I need to share with you about something which I do not want to address, but which I must address. It concerns something that snared the children of Israel just before they entered the Promised Land. The Bible says, “And these happened to them for examples, and it is written for our warnings, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” 1 Corinthians 10:11. These things happened to them as types of things that would happen again at the end of the world.
One of the things that brought them to the position of committing fornication with the daughters of Moab was that they were “allured by the beauty of heathen vestals.” Their consciences were defiled by lewdness. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, 454.)
Defiled by Lewdness
I am going to go directly, very pointedly, to the subject at hand. The consciences of the children of Israel were defiled by lewdness—they were allured by the beauty of these heathen vessels. What was going on? After Adam and Eve had sinned, the Bible says, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” Genesis 3:7. The Hebrew word used in this text for coverings, kahgoroth, means a loin covering. Loin coverings are still being made, and people are still wearing them. Just go anyplace where people are sunbathing or swimming and you will see men and women clothed in the loin covering.
When God came to the Garden, did Adam tell God that he was clothed, or did he tell God that he was naked? He was wearing the fig leaves, but what did he tell God? He said he was naked. Even he knew it. We live in the blindest generation. Let me put it very, very simply. People think when the Bible uses the word naked it means someone is not wearing any clothes. It does not mean that at all. In the Bible, a person was called naked if they did not have on sufficient clothing. Adam had the fig leaves on, but he knew that he was naked. God also knew he was naked. The Bible says that God clothed them. If God clothed them, it means they were naked before that.
Another literal definition of the Hebrew word kahgoroth is a belt. That is what Adam and Eve made, they made little belts. Such belts are still being made today. They are called mini-skirts. Those are the two most literal definitions of this Hebrew word. It is also translated as girdle or apron. Neither one of those would make you think you were fully dressed, would they?
An Outer Garment
In Bible times both men and women, before they went out in public, put on an outer garment, and that garment covered them from their shoulders to almost their ankles. If they did not have on this garment, they were called naked. When Isaiah 20 speaks of Isaiah walking about barefoot and naked among God’s people for three years, he was not talking about the prophet going about without any clothing. No, God never asked any prophet to do something obscene such as that. But Isaiah did not wear the outer tunic, and that was a sign that the children of Israel would be similarly dressed as they entered into captivity.
In John 21, when Peter was fishing about 300 feet from shore with the other disciples after the resurrection, Jesus appeared on the shore, and it says that Peter put on his outer garment and cast himself into the sea, because he was naked. (Verse 7.) That does not mean that he was fishing all night without any clothes on but that he did not have on his outer garment. He was not afraid for the Lord to see him with his clothing wet, because he swam in, but he did not want the Lord to see him without his outer garment on, being naked.
We need to understand what the Bible says about the subject of modesty. The next time you study Exodus 20, notice very carefully what it says in the last verse. And in Revelation an account of the seven last plagues is given, and right in the middle of the discussion the Creator of the universe issues a warning, a call to all of the peoples of this world, and He says, “I am coming like a thief. Watch and keep your garments lest you walk naked and they see your shame.” Revelation 16:15. If you understand what the word naked means in the Bible, you will realize that we have congregations full of naked people every Sabbath, according to the Bible definition; we have people coming into our churches everywhere, naked. But we do not understand what it means. We are so blind; we think it means you do not have on any clothes. That is not what the Bible is talking about. In the Bible, anyone who is clothed immodestly is called naked.
Sometimes we fall on our face before the Lord, and we ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon us, like Joshua, after the Israelites were defeated at Ai. Joshua fell on his face, and he said, “Lord, if you do not go with us, we cannot do anything.” The Lord said, “Get up, and go clean up the camp!” (See Joshua 7:6–15.) Friends, we need to get on our knees and ask the Lord to help us clean up our camp. God is not going to pour out the latter rain upon a naked people. God did not accept the fig leaves in Adam’s day—and those fig leaves were probably more modest than some of the fig leaves people wear today. He is not going to accept a kahgoroth now, because God does not change. This is one of the things that brought Israel into terrible apostasy. Ask the Lord to deliver you from the curse of nakedness that is afflicting professed Christians all over the world, especially in the western countries.
“All along through the ages there are strewn wrecks of character that have been stranded upon the rocks of sensual indulgence. As we approach the close of time, as the people of God stand upon the borders of the heavenly Canaan, Satan will, as of old, redouble his efforts to prevent them from entering the goodly land. He lays his snares for every soul.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 457.
The Bible says, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away. So also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Matthew 24:37–39.
I used to read those verses and I would ask myself the question, What is Jesus talking about? Even as a boy I had gone to many weddings in Seventh-day Adventist churches, conducted by Seventh-day Adventist ministers. We ate every day, and we drank water and other healthful beverages every day. But what is the problem with the things that Jesus mentioned there? Ellen White comments on these verses in Matthew: “Very plainly Christ saw what the condition of society would be in the future. He saw that selfindulgence would control men and women. What of the marriage relation today? Is it not perverted and defiled, made even as it was in Noah’s day? Divorce after divorce is recorded in the daily papers. This is the marriage of which Christ speaks when He says that before the flood they were ‘marrying and giving in marriage.’ “Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, 56.
“As it was in the days of Noah, every kind of evil is on the increase. Divorce and marriage is the order of the time.” Ibid., vol. 10, 261.
Marriage after Divorce
What we are studying is very sensitive material. With this subject, it is possible that people will get wrong impressions, and there are ditches on both sides of the road. We need to study this completely. We must be clear about what the Bible teaches, or we can go into the ditch on one side or the ditch on the other side. We can become part of Babylon, or we can become part of the Pharisees. The Bible says, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, like this it shall be in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage until that day Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:26, 27.
After Ellen White quoted the verses from Matthew 24:37–39, she said, “How true a description this is of the condition of the world today. The daily papers are full of notices of divorce and marriage after divorce —the marriage condemned in the words of the Saviour.” Letter 153,1901 (unpublished). What was Jesus talking about in Matthew 24? Jesus was talking about marriage after divorce! Ellen White wrote to the general conference president and said: “We must, as a people, arouse and cleanse the camp of Israel. Licentiousness, unlawful intimacy,and unholy practices are coming in among us in a large degree; and ministers who are handling sacred things are guilty of sin in this respect. They are coveting their neighbors’ wives, and the seventh commandment is broken. We are in danger of becoming a sister to fallen Babylon, of allowing our churches to become corrupted, and filled with every foul spirit, a cage for every unclean and hateful bird; and will we be clear unless we make decided movements to cure the existing evil?” Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, 380.
So, you can be a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, even if you get divorced and remarried three, four, or five times. That is what Jesus was talking about happening in the last days, just like it happened in the days just before the flood. Ellen White says if we do not do something about this, if we just let it go and do not do anything about it, we will become a sister of Babylon. Do you want to become part of Babylon? Do you want your church to become part of Babylon?
She says, “The Lord is soon to come; there must be a refining, winnowing process in every church, for there are among us wicked men who do not love the truth. . . . Will the church arise and put on her beautiful garments?” Review and Herald, March 19, 1895.
She also said, “When God works so wondrously, man, the human agent, should become intelligent in regard to the machinery of his body, that this temple of God shall not be misused, and become the habitation of devils, the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, 364, 365.
“Today the nominal churches are full of every foul spirit, the cage of every unclean and hateful bird. The work is becoming confusing because the converted and the unconverted have united in them.” Ibid., vol. 20, 252. Ellen White said to the general conference president, If we do not do something about this, we are going to become a sister of fallen Babylon. Babylon is a system that allows for the full development of sensuality, while at the same time condemning it.
If you read the public notices, the Pope is against divorce. The Catholic Church is against fornication, and they have lots of publications against it. They are against adultery. If you go to almost any Babylonian church, they will tell you that they are against divorce, fornication, and
adultery, but they allow it, just the same. You can be a member while doing all those things. Yes, they have a little trouble once in awhile. Somebody in the choir goes to bed with the organist, and then they have a little upheaval in the church. Things have to be ironed out, and there may be a switch with some people going to a church on the other side of town. Things like that happen all of the time. That is what happens in Babylon. And friends, I am sorry to tell you that it has come into Adventism, even into historic Adventism.
There are people throughout Adventism who are unscripturally married. There are two ways that a person can be unscripturally married. One is if a Christian decides to marry a non-Christian. That is forbidden in the Bible. (See Deuteronomy 7:1–4; 2 Corinthians 6:14.) It is forbidden for a person who is in the faith to marry a person who is not in the faith.
Another example of an unscriptural marriage is a person whose wife or husband did not commit adultery against them, but they divorced and remarried someone else. (See Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18.) That practice is the very essence of Babylon. There is a reason why, in the Scriptures, Babylon is referred to over and over and over again as a harlot, and that she commits fornication, because she administers the communicants committing fornication. She administers the whole process.
The Church Debates
When I was a young minister, Adventism was in the process of making the changes that have come to pass now. We used to have debates about whether you should be able to divorce your spouse when there is no adultery and go and marry someone else and stay in the church with nothing happening. This was a big debate when I was a young minister. Vehement arguments would occur in these debates. One time this debate came up among a group of seminary students in the Andrews University Field School of Evangelism. The teacher said, “We have studied that, but Romans 7 still says the same thing.”
We, as Seventh-day Adventists, used to believe and use Romans 7 as one of our proof texts that such things should not be allowed. “Do not be ignorant, brothers, for we know the law says that the law is lord over a man as long as he is alive. For the woman having a living husband, is bound by the law to that husband. But if the husband is dead, she is released from the law of the husband. Therefore, then, if the husband is alive, she shall be called an adulterous if she be [married] to another man. But if the husband is dead, she is free from the law so that she shall not be called an adulterous if she be [married] to another man.” Romans 7:1–3.
God’s Moral Standard
After the teacher read this text, there was still some arguing, but there was not much to say. The Scripture says, this is the way that it is. Ellen White says the same thing. She wrote to a physician one time, “Your ideas in regard to the marriage relation have been erroneous. Nothing but the violation of the marriage bed can either break or annul the marriage vow. . . . “Men are not at liberty to make a standard of law for themselves, to avoid God’s law and please their own inclination. They must come to God’s great moral standard of righteousness. . . . God gave only one cause why a wife should leave her husband, or the husband leave his wife, which was adultery. Let this ground be prayerfully considered.” “A woman may be legally divorced from her husband by the laws of the land and yet not divorced in the sight of God and according to the higher law. There is only one sin, which is adultery, which can place the husband or wife in a position where they can be free from the marriage vow in the sight of God. Although the laws of the land may grant a divorce, yet they are husband and wife still in the Bible light, according to the Laws of God.” The Adventist Home, 341, 342, 344.
This is a problem that the church has been wrestling with for a long time. The Catholic Church has also been wrestling with it for a long time. The conclusion is, if your spouse has not committed adultery against you and you divorce, or your spouse divorces, and you marry somebody else, you are committing adultery. Our ministers thought that through, and they said, “All right, that means that you are living in sin for the rest of your life.” So, there were many Adventists that came to the conclusion that these unscriptural marriages should be broken up, because these people are living in sin. They said that anybody who stayed in such a marriage, since he was constantly living in sin, should not be allowed to be a member of the church, let alone a teacher or a pastor, unless they separated.
Over a period of several decades, this literal understanding was relaxed a little bit so that by the time I was a young man, growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a person who was unscripturally married was allowed to be a member of the church but was forbidden to be a pastor, minister, or leader in the church. I remember one of the first times I saw this happen in the church of which I was a member. A man, who was a leader in the church, left his wife and children and married another woman. He faced the potential of being disfellowshipped. So he moved to another state, was rebaptized, and became a leader in that church. Have you ever heard of that happening? That is the way it was in the 1950s or 1960s. By the time the 1980s arrived, instead of moving to another state, a person in such a situation just went to another church 20 to 30 miles away and started over again. Soon they were again teaching a Sabbath School class and taking up church leadership.
There has been an internal fight going on in the Adventist Church over what to do about these situations, because we have had the same thing develop in Adventism that happened with the Hebrew people just before they entered Canaan. This problem has gotten worse and worse. There are churches that say they have no one in the church that can meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 to hold the office of an elder or a deacon.
Approaching the Problem
How should the problem of unscripturally married individuals holding church office be approached? There are two common ways of dealing with this problem. One is that you talk against it, say you are against it, but let it happen. You allow the people to stay in the church as teachers and leaders, even ministers. That is what happens in Babylon, and Ellen White told the general conference president that, if we did not step up and do something, we would become a sister of Babylon.
The other way Seventh-day Adventists have approached this issue is to become very strict. Some, in Ellen White’s day, decided they were going to break up some of these unscriptural marriages so that these people quit living in sin. They became so strict in enforcing their ideas, that Ellen White accused them of becoming like the Pharisees. As you read the context, you see that she is talking about people who have been involved in sexual sins and unscriptural marriages. She said, “I am more pained than I can express to see so little aptitude and skill to save souls that are ensnared by Satan. I see such a cold Phariseeism, holding off at arm’s length the one who has been deluded by the adversary of souls, and then I think: What if Jesus treated us in this way? Is this spirit to grow among us? If so, my brethren must excuse me; I cannot labor with them. I will not be a party to this kind of labor.” Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, 242. That is a very strong statement in regard to what the church was doing.
The question that I suppose we have never yet answered in Adventism is this: Can we avoid becoming a sister of Babylon and at the same time avoid becoming Pharisees? You see, there is a ditch on both sides of the road. In my opinion, we have not succeeded yet. But when Jesus comes, would you want to be found a Pharisee even if you were not in Babylon? [All emphasis supplied. Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]