SECTION TWO: THE SIDE ISSUES
Chapter II – The Side Issue Of Church Authority
Chapter III – The Side Issue Of Christian Unity
Chapter IV – The Side Issue Of Tithes And Offerings
by Dr. Ralph Larson
While awaiting the time for an appointment with the Union presidents of the North American Division, I heard one of the presidents address the others in this manner:
We must find some way to stop Ron Spear, but we can’t do it with theology because there is nothing wrong with his theology.
Two questions occurred to me. If there is nothing wrong with Spear’s theology, why should he be stopped? And if theological questions must be avoided, what methods will be used to stop him?
The first question remains open, but it seems that the second question is now being answered. The Issues tract and book both carefully avoid the real issue of unjustified and unauthorized changes in our church’s theology. After listing five of the alleged changes on page 5 of the tract, the writers continue:
It is not the purpose of this statement to provide a theological rebuttal to the views held by the members of Hope International.
Therein lies the tragedy. The concerns of the historic church members are theological in nature, and they need to be dealt with on the theological level. No other means can be substituted with effective results. Yet that is what is happening. Attempts are being made to advance the side issues of church authority and Christian unity while ignoring the real issue of unauthorized changes in our church’s theology. As admitted by the Union president, there is nothing wrong with our theology. And he is not alone in this opinion. The president of the Pacific Union wrote to me on May 1, 1990:
I despair with you over the fact that so many of our church members are finding it necessary to turn to independent ministries in order to hear basic Adventist teaching.
And on November 16,1988, Elder Charles Bradford, president of the North American Division, wrote to me:
. . . my views on the nature of Christ are almost identical with some that you and others have expressed. I have preached them at large camp meetings around the world.
When a few persons have criticized my writings, I have responded by asking, “Have I said or written anything that is not true? If so, point it out and I will make an immediate correction.” But nothing has been pointed out. The idea seems to be that even if it is true, I should not have written it. I have difficulty with this concept.
The real issue is unauthorized changes in our church’s theology. But since the Issues writers have chosen to place their emphasis on side issues, we will have to consider them.
Has God given authority to the church? Of course. Is this authority supported by the Scriptures? Undoubtedly. Is it supported by the Spirit of Prophecy? Beyond question, it is.
No one is questioning the principle of church authority. But can a valid doctrine of church authority be based upon a false theology? Who would answer “Yes” to that question? How could any person, any group of persons, or any church have authority from the God of truth to teach or enforce doctrines that are not true?
False doctrines have no authority, nor can they ever have. A false doctrine, apostasy, cannot apply to itself any promise of God, nor can apostasy claim for itself any right or privilege that God has given to the true church. Let us remember that the church of God is described in Scripture as “the pillar and ground of truth” I Timothy 3: 15.
To describe a church that teaches untruth as a true church is manifestly ridiculous. Our church has been greatly blessed and honored by God because it has steadfastly taught the truth of God, in spite of strong opposition from the world and from other churches. But now, in an eagerness to have acceptance from the world and the worldly churches, some among us are turning from the truth and are embracing doctrines that are not true. Thus, the church is in peril and is in danger of losing the blessing and the power of God.
Contrary to the allegations in Issues, the Historic Adventists are not saying that the church is in apostasy. They are saying that there is apostasy in the church, and that the apostasy is spreading rapidly with no apparent opposition from most church leaders. And to the degree that church leaders condone or support false doctrines, to that degree they lose their authority. When a church member asks, “Why are the doctrines of the church being changed?” it will not suffice to give him a stern lecture on church authority, nor will denials of the changes be effective when the church member is observing the changes in his own house of worship. When truth goes down, authority goes down with it.
It is not possible for church authority to be the central issue in the present discussion. Fullness of truth brings fullness of authority. Therefore, let our leaders set the church’s theology in order and questions of authority will quickly disappear. Our doctrinal book states:
No one has any independent authority apart from Christ and His word.—. SDAs Believe, page 146. And Ellen White writes:
“Whatever the church does that is in accordance with the directions given in God’s word will be ratified in heaven.”— 7T 263.
“The church. . . must say about sin what God says about it. She must deal with it as God directs, and her action is ratified in heaven.”— DA 806.
This brings us immediately and specifically to the heart of the present problem. In ever widening circles within our church, its spokesmen are emphatically not saying about sin what God says about it. They are saying instead that it will be necessary for us to keep on sinning until Jesus comes, at which time He will miraculously fix us so that we will not sin any more. This is a concept which is forcefully rejected in the Scriptures (Revelation 22: 11- 12), and against which we find more than 40 strong warnings in the Spirit of Prophecy.
When the disciples of Jesus were summoned to appear before the Sanhedrin, they went gladly, anticipating an opportunity to express their convictions about Jesus. They found, however, that the Sanhedrin proposed one question only, Do you submit to our authority? Result— the church was split. When Martin Luther and his companions were summoned to appear before the emperor, they also went gladly, hoping for a discussion of the principles of truth. But they were confronted with the same question, Do you submit to our authority? Result— the church was split.
Today we find ourselves caught up in a similar situation, and we may well reflect about the past. Will our leaders respond to our expressions of concern about unauthorized changes in our church’s theology, or will they simply demand submission to their authority, putting authority above the truth? The question is fraught with great and eternal results. May God save His church.
The same principles that apply to the side issue of authority are also applicable here. The Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy are unmistakably clear in exalting the importance of Christian unity. But Christian unity, like church authority, must be built upon the foundation of truth.
We all believe that unity in the church is precious. It is priceless. Unity was the great burden of the last recorded prayer of Jesus for His disciples (John 17). Unity was what made possible the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Unity was one of the major factors that gave power to the Seventh- day Adventist Church as it emerged from the Millerite Movement.
What is the basis of this precious unity? Paul calls it “the unity of the faith” Ephesians 4: 13. He further describes it as “speaking the truth in love,” verse 15, and indicates that those who have this unity of the faith will not be “carried about with every wind of doctrine” verse 14.
Ellen White describes the search for unity in 1844: We would come together burdened in soul, praying that we might be one In faith and doctrine, for we knew that Christ is not divided.— TM 24. (All emphasis supplied.)
Their prayers were answered. They did become one in faith and doctrine, and they bestowed that legacy of unity upon us. Our church has enjoyed a phenomenal degree of unity throughout most of its history. We who have spent years in soul- winning work have found it an enormous advantage to be able to tell our converts they were uniting with a world- wide church that had a oneness in faith and doctrine over all the earth.
But notice how God has warned us through His messenger that unity must be based upon faith and doctrine:
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, ennobling truth and false, misleading doctrines. … I urge our brethren to unify upon a true, scriptural basis.— l SM 175. We are to unify, but not on a platform of error.—. Series B, “Freedom in Christ” 47. Our church has not unified upon a platform of error, but upon a platform of truth. Our doctrines have been the foundation of our unity, but if wrong doctrines are introduced, causing the foundation of truth to crumble, we will struggle in vain to preserve our unity. The wise man does not build his house upon the sand.
At various times in the history of Christianity, there have arisen tensions between Christians who had differing views of what constitutes sound doctrines. Instead of meeting this problem on the theological level, church officials have sometimes tried to resolve it on the basis of church authority. This has never been and never will be successful. Ecclesiology must be derived from theology. Theology cannot be derived from ecclesiology, lest it degenerate into ecclesiolatry.
Again we note that the returning of tithes and offerings to the Lord is the sacred duty of every Christian. God has commanded us to bring the tithe into the storehouse. But only the storehouse of truth can be the storehouse of tithe.
We doubt that anyone would seriously argue that God requires church members to pay tithes and offerings to support the teaching of soul- destroying false doctrines. Let the questions about false doctrines be properly dealt with and the tithe problem will disappear.
It is unfortunate that attempts have been made to show that Ellen White taught that the tithe should only be paid through regular church channels, regardless of the circumstances. These endeavors do not bear up well under investigation. (See booklet The Tithe Problem— Who Is Responsible? available from Steps to Life bookstore.)
In summation of the section, let us point out that neither authority nor unity nor tithe paying can stand alone or upon the foundation of a false theology. None of them can be first and the truth second. Truth must be first and church authority second. Truth must be first and Christian unity second. Truth must be first and tithe paying second. The real issue in our church is truth in conflict with untruth, unauthorized changes in our church’s theology.