In this article I would like to share with you some memories. Memories that go back twenty years, to when, as far as I was concerned, the whole historic Adventist movement began.
At that time I received an assignment from the brethren that I found very difficult to understand. It just did not make any kind of sense to me. Throughout all of my forty years of ministry for the Lord in the Adventist Church, my main interest has always been the soul winning work. I sympathize with Elder W. A. Spicer, one of the early pioneer Presidents of our General Conference, who used to say, “In this work there is only one thing that is worthwhile, and that is bringing a soul to Jesus Christ. All of the rest is just muss and fuss and bother.”
That is how I have always felt. So, when I was pastoring a church, I kept evangelism going as much as I could. When I was teaching in college, I did the same thing. And when I was teaching in the Theological Seminary, I did the same thing. I also spent fifteen years in full time evangelism, which was the cream of my years of life.
In 1977, in the fall of the year, I was conducting an evangelistic experiment in another Conference that I fully believed was going to revolutionize the whole picture of evangelistic work among Seventh-day Adventists. During this time I began to get calls from leaders in the conference and they told me, “We want you to go to the Campus Hill Church, in Loma Linda, and be the senior pastor there.” I said, “Why? That church is an institutional church with no new territory for evangelism whatsoever. It is surrounded by other churches.” I just could not make sense of it. I turned down the offer three times. But finally, when the Union Conference President pressed me, I decided I had better be a good soldier and start obeying orders. But I still kept wondering why?
Watching Prophecy Be Fulfilled
When I began pastoring the Campus Hill Church, I ran into something that I had never seen before in my whole life as a Seventh-day Adventist, even though, as an evangelist and as a Ministerial Secretary, I had come in close contact with many churches. The congregation was divided over theological issues and the tensions were severe. One could walk around on Sabbath morning and go into the different Sabbath School classes and hear two different theologies being presented on any Sabbath morning. I was absolutely dumbfounded. I had never seen anything like it, and never dreamed that anything like it existed in Adventism. I had to dig in and figure out what it was all about.
At that time, I did not realize that I was watching a fulfillment of prophecy. Later, however, I discovered that Ellen White had written about exactly what I saw happening in Loma Linda. She said in Selected Messages, vol. 2, 114: “Divisions will come in the church. Two parties will be developed.”
I saw the two parties being developed in the Loma Linda Campus Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church, and since then I have seen the division spread throughout our churches all over the country. It is no longer in isolated places; it is throughout Adventism. Who are these two parties? The first group was made up of people who were very thoroughly convinced that the message they had been taught when they joined the church, the message they had been taught when they went to Seventh-day Adventist academies, colleges and seminaries, was true. There was nothing wrong with the message they had learned to love and they had no intention of changing it for another gospel.
The other group was insisting that we change traditional, Biblical Adventist theology into something called New Theology. Actually their “new theology” is very old. Just like many of the doctrines that are promoted as “new light,” New Theology dates back a long, long time to errors the Reformers made and even earlier.
For example, a few years back we started hearing a great deal about a new morality in the world. When you took the curtains off and looked at it, you could see that this was something that began in Sodom and Gomorrah a long, long time ago.
And progressive theology is not much different. It is really regressive. I read with a strange mixture of feelings, recently, a prediction made by the president of a Seventh-day Adventist College in our country, in which he said something like this: “We have theological minds among us who are going to bring us into vistas of truth that the apostles could not even dream of.” I thought for a moment, “Man you have me on the edge of my seat. Show it to me!” Then I thought, “Oh, come on, relax, Larson. When the curtains are parted, it will have originated in Sodom and Gomorrah or back in some ancient time.” That is the way it always works.
When I came to Loma Linda and I found the New Theology apostasy, that is now a tide flowing through all Adventism, it was in its beginning there. The question I faced was, “What shall I do?” I did not feel as though I had any choice. As an evangelist, I had been defending the Seventh-day Adventist faith for years and years and I was not about to change—unless God showed me some good reason why I should—and He did not!
Consequently, I took a public stand against this apostasy and for a little while I felt all alone. However, I soon began to find out that there were people all over the country who shared my feelings. They, too, were astonished at what was happening around them. One by one, people scattered across this nation began to sound the cry, “This is terrible! I am going to do something about this if I can.”
After a while I became acquainted with Ron Spear in Washington and then with Doctors Russell and Colon Standish. We soon learned that the apostasy was really creeping through the whole ranks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And people all around the country were beginning to rise up and say, “I do not know what I can do, but I am going to try to do something.”
In a short time there was a Hope International Ministry, which is now putting out a hundred million pages of truth filled literature every year as a part of their worldwide work. There was a Steps to Life Ministry which sends out thousands of videos, magazines, tapes and books. There was a Remnant Publications, which has published hundreds of thousands of Spirit of Prophecy books for use worldwide. And there was a little tiny Cherrystone Press out in Cherry Valley, CA, which was my own ministry, publishing scholarly books.
In these ministries, and many others, there have been an innumerable number of cities of refuge started. Cities of refuge that are needed because of the warnings we have against listening to and receiving error.
The Danger of Error
I want to share with you in these pages several inspired statements about error, and the danger that exists for all who go to listen to it. Consider carefully these inspired messages for God’s people: “Error is falsehood and deception. Those who partake of it must suffer in consequence.” The Upward Look, 125.
“Error is never harmless. It never sanctifies but always leaves confusion and dissention. It is always dangerous.” Counsels to Writers and Editors, 47.
“There is in error and unbelief that which bewilders and bewitches the mind.” Selected Messages, vol. 1, 46.
“I was shown the necessity of those who believe that we are having the last message of mercy, being separate from those who are daily imbibing new errors. I saw that neither young nor old should attend their meetings . . . God is displeased with us when we go to listen to error, without being obliged to go; for unless He sends us to those meetings where error is forced home by the power of the will, He will not keep us. The angels cease their watchful care over us, and we are left to the buffetings of the enemy, to be darkened and weakened by him.” Early Writings, 124, 125.
If anyone challenges you about using this statement from Early Writings, which was written quite a while ago, just remind them that Bible writers, including Jesus Himself, when a question was placed before them, gave principles of truth to answer issues which were much bigger than the individual question they were being asked.
When the Pharisees brought Jesus a coin in the temple and said, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or no?” Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:17, 21. No theologian of any faith has ever argued that those words apply only to taxes. All theologians hold that those words apply to all relationships between a Christian and the state. Similarly, when Ellen White says, “Where error is being preached we have no business going,” it applies to all times and all circumstances.
Inspired messages such as these have been the mandate that has required many faithful Adventists, in order to be faithful to God’s Word, to leave the conference churches and begin attending homechurches.
Do You Know the Issues at Stake?
How many historic Adventists are there now? After twenty years, there are thousands and thousands of those who have seen the issues at stake. But there are tens of thousands of those who do not yet comprehend what is going on.
In the Adventist Church today there are three kinds of people. On the one side, at the extreme end of the scale, there is a small group of Seventh-day Adventists who know exactly what they are doing. They are trying to change our faith from Adventism to Calvinism. At the other end there is another small group that knows exactly what they are doing. They are trying to defend the faith so it will not be changed from Adventism into Calvinism. In between there is a larger group who do not know what the score is. They have not figured out the enormous issues at stake yet. That is why we are trying to help them understand what is happening.
There is a line in The Great Controversy, 640, that makes me tremble when I read it, because it is so applicable to our time and our situation. It says, “Religious teachers have led souls to perdition while professing to guide them to the gates of Paradise.” [All emphasis supplied.] Throughout the Biblical story and throughout the history of the modern church from Christ to this day, apostasy in churches has usually begun with the leadership and come down to the common people, especially through schools and institutions of higher education.
Those who today are standing for the truth against the wave of error that is sweeping through Adventism are being treated just as God’s people of all ages have been treated when they stand firm for the truth. Sister White wrote: “Now as in former ages, the presentation of a truth that reproves the sins and errors of the times will excite opposition. ‘Everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.’ John 3:20. As men see that they cannot maintain their position by the Scriptures, many determine to maintain it at all hazards, and with a malicious spirit they assail the character and motives of those who stand in defense of unpopular truth. It is the same policy which has been pursued in all ages. Elijah was declared to be a troubler in Israel, Jeremiah a traitor, Paul a polluter of the temple. From that day to this, those who would be loyal to truth have been denounced as seditious, heretical, or schismatic . . . This spirit will increase more and more.” The Great Controversy, 458, 459.
On the same page she poses this question, “In view of this, what is the duty of the messenger of truth? Shall we conclude that the truth ought not to be presented, since often its only effect is to arouse men to evade or resist its claims?” Her answer is a most emphatic NO! We must keep pressing on, giving the straight truth no matter the odds. And this is what we have done. They have not been able to frighten us—although they have tried very hard. Despite all of the things that were intended to frighten us away from our defense of the historic faith, we are still hanging on.
The Unity Problem
However, there is another problem, which many historic Adventists have been increasingly concerned about as the years have passed by, and that is the lack of unity among the historic Adventists. It is easy to understand why we have this problem when you realize that this movement did not start with all of us gathering for a big council meeting before going out to do our job. This was a grass roots movement. People came forward to do the work in different places, without the knowledge that there were others involved in the same work and who shared the same burden to defend our faith. So, the way things began did not contribute to unity.
Then, of course, the devil wants to keep us apart. He tries to work hard on his policy of divide and conquer—which he practices with skill. Consider thoughtfully these inspired statements: “Unity is the strength of the church. Satan knows this, and he employs his whole force to bring in dissension. He desires to see a lack of harmony among the members of the church of God.”Selected Messages, vol. 2, 159. “The unity of the church is the convincing evidence that God has sent Jesus into the world as its Redeemer. This is an argument which worldlings cannot controvert. Therefore Satan is constantly working to prevent this union and harmony, that unbelievers, by witnessing backsliding, dissension, and strife among professed Christians, may become disgusted with religion and be confirmed in their impenitence. God is dishonored by those who profess the truth while they are at variance and enmity with one another.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 619.
And there is something that has contributed to our lack of unity. We were very sensitive about the accusation that we were trying to start a second church to compete with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That was not a true accusation. It never has been and it never will be. It is not our purpose or intention to try to start a second church. However, because we were all so sensitive on this subject, many of us hesitated to join ourselves in united, organized ways.
Nevertheless, these reasons for our disunity in no way diminish the fact that God has called us to unity. “Press together, press together,” is what the angel said. (See Selected Messages, vol. 2, 374.)
This has been a concern to many of us. We have been praying, thinking and studying about it for years. There have been many conversations and very many prayers sent heavenward asking the Lord what we should do. Finally, all of this bore its fruit. In a meeting in February, 1998, in Florida, a group of more than twenty ministry leaders spent three days together. It was a heavenly sitting together. We wept together. We prayed together. We studied together. We confessed our sins together and we vowed we were going to find some way to mold this movement into unity like it ought to be—still without violating the principles we stand for.
One of the first things we had to settle was, Are those who charge us with divisiveness correct when they say that we are destroying the unity of the church and that we should just come back and unite with them? Is their argument correct?
When we studied this together, these are the types of inspired instructions that we found: “I am instructed to say to our people, unify, unify. But we are not to unify with those who are departing from the faith.” Selected Messages, vol. 3, 412.
“Christ calls for unity but He does not call for us to unify on wrong practices. The God of heaven draws a sharp contrast between pure, elevating and ennobling truth and false misleading doctrines. He calls sin and impenitence by the right name. He does not gloss over wrong doing with a coat of untempered mortar. I urge our brethren to unify upon a true scriptural basis.” Notebook Leaflets, vol. 2, 164.
“The Lord calls upon us to unify in harmony with Bible truth.” The Upward Look, 149.
“Harmony and cooperation must be maintained without compromising one principle of truth.”Counsels to Writers and Editors, 79.
“We are to unify but not on a platform of error.” Battle Creek Letters, 111.
So that question was very quickly and easily settled in our discussion. Are those in the conference correct when they say, “It does not make any difference which way we go, what we teach or what we do not teach. You must stay together with us.”? No, that is pure falsehood. We are to have unity, but not with those who are teaching error.
However, that does not lessen our obligation to seek for unity with those who are standing on the platform of eternal truth. We have been given many divine commands on this point:
“Unity of thought, unity of prayer, unity of action is essential.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, 165.
“He [Christ] calls for unity and unity we must have.” The Upward Look, 141. This is not just good advice. This is a command from the Lord Himself. We must unify!
“In unity there is a life, a power, that can be obtained in no other way. There will be a vast power in the church when the energies of the members are united under the control of the Spirit. Then will God be able to work mightily through His people for the conversion of sinners.”Testimonies, vol. 7, 236.
“The Lord is greatly dishonored when disunion exists among His people.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 174.
“Union brings strength, disunion weakness. Those who refuse to work in harmony greatly dishonor God.” The Southern Watchman, February 2, 1904.
“The world is looking on with gratification at the disunion among Christians. Infidelity is well pleased. God calls for a change among His people.” Review and Herald, December 30, 1902.
“Let us not think that our churches can enjoy God’s blessing while in a state of disunion.” Upward Look, 172.
“The Spirit of God will not abide where there is disunion and contention among believers in the truth.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 221.
After studying these solemn warnings, we had no choice. We must do something about the disunion that exists among us. We resolved that things must be changed drastically, dramatically, fully and completely because God has commanded it and we must do it.
After much study and prayer, we chose to endeavor to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3.) While recognizing our differences of opinions on various points we also recognized that the Lord wanted to lead us to a higher level that would finally result in perfect unity of faith as expressed in the following paragraph: “It is the same to-day as it was in the days of Christ. As the disciples were brought together, each with different faults, some inherited or cultivated tendency to evil, so in our church relations we find men and women whose characters are defective; not one of us is perfect. But in Christ, and through Christ, we are to dwell in the family of God, learning to become one in faith, in doctrine, in spirit, that at last we may be received into our eternal habitation. We shall have our tests, our grievances, our differences of opinion; but if Christ is abiding in the heart of each, there can be no dissension. The love of Christ will lead to love of one another, and the lessons of the Master will harmonize all differences, bringing us into unity, till we shall be of one mind and one judgment. Strife for supremacy will cease, and no one will be disposed to glory over another, but we shall esteem others better than ourselves, and so be built up into a spiritual temple for the Lord.” Signs of the Times, April 20, 1891.
This spiritual temple, which can only be completed with love and unity (while at the same time refusing to unite with error of any kind), must be finished before Jesus comes. We recognize that much more work needs to be done before God’s spiritual temple is completed and ready for Jesus to come, but we are completely dedicated to cooperating with the Holy Spirit for the finishing of this task.
This experience of perfect unity must take place in every institution and in every church. If it does not, then some of the people in these institutions or churches will be purged out by the fan of God, as the chaff is sifted from the wheat. We are in “the days of purification of the church.”
Testimonies, vol. 5, 80. Is it not time that every Adventist in the world should fast and pray that we may be purified and brought into the experience described in Ephesians 4—the experience of unity, not only in spirit, but in faith, so that we are not purged out by the trials that are thickening around God’s people?
May you be one of the people described in the next sentence: “God will have a people pure and true. In the mighty sifting soon to take place we shall be better able to measure the strength of Israel. The signs reveal that the time is near when the Lord will manifest that His fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor.” Ibid.