Robert J. Wieland

Chapter 8

Questions About the Message And the Church Organization

Are the 1888 publications intended to function in competition with denominational books and periodicals?

No. We continually urge people to be well informed by reading the Adventist Review and our denominational literature, as well as other literature published by loyal Seventh-day Adventists which presents information not available in official publications. We are presenting a message that they do not present, seeking to meet a need that they are not meeting.

Does the 1888 message attract fanatics, legalists, and critics?

Those most interested in the message are not “theologians” or “religious hobbyists who are looking for a cause,” as some assume. It is true that some fanatics try to capitalize on the interest and infiltrate refined legalism. Few will dare to say outright that they reject the 1888 message.

Uncharitable critics seize upon the undeniable facts of our history in order to condemn leadership. But these are certainly not interested in the much more abounding grace of the 1888 message itself, and do not appreciate its import.

In fact, ultra-right wing “conservatives” are sometimes vociferous in condemning its basic essentials. There were “certain [who] came from James” to trouble the Galatians with their “Christian” legalism (Galatians 2:12). Those whose hearts welcome the 1888 message are humble laymembers looking for meaning in Adventism, plus pastors and administrators seeking the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

And many youth yearn for a Christ who is “nigh at hand” and not “afar off” who can save from, not in, sin. The enemy of righteousness tried to bring in fanaticism a century ago, but Ellen White likened the revivals from 1888-1891 to the Midnight Cry of 1844 where she said fanaticism disappeared like frost before the morning sun.

Unfortunately confusion entered in after the 1893 General Conference Session. When the people finally realized how strong was opposition to the message, they were perplexed and confused and did not know what to do. Only then was some fanaticism able to get in. Wholehearted support from the General Conference would have brought the kind of unity that would have kept fanaticism out. Again in our day, wholehearted, united acceptance of the message of Christ’s righteousness will stifle fanaticism in the bud. The gospel will never produce fanaticism; opposition to it will.

Does the 1888 Message Study Committee accept donations which “fragment die support of our regular denominational work”?

No, we do not wish to “fragment the support” of our regular denominational work. We clearly state that we do not accept tithe; and we urge all members to support the church regularly. The world task of proclaiming the third angel’s message in verity, lighting the earth with the glory of the final message, is far beyond the capacities of any one segment of the church to direct or oversee.

In her day, Ellen White supported what we would today call loyal “independent ministries” not under conference control. One was the Madison School. She was aware of “official” opposition to the project, opposition that she said was not inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Madison laborers “should not be left to struggle along misunderstood and unaided.” “Let no one speak words that would tend to demerit their work.” “Never, never let words be spoken that will make the burden weigh heavier” upon them.

To an official who was inclined to hinder them she wrote: “It is your privilege, … and the privilege of those who have wide influence in the work, to let these brethren understand that they have your confidence and encouragement in the work they are bravely doing.” “Let us be careful, brethren, lest we counterwork and hinder the progress of others, and so delay the sending forth of the gospel message. This has been done, and this is why I am now compelled to speak so plainly. … The Lord does not set limits about His workers in some lines as men are wont to set. … Means have been withheld … because [the work] was not placed under the control of the conference” (quoted in The Value of Organization by C. C. Crisler, Ellen White’s personal secretary, Elmshaven Press, 1914).

Did Ellen White oppose or support “irregular” ministries?

Contrary to the wishes of some conference officials, she said, “Brethren Sutherland and Magan should be encouraged to solicit means for the support of their work” (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 11, pp. 10, 17, 19-21, 36). “There should be many at work in what are called ‘irregular lines.’ If one hundred workers would step out of the ‘regular lines,’ and take up self-sacrificing work, … souls would be won to the Lord” (Letter J-109, 1901).

Should all publishing in this country be confined to the Review and Herald and Pacific Press?

While strongly supporting the organization of the church as the Lord has led in establishing it, Crisler quoted Ellen White at length in support of independent ministries that the Lord unexpectedly moves upon people to initiate. She wrote as follows, he says, “to a conference president in the South who looked upon self-supporting missionary work as something irregular”:

Christ accepts and communes with the most lowly. He does not accept men because of their capabilities or eloquence, but because they seek His face, desiring His help. His Spirit, moving upon the heart, arouses every faculty to vigorous action. In these unpretentious ones the Lord sees the most precious material, which will stand the storm and tempest, heat and pressure. God sees not as man sees. He judges not from appearance. He searches the heart and judgeth righteously.

Who has sent you to a field where a good work has been done, to show your zeal by tearing it to pieces? Is this working in the regular lines? If so, it is high time that we worked in irregular lines. God is displeased with your work.

There are men who will spend and be spent to win souls. In obedience to the great commission, many will go forth to work for the Master. Under the ministration of angels, common men will be moved upon by the Spirit of God and led to warn people in the highways and byways. They are to be strengthened and encouraged and as fast as possible prepared for labor, that success may crown their efforts. They harmonize with unseen, heavenly instrumentalities. They are workers together with God, and their brethren should bid them Godspeed and pray for them as they labor in Christ’s name.

No one is authorized to hinder such workers. They should be treated with the greatest respect. No one should speak a taunting word to them, as in the rough places of the earth they sow the gospel seed.

Christ will be with these workers. The angels of heaven will respond to the self-sacrificing efforts put forth. By the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus will move upon hearts. God will work miracles in the conversion of sinners. The workers will be filled with joy as they see souls converted. Men and women will be gathered into church fellowship. … Their persevering prayers will bring souls to the cross. …

Brother---------, there should be many at work in the lines which in your judgment you call “irregular lines.” Do you think that your criticisms are the production of the Holy Spirit? … (pp. 12-14).

Ellen White could have had the Pacific Press or the Review and Herald publish her Steps to Christ. In fact, she had a non-Adventist publisher produce it in 1892.

But in these quotations, Ellen White is speaking of self-supporting evangelistic work among non-Adventists.

It was God’s plan that the 1888 message of Christ’s righteousness should go both to the church and to the world (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91-93; Selected Messages, Book One, pp. 234, 235). Revival, reformation, and repentance are essential to the church before the light of the fourth angel can shine clearly to the world at large.

Therefore a message of much more abounding grace which Ellen White declared to be the “beginning” of the latter rain must, in the providence of God, be brought to the church first. Such work is the purest soul-winning evangelism.

In the meantime, this message wins back church members who have become discouraged and wandered away, and also wins non-Adventists. The administrators of the church can rejoice at the new converts, reclaimed members, and increase of tithe returned to the church treasury as the result of a revival of the 1888 message.

Crisler quotes another letter which Ellen White wrote “to a General Conference leader” in 1901:

So often the same old difficulties arise and are presented in regard to disturbing the “regular lines.” … How many more years will it be before our brethren receive the clear, keen perception which calls evil evil and good good? When will men cease to depend upon the same routine which has left so much work undone, so many fields unworked? Is not the present presentation enough to make men see that a revival is necessary and a reformation essential? If not, it is useless for me to repeat the same things over and over again. … If we can get away from the regular lines into something which, though irregular, is after God’s order, it may cut away something of the irregular working which has led away from Bible principles.

God’s principles are the only safe principles for us to follow. Phariseeism was filled with regular lines, but so perverted were the principles of justice that God declared, “Judgment is turned away backward and equity can not enter; yea, truth faileth, and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.” How true these words have proved! …

It is as hard today to break away from the regular lines as it was in Christ’s day (pp. 15, 16).

Is it possible that the Holy Spirit has Himself moved upon the hearts of men and women and youth to support and proclaim the 1888 message of Christ’s righteousness?

We would not dare to say that it is impossible for the Holy Spirit to do so. Neither should anyone proudly or arrogantly claim that he is being led by the Holy Spirit. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” In the closing days of earth’s history, each child of God must walk humbly with the Lord, seeking His guidance at every step.

Clarence Crisler summarizes Ellen White’s counsel “in a letter addressed to the president of the General Conference in 1901,” saying:

The principle is set forth that when the appointed agencies in the church fail to do a work which must be done by some means, it is in harmony with the will of God that such work be undertaken by individuals impressed by the Holy Spirit to do this work (p. 16).

Principles are eternal. Applications of those principles depend on circumstances. For sure, we know that the Holy Spirit is very much alive today and that He is working through many agencies in order to bring revival, reformation, and repentance to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to prepare the church to enlighten the world.

It is incumbent on each member of the church to make certain he or she cooperates with the Holy Spirit, and does not oppose Him as did our leadership a hundred years ago. They were inclined to do so again at the time Ellen White at the beginning of this century penned her earnest appeals regarding the failure of “the regular lines.”

We must also take note of counsel that Clarence Crister said she gave against “rash moves and … independence of spirit” (p. 17). The Lord is not leading one or two only; He is leading a world church.

The work of “Elijah” for today will not be limited to one or two individuals striking out on their own without seeking counsel from other responsible workers. All who would work must counsel with those who have an intelligent understanding of what needs to be done. Never has it been more important that each one be distrustful of self, and seek earnestly again and again for counsel to know for sure what his or her duty is. “All ye are brethren,” the Lord says.

Is there a need for the 1888 message that outweighs the opposition to it?

The world itself is in a frightful condition. Any newspaper or newscast can remind us. The terrible problems that afflict Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, the Far East, India, the U. S. etc., are the result of a vast famine for hearing the word of the Lord, the pure gospel of Christ as “the third angel’s message in verity.”

Although there are many devoted men and women in its leadership and membership, the Roman Catholic Church is not presenting that pure message. Neither are the Protestant churches or the Evangelicals, sincere and consecrated as they may be.

Neither is the pre-1888 or non-1888 understanding of the “third angel’s message” clear enough to lighten the earth with the glory of the fourth angel of Revelation 18. We would be recreant to our duty, undeserving of the air we breathe by the grace of God, were we not to do our best to support the message that inspiration has designated as its “beginning.”

The Lord entrusted that message to Seventh-day Adventists over a century ago and “commanded” that it go to the world. Repentance, revival, and reformation within the church are our present need, in order that we may be prepared to sound the message clearly to the world itself. The proclamation of the gospel is always a constructive work, upbuilding, joyous, unifying, and healing in its influence.

The “27 Fundamental Beliefs” voted in a General Conference Session as our virtual “creed” say nothing about the 1888 message. They are neutral on the nature of Christ and “righteousness by faith in an end-time setting.” What place then has the 1888 message?

Some have earnestly contended that since the 1888 message is “highly controversial” and has never been accepted by the official leadership of the church, it should not be presented to the church or to the world.

It is of course very true, and openly acknowledged by present leadership, that the message was indeed not accepted by the official leadership of the church a century ago. We can add that at no time since has it been accepted. In particular, three of its most essential elements are now singled out as so “highly controversial” that silence on them is actually enjoined: (1) “The human nature of Christ;” (2) “the nature of sin;” and (3) “righteousness by faith in an end-time setting” (An Appeal for Unity, 1989, General Conference, p. 5).

Is nothing to be preached that is not articulated in the “27 Fundamental Beliefs”? The “27” say not a word about prayer; should we therefore not preach about it?

It may be said that to preach about prayer is permissible even though it is not one of the 27 articles, because it is not “controversial,” and Ellen White does support it in her Steps to Christ chapter, “The Privilege of Prayer.” But Ellen White possibly says more about the 1888 message (1812 pages) than she does about prayer! She says that God “commanded” expressly that the 1888 message should be “given to the world” (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 92).

Experience for some years indicates that when the authentic 1888 message is permitted to be presented, “controversy” becomes virtually nil. A sober, solemn realization that the message is Bible truth pervades congregations who come to hear and who see the message on the screen. It dispels opposition.

But even if at rare times some wish to counter the message with controversy, we are told that in God’s providence this should not be taken as an excuse to silence the message. Speaking directly in context about the 1888 message, Ellen White says:

The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God’s people should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. There is reason to fear that they may not be clearly discriminating between truth and error. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men [and women] to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what. …

Our brethren should be willing to investigate in a candid way every point of controversy. … We should never permit the spirit to be manifested that arraigned the priests and rulers against the Redeemer of the world. They complained that He disturbed the people, and they wished He would let them alone; for He caused perplexity and dissension (Gospel Workers, pp. 298-302).

The brethren of the General Conference and the Review of a century ago rejected the message because they thought it was not included in what they assumed were their “fundamental beliefs.” Ellen White rebuked them, declaring that the 1888 message “is the third angel’s message in verity” (Review and Herald, April 1, 1890). If that message is what she said it was, “the beginning” of the loud cry of Revelation 18, it follows logically that it is still today the “27 Fundamental Beliefs” in verity.

Why do you believe that the Seventhly Adventist Church will never become Babylon?

The Seventh-day Adventist Church will overcome, will repent, will refuse to accept the mark of the beast, because the honor and vindication of Christ require that His “body” respond to Him. And Revelation says that “His Bride” must make “herself ready” for it to be true that the “marriage of the Lamb is come” (ch. 19:6, 7).

It is true that in all past history God’s organized people have often failed. The Jews were cast off, and the Christian church through history has gone into apostasy, and this church at present faces serious problems. But that does not “guarantee” that she will fail in the end.

The ultimate issue is not the salvation of our own little souls, but the honor and vindication of the Son of God, who gave His blood to save the church. He did not die in vain; He will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

That does not mean that everyone in the church or its leadership will automatically overcome; there will be a great shaking, and judgments will come. Where we may see only floors of rich grain, the judgment will reveal there is only chaff (Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 81). But there will be some good grain!

There is abundant evidence in Scripture and in Ellen White’s writings that those who are at last shaken out of the church will be the disloyal ones. Inspired evidence does not indicate that the loyal ones will be shaken out (cf. Isaiah 17:6, 7).

What makes the difference is the cleansing of the sanctuary—something that has never happened in all previous history. This includes imparting to God’s people a new motivation never fully embraced by His corporate church in previous history—a concern for Christ as a bride feels a concern for her bridegroom. This will not be a mere concern for self.

It is very true that without that refreshingly different motivation, it will be impossible for her to overcome, or for any corporate body to overcome. Hence, the need for a “final atonement,” a final reconciliation with Christ; and this involves the 1888 message of Christ’s righteousness. Otherwise that truly Christ-centered motivation can never prevail. Mere concern for personal security will never prepare a people to meet the test of the mark of the beast.

How can our present leadership repent for something done over 100 years ago by the then leaders?

We must remember that repentance is a gift which the Lord gives, not something we can initiate ourselves (Acts 5:31). Our Lord calls to “the angel of the church of the Laodiceans” to repent (Revelation 3:19). Surely when we have faith His biddings become enablings. Thus there has to be a way in which His call can be responded to.

Since repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit, we must leave Him to bring the experience to His people in His own way. What is important is that we get out of His way and let Him impart the gift. The widespread doubt that He will give the gift is hindering Him.

The basic heart of God’s people is honest; when they know the truth, they will respond. The publication of the four volumes of The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials is a step in the right direction. At last she is permitted to speak without let or hindrance. Further, the frank acknowledgements of the truth of the 1888 history in Dr. Robert Olson’s article in the February 1988 Ministry is the first time in decades that this has been openly and frankly published. The Lord will begin to work. We are indeed facing the final events in the great controversy.

Is it possible that sinful human beings like ourselves can have a part in vindicating Christ in die final crisis?

“We” can bring dishonor upon Him:

Reveal Christ as He is. … O how His glory is dimmed by His professed followers because they are earthly-minded, disobedient, unthankful, and unholy! How shamefully is the Lord Jesus kept in the background! How is His mercy, His forbearance, His long-suffering, and His matchless love veiled, and His honor beclouded by the perversity of His followers! (That I May Know Him, p. 345).

If God’s people can bring dishonor upon Him, would it not follow that by receiving His gift of repentance, they can bring honor upon Him?

Then the end will come. God will vindicate His law [not only has vindicated it] and deliver His people. … When the great controversy shall be ended … the plan of redemption having been completed, the character of God is revealed to all created intelligences. … Then the extermination of sin will vindicate God’s love and establish His honor before a universe of beings (The Desire of Ages, pp. 763, 764).

Although the cross did indeed “vindicate” God’s law and reveal His character, that vindication and revelation will not be complete until the end of the controversy.

The Bible makes clear that in the end, God’s people will share with Christ the privilege of defeating Satan in the great controversy:

… They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony … (Revelation 12:11).

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11, 12, NIV).

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:10, NIV).

How can the church do this?

There is an answer:

The church being endowed with the righteousness of Christ is His depository, in which the wealth of His mercy, His love, His grace, is to appear in full and final display. … In their untainted purity and spotless perfection Christ looks upon His people as the reward of all His sufferings, His humiliation, and His love, and the supplement of His glory (General Conference Bulletin, 1893, p. 409).

The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, the final and full display of the love of God (Youth’s Instructor, July 13, 1893).

Although the cross was a perfect “display of the love of God,” yet something further is needed before that “display” is “final and full.” Although it was complete at the cross, according to 1 John 4:12, in some important way His love is also to be “perfected in us.”

The Lord has sent to our world a message of warning, even the three angels’ messages. All heaven is waiting to hear us vindicate God’s law, declaring it to be holy, just, and good. Where are those who will do this work? (Review and Herald, April 16, 1901).

What does it mean to “vindicate the law”?

“This character Christ represented by living that law, thus vindicating it” (Review and Herald, January 23, 1900). His people also have an important role to fill. God’s people are not like ants on a log floating down a river with nothing to do but passively ride along. God honors them with responsibility:

The Saviour came to glorify the Father by the demonstration of His love; so the Spirit was to glorify Christ by revealing His grace to the world. The very image of Christ is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people (The Desire of Ages, p. 671).

Satan stands by to taunt Christ and His angels with insults, saying, “I have them! I have them! I have prepared my deception for them. Your blood is worthless here. Your intercessions and power and wonderful works may as well cease; I have them! They are mine!” (Testimonies, Vol. 2, p. 143).

Note that Satan specifically charges that the sacrifice of Christ is “worthless” so long as God’s people fail to demonstrate its efficacy. “To disprove Satan’s claim is the work of Christ and of all who bear His name” (Education, p. 154). “If they [God’s people] … should prove unworthy, and lose their lives because of their own defects of character, then God’s holy name would be reproached” (The Great Controversy, p. 619).

“The reproach of His disciple’s sin is cast upon Christ. It causes Satan to triumph” (Ibid., p. 811). “Our Lord is put to shame by those who claim to serve Him, but who misrepresent His character” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 438, 439). If they can “reproach His name,” can they not also vindicate His name?

Suppose that all of God’s people should fail in the final crisis. Would this cause Satan to “triumph”?

“The church, in His name, is to carry to glorious perfection the work which He has commenced” (Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p. 1146).

The Lord Jesus Christ came to dispute the usurpation of Satan in the kingdom of this world. The conflict is not yet ended; and as we draw near the close of time, the battle waxes more intense … Christ will be represented in the person of those who accept the truth, and who identify their interest with that of their Lord [as a Bride for her husband] (Ibid., pp. 1105, 1106; emphasis added; see also Signs of the Times, September 7, 1891).

Before the ship reaches its safe harbor we can be sure that fearful storms will buffet her. But the Captain is in charge. He will not entrust His vessel to those who would only destroy her. The News from heaven is Good.

Read the Appendix—Selections from the Ellen G. White 1888 Materials

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