Surrounded by the eleven men who were going to be responsible for taking the gospel of His grace to the whole world, Jesus offered the prayer for them that we find recorded in John 17. This prayer, however, is not for those eleven men alone, because verse 20 says; “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” All who believe in Jesus are included, because we only know of Him through the testimony of these men.
Jesus continues in verse 21: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” All the way to the end of His prayer in verse 26, the primary point for which Jesus expressed great concern was that there might be unity among His people.
Unity is not just something that is important; it is something that must take place before Jesus comes again. It is so important that Ellen White has told us that if we do not press together in unity, we will be destroyed.
From time to time, I have been asked to meet with various individuals in administration in the Seventh-day Adventist Church organization. While I would be glad to meet with these men, I cannot do it unless some conditions are met. We can have no unity with the various branches of the organization until there is repentance and confession.
For what do we need to repent? We need to repent for having wandered into doctrinal error, or heresy. There was a time when the head of our medical work, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, wandered into some theological positions that were not sound. Not only were they not sound, they would have destroyed Adventism had they been accepted, as was pointed out by Ellen White.
“I leave this matter as it now stands; for I am pained beyond measure because our brother’s spiritual views are not founded on a solid basis. The man can never be relied upon in the future, unless heart and soul, mind and strength, are entirely changed, revamped. As matters now stand, I can not see how there can be Christian unity between the medical missionary work as led by those in error, and the gospel ministry. There can be no unity without a decided change in the one who has stood as leader of our medical work.” Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, 54. [Emphasis supplied.]
Notice that she said that he could never be trusted in the future. It is no different today. When a minister or leader wanders into doctrinal heresy, he cannot be trusted unless his error is fully repented of and that fact has been demonstrated by a full confession. Our problem is that we have grown up in an era of public relations where people believe that you can smooth everything over with a veneer, and after a time, everyone will forget and life can go on, but this is not the gospel.
Because of their desire for harmony, many people are tempted to seek a type of unity with those whom they know to be in error. The devil wants us to harmonize with error, but there is a grave danger in doing so, and we must not do it.
“Oh, how deceptive is the human heart! How easy it is to harmonize with that which is evil! There is nothing more detrimental to the soul’s interest, its purity, its true and holy conceptions of God, and of sacred and eternal things, than constantly giving heed to and exalting that which is not from God. It poisons the heart, and degrades the understanding.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 78.
What does it mean to repent? In the Greek language, the word for repentance comes from a word that means “a change of mind.” In other words, you change your mind about sin, and when repentance is genuine, you will change your life. That is why we are told that genuine repentance is followed by reformation. (See The Desire of Ages, 555.) If there is no reformation in the life, then there has not been true repentance.
If, however, we are too proud to confess and repent, we can never come into unity.
It is so easy for people who have been Christians for a long time, and have not been living openly immoral lives, to think that somehow they no longer need to confess. This is especially true of those in positions of trust. Ministers, however, need to study the subject of repentance and confession just as much as anyone else, and maybe more, because their position makes repentance and confession so much more difficult to do.
“If when the Lord reveals your errors you do not repent or make confession, His providence will bring you over the ground again and again. You will be left to make mistakes of a similar character; you will continue to lack wisdom, and will call sin righteousness, and righteousness sin. The multitude of deceptions that will prevail in these last days will encircle you, [she is talking to ministers here] and you will change leaders, and not know that you have done so.
“I ask you who are handling sacred things, I ask the individual members of the church, Have you confessed your sins?” The Review and Herald, December 16, 1890.
It is a dangerous thing, when God reveals to a person something in his life that is wrong, for that person not to accept it with repentance and confession. When this takes place, the thinking becomes distorted so that sin appears as righteousness and righteousness as sin. It is even possible for a minister to continue preaching and call himself a Seventh-day Adventist, but to have changed leaders without realizing it. Instead of following Christ, he has become a part of Satan’s organization.
Confession is absolutely vital and of all people, ministers should be the most diligent to be sure that their sins are repented of and confessed.
“Confess your faults to one another, that you may be healed. How many there are who are carrying a load of unconfessed wrongdoing. They try to shape matters so that their dignity will not be hurt. To make wrongs right from the very first departure, looks to them like extinguishing themselves.” The Signs of the Times, October 30, 1901.
To where am I to go back, to get things made right? To the very first departure from the right. This is a critical point to understand when you want to have unity. Some people ask, “Why can’t we all just get together?”
Before we can get together in unity, we are going to have to go back to where the departure was and make it right.
Let me just give an illustration that has to do with this. Have you ever had somebody ask you, “Why can’t you just associate and fellowship with the Seventh-day Baptists? What is the difference?” Oh, there is a big difference between Seventh-day Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists. The difference is that in the 1840s, the Seventh-day Baptists did not accept the first angel’s message. When you do not accept the first angel’s message, you are not in a position to accept the second angel’s message. If you do not accept the second angel’s message, you are not in a position to accept the third angel’s message, which is present truth for today.
I worked with an evangelist once who told me that when you are explaining something sensitive, always put it on the other foot. Do not ever make the person you are talking with appear in a bad light. If you are talking with Methodists, do not talk about the Methodists; talk about the Baptists or some other group, or the person to whom you are speaking is very apt to take it personally and you will have a barrier of prejudice to overcome before you can reach them. I just followed that principle. I have not talked to you about Seventh-day Adventists, but if you follow this principle through, it applies in Adventism.
“Men have in their minds justified the course that was then taken. They have viewed things, from beginning to end, in an altogether false light; and from the present showing, the same course will be followed in the future.” Spalding-Magan Collection, 178.
These words were part of an appeal to our leading ministers to confess and repent of what we had done wrong. Some people urge charity and express a concern that it is hurtful to those involved to discuss these things, but notice what we are told about true charity: “True charity never covers up unrepented and unconfessed sins.” The Signs of the Times, May 11, 1876.
“While we should manifest Christian courtesy, we are authorized to call sin and sinners by their right names—that this is consistent with true charity. While we are to love the souls for whom Christ died, and labor for their salvation, we should not make a compromise with sin. We are not to unite with the rebellious, and call this charity. God requires His people in this age of the world to stand, as did John in his time, unflinchingly for the right, in opposition to soul destroying errors.” The Sanctified Life, 65.
Some people believe that it is wrong to name names, but that is not what we are told by inspiration. It is necessary that they be named so that other people will not be led astray. We are to call sin and sinners by their right name and appeal to them to repent. We are to denounce what they are doing so that the Holy Spirit can convict their minds to repent and confess their sins, because we are very close to the time when there will no longer be an opportunity to confess our sin, to repent.
Friend, in Adventism today, there is a lot to repent of and much to confess, but there can never be unity unless these steps are first followed.
“When Brother C once takes a position on the wrong side, it is not easy for him to confess that he has error; but if he can let his wrong course pass out of his mind and pass from the memory of others, and he can make some changes for the better without an open acknowledgement of his wrong, he will do so. But all these errors and unconfessed sins stand registered in heaven and will not be blotted out until he complies with the directions given in the word of God: ‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.’ ” [James 5:16.] Testimonies, vol. 4, 241.
Do you see what it is that is blocking us from having unity? Can we deny that there has been scheming and prevarication in Adventism in the last few years? These things make unity impossible.
“He would teach His people that disobedience and sin are exceedingly offensive to Him and are not to be lightly regarded. He shows us that when His people are found in sin they should at once take decided measures to put that sin from them, that His frown may not rest upon them all. But if the sins of the people are passed over by those in responsible positions, His frown will be upon them, and the people of God, as a body, will be held responsible for those sins.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 265.
“The plain, straight testimony must live in the church, or the curse of God will rest upon His people as surely as it did upon ancient Israel because of their sins. God holds his people, as a body, responsible for the sins existing in individuals among them. If the leaders of the church neglect to diligently search out the sins which bring the displeasure of God upon the body, they become responsible for these sins.” Ibid. 269.
Now, friends, if you understand very much at all about church history, that statement should put a great load on you. Do you have any idea of some of the things that have happened in Adventism that, as far as I can find out, have never been repented of or confessed? What was happening in the 50s, 60s, and 70s? Remember when the book Questions on Doctrine came out in the 1950s, introducing heresy? Remember what took place in the Mary Kay Silver case in the 1970s? Was it right? We have been defending it ever since. I have a whole booklet in my library defending what we did. I read the booklet and then read the accounts of what had happened, and when I finished, I said, “It was not right.”
Somebody may say, “Well, she did this, that and the other.” It does not matter what the other person has done. You do not have to answer for what she did, but if we were a member of the organization at that time, we are going to have to answer for what we have done, or allowed others to do in our church, without protest. We have more repenting and confessing to do than many of us have ever imagined. If we want to be ready for the Lord to come, we need to be attentive to what is going on and act accordingly.
In the 1980s there was John Marik who was put in prison for religious reasons. This action was initiated by the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and I have paperwork confirming this. That was a sin, friends, and what we did is registered in the books of heaven.
The first thing that is essential to unity is repentance.
Someone may ask, “Pastor John, are you speaking only about the organization?” No, I am not denying that there may be things for which I need to repent. If there are blind spots in my character that I do not see, for which I need to repent, then someone among God’s people who loves me needs to point them out to me, so that I can repent. Unity will never be obtained without repentance, and true repentance will always be followed by confession.
“All sin unrepented of and unconfessed will remain upon the books of record. It will not be blotted out, it will not go beforehand to judgement, to be canceled by the atoning blood of Jesus. The accumulated sins of every individual will be written with absolute accuracy.” The Review and Herald, March 27, 1888.
We are living in the Day of Atonement. Are you reviewing your life? Are you asking, “Lord, did I have a thought, speak a word or do anything today that was not pleasing in Your sight?”
If you will begin the process of repenting and confessing your faults and mistakes, you will find that it becomes progressively easier. It is certainly humbling, but as with many difficult things, it is always hardest at first.
Some of you may feel overwhelmed as you consider the formidable task before you and be tempted to say, “If I follow your advice on repenting and confessing of sin, I would not even get all my sins repented of and confessed before the Lord comes; there are too many!” But, God is the One who said this, and if you do not know how to get it all done, you had better talk to Him about it. All I can do is share with you what the Lord said. Ask the Lord to help you to get it done. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will finish.
About this time, one of the questions that makes people very nervous is, “What if I cannot remember? Am I then shut out of the kingdom of heaven?”
The Bible says: “For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” 11 Corinthians 8:12. If you have willingness and will make a commitment with the Lord, the Holy Spirit will point out to you what you need to do to be right with God. The problem is not with our memories because God can supply our deficiencies. The real problem is whether we have a mind that is willing to make things right.
“There are those who are supposed to be excellent men, but they have some flaw in their character which, under special temptation, becomes as a dead fly in the ointment. The whole character will be perverted by one unconfessed sin.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 13, 190.
If we allow one sin in our life that is not confessed and repented of, that one sin will flaw the entire character. In Testimonies, vol. 5, 53, we are told that one sin will neutralize all the power of the gospel.
Ellen White once wrote to an elderly person who was living in sin, but who had not long to live. She said, “The sands of your life are nearly run out, and now if you will come to God just as you are, without one plea but that He has died to save the chiefest of sinners you will find pardon even in this the eleventh hour.” Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, 133.
Oh, friend, whatever your situation, whatever the sin in your life, even if it is the eleventh hour of your life, you can come to Jesus and repent and confess and find forgiveness for your sin. The gospel is a wonderful thing. Not only can you find forgiveness for your sins, but you can find power to live a new life, to no longer live in sin.
“Christ did not die to have power to cover transgression unrepented of and unconfessed. Not all sins are to be confessed publicly, but some are to be confessed alone to God and the parties that have been injured.” Ibid.
We need to pray: “Lord whatever You have to do with me to prepare me for heaven, whatever experience I have to go through, whatever trial, whatever happens, please, Lord, do not let me die in sin.” If you die with your sins concealed and unconfessed, you are lost.
“The mansions that Jesus has gone to prepare for all who love him, will be peopled by those who are free from sin. But sins that are not confessed will never be forgiven; the name of him who thus rejects the grace of God will be blotted out of the book of life.” The Review and Herald, December 16, 1890.
Friend, I am willing for you to correct me on anything that you can find from inspired writings, but if I am correct, we have a lot more repenting and confessing to do than most of us have ever had any idea of, and we had better pray and ask the Lord to help us to get it done. We are either going to confess it now, or after the millennium. By the grace of God, let us begin now. [All Emphasis supplied.]
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.