“For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and be holding your order, and steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5
Recently much discussion has entered the arena of ideas regarding “gospel order” and “organization” of smaller bodies of believers, either within their own groups or as groups joining together. Many necessities have arisen in these late hours of earth’s history that are making such discussions imperative.
Fair or Foul Usage
In considering the practical and physical nature of order and organization, we would do well to consider the spiritual order necessary to make anything of a practical nature function correctly. There are many who are afraid of physical organization, believing such endeavors are doors to corruption. The early Seventh-day Adventist pioneers faced 20 years of such fear before settling into that which proved a “grand success.” (See General Conference Bulletins, April 10, 1903; General Conference Daily Bulletins. January 29, 1893; February 20, 1899.)
Everyone reading this probably has a five dollar bill in their wallet or purse. A great deal of time, thought, expense, and machinery went into the process of producing that small piece of paper. Users of that denominated bill can either purchase lunch, gasoline, or a pornographic magazine if they so choose. The bill itself is not compromised by fair or foul usage. It is the user who decides the final issue of its value.
One of the main reasons people fear organization in religious fields arises from the premise that it is an open door to a hierarchy developing. Hierarchies have certainly developed. Some, like the papacy, put it right on paper. Others put on paper principles of gospel order and representative systems of governance, but in practice they are veritable papal machines functioning as “rule or ruin” systems. The paperwork is invalidated by men, in positions of responsibility, either ignorant, blind, or defiant of inspired directions in these matters. The heart is not right. The head becomes confused. The results become a detriment to the progress of Christ’s church.
The True Foundation
Spiritual order is the true foundation often missing from efforts to organize a work for God. I trust readers are well aware of the many statements from the Spirit of Prophecy, which deal with the topic. Two should provide an adequate perspective;
“Organizations, institutions, unless kept by the power of God, will work under Satan’s dictation to bring men under the control of men; and fraud and guile will bear the semblance of zeal for the truth and for the advancement of the kingdom of God.” Testimonies to Ministers, 366.
“There is too much reliance upon human plans and methods, and too little faith in the mighty God of Jacob; too much machinery, and too little of the life-giving Spirit and power of the Most High.” Signs of the Times, June 30, 1881.
A Tool to Further God’s Work
Literally hundreds of other statements can be read to get the balance of intent where organization, machinery and kindred terms are found. Organization and the elements of organization are essential for the oversight and forwarding of God’s message in this world. Positions of responsibility can be faithfully carried out, or people can fall into being betrayers of sacred trust. Such actions are not a call to dismantle order and organization. They just show the perversions that can enter. Let it be remembered that rebellion broke out even in heaven. No amount of organization can keep things spiritual, period. Organization is a tool to be used by spiritual people to forward a work for God in this world. It is not to be feared but respected and utilized, as one would use any tool to accomplish a purpose.
This brings us to principles of spiritual order from the Holy Bible by which we can be blessed. They are simple things, but oh, how often forgotten or not given proper consideration.
Here is the bottom line, the foundation:
“…Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God… he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3:4, 5.
Every problem within organization stems from this situation first. If, in this politically correct world of ours, spiritual people cannot detect whether individuals placed in positions of responsibility are spiritual people themselves, we are in a most destitute situation, indeed. This is not judging salvation. This is not deciding who is weak in faith or strong. It is simply knowing who is a citizen of God’s kingdom by new birth, and who is not, by virtue of observing the fruits of life—love for God and love to our fellowman. If this cannot be known or observed in practical ways, let us call it a day and close up shop. But spirituality can be observed. It must be observed.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33.
Sung over and over again, as a Scripture song, the foundational principle here stated is almost lost amongst a people who regularly put men on pedestals, in the place of God, run the church like a Madison Avenue business or some secular country, when Jesus plainly stated – My kingdom is not of this world. The pure, worthy, heavenly, biblical prinicples that make up the governing of God’s kingdom must be sought, known and practiced if any kind of physical organization is to function well. They cannot be found in the kingdoms or corporations of this world. They are found only in Inspiration and the things of nature that God has created for our instruction.
Christ’s Righteousness Must be Exalted
All efforts to organize must center on the exaltation of Christ’s righteousness. No uplifting of the talents, accomplishments, education or banners and methods of man should be given entrance into the work of God. We are all sinners in need of a Saviour. We are all prone to self-centeredness. We are all bound to seek the comfort and affirmation of men in a crisis, rather than hold the line for God in the face of scowls, slicing words, or death. Teach, or let people look to men, and they will. They will bypass or replace counseling together with permission to go forward. A thus saith the Lord is replaced by a thus saith men. The principles of Bible truth are replaced by the rules, resolutions, regulations, policies, mandates and commandments of men. Nobody, with the glory of Christ’s righteousness shining through, will seek anything but the knowledge of God’s character, government, and purposes, and act in accordance with them, Great Controversy, 593. Whatever cannot be shown to aid in the believer’s attainment, by faith, of Christ’s righteousness cannot be made hard and fast. Let much prayer and thought go into this premise. Jesus knew about what He was speaking.
This leads us into another foundational principle. “…all ye are brethren.” Mat-
thew 23:8. There is only one King, one Head on one set of shoulders, upon which the government rests. There is one Lawgiver. How easy for sincere people to set men, called of God to do a work for Him, in the place of God Himself. It cannot be overstated how dangerous this is. It is very prevalent in all circles today and must cease. If we cannot humble ourselves and knock down the pedestals, God will.
“But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28.
If men seek position, authority, dominion or greatness, they have not the spiritual order necessary to be involved in the work of God on earth.
In Luke 22:24-34, the same scenario is portrayed, with the added situation of Peter’s need for conversion to strengthen his brethren, and his confident statement of loyalty; to which Jesus told him of his coming denial.
We Must be “Servants”
Let the passage speak to the issue. Conversion, and realizing we are to be servants, is so necessary to successful organization; without it, all the talent on earth will accomplish only pain and trouble.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Matthew 7:1. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone:…” Matthew 18:15.
In Matthew 7:1–5, and Matthew 18:15–20, we read of basic principles of spiritual order that are constantly neglected to the destruction of souls. Now, let it be understood that Jesus said to “…judge righteous judgment.” John 7:24. But can you imagine a person with a ceiling beam sticking out of his face trying to tell someone how to get a sliver out of his eye? Jesus portrayed a preposterous situation to illustrate a plain truth; make sure your own heart and life are right with God before you get to thinking how to straighten out someone else’s life. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. How simple, and yet how foreign to much of what exists in religion today amongst God’s professed people, in the home and in the church. Certainly no organization can function properly where such principles are not carried out or found. Oh Lord, help Thy people to have spiritual order in every aspect of our lives.
A Heart Problem
Gossip and backbiting are poisons and disease that are eating out the life of the church in every quarter. Things ripple through the pews with such speed that surely the Seventh-day Adventist grapevine is the fastest communication system on earth! It is a heart problem that has nothing to do with districts, conferences, unions, positions of responsibility, printing presses, schools, or health institutions. There is such a lack of true brotherhood amongst God’s professed people that such illness is common rather than rare. Organization cannot stop it. Heaven could not stop it. Lucifer did what he did, and God allowed it to have its unfortunate results that we might learn the futility and destructive nature of these things. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, 41-42; paperback, 17, 18.)
Lucifer attacked God’s character, government and purposes. Spiritual order in heaven broke down. Rebellion broke out. War resulted. A separation took place. Do not miss the points. There is nothing new under the sun.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1
In all things, restoration to God’s ideals is the influence that should be seen and practiced by God’s people. Tear down sin; do not tear down people.
Does the student of the Bible realize there is not a single instance in the gospels where Jesus verbally stated the problems people had with their personalities, characters, motives or methods—unless He was outright asked, addressed, or had people gather around Him to listen to Him teach principles that spoke to people’s hearts? Until people have that spiritual order that leaves the flaws of character, motive, personality, and methods (not out of harmony with a distinct biblical command) of others in the hands of God, we shall wander in the wilderness for generations to come, biting and devouring until a generation gets it right. We will never prepare for heaven while living out such antichristian behavior.
Consider these two stories and their import:
“And John answered Him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid Him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that can lightly speak evil of Me. For he that is not against us is on our part.” Mark 9:38–40.
If men forbid others because they are not “with the program,” if they display a “party spirit” or have that “company man” mentality, know they are not possessors of God’s spiritual order and will promote human wisdom over God’s revealed will.
In Luke 9:46-56 the same story is mentioned with the addition of comments by the “Sons of Thunder.” (See Mark 3:17.) When Jesus was not allowed to enter a village of the Samaritans because of their prejudice, James and John responded:
“Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did?” Jesus responded, rebuking them with the perfect words,
“Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:54–56.
To Build Up the Body of Christ
If men display self-importance, if they display bigotry or prejudice, or seek to hurt or destroy with ideas contrary to God’s government and kingdom, they have not the spiritual order that will build up the body. It is one thing to speak out against open sin and rebellion. It is another thing to deal with people as though we are engaged in a military conflict or sporting event. We war, but with spiritual weapons, not carnal ones. We race, but we do so that all may receive the crown of life, knowing we are in an endurance race, not a sprint to the finish line.
The book of Acts is filled with such harmony, brotherhood, love and power that one looks almost in vain to find any dissension. The murmuring of the Grecian converts, in chapter 6:1, which resulted in the office of deacons, is recorded. In chapter 15 we see the sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark’s usefulness; something that was settled for the good of all with the insights, confidence and courage displayed by Barnabas. Would you be willing to disagree with the apostle Paul for the good of God’s work, or would Paul’s word settle a matter? Do not miss the point there.
In Acts 21:17–40, we have the unfortunate story of leaders having no confidence in Paul, this time around, which grew from having no spiritual order and little faith. Paul was asked to compromise his own principles, which he did to keep peace and unity. It cost the church the freedom of its greatest missionary. The leaders had no authority to place Paul under unnecessary restrictions, and their cowardice is a testament to what lack of brotherly love can cost God’s movement.
The Plague of Unbelief
There is, though, an underlying stone of offence that appears frequently in the book of Acts, as well as the epistles. In Acts 14 we see the influence of unbelieving Jews, and Acts 15 relates to us, in revealing detail, the problems that Judaizers would give the movement for years.
Unbelief is a plague, of course. No one would deny that. What could be less spiritual? But when it has the semblance of zeal for God and for His people, then it is most perfidious.
“But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.” Acts 14:2. What can be worse than former brethren and the trouble they can cause? Without spiritual order, and organization, an unraveling of the fabric of God can swiftly take place. Paul understood the issues and the times. He boldly spoke to these unbelievers and told them if they didn’t want the truth and the torch he would turn and watch God give it to the Gentiles. Acts 13:46; 14:3. True, they had to flee stoning (verse 5), but there is never a dull moment in the army of the Lord, beloved. Let us understand well that spiritual point. “All they that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (See 2 Timothy 3:12.)
In Acts 15 the issues came to a head within the body itself. If there is one thing that can slow down or derail the train of salvation, it is the misunderstanding of the plan of salvation. The Judaizers taught, “…Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1. It did not seem to dawn on these souls that if circumcision actually saved anyone, half the human race (females) were left out. No small dissension and disputation arose. The Jerusalem council was called; Peter spoke the obvious, that the Holy Spirit had already decided the matter, and why put yokes on people no one was able to bear (generation after generation of false thinking)?
Is it not so that in our day there is tremendous misunderstanding of the plan of salvation, unto translation to heaven, throughout the ranks of God’s professed people? Rest assured, God has, and will continue to have, a movement where these precious truths are understood and proclaimed. But let it also be known that any type of physical organization that has people making up its numbers who do not understand God’s plan of redemption—from justification to sanctification to glorification—will find continual weak links in the chain of pulling souls from the quicksand of sin onto the solid rock of salvation.
The Mortar of Wise, Praying Builders
The entire Bible is filled with God’s spiritual order. We have looked at but a few places of foundational interest. It is the conviction of the author that a “new movement” in Adventism, a “reformation,” has been underway for a century. Its results can be clearly seen in the confusion that abounds. When a people see that independent atoms cannot be God’s plan for success, when it is realized there is need for organization more than ever before, let the principles of spiritual order be experienced and put into the mortar of wise, prayerful builders.
The reader is asked to notice the scope of order and organization employed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 13. He quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 as a foundational principle in dealing with all issues in verse 1; that at the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established. He asserts his authority to speak to the issue of unrepentant sinners in verse 2, especially in the light of those who have challenged his calling as an apostle.
He pleads for self-examination, whether we be in the faith; that faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). He states we cannot do anything against the truth in verse 8, and wishes for the perfection of his readers (verse 9), knowing the power of the truth to sanctify the believer.
He wrote to his children in the faith unto their edification, not destruction (verse 10), knowing, at times, that spiritual order calls for plain speaking. There certainly is need for plain speaking in our day.
“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” 2 Corinthians 13:11-14.
Partners with the Holy Spirit
Beloved, if people are experiencing the power of the grace of Jesus and the love of God; if they are partners with the Holy Spirit; if they are praying together and truly studying together to show themselves approved unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed, but rightly dividing the word of truth, spiritual order will prevail, physical organizations and structures will remain steadfast, on course, having timbers of integrity that will resist storm and tempest, and God will move mightily in this world again. (See 2 Timothy 2:15.) True, the time is coming when men will not be able to buy or sell. Property will be confiscated. Buildings will be taken away. Things will boil down to the simplest of actions and order. Probation will close. God’s judgments against the false orders and organizations of this world will fall, and we shall go home. Home! That place where perfect peace and order shall exist forevermore. But, until then, let us do every-thing decently and in order. (See 1 Corinthians 14:40.) God’s order. Let us go home.