common sense, and He wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things” (ibid., p. 217; italics supplied).

Ellen White was anything but inflexible in interpreting her own writings, and it is a point of the first magnitude that we realize that fact. She had no doubt that the mindless use of her ideas could be harmful. Thus it is little wonder that she said that “God wants us all to have common sense” in using extracts from her writings, even when she phrased those extracts in the strongest and most unconditional language.

Discover the Underlying Principles

In July 1894 Ellen White sent a letter to the denomination’s headquarters church in Battle Creek, Michigan, in which she condemned the purchase and riding of bicycles (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 50-53). At first glance it appears strange that such an issue should be considered important enough for a prophet to deal with. It seems especially odd when we note that the bicycle issue had been specifically revealed in vision.

How should we apply such counsel today? Does it mean that Seventh-day Adventists should not own bicycles?

In answering that question we first need to examine the historical context. In 1894 the modern bicycle was just beginning to be manufactured, and a fad quickly developed to acquire bicycles, not for the purpose of economical transportation, but simply to be in style, to enter bicycle races, and to parade around town on them. In the evening such parading included the hanging of Japanese lanterns on the bicycles. Bicycling was the “in” thing–the thing to do if you were anything or anybody on the social scale.

Extracts from an article entitled “When All the World Went Wheeling” will help us get into the historical context of the bicycle counsel. “Toward the end of the last century,” we read, “the American people were swept with a consuming passion which left them with little time or money for anything else. . . . What was this big new distraction? For an answer the merchants had only to look out the window and watch their erstwhile customers go whizzing by. America had discovered the bicycle, and everybody was making the most of the new freedom it brought. . . . The bicycle began as a rich man’s toy. Society and celebrity went awheel.

“The best early bicycle cost $150, an investment comparable to the cost of an automobile today. . . . Every member of the family wanted a ‘wheel,’ and entire family savings often were used up in supplying the demand” (Reader’s Digest, December 1951).

In the light of the historical context, Ellen White’s statement in 1894 regarding bicycles takes on a new significance. “There seemed to be,” she wrote, “a bicycle craze. Money was spent to gratify an enthusiasm in this direction that might better, far better, have been invested in building houses of worship where they are greatly needed. . . . A bewitching influence seemed to be passing as a wave over our people. . . . Satan works with intensity of purpose to induce our people to invest their time and money in gratifying supposed wants. This is a species of idolatry. . . . While hundreds are starving for bread, while famine and pestilence are seen and felt, . . . shall those who profess to love and serve God act as did the people in the days of Noah, following the imagination of their hearts?

“There were some who were striving for the mastery, each trying to excel the other in the swift running of their bicycles. There was a spirit of strife and contention among them as to which should be the greatest. . . . Said my Guide: ‘These things are an offense to God. Both near and afar off souls are perishing for the bread of life and the water of salvation.’ When Satan is defeated in one line, he will be all ready with other schemes and plans which will appear attractive and needful, and which will absorb money and thought, and encourage selfishness, so that he can overcome those who are so easily led into a false and selfish indulgence.”

“What burden,” she asks, “do these persons carry for the advancement of the work of God? . . . Is this investment of means and this spinning of bicycles through the streets of Battle Creek giving evidence of the genuineness of your faith in the last solemn warning to be given to human beings standing on the very verge of the eternal world?” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 51, 52).

Her counsel on bicycles is obviously dated. Within a few years bicycles became quite inexpensive and were relegated to the realm of practical transportation for young people and those without means, even as the larger culture switched its focus and desires to the four-wheeled successor of the humble bicycle.

While it is true that some of the specifics of the counsel no longer apply, the principles on which the specific counsel rests remain quite applicable across time and space.

And what are some of those principles? First, that Christians are not to spend money on selfish gratification. Second, that Christians are not to strive for mastery over one another by doing things that generate a spirit of strife and contention. Third, that Christians should focus their primary values on the kingdom to come and on helping others during the present period of history. And fourth, that Satan will always have a scheme to derail Christians into the realm of selfish indulgence.

Those principles are unchangeable. They apply to every place and to every age of earthly history. Bicycles were merely the point of contact between the principles and the human situation in Battle Creek during 1894. The particulars of time and place change, but the universal principles remain constant.

Our responsibility as Christians is not only to read God’s counsel to us, but to apply it faithfully to our personal lives. The Christian’s task is to search out God’s revelations and then seek to put them into practice in daily living without doing violence to the intent of their underlying principles. That takes personal dedication as well as sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Realize That Prophets Are Not Verbally Inspired, Nor Are They Infallible or Inerrant

“I was led to conclude and most firmly believe that every word that you ever spoke in public or private, that every letter you wrote under any and all circumstances, was as inspired as the ten commandments. I held that view with absolute tenacity against innumerable objections raised to it by many who were occupying prominent positions in the [Adventist] cause,” wrote Dr. David Paulson to Ellen White on April 19, 1906. Deeply concerned over the nature of Ellen White’s inspiration, Paulson wondered whether he should continue to hold such a rigid view. In the process he raised the question of verbal inspiration and the related issues of infallibility and inerrancy. Since a correct understanding of such issues is of crucial importance in reading Ellen White and/or the Bible, we will examine each of them in this section.

Mrs. White replied to Paulson on June 14, 1906. “My brother,” she penned, “you have studied my writings diligently, and you have never found that I have made any such claims [to verbal inspiration], neither will you find that the pioneers in our cause ever made such claims” for her writings. She went on to illustrate inspiration in her writings by referring to the inspiration of the Bible writers. Even though God had inspired the Biblical truths, they were “expressed in the words of men.” She saw the Bible as representing “a union of the divine and the human.” Thus “the testimony is conveyed through the imperfect expression of human language, yet it is the testimony of God” (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 24-26).

Such sentiments represent Ellen White’s consistent witness across time. “The Bible,” she wrote in 1886, “is written by inspired men, but it is not God’s mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. . . . The writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not His pen. . . .

“It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God” (ibid., p. 21).

We see the problematic nature of the issue of verbal inspiration illustrated in the life of D. M. Canright, at one time a leading minister in the denomination, but its foremost critic between 1887 and 1919. Canright bitterly opposed Ellen White. His 1919 book against her asserted that “every line she wrote, whether in articles, letters, testimonies or books, she claimed was dictated to her by the Holy Ghost, and hence must be infallible” (Life of Mrs. E. G. White, p. 9). We have seen above that Ellen White herself took just the opposite position, but that didn’t stop the damage being done by those with a false theory of inspiration.

Before we go any further, perhaps we should define our terms. Webster’s New World Dictionary describes “infallible” as “1. incapable of error; never wrong. 2. not liable to fail, go wrong, make a mistake, etc.” It renders “inerrant” as “not erring, making no mistakes.” It is essentially those definitions that many people import into the realm of the Bible and Ellen White’s writings.

As to infallibility, Mrs. White plainly writes, “I never claimed it; God alone is infallible.” Again she stated that “God and heaven alone are infallible” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 37). While she claimed that “God’s Word is infallible” (ibid., p. 416), we will see below that she did not mean that the Bible (or her writings) were free from error at all points.

To the contrary, in the introduction to The Great Controversy she sets forth her position quite concisely: “The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will” (p. vii). That is, she did not claim that the work of God’s prophets is infallible in all its details, but that it is infallible in terms of revealing God’s will to men and women. In a similar statement Ellen White commented that “His Word . . . is plain on every point essential to the salvation of the soul” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 706).

W. C. White treats the same issue when he observes: “Where she has followed the description of historians or the exposition of Adventist writers, I believe that God has given her discernment to use that which is correct and in harmony with truth regarding all matters essential to salvation. If it should be found by faithful study that she has followed some expositions of prophecy which in some detail regarding dates we cannot harmonize with our understanding of secular history, it does not influence my confidence in her writings as a whole any more than my confidence in the Bible is influenced by the fact that I cannot harmonize many of the statements regarding chronology” (Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 449, 450; italics supplied).

In summary, it appears that Mrs. White’s use of the term infallibility has to do with the Bible being completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation. She doesn’t mix that idea with the concept that the Bible or her writings are free from all possible errors of a factual nature.

Thus the faithful reader’s belief is not shaken if he or she discovers that Matthew attributed a Messianic prophecy, written centuries before Christ’s birth, to Jeremiah when it was actually Zechariah who inferred that Christ would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (see Matt. 27:9, 10; Zech. 11:12, 13). Nor will one be dismayed over the fact that 1 Samuel 16:10, 11 lists David as the eighth son of Jesse, but 1 Chronicles 2:15 refers to him as the seventh. Neither will faith be affected because the prophet Nathan wholeheartedly approved of King David’s building of the Temple but the next day had to backtrack and tell David that God didn’t want him to build it (see 2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 17). Prophets make mistakes.

The same kind of factual errors can be discovered in Ellen White’s writings as are found in the Bible. The writings of God’s prophets are infallible as a guide to salvation, but they are not inerrant or without error. Part of the lesson is that we need to read for the central lessons of Scripture and Ellen White rather than the details.

What is important to remember at this point is that those who struggle over such problems as inerrancy and absolute infallibility are fighting a human-made problem. It is not anything that God ever claimed for the Bible or Ellen White ever claimed for the Bible or her writings. Inspiration for her had to do with the “practical purposes” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 19) of human and divine relationships in the plan of salvation. We need to let God speak to us in His mode, rather than to superimpose our rules over God’s prophets and then reject them if they don’t live up to ourexpectations of what we think God should have done. Such an approach is a human invention that places our own authority over the Word of God. It makes us the judges of God and His Word. But such a position is not Biblical; nor is it according to the way Ellen White has counseled the church. We need to read God’s Word and Mrs. White’s writings for the purpose for which He gave them and not let our modern concerns and definitions of purpose and accuracy come between us and His prophets.

Avoid Making the Counsels “Prove” Things They Were Never Intended to Prove

In the previous section we noted that Ellen White did not claim verbal inspiration for her writings or the Bible, nor did she classify them as either inerrant or infallible in the sense of being free from factual mistakes. In spite of the efforts of Mrs. White and her son to move people away from too rigid a view of inspiration, many have continued on in that line. Down through the history of the denomination some have sought to use Ellen White’s writings and the Bible for purposes for which God never intended them. Likewise, claims have been made for prophetic writings that transcend their purpose.

As a result, we find individuals who go to her writings to substantiate such things as historical facts and dates. Thus S. N. Haskell could write to Ellen White that he and his friends would “give more for one expression in your testimony than for all the histories you could stack between here and Calcutta” (S. N. Haskell to E. G. White, May 30, 1910).

Yet Ellen White never claimed that the Lord provided every historical detail in her works. To the contrary, she tells us that she generally went to the same sources available to us to get the historical facts that she used to fill out the outlines of the struggle between good and evil across the ages that she portrays so nicely in The Great Controversy. In regard to the writing of that volume, she wrote in its preface that “where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject.” Her purpose in such books as The Great Controversywas “not so much . . . to present new truths concerning the struggles of former times, as to bring out facts and principles which have a bearing on coming events” (p. xii).

That statement of purpose is crucial in understanding her use of history. Her intention was to trace the dynamics of the conflict between good and evil across time. That was her message. The historical facts merely enriched its tapestry. She was not seeking to provide incontrovertible historical data. In actuality, as she put it, the “facts” she used were “well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world” (ibid., p. xi).

What is true of Ellen White’s use of facts in post-Biblical church history is also true of her practice when writing of the Biblical period. As a result, she could ask her sons that they request “Mary [Willie’s wife] to find me some histories of the Bible that would give me the order of events. I have nothing and can find nothing in the library here” (E. G. White to W. C. White and J. E. White, Dec. 22, 1885).

“Regarding Mother’s writings,” W. C. White told Haskell, “she has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority on history. . . . When ‘[The Great] Controversy’ was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as an authority on historical dates and use it to settle controversies, and she does not now feel that it ought to be used in that way.” (W. C. White to S. N. Haskell, Oct. 31, 1912; italics supplied; cf. Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 446, 447.)

Twenty years later W. C. White wrote that “in our conversations with her [Ellen White] regarding the truthfulness and the accuracy of what she had quoted from historians, she expressed confidence in the historians from whom she had drawn, but never would consent to the course pursued by a few men who took her writings as a standard and endeavored by the use of them to prove the correctness of one historian as against the correctness of another. From this I gained the impression that the principal use of the passage quoted from historians was not to make a new history, not to correct errors in history, but to use valuable illustrations to make plain important spiritual truths” (W. C. White to L. E. Froom, Feb. 18, 1932).

Not only do we need to avoid using Ellen White to “prove” the details of history, but the same caution must be expressed in the realm of the details of science. In saying this I do not mean to imply that there is not a great deal of accuracy in the scientific inferences of Ellen White’s writings–and the Bible’s, for that matter–but that we must not seek to prove this and that scientific detail from them.

Let me illustrate. Some claim that John Calvin, the great sixteenth-century Reformer, resisted Copernicus’s discovery that the earth rotated around the sun by quoting Psalm 93:1: “The world also is stablished; that it cannot be moved.” In a similar vein, many have pointed out that the Bible talks about the four corners of the earth and the fact that the sun “comes up” and “goes down.” In such cases, the Bible is merely making incidental remarks rather than setting forth scientific doctrine.

Remember that the Bible and Ellen White’s writings are not intended to be divine encyclopedias for things scientific and historical. Rather they are to reveal our human hopelessness and then point us to the solution in salvation through Jesus. In the process, God’s revelation provides a framework in which we can understand the bits and pieces of historical and scientific knowledge gained through other lines of study.

Make Sure Ellen White Said It

A fair number of statements are in circulation that apparently have been falsely attributed to Ellen White. How can we identify such statements? The first clue that they are apocryphal for those who are familiar with Ellen White’s writings is that such statements are often out of harmony with the general tenor of her thought. That is, they seem strange when compared to the bulk of her ideas, appear to be out of place in her mouth. Strangeness, of course, is not proof that we are dealing with an apocryphal statement. It is merely an indication.

The safest way to test the authenticity of an Ellen White statement is to ask for the reference to its source. Once we know where it is found, we can check to see if Ellen White said it and also examine the wording and context to determine if it has been interpreted correctly.

The issue of supposed statements also came up in Mrs. White’s lifetime. Her fullest treatment of the problem appears in volume 5 of Testimonies for the Church, pages 692 through 696. It can be examined profitably by all readers of Ellen White’s writings:

“Beware,” she says, “how you give credence to such reports” (p. 694). She concludes her discussion of the topic with the following words: “To all who have a desire for truth I would say: Do not give credence to unauthenticated reports as to what Sister White has done or said or written. If you desire to know what the Lord has revealed through her, read her published works. . . . Do not eagerly catch up and report rumors as to what she has said” (p. 696).

While we can no longer send supposed statements to Ellen White for her verification, we can contact the White Estate office at the General Conference headquarters or visit the nearest SDA-Ellen G. White Research Center to verify the authenticity of a statement or to inquire about other questions we might have.

[Condensed and adapted from George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1997), pp. 43-123. Available from Adventist Book Centers: 1-800-765-6955 or Review and Herald Publishing Association: http://www.rhpa.org]

Note: This article was originally published at the official White Estate website. It has been republished with permission. To access the article at its original location click here.

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When You Should Be Quiet in Church

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I wept as this well-meaning lady walked away

[/blockquote]”You need to be quiet during prayer,” chided the women’s ministry leader seated next to me. As I swallowed hard and met her eyes with a look of surprise, she continued, “…because people end up hearing you instead of [the pastor].” We proceeded to chat back and forth for another few minutes, her about being quiet in church, me about the unlikelihood of stifling the praise God’s worthy of because professed Christians are uncomfortable, her genuinely amazed at the concept of being so filled on the inside that it overflows to the outside, me genuinely frustrated at the concept of being told to be quiet in church.

 

Despite having a pretty loud voice when kicking back with friends, I used to be a rather quiet churchgoer, never really understanding why others would shout aloud and certainly never shouting aloud myself. However, my elevated “outside voice,” masked my internal voice and the internal joy that was silenced for over a decade of my life by sexual abuse. Over a decade more was spent in silent shame about some of the worst experiences and worst decisions of my life. More than 20 years…gone…stolen by silence.

 

Silent in public worship.

Silent in private.

Silently hating God.

Silently broken.

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God speaks into our silence and sets us free to worship Him

[/blockquote]I silently bumped around through life, silently bumping in and out of church each week, silently coming in broken, silently leaving bound. But one sweet day, in the midst of my silence, the God of the universe spoke loudly and unbound me from the shame that once prevented me from praising Him. The God I had once only heard of, once only read of, and once only seen others worship freely allowed me to see Him for myself and filled my mouth with worship.

 

I wept as this well-meaning lady walked away from me in church. I just tend to believe that church should be safe enough for us to exchange our silenced sorrows for shouts of joy as we worship our Deliverer. I initially figured she’d better understand if she only knew the hell from which I’ve been redeemed. Maybe then she’d join the next person she saw worshiping instead of quieting the praise God is oh so worthy of. But then I wiped my tears, remembering we all have been ransomed; we all have a story of redemption. And more important than her knowing others’ stories is her knowing her own and that we all have a similar story – that the wages of sin is death, yet we’re alive, and for that, we ought to join each other in blessing our faithful God. The important part of each of our stories revolves around the story of a God who speaks into our silence and sets us free to worship Him (Psalm 119:134; Luke 1:74; Isaiah 43:21). We need no other reason to worship a God who was worthy before speaking a single word.

 

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when God stuns me into silence

[/blockquote]So, what should you do when others are very visibly or audibly expressing their praise to God? Well, if you’re not joining in, if you’re not echoing that He is holy (Isaiah 6:3), maybe that is when you should be quiet in church. If you’re not giving glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and lives forever, that is when you should be quiet in church (Revelation 4:8). If you’re only opening your mouth to dictate how others should worship God, that is when you should be quiet in church. As for me, I’m committed to blessing the Lord at all times – when He stuns me into silence and when His praises pour forth from my lips (Psalm 34:1).
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Resources:

Kimberly Bulgin’s FREE ebook: Wild Worship

Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God

Myles Munroe’s Rediscovering Kingdom Worship

Marnie C. Ferree’s No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Shame

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After the Super Bowl: 6 Ways to Live Life at $10 Million Per Minute

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Well, Peyton Manning finally got his ring as over 111.9 million people put their best plans aside and tuned in to the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago.  It’s the largest television event of our American year.  So large in fact that advertisers paid seemingly nonsensical amounts to have their message broadcast to that Super Bowl crowd.  How much exactly did these “prime” slots cost?  This year: up to $5 million dollars – for 30 seconds!  That’s up from the $4.5 million last year and up 75% since 2005 (according to Fortune magazine).  In fact, I know people who watched the Super Bowl just for these ads – they’re supposed to be that good!  And hey, if I was an advertiser paying $5 million for those few seconds, I’d certain as anything make sure they were good too.

And now the Super Bowl is done, over, and old news.  Yet in the aftermath, a question still nags my mind: how would I live if one minute of  my life was worth $10 million?  The more I look around our world today, the more I realize that we are living in a much greater, much more epic prime time than the Super Bowl. We live at the most critical time in earth’s history – with an entire universe as an audience. So what does this mean?  How would we live if we valued our life as much as the advertisers value a slot during the Super Bowl?  How do I get in the game and play like it’s Super Bowl time? I’m sure there are hundreds of answers to these questions.  But below are six that I can personally recommend.

1. Train. You’re not going to play well if you don’t train well – I’m reasonably certain any NFL player will agree with that. And any advertiser will tell you they didn’t throw together their $5 million ad the night before! So what are you doing to become better trained to live for God?  What are you doing to prepare? Maybe it’s time for your personal devotions to come up a notch. Try committing to it for one month. Maybe it’s finally time to do those Bible studies you’ve been wanting to finish so that you know how to answer your friend the next time he asks you what happens when we die or how to get to know Jesus personally.  I’ve even had the privilege of working with several amazing evangelism training schools that offer both shorter intensives and longer training programs especially focused on how to grow in your faith and share it with others! The opportunities are there. But big step or small step, training happens now.

2. Use what you have. I used to complain that I had “half talents.”  There were a number of things I could do a little bit of, but there wasn’t much I felt I could do well.  There were always people who could do better!  So I did little.  But then I heard David Asscherick preach a sermon called “Stir What You Got.”  And the basic premise was, “If I don’t use what I have now, how can I expect God to give me more?”  I know many who don’t want to share the gospel because they feel they don’t know enough about the Bible.  But I’ve found witnessing to be kind of like learning a language – you can study it in the textbooks for years on end, but if you don’t go out and start trying to speak it, rough as it may be, you’ll never really learn the language.  To him who uses what he has, more will be given (see Matthew 25:14-29).

3, Don’t wait. Later…. There’s always later… But we all know later never comes.  Like the room you’re going to clean “later,” the home improvement project you’re going to get to “later”…  We know all too well how that one goes. If you’re waiting to do something for God until after you finish school, you’re waiting far too long.  If you’re waiting till you have a different job, the kids are older, or whatever else, you’ll always be waiting.  Yes, there are times that we have differing capacities due to our circumstances.  But I guarantee you there’s something you can do now.  Find it.  Do it. Don’t wait.

4. Get rid of the leeches. There are things that, while maybe not inherently “wrong,” will prevent you from playing the game well. When I was growing up for instance, I was addicted to television.  I say “addicted” because I killed tons of time with it (watching stuff that many times was not beneficial to my connection with God), and I couldn’t seem to limit it and reign it in. Watching one half-hour show somehow became four hours every time… But in college I came to a point where God was working in my life and I wanted to grow with Him.  So I decided to give up TV.  And it wasn’t because I heard a sermon on the evils of drama or the entertainment industry – in fact I’d heard those and not been moved.  I gave it up because something else was more important to me now. I wanted my growth with God more.  I wanted my time more. Prime time TV was eating up my life’s prime time.  And it needed to go.  Now for you it may be something totally different!  I’m not here to bash TV.  But I challenge you, ask God what might be holding you back from going all-out with Him.  Ask Him to show you the leeches – whether they’re overtly sinful and you know it, or seemingly benign yet distracting.  Then ask Him for both the desire and strength to make a change.  You may just find a beautiful freedom you’ve never before experienced (Hebrews 12:1).

5. Build a team. I would never have stepped out to do ministry for the Lord had it not been for some godly friends and mentors that encouraged me. These were the people that said, “Michelle, I think you can do more than this.”  They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.  And now, as a teacher, I consider it one of my greatest opportunities to give the gift of belief to others.  I’ve heard that we all need three groups of people in our lives: people who minister to us, people we minister with, and people we minister to. We need community.  We need not only to help people, we also need people who help us – who are in it with us. If you are privileged enough to have some of these people in your life, start investing in them and strengthening that community.  If you don’t, pray for it.  The Lord knows what you need, and He can provide – sometimes in unexpected ways.

6. Consider doing something crazy. Here’s where I go a little 1 Corinthians 7:25 where Paul essentially says, “I have no commandment from the Lord, but in my opinion…”  So here’s my opinion: I personally believe that many of us stop short of what God’s calling us to.  Maybe we see the traditional path for life and stop there: Go to school, get a job, make money, have a family, try to help people and support my local church.  Don’t get me wrong, these things are wonderful and good!  But some of you may be called to giving your life to service in unconventional ways.  When God was working in my life during college and I began doing the little that I could for Him, He started expanding my burden to do more.  Suddenly I wasn’t content with the traditional career path I’d been pursuing.  For the first time I began to contemplate different missionary and ministry possibilities that both scared me and scared my family!  I remember being told, “Well, follow God, but make sure to think about your future!”  And there was wisdom in that statement.  But also danger.  I sometimes see young people, on fire and desiring to do something for God, putting it off or never doing it because of well meaning friends and family who told them they should really finish college first, get a job first, go to graduate school first…  And sometimes this may be good advice – don’t just disregard reason and sound counsel.  But I will testify one thing from personal experience: Time that you take for God is never wasted.  And in His time, He will take care of your future. For me, my decision to risk for God led to a very different career path than the accountant I was trained to be.  I make less money than most of my peers.  I have less stuff than they do.  Yet I don’t regret it in the least.  I’ve traveled, I’ve grown, I’ve gotten to become a better leader, I’ve had some of the hardest yet most fulfilling experiences, and it’s changed who I am and how I see the world in ways I would never trade.

Your path will be different than mine.  You may have family and financial obligations that don’t allow such radical abandon at this point in time!  But some of you are called to much more than a traditional path during this “prime time” era.  I believe there are future missionaries, evangelists, entrepreneurs and industry leaders who will be reading this.  Doing something radical for God doesn’t mean you necessarily need drop everything and become a pastor. It doesn’t mean you won’t work in the secular world (there’s a huge mission field there). It doesn’t mean you won’t get an education (for those wondering what happened to mine, the Lord provided ways to finish both a bachelor’s and master’s degree along the way – without debt). But it may mean you put your future on the line and ask God what living in “prime time” might mean for you.  It might mean considering doing something a little “crazy” as He leads the way. It could look different than the world’s definition of “success.” It could change your life for a season (like maximizing your young and single years), or it may change your life permanently.  Again, this is Michelle speaking.  But I challenge you to pray about it.  And however it applies to you, take it for what it’s worth 😉

In Romans 13:11 Paul challenges us to live “knowing the time.” I don’t know how long this prime time will last.  Our political, finical, and social world is changing rapidly (don’t start me on politics right now…).  All you have to do is look around to realize things can’t stay as “business as usual” for too much longer. But whether we have one year or 90, I hope you live your life like it’s worth $10 dollars per minute.  Don’t wait for the next Super Bowl.  Prime time is now.

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Don’t Be Fooled by a Counterfeit

[box_holder background_color=”] There is a true story told of an Indian missionary. The young man was in India during a great festival in which all of the Hindus travel to the river Ganges to wash themselves for the forgiveness of sins. Thousands of Hindus traveled for miles to wash themselves in this river. The story goes that this missionary was crossing a bridge over the river when he saw a woman weeping uncontrollably. He approached her to see what was wrong.

My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.

She told him that her husband was unable to work. They had no money to provide for the family. She told him that her sins were so many that no one knew about. She was burdened with guilt and shame. She needed forgiveness and blessings. In order to receive the blessing and forgiveness of the goddess Ganges, she said, “I have given her the most valuable offering I could give her. My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.” The missionary proceeded to explain the gospel to her. To tell her that she didn’t have to kill her son. God had sent his son in order to save mankind. When he was done the woman looked at him. “Why didn’t you come a half hour sooner?” She asked. “I didn’t have to kill my son.” And with that she began weeping again.[i] She’s not the only one you know. There are thousands. Millions are crying out “why?” Longing and searching for an answer to the void in their heart. Looking for forgiveness and salvation. Their religion tells them that salvation can only be gained by working hard to earn Gods favor. Their religion tells them that they have to climb, struggle, work, sweat, bleed, and suffer in order to enter the Kingdom. But the Bible says something else. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says,

“For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.”[ii]
 

 The Bible teaches that it’s not what we do that saves us, but what God has done. In other words, this whole salvation thing is never about what we do; it’s about what He did. But what exactly does that mean? Before I explain it, I want to back track a bit. The book of Ephesians, which I just quoted, reveals God’s mysterious purpose for what we call “church.” Now, what does church have to do with salvation? Well, lets find out. Paul, the author of the book, paints a picture of a secret weapon that God had planned from the beginning of time in order to defeat evil. That secret weapon is the church. Why church? I mean. Isn’t church boring? Irrelevant? Hasn’t the church caused more evil than good in history? How could this be God’s secret weapon to defeat evil? That answer is found in Ephesians 1:22-23. Here Paul says,

“God has placed all things beneath His [Jesus’] feet and anointed Him as the head over all things for His church. This church is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all.”
 

According to this verse, Christ is the head of the church which is his body. However, there is something powerful here. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia” which means congregation or assembly. According to the Bible “church” is not a building, it’s a community of people. So God’s secret weapon to defeat evil is a community of people. But what kind of people? Ephesians 2:1-2 answers that question. It says,

“As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience.
 

Did you catch it? God’s secret anti-evil weapon from the beginning of time was a community of people. But not good people. Bad people! People who were rebellious, wicked, and selfish. People who were slaves to sin. God’s mystery of the church is that He was going to get these “evil people” and use them to defeat evil. However, in order for God to do this He would have to get these people to be on His side. But how? The answer is found in the story the Bible tells about salvation.

If only Jesus had set me free from sin I wouldn’t have had to go through those dark nights of shame and guilt that nearly choked out my life. But Jesus wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had come to view Him, not as a savior, but as a ticket and tickets have no power.

Now of course, there are many different versions of this story floating around. Even though the Bible only tells one salvation story, this story has been retold in countless ways. However, we can boil down all of those countless versions into four. 1) The most common is that you are saved by works. This means you have to be good and if you are good enough you are allowed into heaven. This is the version that forms the foundation of paganism. I call it the “performance” version of salvation. 2) The second is that you are saved by grace, but in order to stay saved you have to work. In other words, Jesus covers your past sins but your future is uncertain. You are saved, but not really. There is still something you have to do in order to earn the right to stay saved and enter heaven at last. This is the foundation of religions such as Catholicism and Mormonism. I call this the “but” version of salvation (you will soon see why). 3) The third is that salvation is a ticket to heaven and nothing more. No change takes place in the life. But because you once believed you now have a ticket that guarantees you access into eternal bliss. This is the foundation for some (though certainly not all) evangelical churches and is often referred to as “once saved, always saved”.[iii] I call it the “ticket” version of salvation. Being raised Adventist, I was too smart to fall for the “performance” version (most Christians are). However, that didn’t make me immune to being duped by “but” and “ticket” versions. For many years I viewed the salvation story though those two lenses. The “ticket” was useless. While I didn’t have any anxiety over my eternal security, I had no victory over sin. Since I knew I was going to heaven, I had no rush to find victory. But I was depressed, always feeling defeated and filthy, and eventually my sin caught up with me and the consequences were extremely painful. If only Jesus had set me free from sin I wouldn’t have had to go through those dark nights of shame and guilt that nearly choked out my life. But Jesus wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had come to view Him, not as a savior, but as a ticket and tickets have no power.

From there I fell into the “but” version of the salvation story. This is the version that teaches that Jesus forgives and saves but in order to stay saved you have to perform at a certain level or else you are out.  This version was instrumental in showing me that victory over sin was possible, but as time went on I found this to be nothing more than a baptized version of the “performance” model. Even though I was saved by grace I always felt I hadn’t done enough to stay saved and that I had to do more. I had to be a vegetarian or else I would lose my salvation. I had to keep the Sabbath perfectly and be nice to people and do everything right or else I would lose the free gift of salvation. And I was miserable. I call this the “but” version of salvation. Why? Because anytime someone spoke about the grace of Christ, I always felt the need to add “but” at the end of their conversation. “We are saved by grace!” They would shout. “But!” I would shout back, “don’t forget you still have to do A, B and C!” For some reason I couldn’t just enjoy the grace of God for what it was. Instead, I always had to add the “but” at the end just to make sure everyone knew what the requirements were. During this time I knew some of rest that is to be found in Jesus, but there was always a voice in the back of my mind that prevented me from having full assurance. I experienced spiritual growth and victory over sins that had long controlled my life, but something was missing.  However, I refused to admit there was a problem with my salvation story because in my mind, the only alternative was the “ticket” version and I sure wasn’t going back to that.

But I did it anyways because I wanted to make sure that God wouldn’t have any reason to not let me into heaven.

4) Eventually, the “but” version of salvation led me to the fourth version of the gospel. It is a subcategory of “but” known as the “light switch” version of the gospel. The light switch version nearly killed me. This version (which was nothing more than the logical result of the “but” version) teaches that a person is justified freely by Gods grace but must, from then on, continue to perform well enough to keep their salvation. That’s pretty much what the “but” version is, only in the “light switch” version every time you sin you lose your salvation until you confess and repent and then you are saved again. It’s as if God is in heaven flipping a “light switch.” Every time you sin, the light switch goes off (you have lost your salvation), and every time you confess and repent the light switch goes back on (you are saved again). When I believed in “light switch” I was always worried about whether I had sinned or not and often times found myself debating myself over whether or not I had just sinned, almost just sinned, or thought I just sinned but hadn’t really. The situation was worse when I felt that God wouldn’t forgive me for a sin I committed if it involved another person. I would suffer for weeks and months over a supposed sin that I needed to confess to someone else and at times found myself confessing things that were not only unnecessary but ridiculous. But I did it anyways because I wanted to make sure that God wouldn’t have any reason to not let me into heaven. I was daily and hourly tortured by my conscience and became so hypersensitive that I eventually found myself at a counselors office diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. God was my enemy desperately trying to keep me out of heaven. And I was responsible for changing his mind, but no matter how hard I tried one plaguing accusation remained: “Never good enough.”

Negative as this experience may have been I do thank God for it because if it weren’t for my hopelessness and despair I would never have turned to him for answers. I would never have studied and researched and explored. I would never have asked those deep, gut wrenching questions that many people never think to ask. My defeat paved the way for my victory and though I have much to learn I eventually discovered that none of those previous versions were the true salvation story. When I did in fact discover the Biblical story of salvation my entire soul was enraptured with a joy and conviction I have never before experienced. I was free! The 4 versions were false, but there was a fifth. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it the fifth. Instead, I prefer to call it the only. The true. The genuine. All the others were counterfeits, but I had finally discovered the beauty of the gospel and the overwhelming joy it brings.

But more on that next time.

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[i] A paraphrase of the story as told by Indian missionary KP Johannan.

[ii] All Bible verses quoted from The Voice.

[iii] Contrary to what I believed growing up “once saved always saved” is not a universally accepted teaching in the evangelical world. Adventists are in the company of Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Free-Will Baptists and others in denying this teaching. Most Protestants who embrace the theology of Martin Luther, Jacobus Arminius, or John Wesley are likely to also reject the concept of “once saved always saved”. [/box_holder]