After the death of Wycliffe in 1384, his followers, variously known as Wycliffites or Lollards, traversed the length and breadth of England preaching the gospel. An effort to restrict these activities resulted in the passage of a law that allowed for fines, confiscation of property and imprisonment for the crime of preaching “without license of the ordinaries.” “These preachers were not troubled with doubts touching their right to assume the sacred office. They reasoned that the same charter which gave to the Church her right to exist, gave to her members the right to discharge those functions that are needful to her welfare. They went not to Rome, therefore, but to the Bible for their warrant to minister.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 350
Today, Adventism is faced with a similar situation as a “new movement” has sprung up of Seventh-day Adventist ministers who do not look to any earthly authority for their authorization to preach the gospel, not only within the United States but indeed all over the world.
Just as the preaching of present truth for fourteenth century England evoked a harsh response from the combined religious and civil powers, so today the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have sought ways and means by which they might avail themselves of the assistance of the civil power to eliminate, and failing in that, make as difficult as possible, the work of the independent ministries.
The history of the early Reformation in England reveals that when lesser efforts failed, it ultimately resulted in a death decree being passed against the Lollards by King Henry IV. In the preamble of this infamous act, we find enumerated the activities in which the Lollards were engaged which were so offensive to those who opposed them that they felt constrained to resort to such harsh tactics. It was there stated that the Lollards “were going from diocese to diocese, holding conventicles, opening schools, writing books, and wickedly teaching the people.” Ibid., 351.
In comparing these charges with the record of those who today speak on behalf of Historic Adventists, we find some remarkable parallels. The leaders in the movement, if it may be called that, of Historic Adventists, not only travel widely, preaching and holding conventions, but they have organized training programs and Bible-worker training schools.
It is interesting to note that William Sawtrey, the rector of St. Margarets’s in Lynn and the first Lollard martyr, was martyred on the charge that he would not worship the cross. Yet, in Montana, one home church group was formed over precisely this same issue. The pastor of the church which a family that has since started a home church had been attending, reportedly erected a cross on the platform and then, with his wife, sang a hymn to it and kissed it.
I hope it is thus clear to all our readers that the Historic Adventist Movement is not new at all. In fact, it goes back at least as far as the first century A.D. We read in Acts 19:8-10 of Paul’s failure to convert all of the Jews of his day and the resulting separation that took place. “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”
Let us take special note of the fact that the separation occurred only after certain of the Jews hardened their hearts against the truth. Then Paul was presumably forced to move his location of worship service and Sabbath school out to a private location, a school of one brother named Tyrrannus. Reread verse 10 and note that this separation did not happen overnight. It occurred over a period of years. This was clearly a period of turmoil and perplexity as apostolic Christianity became distinct from Jewish orthodoxy. This is the corresponding period in which we find ourselves today.
What is it that motivates Adventists to separate from the fellowship of their brethren? The answer lies in the fact that they believe that it is neither wise, nor safe, to continue listening to error week after week. This is not a personal preference but a biblical principle. “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” Proverbs 19:27
Were this principle not true, there would never have been a need for the early Adventists to have separated from the other denominations from which they came. Neither was this separation something peculiar to the early Adventists. Many true Christians have had to make this painful transition—the Waldenses, the Lollards, the Hussites, the Lutherans—to name only a few.
That those who value truth refrain from listening to error is no surprise. The thing that is so surprising is that apparently good and faithful Adventists continue to excuse themselves in listening to wolves in sheep’s clothing preach to them such errors as the pre-fallen nature of Christ, of His inability to save us from sin, and kindred heresies.
The idea of home churches is not a new one but extends back at least as far as New Testament times. In Romans 16, Paul refers to this. “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfrutis of Achaia unto Christ.” Romans 16:1-5 [All emphasis supplied]
In addition, there are several other places where home churches are referred to. “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” 1Corinthians 16:19. “And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house.” Philemon 1:2. In Colossians 4:15, we read of yet another home church, “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.”
Returning our attention to fourteenth century England, we read of William Thorpe, a Lollard Protestant, whose chief sins in the eyes of the establishment of his day were his refusal to believe in the transubstantiation of the communion bread and his refusal to worship images such as the cross. While his final fate is unknown to us, it seems most likely that he perished in a dungeon for there is no record of his release of public execution. So I class William with the lengthy list of martyrs and request your attention to his recorded statement as to what constitutes God’s church. “And I believe in the holy Church—that is, all they that have been, and that now are, and that to the end of the wold shall be, a people that shall endeavor to know and keep the commandments of God.” The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 357
It is a remarkable thing, but a point well to be remembered, that in every moral crisis within the church, when the majority have followed after error, leading those who choose to be faithful to the truth to separate from them, there has been unity of understanding as to what constitutes the church of Christ. Thorpe’s understanding of God’s church was that it is “a people that shall endeavor to know and keep the commandments of God.” God’s church is not and never has been a man-made structure. It is simply those people who love God supremely and keep His commandments. How very different is this ancient but simple understanding from that of the majority in every age who have viewed the corporate structure as the church!
By way of illustrating the point, consider in your mind a church. Most often the picture that comes to mind is a typical church building. Generally, most people will form a mental picture of a building with doors, windows, probably a steeple, and perhaps with a cross on the top.
Starting at the top of this structure, we must recognize that the cross is not at all a Christian symbol but was imported from pagan sun worship. Its introduction occurred in the ninth century and it caused a schism in the establishment of that day. Claude, the bishop of Turin, stoutly resisted cross worship, commenting, “…in kneeling to the image, or kissing the cross, you do what the second commandment forbids, and what the Scripture condemns as idolatry. God commands one thing and these people do quite the contrary. God commands us to bear our cross, and not to worship it; but these are all for worshipping it, whereas they do not bear it at all. To serve God after this manner is to go away from Him. For if we ought to adore the cross because Christ was fastened to it, how many other things are there which touched Jesus Christ! Why don’t they adore mangers and old clothes, because He was laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes? Let them adore asses, because He entered Jerusalem upon the foal of an ass.” Ibid., 22
In tracing back the history of the cross, its origin appears to have been the first letter of the name of Tammuz, the illegitimate son of Ishtar, the evil queen who originated sun worship and astrology. After Tammuz’s death in a hunting accident, Ishtar shrewdly encouraged his worship by the populace of Babylon, thereby retaining her position of authority. Very quickly the “T” was used as Tammuz’s symbol in the same manner that the sign of the cross is practiced today by Roman Catholics. It is from this satanic religion that pagan Rome apparently borrowed the cross as the form on which to practice crucifixion. The Bible lists a number of pagan practices within God’s church in Ezekiel 8, calling them abominations. In the fourteenth verse we read of this worship of Tammuz. “Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”
Moving away from this satanic symbol of cruelty and idolatry and striking it from the top of our mental picture of a church, we move our consideration down to the steeple.
The fifteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 11, 232, correctly identifies the origin of the steeple as the obelisk. The obelisk was the externally identifying mark of temples of the sun god in the Middle East, just as the steeple today commonly identifies the buildings of many Christian denominations. The very center of modern spiritual Babylon, the Vatican, has gone to great pain and cost to identify itself with the mystery religion of ancient Babylon by erecting the largest obelisk in Europe in the very heart of the papacy, St. Peter’s Basilica.
Now, recognizing that the steeple is not more Christian than the cross, we strike it from our mental image of a church building, and what do we have left? Just a house—a home church. Yes, the home is the real center for Christian worship.
In closing, let us take a quick look at a passage of Scripture that is commonly twisted out of its proper context to attack the home church movement. How often we hear that we are not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together.” See Hebrews 10:25. Let us, however, consider this admonition in the context in which it was given. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Hebrews 10:23-26. The context clearly identifies that the meeting that we are not to forsake is one where we provoke one another to good works, not one where virtually everybody does no more good than warming the pews once a week. And of current import, do not miss the fact that in verse 26, Paul clearly connects sinless living with the meeting of the saints. Yet the meetings forsaken by those who have joined the home church movement are those where the preacher openly preaches that sinless living is impossible until Jesus returns.
Given the errors and outright apostasy of the corporate Sabbath gatherings that I have seen, these verses in Hebrews demand that we find meetings apart from those which contradict the biblical gospel. For further bible study on this topic see also: 1 Corinthians 6:15-18; Proverbs 5:3-8; and Proverbs 7:10-22. As you read, keep in mind that a harlot is the biblical symbol for an apostate church.
Brothers and Sisters, I do not believe that this Historic Adventist Movement is some new phenomenon but a necessary continuation of historic theology and practice. We presently know of over 600 groups that have satellite receivers and we have reason to believe that there are approximately 1000 home churches which meet regularly.
We have seen that though a conventional church building may be desirable as a place of meeting, it is not necessary, and certainly not synonymous with the church. I would like to urge each reader to not only consider this home church alternative, but to support the leaders of this movement. Once you have joined or started your home church, remember that every successful reformatory movement has been characterized by active proselytizing by all members. If we do not seize our opportunity to do the task in front of us, taking the gospel to the whole world, our candlestick will also be removed from its place.