Robert J. Wieland

Chapter 7

Questions About Corporate And Denominational Repentance

What is the difference between “corporate confession” and “corporate repentance”?

“Corporate repentance” is a million miles away from a mere committee action, or a four-color advertisement promoting it as the latest “groupthink” strategy. That would never help, for there are many who because of ingrained “loyalty” will jump on any new program that is promoted by “groupthink,” for they want to be “in” and thought well of. A “corporate confession” would accomplish nothing. As we near the end of time, the Lord cannot be satisfied with such a superficial work.

The word “corporate” has nothing to do with the organization of the hierarchy. Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a constituency vote. The work of repentance is always individual and personal, but the word “corporate” is simply the proper term to describe how each “member of the body” relates to the Head and to one another (1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4).

Corporate repentance is personally repenting of the sins of others as though they were our own, feeling the pain and guilt of other members of the body, which we realize would be ours but for the grace of Christ.

This is how the “message of Christ’s righteousness” becomes relevant. His righteousness must be imputed 100%, for we do not have even 1% of our own. We share the corporate guilt of the whole world—but for the grace of Christ. No one of us is innately better than another. As Luther said, we are all made of the same dough. Every lion in Africa is by nature a man-eater, but few get “the opportunity” to eat human beings. We can say that lions share a corporate nature.

The Lord Jesus calls upon “the angel of the church of the Laodiceans” to “be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:14, 19). While such repentance is always personal, it is also “of the body,” and therefore “corporate.”

The repentance of ancient Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah is an example of national repentance, led by “the king and his nobles” (Jonah 3:5-9). A repentance of the church today as a body would be denominational. The Lord will give the gift, and His honor requires that He have a people who respond, both leaders and laity (cf. Zechariah 12:10-13:1).

How can such a repentance ever pervade the body of the church?

Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church the true “remnant church” of Revelation 12:17? Is it the “Israel” of today? We believe the answer is yes.

Abraham’s descendants were to be the “remnant church” of their day. They were to be God’s vehicle for evangelizing the world. At that time He had true followers in all nations, just as He has true believers everywhere today (including for example, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism).

So why did God choose Abraham and his children as His visible “body” on earth? “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). In a great degree the history of his descendants became a disaster, but something is to happen in the end of time that has never happened before—the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. That grand purpose of God must be fulfilled in His people. This is why this church exists.

Scripture requires a denominated, visible church to be Christ’s “body” on earth, not a scattered, disorganized mélange. A stomach here and an eye there and an ear far off do not constitute a “body.” A “body” is a coordinated, united organism obedient to the head.

Will such a repentance ever pervade the body of the church?

Some critics and offshoots say, “No! Impossible.” And it seems that others also say No, but for a different reason—they say it’s not necessary. But Jesus calls for it. And His word cannot return unto Him void. We must remember that there is one personality who firmly opposes denominational repentance and who believes it is impossible. His name? Satan.

Human wisdom is insufficient to answer the question. But the Bible assures us that such a repentance as a gift from God will indeed pervade the body of God’s people, and Satan will be proven wrong:

… I will pour upon the house of David [the leadership] and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem [the members] the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him. … In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness (Zechariah 12:10-13:1).

Further, Revelation pictures the church as finally overcoming (ch. 3:20, 21; 19:6-9). And Ellen White many times expressed the firm confidence that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will eventually repent and come into line with God’s program (cf. Testimonies, Vol. 8, p. 249-251; Vol. 9, pp. 20, 126; Selected Messages, Book Two, pp. 390, 397; Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 49, 57, 58, 410; Medical Ministry, pp. 184, 185).

To doubt this is to stand on the great enemy’s side, for Satan is determined that such repentance must never be experienced by the remnant church.

What can the Lord do to arouse His lukewarm, complacent, worldly people?

The 1888 history and message are to the Seventh-day Adventist Church what Calvary and the New Testament are to the Jews. Most Jews are like us, occupied with “just keeping their personal lives together,” who couldn’t care less what happened nearly 2000 years ago in their history, just as “we” (in general) think we can’t care less what happened 100 years ago in our history.

But the 1888 message was the “beginning” of the latter rain and the loud cry of Revelation 18, just as Jesus of Nazareth was the Jews’ Messiah. It was the Lord’s purpose to make the Jewish nation His evangelists to the world at that time. It was the Lord’s purpose in 1888 to infuse every Seventh-day Adventist congregation with the warmth of genuine agape love, to make them “foremost in uplifting Christ before the world.”

Inspired testimony tells us that we blew it “just like the Jews.” Ellen White tells the naked truth. The century-old byproducts of that rejection of truth are the terrible luke-warmness, legalism, criticism, confusion, and disunity seen almost everywhere. The beautiful message of Christ’s much more abounding grace has “in a great degree” been kept away from our people and from the world itself (Selected Messages, Book One, pp. 234, 235).

Critics and legalists can have a field day decrying how “sin [has] abounded” within the church, but what is most important is how “grace did much more abound.” The Lord can do for us what He longed to do for the Jews—to give the gift of repentance. And in this time of the cleansing of the sanctuary His people must overcome where the ancient Jews failed.

Do our scholars and General Conference leaders approve of the message of corporate and denominational repentance? If many oppose it, should it be proclaimed?

If we are doubtful and perplexed, it would be well to ask the Lord this question. He invites us, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18). Surely He will not despise the earnest and sincere prayer of His people. Says David, “He inclined unto me, and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

We do know that sometimes the Lord commissions people to say something that official leadership does not want them to say. Discussing in context the 1888 experience, Ellen White refers to the experience of the apostles and says:

“The angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” We see here that the men in authority are not always to be obeyed, even though they may profess to be teachers of Bible doctrine. There are many today who feel indignant and aggrieved that any voice should be raised presenting ideas that differ from their own in regard to points of religious belief. …

But we see that the God of heaven sometimes commissions men to teach that which is regarded as contrary to the established doctrines. … The Holy Spirit will, from time to time, reveal the truth through its own chosen agencies, and no man, not even a priest or ruler, has a right to say, You shall not give publicity to your opinions, because I do not believe them. That wonderful “I” may attempt to put down the Holy Spirit’s teaching. Men may for a time attempt to smother it and kill it, but that will not make error truth, or truth error (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 69, 70).

Note the word “sometimes.” A true follower of Christ will respect divinely appointed authority. David would not lift his hand against King Saul, “the Lord’s anointed,” even though Saul was clearly apostate. Elijah was loyal and respectful toward King Ahab, although honest with him, too. Jeremiah respected Kings Jehoikim and Zedekiah, although they were also apostate, and tried in loyalty to help them.

At His trial, Jesus spoke kindly and straightforwardly to the officer who slapped Him in the face, and Paul once apologized to the high priest. That “sometimes” should humble anyone who imagines on his own that he is commissioned by the Lord to a special work. Like Gideon, he should put out the fleece time and again, to be sure he is not running ahead of the angel’s leading. An intelligent, informed person will be extremely careful and prayerful before saying anything publicly that leadership does not want him or her to say!

But that “sometimes” has definitely applied to Seventh-day Adventist history:

Even Seventh-day Adventists are in danger of closing their eyes to truth as it is in Jesus, because it contradicts something which they have taken for granted as truth but which the Holy Spirit teaches is not truth. …

Finite men should beware of seeking to control their fellow men, taking the place assigned to the Holy Spirit. Let not men feel that it is their prerogative to give to the world what they suppose to be truth, and refuse that anything should be given contrary to their ideas. …

That men should keep alive the spirit that ran riot at Minneapolis [1888] is an offense to God (Ibid., pp. 70-76; May 30, 1896).

The Lord is leading a people, not just a few individuals. It is easy for zealous souls to imagine that they have a commission from the Lord to say something when it may not be true. Jeremiah warned against people running when the Lord had not sent them (ch. 23:21-32). Nevertheless, our history warns us that we must not blindly follow leadership in opposition to the Holy Spirit’s clear direction. Says Ellen White:

Some of our leading brethren have frequently taken their position on the wrong side; and if God would send a message and wait for these older brethren to open the way for its advancement, it would never reach the people (Gospel Workers, p. 303).

It is only reasonable to inquire if perchance we are today acting out the 1888 history all over again. The presumptive evidence in principle would indicate that the sad history must be repeated unless denominational repentance has taken place. It is a common axiom that a nation that does not know its history is fated to repeat it. The same applies to a church. But leadership can change. Lessons can be learned.

Day by day we are sealing our eternal destiny by how we react to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Knowing our history, if we choose to repeat it, we will surely judge ourselves as unworthy of eternal life. God forgave the Jewish nation for crucifying Christ. He did not forgive them when they repeated that sin in rejecting the apostles and stoning Stephen.

The important question to ask is: Does the Lord Jesus Christ Himself call the leadership of the church to repentance? The answer is found in Revelation 3:19 where the call to “repent” is addressed “unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans.” If this call is valid, conscientious people among the “house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” will recognize it and fearlessly echo it.

There are evidences that indicate some growing acceptance in leadership of the essential elements of the 1888 message. A former General Conference president firmly supported the 1888 presentation of justification in his Week of Prayer reading for November, 1988. Dr. Wallenkampf’s book on justification (Review and Herald, chapter 5) also takes the same position. And his book on the 1888 history is thoroughly in accord with Ellen White’s writings on the subject. These are very encouraging signs!

If a massive glacier can be pried loose even an inch or two, an avalanche might follow.

A few years ago the church celebrated the 1988 Centennial year. Now that it is over, will these issues die a natural death? Can we now forget 1888 as we face the future?

Considerable progress toward reality marked the 1988 Centennial. Now the candid judgment is almost universally recognized that not only was the 1888 message the beginning of the latter rain and the loud cry, but leadership were on the wrong side of the issues. This about-face is a phenomenal development in Seventh-day Adventist history.

It has also been said that it is virtually impossible ever to achieve denominational unity on the 1888 issues. But the speed with which the history issue has now been turned upside down and resolved with virtual unanimity gives encouragement to believe that the remaining issues of disagreement may also be resolved much sooner than we think.

One main issue now remains: what was the authentic 1888 message? The Holy Spirit will not permit us to evade the duty of recovering it.

Is the message in process of being recovered?

It should not take long to determine objectively what the message was. Jones and Waggoner’s published writings are readily available. It is impossible to misconstrue their meaning.

A growing segment of church members have already caught a glimpse of what the message is, either by reading newly published reprints of the 1888 messengers’ works, or seeing slides on the screen in 1888 message seminars and conferences.

A nearly universal testimony from those who have attended indicates that the message comes across as refreshingly different. “I never before understood the gospel so clearly.” “We have never heard these things preached before.” “Why has no one ever told us?”

A century ago Ellen White declared that “there is not one in one hundred who understands for himself the Bible truth on this subject [the 1888 idea of justification by faith] … The people have not an intelligent faith” (Review and Herald, Sept. 3,1889). “Our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths” (Review and Herald, March 25, 1890). When the reality of the 1888 message is understood, it becomes apparent that Ellen White’s 1889 comments are still present truth today. Extremely few have understood the message.

But there is heartening good news. While denominational pride is humbled, confidence in the Seventh-day Adventist mission and its accomplishment is renewed.

On all levels of the church we see a revival of “historic Adventism.” Is this the same as the 1888 message?

The 1888 message is not a mere revival of “historic Adventism,” nor is it a new legalism. Those who rejected the message at Minneapolis a century ago were all “historic Adventists.” If we could resurrect our most dynamic preachers of fifty or sixty years ago who were also “historic Adventists,” their preaching would wither in the merciless light that now shines in these last days. It was their preaching that prepared the way for our present state of confusion and pluralism, for it was largely devoid of the unique 1888 Good News concepts.

The reason is that they were largely uninformed of the actual realities of the 1888 message. Due to the failures of Jones and Waggoner, deep prejudice against their message permeated the church in the years after Ellen White’s death (1915). The prevailing concepts of the gospel in the decades that followed were conditioned by the “Victorious Life” enthusiasm which infiltrated Adventism in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Our denominational leaders of that era publicly embraced these Evangelical ideas which had their source in the Sunday School Times, mistakenly assuming that they were the same as the 1888 message.

The “Victorious Life” sounds good. What was that message?

“Victory over sin” was the theme, inspiring hope and confidence that the message would prepare a people for the coming of the Lord. It was an especially appealing doctrine in the bewildering post-World War I era of the 1920’s. But the “how” of the doctrine left an aching void.

Sincerely unaware of the unique truths of the 1888 message, our leading brethren of that era were powerless to distinguish between the genuine and the counterfeit. The question that now demands attention is whether at any time since the 1930’s have we recovered the missing spiritual nutriments of the 1888 message.

The “Victorious Life” was the same message proclaimed by Evangelicals in the 1910’s and 1920’s. Its purpose was to instill a confidence that one is saved apart from obedience to all the commandments of God. It was ecumenical in spirit, sharing the essential concepts of the “inner life” devotional movement that has flourished in the Roman Catholic Church in modern times.

The most poignant loss is often that which is unrealized. This is the point of Christ’s appeal to Laodicea: “Thou knowest not” that something precious has been lost (Revelation 3:15-18). Ezekiel records the tragic fact that the priests serving in Solomon’s temple in the days of Zedekiah did not know when the presence of the Lord was absent from the temple (chs. 8-10).

The message of the three angels without the message of the fourth angel is not sufficient to lighten the earth with glory. And when history demands a response to God’s opening providences, as in 1888, and God’s people react negatively, the resulting ferment spawns innumerable wrongs. This is the story of thousands of years of history. It is also the spiritual tragedy of our past century of history.

Read Chapter 8—Questions About the Message and the Chrich Organization

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