There are people who do not believe in corporate accountability, or corporate responsibility, or corporate sin; and they believe it is all individual and not corporate. A book that investigates the beliefs of William Miller, called Then Shall the Sanctuary be Cleansed, was written in 1958 by Don Short but not published until 1991 investigates the beliefs of William Miller.
Don Short said, “The first proof we have as respects Christ’s Second Coming to time is Daniel 8:14, ‘Unto two thousand three hundred days, then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.’ By days we are to understand years. Sanctuary we understand the church. Cleansed we may reasonably suppose means complete redemption from sin, both soul and body.” He then makes the comments, “We should note especially that by sanctuary we understand the church. This is uniquely important in understanding the final atonement, a work for God’s people, the church, the New Jerusalem.” Op. cit., 14.
Short continues on page 20 stating, “The daily ministration was different from the yearly made on the 10th day of the 7th month, in making the former [the daily] the priest went into the holy place. But for the later he went into the holy of holies. The former was for the individual cases. The later was for the entire nation, the corporate body.”
This is something the Seventh-day Adventists have taught since the 19th century. Ellen White addressed this issue very clearly and at some length in a letter she wrote to the general conference president and also to S. N. Haskell in 1886. The entire letter was reproduced in Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, starting on page 318. In this letter, she refers to the term corporate body as a group of people that are organized into a church, either local or worldwide.
In paragraph 1 she wrote, “For weeks I have not been able to sleep after half past 3 o’clock. My mind is deeply exercised in regard to our condition as a people. We ought to be far in advance of any other people on the earth because we have greater light and greater knowledge of the truth, which lays us under increased accountability to advance that light and not only profess to believe the truth but to practice it. When we do practice the truth we are then following Jesus, who is the light of the world; and if we as a people are not constantly elevating, becoming more and more spiritually minded, we are becoming like the Pharisees—self-righteous—while we do not the will of God.”
If we are not advancing we are doing just the opposite, going backward. She wrote, “Ministering angels are waiting about the throne to instantly obey the mandate of Jesus Christ to answer every prayer offered in earnest living faith.” Ibid., 318, 319. It is wonderfully comforting to know that heaven is watching and waiting to answer earnest prayers.
However, there is such a thing as corporate responsibility and the possibility of corporate rejection. Giving an example of this she wrote, “I think of His [Jesus] great sorrow as He wept over Jerusalem, exclaiming, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not’ (Luke 13:34)! God forbid that these words shall apply to those who have great light and blessings. In the rejecting of Jerusalem it was because great privileges were abused, which brought the denunciation upon all who lightly regarded the great opportunities and precious light that were entrusted to their keeping.” Ibid, 319.
There was no group of people prior to that time that had had a greater revelation of divine truth than the Jews had when Jesus was on earth.
Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “… to whom much is given, much is required” (literal translation). With light and knowledge comes responsibility and accountability. She continued, “Privileges do not commend us to God, but they commend God to us. No people are saved because they have great light and special advantages, for these high and heavenly favors only increase their responsibility.
“The more and increased light God has given makes the receiver more responsible. It does not place the receiver in any safer position unless the privileges are wisely improved, prized, and used to advance God’s glory. Christ said, ‘Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes’ (Matthew 11:21).” Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 319.
It was bad for Chorazin and Bethsaida but even worse for Capernaum. Capernaum was known as Jesus’ own city where He probably did more than in any other city. Notice what He said about Capernaum in Matthew 11:23, 24: “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
In commenting on this Ellen White wrote, “When Jerusalem was divorced from God it was because of her sins.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 319. Peter talks about this principle when he said, “For if God did not spare the angels … and did not spare the ancient world … then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly … and reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4, 5, 9).
Jerusalem was divorced from God because of her sins. “She fell from an exalted height that Tyre and Sidon had never reached. And when an angel falls, he becomes a fiend. The depth of our ruin is measured by the exalted light to which God has raised us in His great goodness and unspeakable mercy. Oh, what privileges are granted to us as a people! And if God spared not His people that He loved, because they refused to walk in the light, how can He spare the people whom He has blessed with the light of heaven in having opened to them the most exalted truth ever entrusted to mortal man to give to the world?” Ibid.
God has given the Seventh-day Adventist church more light than any previous group of people since the beginning of the world. However, there is a problem.
“We are far from being the people God would have us to be, because we do not elevate the soul and refine the character in harmony with the wonderful unfolding of God’s truth and His purposes. ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people’ (Proverbs 14:34). Sin is a disorganizer. Wherever it is cherished—in the individual heart, in the household, in the church—there is disorder, strife, variance, enmity, envy, jealousy, because the enemy of man and of God has the controlling power over the mind. But let the truth be loved and brought into the life, as well as advocated, and that man or woman will hate sin and will be a living representative of Jesus Christ to the world.” Ibid., 320.
On the day of judgment, “The people claiming to believe the truth will not be condemned because they had not the light, but because they had great light and did not bring their hearts to the test of God’s great moral standard of righteousness.” Selected Messages, vol. 2, 377.
Remember, this letter was written in 1886 to the general conference president, making an appeal to all the Adventist people. The 1888 General Conference was held just before a major Sunday law crisis in the United States. It appears, as I study history, that because the church failed to accept the message of righteousness by faith in 1888, everything in God’s plan for finishing His work was put on hold.
“Let the churches who claim to believe the truth, who are advocating the law of God, keep that law and depart from all iniquity. Let the individual members of the church resist the temptations to practice evils and indulge in sin. Let the church commence the work of purification before God by repentance, humiliation, deep heart searching, for we are in the antitypical day of atonement—solemn hour fraught with eternal results.” Ibid., 378.
Repentance results in a change of heart. The basic meaning of the Greek word means to change your mind. What do you change your mind about? You change your mind about sin. The unconverted person loves sin. If you love sin, you hate the law of God. And if you hate the law of God, you really hate God Himself. Paul refers to this in Romans 8. He says that the carnal man, the unconverted man, is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. He is at enmity with the law. So, how do you begin the work of purification? This begins with repentance, which means, instead of loving our sins, we are sorry enough to quit them.
The root of the sin problem is pride and selfishness. To be purified means to become humble in heart with deep heart searching.
The next instruction is for ministers to be “clean vessels.” Isaiah 52:11 says, “Touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her, be clean, you who bear the vessels of the Lord.” The same instruction is given in the New Testament: for “… each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4).
Clean vessels will then be able to sound a note of warning. “Let the men standing as watchmen and as shepherds of the flock proclaim the solemn truth, sound the notes of warning to all people, nations and tongues.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 321.
God never forsakes people either individually or corporately until they first forsake Him. “The neglect to bring purity and truth into practice will grieve the Spirit of God and weaken them because God is not in their midst to bless. Internal corruption will bring the denunciations of God upon this people as it did upon Jerusalem. Oh, let pleading voices, let earnest prayer be heard, that those who preach to others shall not themselves be castaways. My brethren, we know not what is before us, and our only safety is in following the Light of the world. God will work with us and for us if the sins which brought His wrath upon the old world, upon Sodom and Gomorrah and upon ancient Jerusalem, do not become our crime.” Ibid., 321, 322.
A very sobering thought is that, “The least transgression of God’s law brings guilt upon the transgressor, and without earnest repentance and forsaking of sin he will surely become an apostate.” Ibid., 322.
This letter that Ellen White wrote to the general conference president was in response to their inquiry about what they should do. They were concerned about the pressure being brought to bear on Seventh-day Adventists to sanctify Sunday. Some Seventh-day Adventists had been put in chain gangs in the southern United States at this time.
She wrote: “I can speak in the fear of God, it is right we should use every power we can to avert the pressure that is being brought to bear upon our people. I know that were our people spiritualized by the truth the greatest love would be maintained.
“[We are] not to provoke those who have accepted this spurious sabbath, an institution of the Papacy, in the place of God’s holy Sabbath. Their not having the Bible arguments in their favor makes them all the more angry and determined to supply the place of arguments that are wanting in the word of God, by the power of their might. The force of persecution follows the steps of the dragon. Therefore great care should be exercised to give no provocation. And again let us as a people, as far as possible, cleanse the camp of moral defilement and aggravating sins. When sin is making its march upon the people who claim to be elevating the moral standard of righteousness, how can we expect God to turn His power in our behalf and save us as a people that did righteousness?” Ibid., 322.
Notice, she says “as a people,” a corporate body. She is not referring to individuals here, but a camp. There was a need to cleanse the camp.
I have tried to think this through, in as unbiased a way as possible, what would be involved in cleansing the whole Adventist camp?
Here are a few things that would have to happen.
1 Past wrongs must be repented of, confessed to the appropriate parties, if they are still alive, and then, restitution must be made as far as possible to have genuine revival and reformation. The first thing the Holy Spirit does is to convict of sin.
2 Forsake the wrongs that have been perpetrated.
3 Forsake all hierarchical church organization and seek to get back to New Testament church order. Hierarchical church organization is patterned after the kingly power, manifested by the papacy, and what Israel wanted in the days of Samuel, and to which the Seventh-day Adventist church returned in 1903.
After Israel accepted kingly power they were never able to get back to a pure theocracy.
4 Cease the infighting among God’s professed people.
5 Recognize that in 1904 God authorized the self-supporting work and that these self-supporting workers were authorized to eat the showbread.
The corporate structure of Adventism has either fought or attempted to control self-supporting work ever since it began. Either position is apostasy. Every hand, mind, and heart is needed to finish God’s work.
Ellen White wrote, “All the policy in the world cannot save us from a terrible sifting, and all the efforts made with high authorities will not lift from us the scourging of God, just because sin is cherished. If as a people we do not keep ourselves in the faith and not only advocate with pen and voice the commandments of God, but keep them every one, not violating a single precept knowingly, then weakness and ruin will come upon us.” Ibid., 323.
Many claim to be commandment keepers, but if they are not actually kept, ruin is going to come upon us. “It is a work that we must attend to in every one of our churches.” Ibid.
God is looking for a clean, pure people ready for the return of Jesus Christ. She says, “All the struggles [of those in the southern United States at that time] to carry our appeals to the highest authorities in our land, however earnest and strong and eloquent may be the pleas in our favor, will not bring about that which we desire unless the Lord works by His Holy Spirit in the heart of those who claim to believe the truth. … we shall fail unless the Lord pleads in our behalf. God will be honored among His people. They must be pure; they must be divested of self … But as a people we need the beauty of righteousness, holiness, and truth. The most harmonious theory will not save us.” Ibid., 323, 324.
“There are many doctrines current in our world. There is many a religion current that numbers its thousands and tens of thousands, but there is but one that bears the superscription and the stamp of God.” Ibid., 324.
Here she speaks of the Seventh-day Adventist religion and then about what is going to happen.
“We are to be ready and waiting for the orders of God. Nations will be stirred to their very center. Support will be withdrawn from those who proclaim God’s only standard of righteousness, the only sure test of character.” Ibid.
Those are the people who are proclaiming the law of God as still valid. She says, “And all who will not bow to the decrees of the national councils and obey the national laws to exalt the sabbath instituted by the man of sin to the disregard of God’s holy day, will feel, not the oppressive power of popery alone, but of the Protestant world, the image of the beast.” Ibid.
And when this Sunday law crisis comes, that is going to be a time when more than ever before, we will see the devil work his miracles. They are going to be so powerful to deceive that it will appear that Adventism has disappeared from the face of the earth.
“Satan will work his miracles to deceive; he will set up his power as supreme. The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place.” Ibid.
When this happens, who are the only people who will be left? “None but those who have been overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony will be found with the loyal and true, without spot or stain of sin, without guile in their mouths.” Ibid., 324, 325.
Though it does matter what church or organization you belong to, the most important thing of all is to learn how to overcome sin by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony. Those who learn this are the only ones that will be left. I want to be among those that are left.
“We must be divested of our self-righteousness and arrayed in the righteousness of Christ.
“The remnant that purify their souls by obeying the truth gather strength from the trying process, exhibiting the beauty of holiness amid the surrounding apostasy. …
“That which God required of Adam before his fall was perfect obedience to His law. God requires now what He required of Adam, perfect obedience, righteousness without a flaw, without shortcoming in His sight. God help us to render to Him all His law requires.” Ibid., 325.
God does not want any to be discouraged when reading His requirements. Remember that whoever wants to do His will He gives His power to accomplish it. If God cannot help me to do what He has told me to do, then He would be a liar. His throne is staked on His promise that if you choose to trust Him, He will enable you to do His will. It is the devil that keeps telling you that you cannot do it.
The answer is to be connected. If you have ever tried to raise grapes, there is an external connection which connects the branch to the vine. But there also has to be an internal connection. You cannot see the internal connection, but the living sap; the living current flows from the vine into the branch. It is invisible, but you can see the results, because the branch will be supple and not brittle. It will be alive and put forth leaves.
That is the living connection. The external connection is belonging to a church—being a church member with your name on the books, but that is not enough. What is needed is a living connection with Jesus Christ. He will come into your life and you will receive power from Him to do His will. That is what it means to have salvation. The result is no more struggling among us regarding who is going to be first.
The first struggle began in heaven with Satan who wanted to be like the Most High. The quest for being the best or first has been a huge problem ever since. Anybody who knows anything about church history knows that this has been a huge problem. Study the history of the Roman Catholic church. Study the history of the Adventist church.
“There is no struggling there [heaven] to be first, to have the supremacy; all will love their neighbor as themselves.” Ibid., 326, 327.
So, there is a great crisis coming. “The great issue so near at hand will weed out those whom God has not appointed, and He will have a pure, true, sanctified ministry prepared for the latter rain.” Ibid., 327.
We must know from God’s word where we stand, whether we are going to heaven. Those who will enter through those pearly gates will be people who do not lie or commit abomination, or do that which is unlawful. They are not transgressors of God’s law. Transgression must become a thing of the past in our lives.
Remember, when something seems to be whispering in your mind that says it is impossible, it is the devil attempting to cause discouragement. You may fall many times, but get back up and look to Jesus, who is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
If you come to Jesus, He will pick you up and He will give you strength and power. He will put His life into your life through His Holy Spirit and that is what will give you spiritual life and give you the ability to live a Christian life.
Friend, things are often not what they seem in the religious world. Many may appear outwardly to be getting ready for heaven but it is what is happening inside that counts.
God does not see things the way we see them. In heaven, there will be those whom we didn’t expect to be there and many will be missing whom we thought for sure should be. The Lord told Samuel that he looked on the outside. God does not look on the outside. He looks at what is going on in the heart.
We are so near the end of time. We need to pray for each other. We need to pray for our leaders. We need to pray for our fellow church members. We need to pray that the heart work that needs to happen will happen because we each must have that living connection with Jesus if we are going to be saved and be in the Kingdom of Heaven.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.