Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.’” Acts 5:17-20 NKJV
When we think of the temple, we visualize, first of all, Solomon’s Temple. Though it was later destroyed by Babylon, Ellen White tells us that it was the most magnificent building the world had seen at that time.
Then we think of the second temple, which was rebuilt after the captivity. It was beautiful, but it did not compare with the original. But this was the temple that Haggai the prophet prophesied about, “’ I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of all nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of host.” Haggai 2:7 NKJV
This building, enlarged and rebuilt by Herod, was glorious, and as the prophet had promised, the Desire of all nations did come. He came as a baby to be dedicated there. We would expect that there would be a glorious celebration, but there was not anything like that. Those who were in charge of the affairs of the temple did not see or feel anything unusual. They saw only a husband and a wife, clothed in the garments commonly worn by the poorer people, bringing the offering of the turtle doves that was the offering prescribed for those who did not have money enough to bring something more. They concluded that it was a matter of no consequence, another poor child.
But the Lord of heaven was not going to let the event pass unnoticed. He caused someone to be there who was spiritually tuned in. Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Lord’s Christ before he died, came in by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Seeing the baby, he knew He was the One. Although the priest giving the baby back into the arms of Joseph and Mary did not have any awareness of what was going on, Simeon did. Simeon took that baby and made a prophecy about it, while the priest looked on in wonder.
So it is still. Events upon which the attention of all heaven is centered are undiscerned and their very occurrence is unnoticed by religious leaders and worshippers in the house of God. What a tragic thing, but history does repeat itself.
The prophecy was fulfilled; the Desire of all nations did come. He went first of all to those who should have been foremost in recognizing Him, but something was wrong. They were not in harmony with the Spirit of God. They were desperately confused and did not know what was happening. Nevertheless, He came, fulfilling the promise and witnessing to the leaders of Israel. He witnessed to them several times and, of course, indirectly many times. Finally, He had to give up on the leaders of Israel, but He never gave up on the people.
There seems to be a law of diminishing returns, a point beyond which the Lord recognizes that there is still a little bit of good being accomplished; but the evil being done is so much greater, that it does not justify the continuance of the system.
“The people whom God had called to be the pillar and ground of the truth had become representatives of Satan. They were doing the work that he desired them to do, taking a course to misrepresent the character of God, and cause the world to look upon Him as a tyrant. The very priests who ministered in the temple had lost sight of the significance of the service they performed. They had ceased to look beyond the symbol to the thing signified. In presenting the sacrificial offerings they were as actors in a play. The ordinances which God Himself had appointed were made the means of blinding the mind and hardening the heart. God could do no more for man through these channels. The whole system must be swept away.” The Desire of Ages, 36
But God does not give up on people, so, though the priests had put the apostles in prison for preaching in the temple, the angel brought them right out the same door they went in and said, “Go back; go right back and stand in the temple and preach to the people all the words of this life.”
It was the time of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest occasion which drew people to the temple. They were gathered from far and near, and in the sheltered area in Solomon’s porch they gathered to hear messages of the kind the apostles were going to give them. So, that is where the apostles went to speak to them. God had to give up on the leaders of the church, but He never gives up on the people. This has been manifested ever so many times in the history of religion.
We read in The Great Controversy about the experience of Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation. That very brilliant man, whose work was not exceeded by those Reformers who followed him, even a hundred years later, took his message to the people.
“Wycliffe, like his Master, preached the gospel to the poor. Not content with spreading the light in their humble homes in his own parish of Lutterworth, he determined that it should be carried to every part of England. To accomplish this he organized a body of preachers, simple, devout men, who loved the truth and desired nothing so much as to extend it.” The Great Controversy, 87
These ministers of the gospel were called Lollards. As nearly as we can learn from the records, the word lollard is a bit of an extension of a Dutch word which means to speak or sing softly. These simple, humble preachers went with such success that the new faith was accepted by nearly one half of the people of England. It is interesting to note that the organized church rose up against these humble ministers, these men called from their walks of life, charging them with heresy.
Have you ever noticed that no matter when in the history of religion that heresy appears and heretics embrace heresy, they invariably accuse the faithful of being the heretics.
Zwingli also took his message to the people.
“Another class received with gladness the tidings of redemption through Christ. The observances enjoined by Rome had failed to bring peace of soul, and in faith they accepted the Saviour’s blood as their propitiation. These returned to their homes to reveal to others the precious light which they had received.” The Great Controversy, 175
Calvin took his message to the people. Of him we read, “His work began with the people at their homes. Surrounded by the members of the household, he read the Bible and opened the truths of salvation. Those who heard the message carried the good news to others, and soon the teacher passed beyond the city to the outlying towns and hamlets. To both the castle and the cabin he found entrance, and he went forward, laying the foundation of churches that were to yield fearless witnesses for the truth.” Ibid., 222
As you know, Wesley preached at the entrances to coal mines, in the fields and in the streets. All of the Reformers had to take their message to the people when they were forced to give up on the leaders of the church. A tragic situation but a very constantly reoccurring thing.
In 1888 Ellen White did the same thing. She found such resistance among the leaders of the church to the message of righteousness by faith, that she and A.T. Jones, as well as others, took their message to the people. In response, in 1891 the leadership sent her to Australia to get rid of that problem.
The lesson for us is that God never gives up on the people, and true reformers never give up on the people. True reformers may have to give up on the leaders, but never on the people.
Right after the angel had brought the apostles out of the prisons, he said to them, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” Acts 5:20 NKJV
I think that three and a half years earlier they would not have been able to handle that command; their childhood training would have been too strong. They would have said, “We cannot disobey the leaders of the church.” But after three and a half years, during which time they had seen the church leaders’ attitude of indifference harden into an attitude of opposition, then into an attitude of bitter hostility, finally ending in the crucifixion, they had no illusions about church leadership. They knew that church leadership can be led of God, but it does not necessarily have to be so. And so, without hesitation they made their decision: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29 NKJV
Now, may I suggest that our problem today is not greatly different. We have been told to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Added to that is the mandate to take the three angels’ messages to every nation, kindred, tribe, tongue and people. As a people, we have made it our first work—so much so, that in our own Adventist cultural jargon, to speak of “the truth” means simply one thing: we are talking about the three angels’ messages. To speak of “the work” means simply the work of spreading the gospel all around the world, This has been our all-encompassing concern, but in our time, we are seeing the uncaring indifference of church leaders hardening into opposition and open hostility. Now they are declaring that you and I are cancers in the body of the church, which must be cut out. So, we ought to lay aside all of our illusions, beloved, and look very carefully at this in the light of the question, What do we do under these circumstances?
We do not have to guess; we do not have to speculate; we are told very clearly what we should do. “The angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, ‘Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.’ We see here that the men in authority are not always to be obeyed even though they may profess to be teachers of Bible doctrine.” Testimonies to Ministers, 69 [Emphasis supplied]
Well, what does “not always” mean? When is it all right not to obey the leaders of the church? “Because those who were once the depositaries of truth became unfaithful to their sacred trust, the Lord chose others who would receive the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and would advocate truths that were not in accordance with the ideas of the religious leaders.” Testimonies to Ministers, 69, 70
That is pretty clear, isn’t it? When those who were once the depositaries of sacred truth become unfaithful to their sacred trust, they have no authority. Where there is no truth, there is no authority.
“Unless the truth is enthroned in the heart, and a thorough transition takes place from darkness to light, those who handle sacred responsibilities are ministers of darkness, blind leaders of the blind.” Ibid., 81
O that God’s people would open their eyes! How many times I have tried to explain to people who question me that in the Seventh-day Adventist church today, you have three groups of people. On the one side you have one group of people who know very well what they are doing; they are trying to change our doctrines and destroy our historic faith. On the other side you have a group of people who know very well what they are doing; we call them Historic Adventists. They are trying very hard to resist and oppose those unauthorized, ungodly changes. But in the middle, we have the vast majority who do not know what is going on. O that God’s people would open their eyes!
“If a brother is teaching error, those who are in responsible positions ought to know it; and if he is teaching truth, they ought to take their stand at his side.” Ibid., 110
I want to give credit where credit is due, but if any of our modern leaders have ever taken their stand at the side of an Historic Adventist, that has not been reported to me.
We can go on from there to take some examples illustrating the principle that there is no authority higher than the authority of truth, that position without truth has no authority whatsoever. We read here of Caiaphas, “Though clothed with a gorgeous dress, he was acting under the inspiration of Satan.” The Youth’s Instructor, June 7, 1900
“God has made His people the depositaries of His law. They must uphold the claims of that down-trodden law against the opposition of ministers of the gospel, against men of learning, position, and authority.” Sketches From the Life of Paul, 279
So we are not giving blind respect to authority.
“However great the confidence reposed in any man, whatever the authority given him by his position….His position and authority depend upon his connection with God, upon the discernment and wisdom he receives from above.” Review and Herald, May 14, 1895
The fact that a person has an office does not mean that he has authority from God. He may have authority from man but not from God. Wycliffe faced this problem, as did Huss, Luther, Wesley and many others.
According to the apostle Paul in Galatians 1:6, the position of an apostle is not enough if that person is not preaching truth. He must preach the truth, and so must we.
But how shall we handle our problem? In our time, those who have brought apostasy into the church are accusing the faithful of apostasy. When we say, “Would you please point out our heresy to us,” they say, “We will not discuss theology with you; we are only here to talk about authority.”
“Because those who were once the depositaries of truth became unfaithful to their sacred trust, the Lord chose others who would receive the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and would advocate truths that were not in accordance with the ideas of the religious leaders. And then these leaders, in the blindness of their minds, give full sway to what is supposed to be righteous indignation against the ones who have set aside cherished fables. They act like men who have lost their reason.” Testimonies to Ministers, 69, 70
When they are looking at a problem which is theological from the first word to the last, when they are looking at relationship in the church of tension and stress that is entirely theological and they say that it has nothing to do with theology, have they not lost their reason? When they take heroes of the gospel of Christ and disfellowship them from the temple, are they not acting like men who have lost their reason? When they accuse us of being the cancer in the body of Christ, when they exalt their rules above the Scriptures and above the Spirit of Prophecy, are they not acting like men bereft of reason? When they have taken the policy of credentials, which was established for the purpose of keeping falsehood out of the pulpit and keeping truth in, and prostituted and turned it around to keep falsehood in the pulpit and truth out, are they not acting like men who have lost their reason? But most of all, beloved, when they fantasize that they can destroy the historic faith of the Adventist people, have they not gone stark raving mad? God is going to protect His truth. This truth is going to survive.
In the fall of the year 1977, Jean and I took a public stand against apostasy at Loma Linda, California, and we were so alone. We thought that we would never again have fellowship with anyone else in the same frame of mind. But God is calling out His people. When there is a crisis, God will raise up men and women to meet that crisis. This truth will survive! It will never be destroyed, because it is God’s truth!
I remember Marshall Grosboll once making a statement in the state of Washington. When a certain problem was arising about the ones who wanted to follow the truth faithfully and those who did not, Marshall said, “You will be surprised when the dust has settled how few will stand.” That is sad is it not? We have our determination, our purpose, our intentions, and that is all very well, but we must have the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ if we will be among those who stand in the hour of trial.