Theology is the study of who God is. It’s very important for us to have correct teachings and correct theology. Second Timothy 3:5, 7 tell us there will be a people in the last days who “have a form of godliness but deny its power. And from such people turn away! … always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” First Timothy 2:4 says, “Who [God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Solomon said in Proverbs 23:23, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it.” When the angel spoke to Daniel in vision he said, “Now I’ve come to tell you the truth” (Daniel 11:2). It’s very important to know the truth and to have a correct theology, but we are going to see that having true theology is not enough.
If we really want to know the truth about any subject, we must follow the Bible rule found in Isaiah 28 which is precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little. Here God teaches us that as we study Scripture it should be done by looking at all the scriptures found regarding a subject. If there is confusion regarding a subject, it is essential that we must study all the statements found in Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy.
In 2 Peter 1, Peter tells us that the apostles preached the truth. He also tells us how he knew it was the truth: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (verses 16–18). He could say that we know what we are telling you is the truth because we saw it ourselves. We witnessed His majesty and heard the voice from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
But Peter also says there is evidence even more powerful than their personal witness. “We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (verses 19–21).
So Peter says that we told you the truth; we know it is the truth; we witnessed His majesty ourselves, but we have evidence even more powerful than what we witnessed on the mount of transfiguration. That evidence, more powerful and more certain, is the word of prophecy. Would that all people could comprehend the certainty of prophecy. Those today who have the truth, study and understand Bible prophecy, especially those relating to the last days.
The book of Daniel was the first inspired book given especially for the last days. Other prophets spoke for their own time, but their prophesies also applied to the end of time. It is good to study the prophesies as they were applied historically, but we especially need to study them as they apply to the last days. In addition to the inspired writings in the book of Daniel, the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation where he documented what he was shown regarding the very last days of earth’s history.
The truth involves judgment. Romans 2:2 says, “We know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things [those things mentioned in Romans 1].” Verse 8: “To those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath.” Notice, the truth involves judgment. Romans 3:4: “Let God be true but every man a liar.” Revelation 19:11: “I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.”
Over 20 years ago Pastor Ron Spear shared the following Spirit of Prophecy statement with me and I am still awed by it today: “We want to understand the time in which we live. We do not half understand it. We do not half take it in. My heart trembles in me when I think of what a foe we have to meet, and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ—how the enemy sought every occasion to take control of the minds of the Jews, and today he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants, that they may not be able to discern the precious truth.” Selected Messages, vol. 1, 406.
“We don’t understand” she says. We don’t know what’s going on. Consider this: When a person is deceived, do they know that they are deceived? No. If they knew, then they wouldn’t be deceived. “Satan’s snares are laid for us as verily as they were laid for the children of Israel just prior to their entrance into the land of Canaan. We are repeating the history of that people.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 160.
Why is it not enough to have the truth? We read in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” These are people who have the truth, but who don’t live the truth. It is not enough to just know the truth.
This was the problem with the Jewish people in the time of Christ. Jesus addressed this problem in Matthew 23:2: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.” Most people in Jesus’ time went to the synagogue where the Scriptures were read to them during the worship services.
During the middle ages, Christian churches might have scriptoriums. A person at the front of the room would read a verse to 30 or more people who would then write what they heard. In this way copies of the Bible were produced. However, with 30 different people in the room all writing what was being read, the possibility that someone might misspell a word or say “that” instead of “which” resulted in variations from one transcript to another. In fact, that is why there are approximately 200,000 variations of the New Testament today. The making of books before the printing press was laborious, time consuming, and very expensive, but you can depend on what you read in your Bible as being the truth.
But when Jesus was talking to the people in Matthew 23, information primarily was received by listening to what was said in the church. When Jesus said, “They sit in Moses’ seat,” He meant they were being taught the law and about the prophets. Notice what He says in verse 3, first part: “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do” because they’re telling you what Moses and the prophets said. “But do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (verse 3, last part). Did they have the truth? Yes, they possessed the truth, but their lives and their church were not in harmony with that truth.
The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2–4, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste [pure] virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted.”
There is a great deception depicted in these texts. The person is preaching Jesus, but it is another Jesus. There is more than one Jesus being preached in the world today. There are millions of Christians praying every day asking the Lord to pour out His Holy Spirit upon them, but if a person is living in sin and asks to receive the Holy Spirit they have placed themselves in a very dangerous position, because they could receive a spirit and could believe that they have been filled with the Holy Spirit, but it is the wrong spirit.
Jesus warned us that this would happen in the last days. We read in Matthew 7:21, 22: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders [that is, powerful works or miracles] in Your name?’ ” How were they able to prophesy, cast out demons and work miracles? Because they had a spirit that they believed was the Holy Spirit, but Jesus says to them, “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness [iniquity]’ ” (verse 23)!
These people believe they have received the Holy Spirit and they prove it by doing these marvelous things, but it is the wrong spirit. When Jesus comes, He will say, “You are not loyal subjects of My kingdom. You have not kept the laws of My kingdom. I do not know you.” No matter how many times I repeat these verses in Matthew 7, my mind still cannot take it in. You really believe that you are filled with the Holy Spirit, but when Jesus comes and you say, “Lord, I know that I’m saved,” He says, “I do not know you.” Probation is closed. It’s too late to be saved. Think of the shock for these people, but according to Jesus, this will happen to many people.
Let’s consider the Jews as we continue to study the concept of it not being enough just to have true theology. The Jews thought of themselves as the only chosen of God and they had a few beliefs that supported this idea:
- Their church organization was inspired
- They idolized their church organization
- Their organizational policies were inspired
- Their church organization would never fall
The Jews considered their church organization to be inspired because the Sanhedrin was made up of 70 people and they believed this could be proven based on Numbers 11:16, 17. These scriptures say: “So the Lord said to Moses: ‘Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.’ ” Continuing in verses 24 and 25 the Bible says, “So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord, and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tabernacle. Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.” Some manuscripts read, “They prophesied and did not cease.”
If the Spirit of God came down upon these 70 leaders in Israel, was it inspired? Yes, it was. Hundreds of years before Christ’s time, they had appointed 70 men to lead their nation and called them the Sanhedrin. This was done because the Lord said this was how His church was to be organized. So they believed their church organization was inspired. But it is not enough to just know the truth; it must be practiced.
Concerning this problem Stephen said, you “have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it” (Acts 7:53). Truth without practice is worthless. First Peter 1:22 says, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” Ellen White quotes this text over and over throughout her writings.
Next, they made a god of their church organization. Their church organization was centered in the temple, and the temple became an idol more important to them than the God of the temple. One of the main reasons they sought to crucify Jesus had to do with His attitude toward the temple. In Mark 14:58 the false witness accused Jesus of saying, “ ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.’ ” They felt the same way about the apostle Paul and wanted to kill him, too. They said of him, “Crying out, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place [the temple]; and furthermore He also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place’ ” (Acts 21:28).
When you make a god of something, whatever it is, it has to be removed if you are going to be saved. Because they had made a god of their church organization, it would have to be destroyed. Matthew 23:38 says, “See! Your house is left to you desolate.” In The Adventist Apocalypse, Ellen White made the statement that all of Matthew 24 will have a fulfillment in the last days. Notice what it says in Matthew 24:1, 2: “Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ ”
Third, because they believed their church organization was inspired and that the Sanhedrin was inspired, it was very logical for them to believe their policies also were divinely inspired. The Jews established many arbitrary policies and these policies were said to be divinely inspired. This, however, was very deceptive. While they could read right out of the Old Testament that the policy was inspired, they added words to inspiration, and the average person could not figure out where inspiration ended and the words of their arbitrary policies began.
The Desire of Ages, 398, tells us, “The substitution of the precepts of men for the commandments of God has not ceased. Even among Christians are found institutions and usages that have no better foundation than the traditions of the fathers. Such institutions, resting upon mere human authority, have supplanted those of divine appointment. Men cling to their traditions, revere their customs, and cherish hatred against those who seek to show them their error. …
“In place of the authority of the so-called fathers of the church, God bids us accept the word of the eternal Father, the Lord of heaven and earth. Here alone is truth unmixed with error. … Let all who accept human authority, the customs of the church, or the traditions of the fathers, take heed to the warning conveyed in the words of Christ, ‘In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’ (Matthew 15:9).”
Finally, believing their church organization and their policies were inspired and that they were the true church chosen by God, the Jews came to believe their church organization would never fall. Ellen White says in Christ’s Object Lessons, 294, “The Jewish people cherished the idea that they were the favorites of heaven, and that they were always to be exalted as the church of God. They were the children of Abraham, they declared, and so firm did the foundation of their prosperity seem to them that they defied earth and heaven to dispossess them[selves] of their rights. But by lives of unfaithfulness they were preparing for the condemnation of heaven and for separation from God.”
Today we have an identical problem. People are writing books that say, “Our church organization will never fall. I can prove it from Letter 55, 1886.” There’s a sentence in that Letter that says, “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.”
The problem is that most people don’t read the entire letter. Let me share a couple of sentences from Letter 55 that you never hear ministers quote: “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 [that is, as a church] 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.”
There are several problems with the prediction that church organization will never fall. The most important one is that few people have studied out the difference between the true church and the professed church. The true church has never fallen and will never fall. Not in the time of Enoch or Noah, Elijah or during the Babylonian captivity. Not during the days of John the Baptist, Nero, Diocletian, Constantine, Theodosius or Pope Innocent III or in the days of William Miller; yet the professed church was almost totally destroyed at each of these times in history.
Another problem has to do with the message to the church of Philadelphia. This message must be carefully studied because this is the only church of the seven churches of Revelation that is promised divine protection during the time of trouble (Revelation 3:10).
A third problem is that people don’t seem to realize that God doesn’t need the Seventh-day Adventist Church organization to finish His work. In fact, He doesn’t even need the Free Seventh-day Adventists, the Historic Adventists, the Reform Seventh-day Adventists or any other Adventist groups. For instance, Ellen White says in Notebook Leaflets vol. 1, 62, “If His people [that is, God’s people] will not follow in His way, the Lord will employ heathen princes to do His will.” God is able to finish His work just fine without any of us if He must. We must never feel that God has to use us; that is what the Jews thought. They believed that their church organization and policies were divinely inspired and that made them His true people who would go through to the end. Thus they expected all Christians to work with them and follow their policies. And because Jesus did not do that, they rejected and crucified Him. We must be careful in our day not to become like the Jews.
Remember what we read at the beginning. Ellen White said that God had shown her over and over that the attitude and problems that existed just before Jesus’ first coming would also exist just before the second coming. They rejected the Messiah because He was not in harmony with their church organization and policies. The word Jesus used in the New Testament to refer to what the Jews believed were divinely inspired policies was the word tradition. Ellen White calls them arbitrary rules. Another word is customs.
We all have customs that we follow: the time Sabbath School begins, the order for church service, how communion is conducted, how long the preacher can preach. We have so many customs that we’ve observed for so long that we don’t even consider them customs anymore.
The Jews said that because their church organization and policies were inspired, all Christians had to work with them and if they didn’t, they weren’t following the Lord. We see this same attitude in the Adventist Church today. Interestingly, around 1303 A.D. the Pope made a pronouncement that if you were going to be in the kingdom of heaven you needed to be connected with their church organization, otherwise you wouldn’t be in heaven. Many Adventists also believe that way.
Pastor Rafael Perez was in South America preaching, holding revival meetings. A Seventh-day Adventist lady came to him with tears rolling down her cheeks. When he asked her what was the matter, her reply was that she wanted to attend the revival meetings, but she had been told that if she did, she would be disfellowshipped. And if she was disfellowshipped, how could she go to the kingdom of heaven?
I have found people today who will not take part in any kind of evangelism or other soul-winning work unless it is connected to the church organization. Let me ask you, has God ordained self-supporting work or any work done by individuals if it is not connected to the church organization? It’s something to investigate: precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.
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.