As lives are entangled and ripped apart by sin; as men and women fall into the traps of Satan and his hosts; as people struggle through the gauntlets of daily life, what is the standard whereby an individual may come into the service of God?
There are many controversies raging in Adventism today. New ones seem to arise with each passing week. One, that seems to simmer on a back burner until loss of liquid takes place and burning results, is the belief that those who fall into sin must relinquish their public, full-time service for the Lord.
Ambassadors for Christ
It is not likely anyone would deny a man or a woman coming in from the world a place in the service of God. They have been in a frame of mind not in harmony with God. They carried on in life oblivious to the perils of sin, especially on an eternal scale. Once enlightened, they march in another direction, heaven bound with their armor on,
ready and willing to take their place in the army of Jesus. They are soldiers, ambassadors, workmen, fellow laborers, fitted up for service through conversion and training.
Examples of this class abound in Scripture. Moses, of course, was a murderer. Yet God used him in mighty ways for the deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage. He had much to learn and to unlearn. On the other hand, Moses was held accountable for great light and privilege. In striking the rock, instead of speaking to it as God directed him, he was not allowed to enter the promised land with the children of Israel. (See Numbers 20:7-12.)
Though he exercised swift repentance and pled with the Lord for a reversed sentence, the judgment of God stood, and Moses died after 80 long years of service to his Maker, not entering the promised land. His earthly privileges and responsibilities were great, and the honor of God was to be held in supreme regard. Despite the great burdens placed upon Moses; despite the constant trial and weariness of his tasks, he could not be excused.
An Example for the Flock
“The history of Israel was to be placed on record for the instruction and warning of coming generations. Men of all future time must see the God of heaven as an impartial ruler, in no case justifying sin. But few realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Men flatter themselves that God is too good to punish the transgressor. But in the light of Bible history it is evident that God’s goodness and His love engage Him to deal with sin as an evil fatal to the peace and happiness of the universe.
“Not even the integrity and faithfulness of Moses could avert the retribution of his fault. God had forgiven the people greater transgressions, but He could not deal with sin in the leaders as in those who were led. He had honored Moses above every other man upon the earth. He had revealed to him His glory, and through him He had communicated His statutes to Israel. The fact that Moses had enjoyed so great light and knowledge made his sin more grievous. Past faithfulness will not atone for one wrong act. The greater the light and privileges granted to man, the greater is his responsibility, the more aggravated his failure, and the heavier his punishment.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 420.
This entire account is quite sobering. It requires deep reflection as we see movements afoot to organize and carry on the work of God in our world. Gospel order is no less required now than it was then. Service is a privilege, not a right. Positions of responsibility are just that—positions of responsibility.
Though God, in His tender love and mercy, granted to Moses the experience of resurrection and life in the eternal world, let it be ever remembered his earthly service had boundaries he could not cross with impunity. Still, the fact remains he continued to lead the Jews as they headed to the promised land.
Untrue to Your Trust
Another biblical character who enables us to address the issue of past life and present service would be Samson. Here was a human being with godly parents and tremendous potential. He squandered it all on various paths of riotous living and lack of self-control, even losing his eyesight to God’s enemies. Could God use such an individual if he repented? Indeed. In one heroic act, the most prominent worshipers of Dagon were destroyed, but so was the strongest man on earth. “God’s promise that through Samson He would ‘begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines’ was fulfilled; but how dark and terrible the record of that life which might have been a praise to God and a glory to the nation! Had Samson been true to his divine calling, the purpose of God could have been accomplished in his honor and exaltation. But he yielded to temptation and proved untrue to his trust, and his mission was fulfilled in defeat, bondage, and death.” Ibid., 567.
This bitter-sweet account in the annals of biblical history leaves us with the observation that repentance goes a long way in the eyes of the Lord toward accomplishing His purposes.
Another man of physical stature is in the historical record, the man Saul. Small in his own eyes, he was granted the position of being Israel’s first king. His connection with God was such that he was given the gift of prophecy. “And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart: and all those signs came to pass that day. And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him: and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” 1 Samuel 10:9, 10.
The Principle of God’s Kingdom
Again, the principles whereby God conducts the workings of His kingdom and government were violated, and Saul was rejected and met a gruesome end. Yet he remained the anointed of God in David’s eyes, leaving David with the conviction to leave Saul’s future in God’s hands until that end came. Much is at stake in considering this subject.
With David, with Solomon, and with others, these same principles have applied. Serving God in a position of responsibility is a privilege that must be kept in high esteem. Position does not give license or authority. Position is granted under conditions of being faithful to sacred trust. If sacred trust is violated, although one may repent, in the eyes of God, in the eyes of the people to whom he or she ministers, the sacredness of the work is marred.
Follow the Leader
The tendency for people to go the ways of those who are called to lead out is taken up numerous times in the Testimonies of God’s Spirit; “The spirit of Christ will be revealed in all who are born of God. Strife and contention cannot arise among those who are controlled by His Spirit. ‘Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.’ The church will rarely take a higher stand than is taken by her ministers. We need a converted ministry and a converted people. Shepherds who watch for souls as they that must give account will lead the flock on in paths of peace and holiness. Their success in this work will be in proportion to their own growth in grace and knowledge of the truth. When the teachers are sanctified, soul, body and spirit, they can impress upon the people the importance of such sanctification.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 227.
“The watchmen are responsible for the condition of the people. While you open the door to pride, envy, doubt, and other sins, there will be strife, hatred, and every evil work. Jesus, the meek and lowly One, asks an entrance as your guest; but you are afraid to bid Him enter. He has spoken to us in both the Old and the New Testament; He is speaking to us still by His Spirit and His providences. His instructions are designed to make men true to God and true to themselves.” Ibid., 235.
“The state of things in ____ is a matter of deep regret. That which the Lord has been pleased to present before me has been of a character to give me pain. Whoever shall labor here or in ____ hereafter will have uphill work and must carry a heavy load because the work has not been faithfully bound off, but has been left in an unfinished state. And this is the more grievous because the failure is not wholly chargeable to worldliness and want of love for Jesus and the truth on the part of the people; but much of it lies at the door of the ministers, who, while laboring among them, have signally failed in their duty.” Ibid., 254, 255.
“The sad fact is apparent that the work in these fields ought to be years in advance of what it now is. The negligence on the part of the ministers has discouraged the people, and the lack of interest, self-sacrifice, and appreciation of the work on the part of the people has discouraged the ministers.” Ibid., 257.
Sin in the Ministry
If negligence can so retard the work, ought not sin in the ministry carry greater consequence? It is one thing to come in from the world and need instruction for service. It is quite another to be one of those instructors and prove unworthy of a position of trust. It tends toward weakness and casual approach to this sacred calling we all have as a prophetic movement. This is not about throwing stones. It is about principle. It is about sacred trust, sacred calling, and sacred service. “Historic Adventists must march to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. They should understand what so many others have largely forgotten – we all have an influence on others, every single day of our lives, for yea or nay.
Often the cry is heard, where affection for leaders is challenged, “Nobody is perfect!” Indeed. Not yet, anyway. And if a people expect God to perfect their characters in righteousness and holiness, how much should they honor Him by sustaining from His treasury only those who maintain a fidelity to His standards in all things.
The issue is not private service, but public service in the eyes of the people. Repentance unto salvation certainly cannot exclude the repentant sinner from doing all they can to win souls to so gracious a Savior. But the necessity of leaders who are as true as steel to Principle, as true as the needle to the pole, cannot be overstated.
“If men fail to educate themselves to become workers in the vineyard of the Lord, they might better be spared than not. It would be poor policy to support from the treasury of God those who really mar and injure His work, and who are constantly lowering the standard of Christianity.” Ibid.,vol. 3, 553.
How Grievous the Sin?
This well-known and oft used statement carries sound counsel. It speaks for itself. Certainly if one who lowers standards should not receive support, open sin should mean dismissal from public responsibilities. The question remains as to how grievous the sin and how badly one’s influence mars the work. Despite what we have looked at so far, not one individual was taken from their work at the time of their sin or its discovery. Through their repentance God was able to use them in His work. So, we must move wisely in such matters. God is Judge.
An example of a somewhat different sort is found in the New Testament, the story of John Mark.
John Mark joined Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey to the island of Cyprus. Young and full of exuberance, he had not counted the cost of joining such endeavors, and the time of hardship, privation, toil, and spiritual warfare took its toll on him. How his eyes must have become saucers when Paul went head to head with Elymas the sorcerer.
Some might have thought such confrontation to be fuel for their spiritual engines, but John Mark, apparently overwhelmed, left Paul and Barnabas in Perga and returned to his Jerusalem home. (See Acts 12:24–13:13.) Such was not the end of the matter.
After the success of the general council meeting at Jerusalem, Paul suggested to Barnabas they retrace their journeys and visit the various churches they saw raised up: “And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” Acts 15:36-41.
Sharp contention was a foreign occurrence in the early church with the love of the brethren being so strong. Let it be noticed that Paul’s misgivings were not necessarily well founded, as time had gone by. Barnabas saw changes in John Mark that enabled him to hold his ground on behalf of the young man.
Paul saw the work of God in all its nakedness. It is not clothed with the affirmation and comforts of this world. “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” ” …for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 6:26; 16:15.
“Barnabas was ready to go with Paul, but wished to take with them Mark, who had again decided to devote himself to the ministry. To this Paul objected. He ‘thought not good to take . . . with them’ one who during their first missionary journey had left them in a time of need. He was not inclined to excuse Mark’s weakness in deserting the work for the safety and comforts of home. He urged that one with so little stamina was unfitted for a work requiring patience, self-denial, bravery, devotion, faith, and a willingness to sacrifice, if need be, even life itself.” Acts of the Apostles, 202.
A Judgment Call
In this case there is a judgment call. It should be noticed they did not petition the Holy Spirit for guidance in the matter, something that lends itself to contentions among brethren when not done. Paul made an assessment based on past behavior, while Barnabas made an assessment based on John Mark’s spiritual progress. Open sin was not the issue. Whether or not John Mark was called of God was the issue. In such instances it behooves brethren to spend time in prayer over such matters, especially when this history is laid out before us.
John Mark proved worthy of Barnabas’ confidence, and he afterward proved a blessing to the work of Paul, as well. No one man can have all the answers where service to God is the matter at hand. Not Paul, not anyone. Where character and motives are concerned, where human frailty may be an issue, let brethren counsel together and ask wisdom of God. The work is His, and He alone knows the hearts of all men. If men repent of sin, if they are honest with God, He will convict them to step down if their influence cannot be redeemed. But we cannot read hearts. We cannot judge character or motives.
Because there is so little gospel order amongst those endeavoring to carry on the work of the Lord in spirit and in truth, such situations as sin, heresy, fanaticism, and disregard of counsel of true brethren is rather rampant. Until spiritual order and gospel order are brought in, doing things decently and in order will not happen. Self-sent ministers will continue to enter the field. Violators of God’s law and inspired counsels will continue to find ways to gather means and go forward with their agendas in the name of those endeavoring to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
Open, Unrepented of Sin
If ever there was a time to understand past life and present service, it is now. Opinions abound, but what saith the Lord? Though God is in charge of His work, let us not make that license for the weak. Open sin, unrepented of, is grounds for dismissal of service and membership itself. Heresy cannot be allowed public exposure. Fanaticism will generally leave the confines of the church if it is met firmly. Men who disregard sound counsel, if left to themselves, will fall into fanaticism in one way or another. Then more accurate measures may be considered.
In all of these things, consider these words; “It is nearly forty years since organization was introduced among us as a people. I was one of the number who had an experience in establishing it from the first. I know the difficulties that had to be met, the evils which it was designed to correct, and I have watched its influence in connection with the growth of the cause.” Testimonies to Ministers, 24. [Emphasis added.]
“To provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying the work in new fields, for protecting both the churches and the ministry from unworthy members, for holding church property, for the publication of the truth through the press, and for many other objects, organization was indispensable.” Ibid. 26. [Emphasis added.]
Order and Discipline in the Church
“We sought the Lord with earnest prayer that we might understand His will, and light was given by His Spirit that there must be order and thorough discipline in the church—that organization was essential.” Ibid. [Emphasis added.]
I can only plead with people to read the Review and Herald article for October 12, 1905, to see how often organization is linked with order and discipline, something that has been lacking for many years in Historic Adventism. Dealing with the issue of past life and present service is almost moot without a correct understanding of God’s order.
We would throw no stones, but we must seek to keep the work of God free from careless endeavor and dishonor of God’s high calling in Christ Jesus. Let the people of the Lord come into line with the principles of God’s character, government and purposes, and act in accordance with them. (See The Great Controversy, 593.) We must never lose sight of mercy and compassion, nor lose sight of order and discipline.
Storm and tempest is soon to sweep away an old structure being battered by the seas of the Omega apostasy. But the God of heaven has a work to finish. If people grow weary of self-sent ministers and confusion, let the principles of the “grand success” once again be woven into the fabric of of God’s tabernacle of truth in these final days. (See Testimonies to Ministers, 27.)
“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Psalm 127:1.