It is important to understand what God’s Word really says. Certainly it is important to understand what the Bible says concerning the people of God. The phrase “people of God” is many times used in the Bible. The Jews understood themselves to be the people of God. Even at the time when they crucified the Saviour on the cross, they understood themselves to be the people of God. For us, it is important to know how God looks upon us, not what our own estimation is.
A Vital Distinction
There is a vital distinction between the true people of God and the professed, or so-called, people of God. Let us see what the Word of God says in Jeremiah 7:23: “But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.”
Many Christians in various denominations, journeyed for a time on the path of God, but then they took another way. However, these Christians still believe they are the people of God, and they claim all the promises, which can be claimed only by the people of God. Today, when asked, Catholics affirm that they belong to the people of God just as do the Seventh-day Adventists. So it is not our own opinion of ourselves that is important; it is important for us to know how God sees us. That is the decisive question, if we want to be in heaven.
God defines His people as those who obey His voice. That is true for the people of the Old Testament as well as for those of the New Testament.
Jeremiah 31:33 says, “But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel lost the privilege of being God’s chosen people. They became a whore. We need to understand how they became a whore, for if we do not understand this, we cannot discern our own situation. We read, in Hosea 1:2, 9: “And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, [departing] from the Lord.” “Then said [God], Call his name Loammi: for ye [are] not my people, and I will not be your [God].”
Is a whore God’s people? What did God do to this whore? Did He cast her away immediately? He gave warning after warning, but when they cast away and disregarded all His warnings, He then allowed punishment to come. His punishment came step by step, and in the end, God asked, “Why shall I still bid you, that you should recognize that I am your God? Let the people understand God’s punishment.” History tells us that they did not. So God despised and cast out His people.
In the Old Testament, there was a separation between the people of God. Both Israel and Judah called themselves the people of God, but who of them were really the people of God? God separated and divided that which caused the most apostasy among Israel. When the kings tried to reunite what God had divided, for instance, when the king of Judah wanted to help the king of Israel fight against the Amorites, God told this king, “Should you help those who forsake Me?”
God was against Judah and Israel getting together to fight against their enemies. From a human standpoint, we may think that it is only common sense for two groups that are related to each other to connect to fight a common enemy. But God told Judah, “You will not stand before the enemy if you take the help of Israel.” The history is teaching for our time.
When God very clearly said that He cast off Israel because of her apostasy, Judah should have been awake. Did Judah learn from the experience of Israel? We read in Jeremiah 3:8, “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.”
No Longer a People?
What? Did God no longer have a faithful people? The ten tribes had fallen; now Judah became a whore. God has always had a people, a remnant. In all time, God has had a church on earth. We read, in Isaiah 1:8, 9, how God looks upon His people: “And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, [and] we should have been like unto Gomorrah.”
Very similar words are recorded in Isaiah 10:22, 23: “For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, [yet] a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.”
Both groups—Israel and Judah—had fallen. The people of God consisted of a small group, a remnant. Does it sound familiar to you—a people of a remnant?
God’s People Defined
In the New Testament, we read from the apostle Paul a similar definition: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither [is that] circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he [is] a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision [is that] of the heart, in the spirit, [and] not in the letter; whose praise [is] not of men, but of God.” Romans 2:28, 29. And, in Romans 9:6, 7, we read: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they [are] not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, [are they] all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
There is a teaching for us in these verses. God’s people are defined. We can draw out of it the teaching, What is God’s church? Is there a difference between God’s people and God’s church? Ellen White answers that question by drawing a parallel of the New Testament Israel in the following words:
“ ‘As a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord;’ ‘as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!’ Ezekiel 16:8, 13–15, 32; Jeremiah 3:20.
“In the New Testament, language very similar is addressed to professed Christians who seek the friendship of the world above the favor of God. Says the apostle James: ‘Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.’ [James 4:4.]” The Great Controversy, 381, 382.
If the adulteresses in the Old Testament were not God’s people, can the adulteresses in the New Testament be God’s people?
“The alliances made by the Israelites with their heathen neighbors resulted in the loss of their identity as God’s peculiar people. . . .
“The experience of Israel will be the experience of all who go to the world for strength, turning away from the living God. Those who forsake the mighty One, the source of all strength, and affiliate with worldlings, placing on them their dependence, become weak in moral power, as are those in whom they trust. . . .
“No semblance of nearness to God, no assertion of connection with him, will be accepted from those who persist in dishonoring him by leaning upon the arm of worldly power.” Review and Herald, August 4, 1904.
The identity of God’s peculiar people got lost through their connection with the world. People who make a connection or union with the world are not looked upon as God’s people. If people who look for their strength in the world are looked upon as people who are dishonoring God, how does He look upon us if we look for strength in other humans? He is a God in anger, because His people are looking for another source of power and strength. He is a jealous God. We find this description of God’s jealousy in the Ten Commandments: “I the Lord thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me.” Exodus 20:5. Has God somehow changed?
“It was by departure from the Lord, and alliance with the heathen, that the Jewish church became a harlot; and Rome, corrupting herself in like manner by seeking the support of worldly powers, receives a like condemnation.
“Babylon is said to be ‘the mother of harlots.’ By her daughters must be symbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example of sacrificing the truth and the approval of God, in order to form an unlawful alliance with the world. The message of Revelation 14, announcing the fall of Babylon must apply to religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt.” The Great Controversy, 382, 383.
What churches do we know that were once pure? Yes, the Protestant churches were once pure. They made mistakes, but in God’s eyes, they were pure. He saw their trying to follow the truths they discovered, and they paid for their faithfulness to these truths even with their lives. Although they did not understand all truth, still they were God’s people and were considered pure and clean in God’s eyes. “At the time of their rise these churches took a noble stand for God and the truth, and His blessing was with them.” Ibid, 382.
We have not yet stood the test, which numbers of Protestant martyrs have stood. We have not stood at the stake because of our faith. We have not been cast before lions because of our faith. We have not been sawn through because of our faith. But those Christians stood such tests of their faithfulness.
Turn into Babylon
God states very clearly through His messenger how once clean and pure churches turn into Babylon: “Many of the Protestant churches are following Rome’s example of iniquitous connection with ‘the kings of the earth’—the state churches, by their relation to secular governments; and other denominations, by seeking the favor of the world. And the term ‘Babylon’—confusion—may be appropriately applied to these bodies, all professing to derive their doctrines from the Bible, yet divided into almost innumerable sects, with widely conflicting creeds and theories.” Ibid., 383.
Ellen White also wrote: “The term ‘Babylon’ is derived from ‘Babel,’ and signifies confusion. It is employed in Scripture to designate the various forms of false or apostate religion.” Ibid., 381.
Can you identify some of these false religions which belong to Babylon? All of the heathen religions are false religions, are they not? They were faulty from their inception. They did not come from a true religion. There have been false and apostate religions from the beginning. The mark of those religions is that they have been once pure. The term “Babylon” has two applications. This study is not addressing the religions that have fallen anyway, but rather those that are apostate religions. A connection with the state and a friendship with the world are the marks of an apostate religion. Remember the quotations from The Great Controversy.
History as Our Textbook
We need to look back into history in order to understand how these churches came to pass, for history is our textbook. Paul recommends in the Book of 1 Corinthians that we should learn from history. (See 1 Corinthians 10:11.) In her introductory words in The Great Controversy, Ellen White recommends that we learn from the history of Israel and the first disciples, so that we may make the right decisions at the end of time.
“What was the origin of the great apostasy? How did the church first depart from the simplicity of the gospel? By conforming to the practices of paganism, to facilitate the acceptance of Christianity by the heathen. The apostle Paul declared, even in his day, ‘The mystery of iniquity doth already work.’ 11 Thessalonians 2:7. During the lives of the apostles the church remained comparatively pure. But ‘toward the latter end of the second century most of the churches assumed a new form; the first simplicity disappeared, and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with new converts, . . . came forward and new-modeled the cause.’—Robert Robinson, Ecclesiastical Researches, ch. 6, par. 17, p. 51.” Ibid., 384, 385.
Does this description of apostasy sound familiar to us? Do the people of God today try to confirm the practices of reason? Do we not see the people of God lowering their standards to win converts? What is the result of this? It is the same as when the first church did not watch in keeping the heathen from coming into the church. History shows the outcome of this church.
Satan has tried to use the same tactics in all times, in all churches: “Has not the same process been repeated in nearly every church calling itself Protestant? As the founders, those who possessed the true spirit of reform, pass away, their descendants come forward and ‘new-model the cause.’ . . .
“Alas, to what a fearful extent is that friendship of the world which is ‘enmity with God,’ now cherished among the professed followers of Christ!” Ibid., 385.
Ellen White posed the rather rhetorical question, “Has not the same process been repeated in nearly every church calling itself Protestant?” Ibid., 385. The answer given is: “The spirit of worldly conformity is invading the churches throughout Christendom.” Ibid., 388.
Was the prophet mistaken in this? Did she make an error? When God speaks of all churches in the whole of Christendom, then it would be illogical to think that she did not write what she meant.
Ellen White also wrote of the apostasy of the church that occurs because it casts off and disregards the Three Angels’ Messages: “Revelation 18 points to the time when, as the result of rejecting the threefold warning of Revelation 14:6–12, the church will have fully reached the condition foretold by the second angel, and the people of God still in Babylon will be called upon to separate from her communion.” Ibid., 390. Which is the only church that can disregard and cast off the Three Angels’ Messages? She is talking about a church—singular, not plural.
Example of Apostasy
I want to give you an example of this apostasy, which is documented in Germany.
There were communications between the Seventh-day Adventist leaders and councils of the Ecumenical Movement that dealt with the question of whether or not the Seventh-day Adventists would be accepted into the Ecumenical Movement. The Catholic Church was one that said, “No, the Seventh-day Adventist Church cannot participate unless certain things are changed.”
Then, letters were written back and forth between the leaders of the church, their supporters, or their lawyers and the leaders of the Ecumenical Council. These letters were kept under closure, but through indiscretions of a secretary, who could not live with this burden and who could not believe what she was ordered to type, these documents were made public. We published them and spread thousands of copies among the Seventh-day Adventists to open their eyes to what extent the apostasy had gone in the leadership.
In these papers, it was clear that the Catholic Church requested clarification as to whether or not the interpretation of Revelation 13, which was traditionally understood to be the papacy, also identified as the Antichrist, was still valid today. The answer from the Seventh-day Adventist representatives was that these beliefs were some sort of a tradition, which came from the old Reformation, which, without doubt, still has its effects today, but that they had given up the institutionalized identification of the Antichrist as the Pope. They stated as well that there were anti-Christian characteristics in their own denomination, meaning that the traditional criticism of Revelation 13 could be also applied to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This statement was sufficient for the Roman Catholics, and the Catholic Church gave the green light for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to enter into the Ecumenical Movement.
Concerning the beast of Revelation 13, which traditionally has been applied to the papacy, the church leadership said that they could get unused to this view, but that there were some fanatic Adventists who still believed it. Do we believe that the beast with seven heads and ten horns that came out of the sea is the papacy? Is it the papacy? Yes, but what do the leaders say? “Well, this view we can get unused to. There are still some fanatic Adventists, but they are not really a part of us. They believe it, but we in Germany, as a whole, no longer hold that position.”
I recall a former leader of the General Conference, many years ago, making a similar statement. In connection with some law issues, he stated that the view of Seventh-day Adventists regarding the papacy belonged to the historical trash heap. In Germany, that went around like a wildfire! We can see that the apostasy is starting behind closed doors.
The prophet Ezekiel was shown what happened in the temple, behind closed doors—they bowed down before the sun; they put unholy pictures in the temple. The same situation is represented here. (See Ezekiel 8.)
God gave the people the opportunity to open their eyes to what the leaders were doing. Regarding the ecumenical cooperation with each other, the Seventh-day Adventists were asked how they imagined themselves working with the Ecumenical Movement, if they cherished doctrines such as the teaching of Babylon and the teaching of the beast of Revelation 13. The answer given was that, on an international level, an ecumenical cooperation was still possible, despite certain prophetic interpretations. For over three decades, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has belonged to the World Council of Churches.
Ellen White counseled against such action: “Let the watchmen on the walls of Zion not join with those who are making of none effect the truth as it is in Christ. Let them not join the confederacy of infidelity, popery, and Protestantism in exalting tradition above Scripture, reason above revelation, and human talent above the divine influence and the vital power of godliness.” Review and Herald, March 24, 1896.
She further wrote: “Let us not form unholy bonds of union with the friends of the world; for God has pronounced His curse upon all such unions.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 277.
All is Possible
Is it possible to unite with the ecumenical cooperation, when we have these warnings before our eyes? Oh, sure, it is possible. We see it happening. It was also possible for the Jews to unite with the heathen. The apostate churches united themselves with the state force, the Romans, and thus the Roman state church developed.
All of this is possible, but how does God look upon such confederacies? “The world must not be introduced into the church, and married to the church, forming a bond of unity. Through this means the church will become indeed corrupt, and as stated in Revelation, ‘a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.’ [Revelation 18:2.]
“Through association with the world our institutions will become unsubstantial, unreliable; because these worldly elements, introduced and placed in positions of trust, are looked up to as teachers to be respected in their educating, directing, and official position, and they are sure to be worked upon by the spirit and power of darkness; so that the demarcation becomes not distinguished between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not.” Ibid., 265, 266.
“The world must not be introduced into the church, and married to the church, forming a bond of unity.” The Ecumenical Movement is such a bond. Is this a plain message? Could God make it any clearer?
In another quotation, Ellen White says, “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. While the context deals with sexual disorders in the church, it is spiritual adultery that God abhors more than physical adultery. What does the Bible say? To lust or look upon a woman is sin. (Matthew 5:28.) The thoughts are sin before God, even though nothing has happened with bodily connection or union. The connection with Israel—the spiritual union—God sees as adultery, for there is no difference. We may sometimes draw a difference, but God does not.
Dr. Bernd Korinth is a physician living in Berlin, Germany. He is very active in spreading the Three Angels’ Messages throughout Europe. He and his family have a printing press in their home and have had tracts translated in most of the different European languages. He is a promoter of home churches and is very interested in working with other historic Seventh-day Adventist groups worldwide. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com.