As the Seventh-day Adventist Church moved into the 20th century, the burden for evangelism rested heavily on the heart of God’s messenger. In June, 1909, before the leaders of the work gathered in Washington D.C., she presented a powerful appeal for more work to be done in the great population centers. In spite of her earnestness and the burden under which she labored, she realized, even as she made the appeals, that the brethren, for the most part, largely failed to understand the full scope of the message that she bore. (See Letter 32, 1910.)
It is true that during the months that followed, there were some efforts put forward to fund some work in the metropolitan areas; but as she acknowledged the meager efforts being put forth, Ellen White was constrained to say: “God requires of His people a far greater work than anything that has been done in years past.” The Later Elmshaven Years, 220
Elder A.G. Daniels, then General Conference president, after having directed some attention to this matter, allowed his energies to be diverted by other considerations. A short time later, while on the West Coast, he stopped by Elmshaven to report his progress in following the counsel that had been given, believing that it would certainly cheer Ellen White’s heart. Imagine his surprise when the messenger of the Lord refused to see him, sending word that when the President of the General Conference was ready to carry out the work that needed to be done, then she would see him. Clearly Ellen White recognized that there were times when it was appropriate to meet and discuss situations and there were also times when such a meeting would be productive of no good.
Today, those who are standing firmly for the truth are being severely buffeted by the various winds that are blowing, which threaten to shake their faith to its very foundation. As the shaking among God’s people becomes more intense, it would be well for us to again meditate on these familiar words: “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” Life Sketches, 196
We can depend on the Lord to guide us through each and every situation. To the weakest one, deliverance is promised. “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.” Ezekiel 34:16
There have been various times in the history of the church when internal dissension has threatened to tear apart the fabric of the whole. A prominent instance when this took place was when the church faced the crisis that resulted over the issue of circumcision. As a result of the seemingly unresolvable differences, a meeting was called, as recorded in Acts 15. The result of this meeting was a restoration of unity among the believers and a strengthened movement that was better able to fulfill the gospel commission.
In the distress over the disunity present today, some urge that various meetings be called among those who are teaching Historic Adventism, possibly patterning on the meeting of the early church leaders, as being the best way to restore harmony in the prosecution of God’s work. Before accepting or rejecting such a proposal, it might be well to consider all of the circumstances, and the underlying condition of the church, that surrounded the meeting of the brethren in Jerusalem that resulted in such decided good for the church. We will mention a part of what is left on record.
The meeting, as we have already noted, was the result of contention in the church over the subject of circumcision. Because of this, the members of the Antioch church requested a meeting to solve the difficulty. This meeting was initiated on a grass roots level. Paul and Barnabas, along with “responsible men from the church,” were asked to go to Jerusalem. The council was composed not only of apostles and teachers who had been prominent in raising up the Jewish and Gentile Christian churches, but also of delegates who had been chosen from the different churches in various places as well. (See Acts of the Apostles, 190–196.) The Lord honored this meeting by sending the Holy Spirit to guide them into the right decision.
As we saw earlier, there are, however, times and circumstances which could preclude a meeting. The Lord’s messenger has given us much council on meetings such as this. The following counsel is drawn from an article that appeared in Signs of the Times, May 26, 1890, in an article entitled, “Candid Investigation Necessary to an Understanding of the Truth.” We are seeking by grace to come into line with this council.
“We must have greater wisdom than we have yet manifested in regard to the manner in which we treat those who in some points of faith honestly differ from us. It is unbecoming in anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ to be sharp and denunciatory, to stoop to ridicule the views of another.”
“If a brother differs with you, do not become provoked; treat him with candor; do not overwhelm him with assertions. Do not handle the Word of God deceitfully, presenting detached passages of Scripture which you think favor your ideas, and withholding other passages which seem to weaken your position. Let God speak in His Word. If you think your brother believes an error, you should deal with him considerately, manifesting tenderness, patience, and courtesy. You should reason with him from the Word of God, comparing scripture with scripture, considering carefully every jot of evidence. In no case should his words be made a matter of ridicule, for ‘with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ ” [All emphasis supplied]
In the same article, the prophet warned us that this matter of ridicule is the first step taken down the road to persecuting those who do not agree with you. “The papal authorities first ridiculed the Reformers; and when this did not quench the spirit of investigation, they placed them behind prison walls, and loaded them with chains; and when this did not silence them or make them recant, they finally brought them to the fagot and the sword. We should be very cautious lest we take the first steps in this road that leads to the Inquisition. The truth of God is progressive; it is always onward, going from strength to a greater strength, from light to a greater light. We have every reason to believe that the Lord will send us increased truth, for a great work is yet to be done.”
From this counsel, we would understand that a meeting with those who have sought by ridicule to place in an unfavorable light those who conscientiously disagree with them could be productive of no good; for if we want the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon our meetings, we must not have a critical spirit. “The spirit of criticism unfits men for receiving the light that God would send them, or for seeing what is evidence of the truth.” There would be no profit in trying to meet to find truth if the spirit of criticism is present. All of this must be put away and repented of before we can be learners in the school of Christ.
There are other issues that we believe must be considered in making any decision to meet with the brethren. First of all, it is essential that hard speeches and ridicule that have been spoken be repented of. Second, when private communications have been which have sought to develop a basis for working out differences have been ignored, a public meeting would hardly seem appropriate. Evidently, Ellen White understood very well how to apply wise principles when it came to proposed meetings. As pointed out earlier, she refused to come down to the parlor from upstairs to meet with Elder Daniels. Why? Because she had written him letters which he was ignoring. She sent a message telling him that when he paid attention to the letters that she had written, she would speak to him. Obviously, the best interests of the work are not always met by holding a meeting. Perhaps the lesson we can best learn from the prophet’s example is that it is most important to follow the counsel of the Lord.
Whatever storm may fall upon us and upon God’s people, we may take courage in this promise. “Through centuries of persecution, conflict, and darkness, God has sustained His church. Not one cloud has fallen upon it that He has not prepared for; not one opposing force has risen to counterwork His work, that He has not foreseen.” Acts of the Apostles, 11, 12. The Lord is well able to bring a calm to the storm that is blowing. If we trust Him perfectly and look to Him for counsel, He will bring us through.