It is true that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has delayed the proclamation to the world of the everlasting gospel in its purity.1 We all share in the responsibility for this failure. There is a corporate involvement. Ellen White often likened our failures to those of Israel of old when each generation shared in the guilt of their fathers because they not only shared the same fallen human nature but exercised the same unbelief.2 There are many tragic evidences of our backsliding, disobedience to the Spirit of Prophecy, and even apostasy. Our history for the past century since 1888 is clear.
Does this mean that the Lord has rejected this church or its leadership? Or if He has not already done so, will He do so in future? Is the denominated Seventh-day Adventist Church doomed to failure?
When those who choose to follow Christ protest against what they believe is apostasy or wrong- doing in the church and find themselves opposed, should they conclude that the situation is hopeless? Should they withdraw their support and their church membership?
We are told in Acts of the Apostles, page 11, that “faithful souls” have always constituted the true church. Will there be a new group or loose federation formed of “faithful souls” who will complete the gospel commission and leave the organized Seventh-day Adventist Church behind to dissipate its existence in terminal apostasy?
If we liken the church to a ship, is it doomed to sink like the Titanic? Or will it be taken over by a mutinous crew? Should “faithful souls” abandon the ship and jump into the cold water on their own? Will there be no “ship” in the last days, every former passenger individually swimming or clinging to bits of wreckage? Or will every passenger become a crew member and under the leadership of Christ as Captain sail a tight ship into port?
Ellen White likened the Seventh-day Adventist Church to a “noble ship which bears the people of God,” and declared that it would sail “safely into port.”3 What is the true church? Is the organized church still the fulfillment of the Revelation 12 prophecy of “the remnant of [the woman’s] seed, which keep the commandments of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (vs. 17)? Or is the true “remnant” merely a non-cohesive, unorganized, nongroup scattering of “faithful souls”? These questions probe into the reasons for our existence as a people for nearly 150 years.
No intelligent person would dare say that a nominal connection with the organized church can guarantee an individual’s personal salvation. Of course not. That’s not the issue. The important question is whether church membership and supporting the church are valid duties which the Lord requires of “faithful souls.” What is “the mind of Christ” toward the Seventh-day Adventist Church? If we can determine the answer to that question, we can know what our “mind” toward it should be.
There are guidelines in Scripture that are helpful, as well as numerous Ellen White statements:
(1) God’s intention has always been that His people on earth be an organized, denominated, visible “family.” The reason is that they might be His witnesses, His soulwinning agents in the world. Abraham’s “seed was” the ancient equivalent of the church. The Lord said to him, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed … Unto thy seed will I give this land.” “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations … and to thy seed after thee. My covenant will I establish with Isaac” (Gen. 12:3, 7; 17:7, 21).
(2) God has never changed that covenant and He cannot change it. Through all the centuries of ancient Israel’s and Judah’s apostasies, the Lord remained faithful to His promise. In the days of Elijah and the apostate king Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel, Israel was still Israel. At the nadir of Judah’s history in Jeremiah’s day when the Lord gave them up to be taken captive to Babylon, they were still the Lord’s denominated people. They never became Babylon, although they were in captivity in Babylon. Only those who refused to come back at the end of the Captivity lost their place in history. The covenant still extended to those who retained their denominated identity, and through them the Messiah finally came.
(3) This is not to say that fleshly descent from Abraham made any individual to be an heir of the covenant. Always it was “in Isaac [that] thy seed shall be called.” “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Rom. 9:7; Gal. 3:7). The true Israel were always those who had the faith of Abraham. But they were always to be a denominated, identifiable people, according to God’s plan, so they could function efficiently to evangelize the world. Even Naaman’s wife’s servant girl preserved that loyal relationship in her slavery and won souls.4
(4) The early Christian church of the apostles was not an appendage or an offshoot from Israel. It was the true Israel. This was because its members cherished the faith of Abraham5 From its very beginning when Jesus called the first disciples, His church was an organized, denominated body.6 Through the years of His earthly ministry it was tightly organized with Him as its Head.
The New Testament indicates that in apostolic times the church was also highly organized and denominated, with apostles, elders, evangelists, teachers, deacons, deaconesses and others with various gifts all functioning in disciplined inter-relationship under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.7 When Saul of Tarsus was converted, the Lord brought him into immediate fellowship with His organized church.8 “Faithful souls” indeed constituted the early church, but that church was by no means disorganized. There are numerous examples of its tight discipline. When used to imply that the organized church cannot be the true one, the AA 11 statement about “faithful souls” has been wrested from its context.
(5) The records of God’s care over “the woman [who] fled into the wilderness … a thousand two hundred and threescore days” indicate that again this persecuted church during medieval times followed New Testament patterns of organization and discipline.9 True believers always functioned as a body, although the precise details of the methods of organization varied.
(6) In the early days of Seventh-day Adventists, battles were fought over organization, with fanatical anarchists rebelling against proper discipline within the body.10 The Holy Spirit set His unmistakable seal of approval on the need for order. Our pioneers saw the denominated Seventh-day Adventist Church in its organized state as the fulfillment of Revelation 12:17 and 14:12. They saw it as divinely appointed to function efficiently to proclaim the message to the world and prepare a people for the coming of the Lord.11
Any movement that the Holy Spirit leads must be organized and disciplined, because “God is not the author of confusion.”12 The century-long establishment of the world Seventh-day Adventist Church among so many diverse cultures is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no other worldwide movement or body of believers that can even remotely be identified as the fulfillment of Revelation 14:6-12. Ellen White never doubted our historical identification.13
Here is a body already in existence superbly crafted by the Lord to accomplish the task of proclaiming “the everlasting gospel.” No offshoot or independent movement can possibly grow within anyone’s lifetime to become such a potentially efficient soul-winning instrument. True Seventh-day Adventists are more concerned for the honor and vindication of Christ than for their own personal reward. They think primarily in terms of accomplishing His gospel commission for the world rather than their own security. For them, self-love has given way to an experience of being crucified with Christ. They are “under grace,” a new motivation imposed by an appreciation of His sacrifice, rather than “under law,” their former motivation of spiritual self-concern.
They endure the same test that Moses endured. When God proposed to abandon His organized people Israel and prosper Moses as the leader of their off-shoot successors, Moses chose to have his name blotted out of the book of life rather than see God’s honor thus compromised.14 The “shaking” in the last days will separate from God’s people all whose deep heart-motivation is mere concern for their own security.
(7) An “under law” motivation of self-concern comes from a failure to appreciate righteousness by faith. It has poisoned the application of our principles of church organization. James and Ellen White pleaded for recognizing Christ as the true Leader of the church:
At no time during His public ministry does Christ intimate that any one of His disciples should be designated as their leader … And there is no intimation that the apostles of Christ designated one of their number above another as their leader … Christ, then, is the leader of His people in all the ages … Christ will lead His people, if they will be led (James White, RH December 1, 1874).
It was not the design of God that any system of organization should exist in the Christian Church that would take the leadership from Christ.
The minister who throws himself on any Conference Committee for direction, takes himself out of the hands of Christ. May God preserve to us our organization and form of church discipline in its original form (ibid., January 4, 1881).
But recognizing Christ as the Head of the church, directing its organization, requires heart-submission to Him; this becomes impossible when the gospel of righteousness by faith is not clearly understood. The “under law” motivation supplants the “under grace” motivation, and leaders and people suffer. “Kingly power” is exercised, and ministers and people learn to look to fallible human beings for leadership, following their dictates and praising them. A subtle Baal- worship caters to the love of self while professing devotion to Christ. (The common practice of conference employees designating their president “the chief” is an example of a direct violation of Christ’s counsel in Matthew 20:25-28). The “under law” motivation may so deeply permeate the church that sincere people think it almost impossible to conceive of any other kind of effective leadership.15
(8) An important truth that will help us understand the mind of Christ toward the Seventh-day Adventist Church is our 1888 history. In spite of decades of lukewarmness within it, the Lord sent the “beginning” of the final latter rain through delegates to a General Conference session. He honored this people with the “revelation of the righteousness of Christ” in this “most precious message” destined to lighten the earth with glory.
(9) The 1901 re-organization was intended to bring revival and reformation and a return to the leadership of Christ working through those who believe His word, “All ye are brethren.” But the spiritual renewal did not take place. It was only a dream, a “what might have been.” The 1888 pattern of unbelief was not reversed.16
The 1903 General Conference session was seen by some as a backward step. Jones’ and Waggoner’s attitude toward the revised constitution was considered in chapter 10 of this book. A few others joined them in their convictions:
Any man who has ever read those histories [Neander, Mosheim] can come to no other conclusion but that the principles which are to be brought in through this proposed constitution  … are the same principles, and introduced in precisely the same way, as they were hundreds of years ago when the Papacy was made. … The moment you vote it you vote yourselves right back where we were two years ago and before it (P. T. Magan, GCB 1903, p. 150).
Brethren, the thing to do is to go back where we were two years ago in the matter of reorganization, and take it up, and carry it out, and give it a fair trial, because those who have been in responsible places have admitted that they did not carry out the letter of that, because they did not believe that it was possible. I believe that it is possible (E. A. Sutherland, ibid., pp. 168, 169).
(10) If she believed that the 1903 revision was a mistake, Ellen White did not publicly oppose it, although some of her later remarks may be construed as disapproval. But the important fact to note is that she did not withdraw her support from the organized church following 1903, but remained true and loyal until her death in 1915. This was despite the fact that she was deeply disappointed with the spiritual results of the 1901 session.17 The Lord continued through all those years to honor this church with the ministry of His messenger.
The solution to our problem does not consist in destroying or changing the mechanical system of our constitutional organization, but in finding repentance and reconciliation with Christ within it. All is futile unless the axe is laid to the root of the tree. Weaknesses or errors in organization will be rectified almost overnight when the Holy Spirit succeeds in leading us to repentance.
(11) Literally millions of people can testify that the only agency which led them to a knowledge of the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14 is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, despite its failures. The best hope for an ultimately successful proclamation of the last message to the world is a repentant Seventh-day Adventist Church that not only proclaims the message with crystal clarity but demonstrates without question that it works. This was Ellen White’s conviction; in the midst of the 1888-era unbelief, she had hope for reformation:
God is at the head of the work, and He will set everything in order. If matters need adjusting at the head of the work, God will attend to that, and work to right every wrong … God is going to carry the noble ship which bears the people of God safely into port (2SM 390; 1892).
Although there are evils existing in the church and will be until the end of the world, the church in these last days is to be the light of the world that is polluted and demoralized by sin. The church, enfeebled and defective, needing to be reproved, warned, and counseled, is the only object upon earth upon which Christ bestows His supreme regard. … Let all be careful not to make an outcry against the only people who are fulfilling the description given of the remnant people who keep the commandments of God and have faith in Jesus, who are exalting the standard of righteousness in these last days. God has a distinct people, a church on earth, second to none, but superior to all in their facilities to teach the truth, to vindicate the laws of God. … Let all unite with these chosen agents (TM 49, 57, 58; 1893).
When anyone is drawing apart from the organized body of God’s commandment-keeping people, when he begins to weigh the church in his human scales and begins to pronounce judgment against them, then you may know that God is not leading him (3 SM 18; 1893).
Victory will attend the third angel’s message. As the Captain of the Lord’s host tore down the walls of Jericho, so will the Lord’s commandment-keeping people triumph, and all opposing elements be defeated (TM 410; 1898).
I was never more astonished in my life than at the turn things have taken at this meeting [the 1901 session]. This is not our work. God has brought it about. … I want every one of you to remember this, and I want you to remember also that God has said that He will heal the wounds of His people (GCB 1901, pp. 463,464).
Whether or not those “wounds” were healed in 1901 and thereafter, we can be heartened by the assurance that “He will heal” them. After 1901 and 1903 Ellen White made some of the strongest statements of her lifetime identifying this organized church as the true one, and giving assurance of its ultimate success in ministry when repentance permeates the body:
We cannot now step off the foundation that God has established. We cannot now enter into any new organization; for this would mean apostasy from the truth (Ms. 129,1905).
I am instructed to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over, God has called us as a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time (2 SM 397; 1908).
The fear of God, the sense of His goodness, will circulate through every [Seventh-day Adventist] institution. An atmosphere of peace will pervade every department. Every word spoken, every work performed, will have an influence that corresponds to the influence of heaven … Then the work will move forward with solidity and double strength. A new efficiency will be imparted to the workers in every line. … The earth will be lightened with the glory of God, and it will be ours to witness the soon coming, in power and glory, of our Lord and Saviour (MM 184,185; 1902).
I am encouraged and blessed as I realize that the God of Israel is still guiding His people and that He will continue to be with them, even to the end (remarks to 1913 General Conference session; LS 437, 438).
She clearly defined “God’s people” as “this denomination.” W. C. White wrote as follows a few weeks before her death:
I told [Mrs. Lida Scott] how Mother regarded the experience of the remnant church, and of her positive teaching that God would not permit this denomination to so fully apostatize that there would be the coming out of another church (Letter, May 23,1915).
A hospital is a place where sick people can be given medical care in order to restore them to health. The patient’s life is of supreme importance. The church which is to become the Bride of Christ is sick; she needs healing. Loyalty to Christ will require loyalty to His Bride-to-be, an all-out cooperation to secure her healing.
We who have served as missionaries in Africa have seen how loyalty to Christ (or lack of it) operates in human hearts. “Rice-Christian” employees unconsciously demonstrate their true spirit by speaking of the church as “you” or “they.” They couldn’t care less for its honor or prosperity. But true believers in Christ manifest a corporate oneness with the church, speaking of it instinctively as “we.” They are more concerned for its honor as representing Christ than for their own personal reward.
(12) What is the significance of God’s promises being conditional? Should we take a wait-and-see attitude and withhold our loyalty and support until we have evidence that the church has fulfilled the conditions? The following statement emphasizes the conditions:
We are far from where we should have been had our Christian experience been in harmony with the light and the opportunities given us … Had we walked in the light that has been given us, … our path would have grown brighter and brighter . …
In the balances of the sanctuary the Seventh-day Adventist church is to be weighed. She will be judged by the privileges and advantages that she has had. … If the blessings conferred have not qualified her to do the work entrusted to her, on her will be pronounced the sentence, “Found wanting.” (8T 247).
All of God’s promises to ancient Israel were no less conditional. Generation after generation was “found wanting” and died as failures. The history of Kadesh-Barnea was repeated many times, when an entire generation except two individuals had to perish in the wilderness. Nevertheless, the covenant-keeping God remained loyal to Israel when she was disloyal to Him. He always tried again with a new generation. Never did He ordain another people to take the place of “Abraham’s seed.”
Because ancient Israel failed repeatedly as has the church in modern times does not mean necessarily that the of backsliding and apostasy will continue forever. The failures of God’s corporate people have always involved the heavenly sanctuary in defilement; Satan has had occasion to taunt God with responsibility for the failure of His people.
The foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a belief in the good news of Daniel 8:14, “Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Then shall this constant cloud of failure which has hovered over God’s Israel be lifted; then shall God’s name be cleared as His people demonstrate His plan of salvation to be a success; then shall the sacrifice of Christ be vindicated. A cynical attitude which says, “Suppose the church fails and the conditions are not met” is the same as saying, “Suppose the sanctuary will not be cleansed.” The honor of God requires that it shall be cleansed!
This is the ultimate issue in the great controversy. We have the privilege of standing in absolute loyalty to Christ and to His Bride-to-be.
The testimony quoted above is entitled “Shall We Be Found Wanting?” Ellen White answered her own question as she closed the chapter:
When purification shall take place in our ranks, we shall no longer rest at ease. …Unless the church, which is now being leavened with her own backsliding, shall repent and be converted, she will eat of the fruit of her own doing, until she shall abhor herself. When she resists the evil and chooses the good, when she seeks God with all humility, and reaches her high calling in Christ, standing on the platform of eternal truth, … she will be healed. She will appear in her God-given simplicity and purity, separate from earthly entanglements, showing that the truth has made her free indeed. Then her members will indeed be the chosen of God, His representatives.
The time has come for a thorough reformation to take place. When this reformation begins, the spirit of prayer will actuate every believer, and will banish from the church the spirit of discord and strife. … There will be no confusion, because all will be in harmony with the mind of the Spirit. … All will pray understandingly the prayer that Christ taught His servants: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (ibid., pp. 250, 251).
Our duty now is to remove the hindrances within the church that have prevented that “thorough reformation to take place,” and to learn to pray the Lord’s prayer.