A parable is told in a book written by a prominent Seventh-day Adventist Church historian. He states that the church is like unto a fat woman returning from a shopping spree. My mind’s eye grapples with a woman as a beast, sweating profusely, with arms full of precious packages, standing before a door. Our parabolic friend faces a crisis. She is unable to open the door to enter her house to put down her bundles. If she reaches for the door handle, she will drop and ruin some of her packages, but if she continues to cling to her packages, she will never pass through the doorway. Her predicament is a “Catch-22” in that no matter what choice she makes she loses something. The only question is, which option represents the greater loss?
There she stands, sweating, frustrated, and venturing towards constructive thought from time to time, but not too much thought, lest it cause pain or force her into action. She is torn between two alternative desires—one to enter and rest, and the other to keep hold of all her packages. Torn by conflicting motivations she is unable to act on either. The result is more sweat and indecision as she stands within an arm’s reach of her goal. Now let us look at the interpretation of this parable.
Like many of the parables in Matthew 13, this one demands an explanation. Fortunately, the symbolism is really quite simple. The woman may be likened unto the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which, in its maturity, has grown rich and increased with goods and has need of nothing. The many packages may be likened unto the church’s structures and institutions of which the Adventists have a super abundant supply in at least four different wrappings—educational, ecclesiastical, medical, and publishing. The door may be likened unto the way of the kingdom of heaven, with the door handle being the mechanism of entrance into the kingdom. In other words, the handle symbolizes the Adventist evangelistic mission to the world.
The parable dynamics are also quite self-evident. The aim of the woman is to enter the kingdom of heaven through the doorway. She stands on the brink of ultimate victory, but here is the catch: she has been trapped by her own success. Through scrimping, saving, and sacrificing, she has accumulated a large number of institutions and structures. In fact, she has so many that her chief advisors spend a large and critical bulk of their time attending board meetings and trying to solve the increasingly insurmountable problems of these institutions in a rapidly shifting complex social society and system.
These problems, however, do not tempt the woman to lay down the packages because, as time has passed, she has increasingly gained her identity through the size, number, variety, and quality of her packages. She has become addicted to packages and package holding. The threats facing her packages have actually had the opposite effect on our lady friend. She chooses to grasp the threatened packages all the more tightly. Ever more of her energies and attentions are spent tending the growing number of packages. Thus she sweats; thus her inability and even unwillingness to let them go and reach for the door handle. The end result is that the packages inhibit her entrance.
There is a crucial paradox in all of this. After all, the sole function of the church structures and institutions is to facilitate the fulfillment of mission. Yet, in our lady friend’s case, they have just the opposite effect. There is something definitely wrong when the church falls into the role of furthering the mission of semi-ultimatum institutions rather than those institutions furthering the mission of the church. As Robert S. Folkenberg, then president of the Carolina Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Charlotte, North Carolina, pointed out in the June 1989 Ministry magazine, “There is nothing wrong with institutions and structures within themselves, but these entities need to be examined from time to time to make sure they are serving their intended purpose efficiently. After all,” he states, “with the passage of time there is a kind of dysfunctional gravity that tends to pull organizations down from their original purpose.” (“Church Structure—Servant or Master?” Review and Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, Maryland, 4–9.)
In other words, the preservation of the structure and/or institution gradually overtakes mission as the predominate concern. Significant! Israel was called to be a light in a world of darkness. The prophet Isaiah describes thus, in Isaiah 60:2, “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.”
The apostle Paul talks about the condition of the Israelites and the life they lived among the Gentiles: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them,” talking about the Gentiles, “because of the blindness of their heart.” Ephesians 4:17, 18.
We see here that the Gentiles are enshrouded in darkness, and, without Jesus, they have no hope. In God’s providence, Israel was to be the light to the Gentiles. This is why the prophet Isaiah says of them, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” Isaiah 60:1–3.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church needs to arise and shine unto the world. You will agree with me, I am sure, that this world presently is covered in darkness. We are called to reflect the glory of Jesus, which is His character, to this world covered in darkness. The people of the world will come to the church because of the glory of Jesus that they see displayed in its members. They will not necessarily come because of the beautiful church buildings. As a matter of fact, some of their places of worship are better buildings than those in which we worship. They will not necessarily leave their beautiful buildings to come to ours. They will not necessarily come because of our padded pews or our air-conditioned churches. They will come because they see the love of Jesus and His righteousness in the lives of its professors. When they look at us, they see the love of Jesus radiant in us, and this draws them to us.
Purpose of the Watchmen
So, the prophet declares that God is saying to His last day church, “Arise, shine. Arise like a watchman and warn the world.”
Isaiah also says in his book, “Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes [and] anoint thy shield. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. And he saw a chariot [with] a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, [and] a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed.” Isaiah 21:5–7.
What is the job of a watchman? In ancient times, sentinels were often stationed on the walls of cities where, from points of vantage, they could overlook important posts to be guarded and give warning of approaching enemies. The safety of all within the cities depended upon their faithfulness. At designated intervals they were required to call to one another to make sure that all were awake and that no harm had fallen upon any. The cry of warning was borne from one to another, each repeating the call until it echoed around the city.
According to Isaiah, the watchman has several required duties: (1) The watchman is to watch! (2) The watchman is to declare whatever he sees. If he sees a lion coming, he is to call out, “A lion is coming.” If he sees a bear coming, he is to sound the alarm, “A bear is coming.” If he sees a bear coming, he is not to call it a chicken. The problem is that the watchman sometimes is not saying what he really is seeing. He is declaring a different thing, but God is dependent upon the watchman to say what he sees. It is very critical. (3) The watchman is to listen carefully. The watchman must know the time of night, for the people are waiting for direction and guidance.
Ellen White tells us that, “God has appointed the church as a watchman, to have a jealous care over the youth and children, and as a sentinel to see the approach of the enemy and give warning of danger.” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 165. All of us are watchmen. “But,” she continues, “the church does not realize the situation.” Ibid. This is the reason why many of us who begin to speak as watchmen in the church are thrust out. The church is not prepared to have the truth spoken.
Mrs. White goes on to say, “She [the church] is sleeping on guard.” Ibid. When a watchman is sleeping while on guard there is trouble. There is no safety. “In this time of peril, fathers and mothers must arouse and work as for life, or many of the youth will be forever lost.” Ibid. She is warning that many of our young people will be forever lost if we do not each faithfully stay on our watch.
Warn the Wicked
Another duty of the watchman is to “warn the wicked from his way”: “ When I say unto the wicked, O wicked [man], thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked [man] shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” Ezeikel 33:8, 9. I would submit to you that wicked people are not only in the world. When we talk about wicked people, quite often our minds first think of those in the world. We say the world is filled with wicked people, but there are a number of wicked people in the church. We, as watchmen, have a job to warn them all.
“Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way to save his life; the same wicked [man] shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. You have done your job. You have delivered thy soul.” Ezekiel 3:17–19.
The Greatest Work
We quite often want to keep silent, because we do not want to offend our brethren! But consider the following counsel from the Lord’s servant: “Whatever the danger, Christ’s followers must avow their principles. They should scorn concealment. They cannot remain uncommitted until assured of safety in confessing the truth. They are set as watchmen, to warn men of their peril. The truth received from Christ must be imparted to all, freely and openly.” The Desire of Ages, 355. What is our job? Our job as Seventh-day Adventists is to warn men of the peril that is coming.
“What is a watchman for, unless it be to watch for evil and give the warning?” Testimonies, vol. 1, 314. “In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers.” Ibid., vol. 9, 19. We are set in the world as watchmen, and we are not to apologize for our job, because “To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world.” Ibid. In other words, if we do not give the warning, people are going to perish. “On them is shining wonderful light from the word of God.” Ibid. There is no other church, no other religion, no other denomination that has the message that we as a people have. We have been favored by God, but, alas, we have become ashamed of our position.
“They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention.” Ibid. Now, I know that your job is important; your family is important; but, believe me, if you are not involved in leading people to know the Lord, you are not doing the most important work of a watchman.
Mission is what the Seventh-day Adventist Church is all about. It was raised up for that purpose. Mission is the only reason for the denomination’s existence, yet Adventists are in danger in places—especially North America, Western Europe, and Australia—where the work is dying instead of growing. We are in danger of becoming just another nice, comfortable denomination or social club—go to church, hear a sermon, close the church at 12:00 noon, and go home or to the park, the beach, or the golf course. This is not the mission for which this church was raised up. We are called to warn people that impending doom is coming!
Some churches have become what I call man’s tenet churches. In such churches, there is no evangelism, no telling someone about Jesus; it seems they selfishly want to just keep what they have to themselves. As a matter of fact, some churches do not want anyone else to come into their church for fear that they will come in and upset the status quo. They are in the wrong place! Now is not the time for settling down. This world is not our home.
Tarrying Time Problem
What is the problem? Jesus has not come. Because there is a tarrying time, because the Bridegroom is delayed, the virgins have fallen asleep. Beyond this, some Seventh-day Adventists have begun to wonder if Jesus will ever come. Continuing time has sprung the fruits of secularism, disorientation, and institutionalism in the church. The church has become an entity—everything except a soul-winning entity.
The extension of time has mothered every problem currently faced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and yet time goes on and Jesus has not come. He is waiting for us to perform our duty as watchmen.
Keep Not Silent
A watchman is not to hold his peace. God declares: “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, [which] shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence.” Isaiah 62:6. Yet, sometimes, as we speak the truth and what God puts upon our hearts, there are those who begin to verbalize their dissatisfaction, and the watchmen become quiet. Then Satan rejoices when the watchmen resign and look for another job.
Jesus advised that if everyone speaks well of us, we need to be cautious. “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” Luke 6:26. Do not work to be loved by everyone in the church. Make sure that your name is written down in the books of heaven.
Seventh-day Adventists have been given special messages that have not been entrusted to any other denomination, such as the messages of the three angels, the sanctuary, health reform, dress reform, and the non-immortality of the soul. In the face of ridicule, hostility, and isolation, we must not be afraid or ashamed to proclaim these sobering, life-saving truths.
One of the problems that keeps us from sharing these messages, however, is that we are not united in what we believe. How can we be, when some of the church’s ministers are trained in the schools of Babylon? Today, the ministers are trained everywhere except where they are supposed to be trained. If a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is trained in a Catholic institution, he cannot give us Adventism. We must not purposely allow ministers to attend non-Adventist institutions to be trained. God’s people have need of one voice. If the ministers are trained in the schools of Babylon, can they be faithful watchmen?
In order for God’s watchmen to perform effectively and warn the world, they must see eye-to-eye. We read, in Isaiah 52:8, “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together they shall sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.” As watchmen, we must not be speaking different things. We must not have different points of view on baptism or on health reform or on the sanctuary. We must speak with one voice.
The people in the church need to be guided correctly. It has nothing to do with my opinion or your opinion. It has to do with God’s Word, and preparing a people for the coming of the Lord. So we must see eye-to-eye. We must see things the same.
Why is it important that we see things eye-to-eye? Because the world is covered in darkness and is crying out to us, asking, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” Isaiah 21:11. What answers are we giving to the world? The people of the world are asking the watchman, What of the night of sadness, the night of sorrow, of loneliness, the night of evil and wickedness, the night of violence and crime, the night of injustice and oppression? The night is a very lonely time. Many people die in the night; many are fearful of the night, and they ask, “Watchman, what of the night?”
World Wants to Know
The world wants to know. The heads of state want to know. They need answers to the significant changes taking place in the world. Mrs. White tells us: “Rulers and statesmen, men who occupy positions of trust and authority, thinking men and women of all classes, have their attention fixed upon the events taking place about us. They are watching the strained, restless relations that exist among the nations. They observe the intensity that is taking possession of every earthly element, and they recognize that something great and decisive is about to take place—that the world is on the verge of a stupendous crisis.” My Life Today, 229.
Yes, people want to know. They need answers to the tsunami that destroyed a quarter of a million people. They need answers to the election of Pope Benedict and the role he will play in world events. They need answers to the position of the United States in world affairs. They need answers to the epidemic and pandemic nature of AIDS and other such deadly diseases. They need answers to the mergers that are taking place all over the world, to the decline in morality, the unrest among nations, and the destruction of our planet and environment.
“Watchman, what of the night?” How will it end? What is our answer to the world? Jesus Christ, in Luke 21:25–27, said, “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
“Satan works through the elements also to garner his harvest of unprepared souls. He has studied the secrets of the laboratories of nature, and he uses all his power to control the elements as far as God allows. . . .
“While appearing to the children of men as a great physician who can heal all their maladies, he will bring disease and disaster, until populous cities are reduced to ruin and desolation. Even now he is at work. In accidents and calamities by sea and by land, in great conflagrations, in fierce tornadoes and terrific hailstorms, in tempests, floods, cyclones, tidal waves, and earthquakes, in every place and in a thousand forms, Satan is exercising his power. He sweeps away the ripening harvest, and famine and distress follow. He imparts to the air a deadly taint, and thousands perish by the pestilence. These visitations are to become more and more frequent and disastrous.” The Great Controversy, 589, 590.
This is all the work of Satan. The end is near, and people looking on are asking, “Watchman, what of the night?” Satan is doing his work! “Destruction will be upon both man and beast. ‘The earth mourneth and fadeth away,’ ‘the haughty people . . . do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.’ Isaiah 24:4, 5.”
“Satan is working in the atmosphere; he is poisoning the atmosphere, and here we are dependent upon God for our lives—our present and eternal life. And being in the position that we are, we need to be wide awake, wholly devoted, wholly converted, wholly consecrated to God. But we seem to sit as though we were paralyzed. God of heaven, wake us up!” Selected Messages, Book 2, 52.
“Famines will increase; pestilences will sweep away thousands. Dangers are all around us from the powers without and satanic workings within, but the restraining power of God is now exercised.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, 382, 383.
Soon the full force of Satan’s power will be let loose. With all of the inquiries from the people of the world, what is our response to be? “The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.” Isaiah 21:12.
But we learn from Isaiah 56:10, 11 that, “His watchmen [are] blind: they are all ignorant, they [are] all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, [they are] greedy dogs [which] can never have enough, and they [are] shepherds [that] cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.”
We have become settled in this world and are unconcerned about the people who need help. The world is dying for the light of God’s truth while God’s people, His watchmen, are focusing on matters of minor importance.
Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.