1901 Rejected, part 2

When Nimrod and his followers declared their independence from the Lord, Nimrod became the first King of Babylon and eventually built the tower of Babel.

“The tower had reached a lofty height, and it was impossible for the workmen at the top to communicate directly with those at the base . . . Confusion and dismay followed. All work came to a standstill . . . in their rage and disappointment they reproached one another . . . Men were made to feel that there is a God who ruleth in the heavens and that He is able to confuse and to multiply confusion in order to teach men that they are only men.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 214.

When the 1903 General Conference adopted a plan for a “World General Conference” with one General Conference President, Ellen White used this tower to illustrate the problems of centralization” as a “confederacy” born of “rebellion against God.” (Testimonies, vol. 8, 213.)

When Israel rejected the Lord as their King, and asked Samuel for a king, this form of centralized government under men eventually led to the division of the nation and destruction of Israel. Men had failed to learn from the tower of Babel that man cannot stand where God is to stand. The same discord generated at the tower of Babel was not comprehended by God’s people. Just as the tower led to confusion, Jerusalem eventually became “the city of confusion.” Isaiah 24:10. Choosing a king only deepened an apostasy into a “conspiracy” that broke the covenant, making Jerusalem a curse. The Lord had to destroy Jerusalem because of a false witness to the world. The prophecy of Isaiah 24:10 is a final day prophecy that applies to spiritual Jerusalem in the final days of earth’s history when the “gleaning grapes” (remnant) “lift the voice” against “the treacherous dealers” which causes “the shaking.” Isaiah 24:13, 14.

Centralization of powers in an hierarchical system in the days of Israel compounded abuses which were considered as treachery against the Lord and a backsliding to the gods of “strangers.” (Isaiah 1:7; Jeremiah 2:11, 25.) The treacherous dealers, according to Scripture, are those who “as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so ye deal treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 3:20.


What Might Have Been


It was the Lord’s plan in 1901 to spare the Church from repeating the history of Israel by a knowledge of their mistakes. But warnings from the messenger in 1901 and at the beginning of the 1903 session were not heeded. (General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 26; 1903, 29–30.)Decentralization had been stressed during the 1890s in an attempt to direct the Church away from a layer system of government. Decentralization was the theme of the 1901 plan of reorganization, which provided for the division of the field into the American General Conference and the European General Conference. The presidents of these conferences were to serve under Christ, the Captain of the 1901 plan. But since the brethren failed to come into unity in an upper room experience, “What might have been” (Testimonies, vol. 8, 104–106), was an impossibility. “Men did not humble themselves before the Lord,” and the presence of the Holy Spirit which was essential to unite men under Christ as “Captain” of the 1901 plan, was “not imparted.”(Testimonies, vol. 8, 104.)

Because men refused to unite under Christ in the 1901 plan, the 1903 plan of centralization under man became a necessity to prevent total fragmentation of the work. To maintain any semblance of organizational unity, the American General Conference transformed itself into “a World General Conference,” and coerced the budding European General Conference to revert to the European Union Conference. The delegates chose one man as General Conference President just as Israel chose a king; and the 1903 plan of centralization under man replaced the 1901 apostolic plan under Christ. This was an hierarchical plan of church organization in which man would rule over man in a layer system of organization. This plan was introduced on April 6, 1903 and was accepted on April 9, 1903.


The Most Terrible Sorrow of My Life


Prior to the 1903 General Conference, Ellen White had doubts about attending the session because of her disappointment over the results of the 1901 conference.

“I do not now expect to attend the General Conference. I should not dare to go; for I am very much worn with the responsibilities . . . I feel very intensely, because I understand the peril of those who as blind men have followed their own counsel. Were I to go to the Conference, I should be compelled to take positions that would cut some to the quick . . .

“The result of the last General Conference has been the greatest, the most terrible sorrow of my life. No change was made . . . they did not walk in the light that the Lord had flashed upon their pathway, but carried into their work the wrong principles that had been prevailing in the work at Battle Creek.

“The Lord has marked every movement made by the leading men in our institutions and conferences. It is a perilous thing to reject the light that God sends.” Letter from Ellen White to Judge Jessie Arthur on January 15, 1903.

Thus, in less than two years, the test of time revealed that “wrong principles” had been carried into the work and “no change” was made after the 1901 session. In spite of her disappointment, Mrs. White arranged to attend the 1903 session which convened March 27, 1903, at Oakland, California.


Brethren Cautioned to Look Beneath the Surface


At the April 5 meeting, she expressed deep concern over the decisions of the delegates that would influence the work of God.

“I have been carrying a very heavy burden. For the last three nights I have slept very little. Many scenes are presented to me. I feel an intense interest in the advancement of the work of God, and I say to our leading brethren, As you consider the questions that shall come before you, you are to look beneath the surface. You are to give careful consideration to every question discussed.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 104.


Elder Daniels’ Proposal


The Foreign Mission Board, chaired by A.G. Daniels, was still an international organization between 1901 and 1903, which provided the wedge to introduce the new plan of organization.

On April 6, 1903, one day after Ellen White warned the brethren to look beneath the surface, Elder Daniels made his proposal:

“Now, with reference to making the General Conference Committee the Mission Board: As the work is now shaping, the province of the General Conference Committee is of an advisory character to a large extent—not altogether, by any means—and is of a missionary character or phase.

“One who has not been in our office can scarcely realize what a complete change has been wrought at the headquarters of the General Conference . . .the administration in the United States has all been taken away, and is now placed in the hands of scores of men. But while that has been going on, our missionary problems have been greatly increasing . . .

“I have become convinced that one of the great purposes of the General Conference Committee would be to deal with these world-wide problems everywhere.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 100, 101.

Elder Daniels’ proposal was actually a cry for help for a human method to give unity of action within the organization. Men in authority could not work under Christ in the 1901 plan because they failed to come into “working order.” (General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 23.) Without Christ as “the Captain,” the only alternative was a strong central committee under man. A world Conference Committee chaired by one president, a concept foreign to the principles of the 1901 plan, was now proposed to manage “world-wide problems everywhere.”

Elder Daniels continued: “I believe that the Committee ought to be composed something like this: That the president of every Union Conference and the chairman of every Union mission field in the world ought to be a member of that committee. This will give us a larger and more representative committee, even, than we have today. We get the whole world directly represented on the General Conference Committee. Then add to that the heads, the leading men in special departments, such as education, publishing, and medical, and put on a few men of special experience, and special ability from their experience, and you have a thoroughly representative committee, representing all interests of this great work in all parts of our little world. And that will give us a truly representative and General Conference Committee, a World’s Conference Committee.

“Now, that, to my mind, brethren, is what should be the Mission Board of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination . . .Then the members of the committees can go to different parts of the field working harmoniously, every one, though separated, to carry out this policy. Now, there must be some executive body appointed to carry out the policy.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 100, 101.


Strong Objections From the Minority


The Mission Board, which was still an international organization, became the vehicle for the American General Conference at Battle Creek to grow into a super conference, a World General Conference.

Acceptance of Elder Daniels’ plan did not come easily. The strong objections of the minority report were supported by the plea of Percy T. Magan claiming the new plan swept away the reorganizational principles of the 1897 and 1901 Conferences and opened the way for the papal form of church government.

“But I want to say to you that any man who has ever read those histories, Neander’s History of the Christian Church, Mosheim’s or any other of the great church historian—any man who has ever read those histories can come to no other conclusion but that the principles which are to be brought in through this proposed constitution, . . . are the same principles, and introduced in precisely the same way, as they were hundreds of years ago when the Papacy was made . . .

“I do not deny for a moment but what improvements have been made in the distribution of administrative power. I am heartily in favor of all that has been done in regard to Union Conferences, but I say that, as far as the head of the thing is concerned, . . . the moment you vote it you vote yourselves right back where we were two years ago and before it.” Percy T. Magan, General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 150.

E.A. Sutherland stated that it was his impression that the General Conference was to be broken up into three parts: “I understood six years ago, when they elected their president of Europe, and also of Australia, and of this country, that those three men were supposed to be on the same plan . . . and that, when the General Conference should be called, it would be the calling of all of these men from these three parts, and that no one of these presidents would be supposed to occupy any greater position than either of the others . . . I know that it was talked at that time, that it should be so, and this country was divided up into Union Conferences, or we called them districts at that time; but the plan was the same as we are following at the present time.

“I believe, brethren, the thing to do is to go back where we were two years ago in the matter of reorganization, and take it up, and carry it out, and give it a fair trial, because those who have been in the responsible places have admitted that they did not carry out the letter of that,because they did not believe that it was possible. I believe that it is possible.” E. A. Sutherland, General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 168, 169.


Unbelief Gives Birth to 1903 Plan


The majority of the brethren simply “did not believe it was possible!” The same unbelief that prevented the Israelites from entering the promised land, permeated the General Conference and prevented the “Captain” of the heavenly hosts from leading His people into the heavenly Canaan. In spite of many hours and days of deliberations, the 1903 plan of centralization gathered support. Elder G. I. Butler exerted a strong influence for centralization.

“We are talking now on principles, brethren, and you will pardon one of the old hands, who has been in the work for so many years, and who has had the presidency of the General Conference for thirteen terms, for saying that he fails to see that anything of a kingly nature can be brought into it. I do not believe there can . . .

“The difficulty in all these things, I believe, is in regard to the principles being put in practice by the men that are placed in office . . . I cannot see a particle of danger in our old system of organization . . .

“If men will walk humbly before God, and remain willing to be instructed by the Testimonies of His Spirit, they will never find anything wrong in the old system of organization brought under the express influence of the Spirit of God . . .

“As one of the old hands, I see in this new constitution the same principles that we had in the beginning, that were endorsed by Sister White at the first. This is why I favor the new constitution.” G. I. Butler, General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 163.


James White’s Position on Organization


  1. I. Butler was a known advocate of “centralization.” He propounded his position to the General Conference in a paper on “Leadership” in 1873. (Review and Herald, November 18, 1873.) His position was endorsed by the delegates at that conference which stirred James White to write an editorial on the dangers of centralized leadership as best understood by the “prophetic eye of the Son of God” when he indicated “all ye are brethren.”

“And at no time during his public ministry does Christ intimate that anyone of his disciples should be designated as their leader . . .

“And there is no intimation that the apostles of Christ designated one of their number above another as their leader . . .”The apostle exalts Christ as the great head of the church, and the only one to whom she should look for leadership, in Hebrews 12:1, 2.

“Moses was simply a faithful servant in the Jewish house, while Christ is a son over his own house. Moses was not a lord in the Jewish house. He was servant, while Christ was lord . . .

“Christ, then, is the leader of His people in all the ages . . .

“But here we wish it distinctly understood that officers were not ordained in the Christian church, to order, or to command the church, and ‘to lord it over God’s heritage’ . . . Christ will lead His people, if they will be led.” James White, Review and Herald, December 1, 1874.

In 1875, G. I. Butler’s position on leadership was considered “incorrect” and was “rescinded” as recorded in the Conference Constitution (August 1875). Elder White later emphasized in an editorial in 1881 that no one “can properly represent Christ who surrenders his judgment to his fellowmen.”

“It was not the design of God that any system of organization should exist in the Christian Church that would take the leadership from Christ.

“The minister who throws himself on any Conference Committee for direction, takes himself out of the hands of Christ. And that committee that takes into its own hands the work of directing the ambassadors for Christ, takes a fearful responsibility. ‘One is your master [leader], even Christ, and all ye are brethren.’ Matthew 23:8. May God preserve to us our organization and form a church discipline in its original form.” Review and Herald, January 4, 1881.

Unfortunately, James White had been laid to rest years previously and he could offer no rebuttal to G. I. Butler’s position. The majority of the delegates were charmed into voting for a World General Conference on April 11, 1903 in the most controversial session in the history of the denomination. Eighty-five delegates gave an affirmative vote, twenty delegates were opposed, and three abstained. (General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 73.) A layer system of authority under man in 1903 replaced the 1901 plan of Jesus given through the Lord’s messenger and supported by the teachings of Jesus.

“Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be among you.” Mark 10:42.


The Europeans are Forced to Submit


After the 1901 plan was officially rejected at the 1903 Session, President L. R. Conradi went home as “First Vice-President . . . to labor in the European Union Conferences and Missions, as the Executive Committee (in Battle Creek) may advise, and to preside at the councils of the members of the Executive Committee, which may be held in Europe, in the absence of the president.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 145. The majority were determined to have a “one-man president” over the whole world. Although the Europeans objected, they were finally forced to their knees at Friedensau in 1907 to accept their position as a Union Conference. World control of the ministry, the Sabbath school, the publishing work, the educational, and medical work by the General Conference Committee headquarters in America was now undisputed.

The Stone which was to be the Head of the corner, was set at naught by the delegates of the 1903 session. Nevertheless, Ellen White supported Elder Daniels just as Samuel supported King Saul.


A Pretense of Building on the Right Foundation


Ellen White had absented herself from the discussion of the 1903 plan, but a few days after the 1903 session was adjourned, the Lord gave her a special message for the Church. Two years previously when planning for the reorganization in 1901, she had made it clear that the brethren were to go back to the “foundation” and “build on a different principle.” General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 25. The Lord revealed the truth about the 1903 plan on April 21, 1903.

“The heavenly Teacher inquired: ‘What stronger delusion can beguile the mind than the pretense that you are building on the right foundation and that God accepts your works, when in reality you are working out many things according to worldly policy and are sinning against Jehovah.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 245.


They Have Chosen Their Own Ways  I Will Choose Their Delusion


The delegates at the 1903 session got off the “foundation” when they failed to “look beneath the surface.”

“One who sees beneath the surface, who reads the hearts of all men, says of those who have had great light . . . ‘Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions…’ ‘God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie,’ ‘because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved,’ ‘but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ Isaiah 66: 3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 10, 22.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 249.


Problems in Managing A Great Business


The difficulty in administrating a World General Conference is best illustrated by Elder Daniels himself who referred to this experience as being “pressed by seemingly endless problems . . . and succession of crises. Extensive travel . . .necessary that he might have first hand knowledge . . . crowded him for time. He failed to ‘tarry’ he said, until he was endued with ‘power from on high’. . . He had been much like the busy conductor of a transcontinental train, the captain of a great ship, or the manager of a great business concern. He called it the ‘peril of sheer activity of God’—the encroachment of the mechanical, and the submergence of the spiritual. That he said, was where he had erred.” Movement of Destiny, 25.

Saddled with the system that replaced the 1901 plan, A. G. Daniels misinterpreted its pitfalls as his own shortcomings. How many World General Conference Presidents with finite minds could share his frustrations in attempting to fulfill a position requiring the One with infinite capacity?

When the 1901 plan was rejected, Battle Creek could not be preserved. But the denominational pillars of faith had to be saved from pantheistic heresies described as “the alpha of deadly heresies.” Series B, No. 2, 50. The 1903 hierarchical plan became necessary. Although the 1903 plan could not bring men into one accord, the presence of Elder Daniels as “the right man in the right place” (Series B, no. 2, 41) preserved the denomination from falling to pantheistic theories that infiltrated our ranks through the influence of liberal Protestants visiting Battle Creek. A Seventh-Day Baptist educator may have been instrumental in undermining the faith of Kellogg and many others at Battle Creek. (See Movement of Destiny, 351, 352.)

An hierarchical form of church government was required by default. When the brethren failed to enter into an “upper room” experience, thy also failed to see “a particle of danger in the old system of organization” and the “new constitution.”

The 1903 plan that allowed a powerful personality like Daniels to meet the Alpha would permit the Omega to follow (Series B no. 2, 50); because, the 1903 plan based on human power allowed “self” to be exalted. Self-exaltation was the basis of the Alpha. (Ibid. 91.) It is certainly a problem in an hierarchical form of ecclesiastical rule. Placing the entire denominational leadership under an hierarchical plan would affect the attitude of every worker. Therefore the entire Church leadership would be threatened by the Omega.

Will a “one man president” of “a world General Conference” be preserved from the Omega (pantheistic theories) that are rampant among other denominations today?

Will a “one man president” meet the deadly heresies of the Omega “with full steam ahead”? Or, will he fail with it?

Will the delegates at G. C. ’85 consider the 1901 apostolic plan, a plan designed by Jesus prior to His ascension, and given again to His people at the 1901 session?

Will the Lord raise up delegates who will stand as Sutherland “and take it up, and carry it out, and give it a fair trial?”

Will the delegates present a resolution to reconsider the 1901 plan?


Sinful Independence, part 3

The Basis For True Authority

But though they tried, and verily thought they had succeeded, they could not disfellowship Jesus from the church. Jesus was the church. They merely succeeded in disfellowshipping themselves from the true church. For God “has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22, 23.

The church is still to be “built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. The Saviour declares, ‘All ye are brethren.’ All are exposed to temptations, and are liable to error. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. ‘Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.’ . . .Jeremiah 17:5.” Desire of Ages, 414. “This principle bears with equal weight upon a question that has long agitated the Christian world,—the question of apostolic succession. Descent from Abraham was proved, not by name and lineage, but by likeness of character. So the apostolic succession rests not upon the transmission of ecclesiastical authority, but upon spiritual relationship. A life actuated by the apostles’ spirit, the belief and teaching of the truth they taught, this is the true evidence of apostolic succession. This is what constitutes men the successors of the first teachers of the gospel.” Ibid., 467.

Within Christ’s church there is to be no hierarchical, centralized, controlling power that supersedes the headship of Christ. As the messenger of the Lord said, “Battle Creek is not to be the center of God’s work. God alone can fill this place.” Testimonies to Ministers, 375. There is a place for order, but it is to be a simple, humble order, always uplifting the primacy of Christ. For “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” Colossians 1:18.

Thus, as Christ is the head of the body, He is always to “have the preeminence.” Whenever the church assumes preeminence over Christ or His word, it thereby becomes an idol to the people.

Christ created the structure—it is holy—but it is always to remain subservient to the Word and to Christ as its head. Anything that supersedes God becomes a false God. That is what the Jews did with their temple. The temple became more important than the truth, or even God’s dear Son. A word of criticism spoken against the temple was worse than a false teaching being taught from its precincts. The final charge brought against Christ was that He spoke against the temple.

In view of this danger of making the system and its leadership a false God, Ellen White has a whole chapter in Testimonies to Ministers entitled, “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me”—she was referring to Battle Creek, its system and the leadership. She also warns that “the trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ—how the enemy sought every occasion to take control of the minds of the Jews, and today he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants, that they may not be able to discern the precious truth.” Selected Messages, vol. 1, 406.

Jesus was rejected by most because He was not sanctioned by the visible church, and those who rejected Him were lost. According to the Spirit of Prophecy, this will likewise be our test. “To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 136.


The Head Of The Church


“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:28. God is the One who has promised to place various gifts in the church. When the church is pure, God is the One who calls and ordains through His chosen instrumentalities. He chooses through the official channels when He can, but when He cannot, He will call people directly, as in the case of David and John the Baptist. Never has God turned the entire control of His church over to human instrumentalities.

The Lord wants to direct His heritage and His church far more than we give Him opportunity to do. “If ministers and men in positions of authority will get out of the way, and let the Holy Spirit move upon the minds of the lay brethren, God will direct them what to do for the honor of his name. Let men have freedom to carry out that which the Holy Spirit indicates. Do not put the shackles upon humble men whom God would use.” Review and Herald, July 9, 1895.

It is not being independent for humble men and women whom God has called to act upon their God given responsibilities. In various places around the world I have been told by laymen that they cannot even give a Bible study without the pastor’s permission. In most places, a layman is not even permitted to hold a prayer meeting in his own home, if it is called a prayer meeting, without the church’s permission —and if the pastor wants to come in and take control, he assumes that prerogative. Not long ago I was asked to have some meetings in one of the major cities of America. Previous to my coming they had had Ron Spear and Colin Standish in to speak. This meeting was held in a private hall and one of the local elders was in attendance and expressed great appreciation for the meetings. However, the pastor of the largest church in town, where this layman held office and membership, asked him not to have these meetings. The layman, however, felt that the Lord wanted these meetings, and as they were not a part of any church function or on church property, and as those who were asked to speak were all ordained Seventh-day Adventist ministers and members in good and regular standing, he felt impressed to quietly go on with the meetings. He had no intention of having a conflict with the pastor, but was simply trying to serve the Lord. Yet, because of his supposed “independence” from the pastor, he was duly disciplined by the church by way of official censor and removed from being an elder.

But who was acting independently—the layman or the pastor? There is no law in the Bible, or even the manual, forbidding people from getting together and reading and studying the Bible together. For the pastor to arbitrarily make these rules is independence indeed! During the Dark Ages it was against the law to hold private meetings, but America guarantees that right—have we lost it in the church? It is “Satan . . . [who] works to restrict religious liberty, and to bring into the religious world a species of slavery. Organizations, institutions, unless kept by the power of God, will work under Satan’s dictation to bring men under the control of men . . . His methods are practiced even among Seventh-day Adventists, who claim to have advanced truth.” Testimonies to Ministers, 366.

Today if someone tries to raise up a new congregation or hold a meeting for Bible study and prayer, the question asked is: “By whose authority are you holding these meetings?” That was the question that was asked of John the Baptist and Jesus. “Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’ ” Matthew 21:23.

“Laws and rules are being made at the centers of the work that will soon be broken into atoms . . . The Lord does not ask permission of those in responsible positions when He wishes to use certain ones as His agents for the promulgation of truth . . . Those who know the truth are to be worked by the Holy Spirit, and not themselves to try to work the Spirit. If the cords are drawn much tighter, if the rules are made much finer, if men continue to bind their fellow laborers closer and closer to the commandments of men, many will be stirred by the Spirit of God to break every shackle, and assert their liberty in Christ Jesus.” Review and Herald, July 23, 1895.

God has appointed leadership to act under Him, but never in His place. There is a place for organization —heaven is a place of order. God’s church, all through the ages, has been a place of order. The Old Testament church was a church of order, and God’s church today is to be just as ordered and orderly as was the Old Testament church. There is a place for leadership, a place for elders, a place for deacons and administrators. But their job description was never intended to be that of being the head of the church or of controlling the church, but rather they were to be the servants of God to the people. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25–28.

Do you suppose that I, or anyone else, could ever get to the place where we could supersede God’s authority in the church? We could try, but that would be a false, sinful and assumed authority that God and His true people would not recognize anymore than John the Baptist did. (See Desire of Ages, 132.) Suppose that I had charisma and good leadership abilities, made a lot of friends, and made some good business or political decisions and so began to climb the corporate ladder in the church until I got to the very top. Could I ever get to the place where I had enough authority to supersede God’s authority? Could I tell someone whom God had called to preach, for example, that God had not called him to preach, as they told John the Baptist and Jesus? I could tell him, but no matter how much authority I might have assumed or think I had, I could never get enough authority to supersede God’s authority. That would be the epitome of independence. But in my blind presumption, I would probably think that the person whom God had called and who was merely fulfilling His God-given mission was being independent because he had not listened to me!—what pride!

“But,” someone might insist, “someone must have that kind of authority in order to maintain order in the church.” That is exactly the claim of the papal church. “It is one of the leading doctrines of Romanism that the pope is the visible head of the universal church of Christ, invested with supreme authority over bishops and pastors in all parts of the world . . . God has never given a hint in His word that He has appointed any man to be the head of the church.” Great Controversy, 50, 51.

While God has not given any man the authority to say who cannot preach when the Holy Spirit has made it plainly evident that God has called him to preach, likewise God has not given any man the authority to say that someone can or should preach whom God has not called. No local church should ever be forced by some higher human authority to allow a conference–appointed pastor or leader to speak when the congregation and elders feel, based upon biblical evidence, that God has not called him to speak.

In fact, for men to receive those sent to them from the conference whom God has not sent, causes them to become independent from God along with the pastor, and results in the withdrawal of God’s blessings. “As there are woes for those who preach the truth while they are unsanctified in heart and life, so there are woes for those who receive and maintain the unsanctified in the position which they cannot fill.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 552. “There are fearful woes for those who preach the truth, but are not sanctified by it, and also for those who consent to receive and maintain the unsanctified to minister to them in word and doctrine.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 261, 262.

Yet, how many ministers whom God has never recognized are lauded and applauded by men, and how many ministers have been scourged and even put to death who were the chosen instrumentalities of God.

For a central, ruling authority to assume controlling power over the local membership, telling them who will preach to them and who will not preach to them, is to place one’s self in the place of God over the people. God has entrusted to His people certain inalienable rights and obligations, such as the right and the obligation to carefully and prayerfully decide who they will receive and maintain to minister to them. The Bible predicted that there would come a power that would seek to put itself in the place of God. “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. That, in a special way refers to the papacy of the Middle Ages, and we can adopt some of the same policies, until we are “following in the track of Romanism.” Testimonies to Ministers, 362.

“The high-handed power that has been developed, as though position has made men gods, makes me afraid, and ought to cause fear. It is a curse wherever and by whomsoever it is exercised. This lording it over God’s heritage will create such a disgust of man’s jurisdiction that a state of insubordination will result . . . The spirit of domination is extending to the presidents of our conferences . . .They are following in the track of Romanism . . .Rule, rule, has been their course of action. Satan has had an opportunity of representing himself.” Testimonies to Ministers, 361–363.

These statements from the Spirit of Prophecy were not written to imply that the church does not, or should not, have proper authority. The church is to have a great amount of authority under God. When a point or a decision can be shown from God’s word and from the leading of the Holy Spirit to be from the Lord, the leaders are to have a great deal of authority. Whenever the church utters the utterances of God, it is as the voice of God. But when they become independent of God and assume authority such as the Sanhedrin assumed, then they are no longer the voice of God. It was when the leaders were becoming independent of God, that Ellen White said, “That these men should stand in a sacred place, to be as the voice of God to the people, as we once believed the General Conference to be,—that is past.” General Conference Bulletin, April 3, 1901.


Religious Liberty and the Church

We do not believe in putting too much confidence in impressions; however, we all have them. Recently I came across the notes of a sermon preached by my brother, Marshall, in Australia during the late 1980s. Though I had not heard it, I was aware of the concepts therein, as I was publicly challenged by a number of his elders and deacons denying those things to be really true.

Some people think that the church will continue to sink downwards into more and more apostasy and then, all of a sudden, bang, at the end, it is just going to spring up perfect. That is not the way it works. If you go deeper and deeper into apostasy, the end result is destruction.

God’s great desire is that He might have a pure and glorious church that is without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27). Each church member has been called to be a steward guarding its spiritual interests, but as Jesus warned, while men slept, an enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:25).

God has ordained four basic ways to purify the church and protect it from being taken over by the tares.

New Members

The church is to exercise loving and judicious care when accepting new members into the church. “When a person presents himself as a candidate for church membership, we are to examine the fruit of his life, and leave the responsibility of his motive with himself. But great care should be exercised in accepting members into the church; for Satan has his specious devices through which he purposes to crowd false brethren into the church, through whom he can work more successfully to weaken the cause of God.” Evangelism, 313.

Baptism represents a death to sin. By it, the candidate makes a statement that he/she has chosen to leave his/her sinful life behind and walk in newness of life, a life that is in harmony with God’s law. This, according to the New Testament, is the condition of the person who is welcomed into church membership. It needs to be remembered that the church is not a club for saints; it is a hospital for sinners. The person who has not made a decision for baptism and chooses to live in sin should also be welcome to come to church, but that person who is openly living in sin, or one who has violated his/her baptismal vow and continues to live in sin, cannot be a church member.

Church Members

Matthew 18:15–17 spells out clearly the procedure to follow when a brother sins against a brother. If I sin against you, you are to come to me and speak with me about what I have done against you. But, if I will not listen to you, you then are to take one or two more and come and talk to me and say, “Look; what you have done is wrong.” If I still refuse to listen after the first two steps, then the matter is to be taken to the church.

Incidentally, Matthew 18 is not referring to difference of opinion. If you look in the Greek text, Jesus said, “If your brother sin against you.” This is specifically referring to a sin, breaking one of the last six commandments against you. The counsel is to labor with that person. If the sin is never acknowledged, the results will be disastrous. “If the sins of the people are passed over by those in responsible positions, His frown will be upon them, and the people of God, as a body, will be held responsible for those sins. In His dealings with His people in the past the Lord shows the necessity of purifying the church from wrongs. One sinner may diffuse darkness that will exclude the light of God from the entire congregation.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 265.

Open sin must not be allowed in the church. That does not mean that the open sinner cannot be saved, but the person who is living in open sin and continues in open sin cannot remain in the church, according to the teaching of Matthew 18.


This is not our favorite way of purifying the church; however, it is one way that God uses. In response to the prayers of his servants, God sends judgments on the church. Elijah prayed because of the sins of the children of Israel and God sent judgments so that it did not rain for three years and 6 months, or 1,260 days, on that land (I Kings 17).

In the early church, judgments came upon Ananias and Sapphira who sold property and then lied saying they had given all of the proceeds to the church while keeping back part of the money for themselves (Acts 5:2). The problem was not that they kept some of the money; they could have offered half or a portion of the proceeds, but they lied. Peter said to them, “You have not lied to men, you have lied to God, because you have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:4). Ananias immediately fell dead and three hours later his wife came in and told the same lie. Peter said, “The same people that carried your husband out will carry you out.” Immediately she dropped down dead. Verses 5, 7–10.

Ellen White writes about this. She says, “The Spirit of truth revealed to the apostles the real character of these pretenders, and the judgments of God rid the church of this foul blot upon its purity. This signal evidence of the discerning Spirit of Christ in the church was a terror to hypocrites and evildoers. They could not long remain in connection with those who were, in habit and disposition, constant representatives of Christ.” The Great Controversy, 44. This judgment kept unconverted people from joining the church, but it did not prevent them from soul winning and believers were multiplied to the church.

In our own denominational history as Seventh-day Adventists, God has also sent judgments because of backsliding into apostasy.

In 1902, there were two fires that burned down two of the headquarter institutions. Ellen White wrote, “In visions of the night I saw a sword of fire hung out over Battle Creek.

“Brethren, God is in earnest with us. I want to tell you that if after the warnings giving in these burnings the leaders of our people go right on, just as they have done in the past, exalting themselves, God will take the bodies next. Just as surely as He lives, He will speak to them in a language that they cannot fail to understand.” The Publishing Ministry, 171. That is a scary statement, if the lesson is not learned! Next time, it will not be the buildings; it will be the bodies. It is clear by this statement that judgments are not over yet.

Preaching the Straight Testimony

God purifies His church through the preaching of the straight testimony. This is also referred to in Revelation 3:14–22.

“The searching testimony of the Spirit of God will separate those from Israel who have ever been at war with the means that God has ordained to keep corruptions out of the church. Wrongs must be called wrongs. Grievous sins must be called by their right name. All of God’s people should come nearer to Him. … Then will they see sin in the true light and will realize how offensive it is in the sight of God. The plain, straight testimony must live in the church, or the curse of God will rest upon His people as surely as it did upon ancient Israel because of their sins.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 676.

These four methods are God’s true ways for maintaining and purifying the church and there is going to be a pure church when Jesus comes. We just read it in Ephesians 5:27 and you can read the same thing in Revelation 19:7, 8 and also in I John 3.

There is also another method being used. It is more popular than any of the four methods previously mentioned, but it is a counterfeit and produces the exact opposite result. People think that it will purify the church, but because it involves apostasy, it leads the church astray every time. Throughout the ages, church legislation and persecution have been the most popular method used to try to preserve and purify the church.

Whenever the church has tried to maintain church order by giving power to its hierarchy or ruling group to control its members, it has always, without exception, led to apostasy and persecution. This was the condition of the church in the days of Jesus. The leaders had assumed such great authority over the members that if they professed faith in Jesus, they were disfellowshipped (John 9). However, this control did not keep the church pure, protecting it from the abuse of sin. In fact, it did just the opposite. It protected the church from receiving the straight testimony which God sent to them through John the Baptist, His Son and the apostles, in order for it to become pure. It was the hierarchy, the leaders, who prevented the people from accepting Jesus. They had such a strong hold on the people that the only way they could receive the straight testimony was for the power of the hierarchy to be broken.

Ellen White said, “Through their reverence for tradition and their blind faith in a corrupt priesthood, the people were enslaved. These chains Christ must break. The character of the priests, rulers, and Pharisees must be more fully exposed.” The Desire of Ages, 611, 612. “For a time it had seemed that the people of Galilee would receive Jesus as the Messiah, and that the power of the hierarchy in that region would be broken.” Ibid., 395. It was impossible to accept Jesus as the Messiah unless first, the power of the hierarchy was broken.

This same experience was repeated during the Dark Ages. Never before or since has the church assumed more control, resulting in greater persecution. The more the church exercised control through its leadership, the more it sank into apostasy. In 1414, a church council was called to eradicate apostasy and bring in reformation. It was decided to depose one of the popes who was corrupt and also to burn John Huss at the stake. Persecution was the council’s favorite way in their attempt to purify the church.

During the Protestant Reformation the reformers sought to break the power of the hierarchy over the people in the same way that Jesus did in His ministry, but those who blindly yielded reverence to the church leadership rejected the Protestant Reformation. Ellen White wrote concerning Wycliffe, the morning star of the reformation, “He fearlessly arraigned the hierarchy before the national council and demanded a reform of the enormous abuses sanctioned by the church.” The Great Controversy, 89. She goes on to say, “The fears of the hierarchy were roused, and persecution was opened against the disciples of the gospel.” Ibid., 97. That happened in England. The same thing happened in Germany. The church sought to intimidate with threats and cajole the Protestant leaders to once again accept the hierarchy with promises, but they realized that, “The re-establishment of the Romish hierarchy … would infallibly bring back the ancient abuses.” The Great Controversy, 199.

Concerning the future, Ellen White writes, “When the leading churches of the United States, … will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.” Ibid., 445. During the Dark Ages the church controlled the state and therefore anything done against the church became a civil crime. The image will do the same. One of the chief differences between the Protestants and the Romanists was the way in which the church was structured, but things are changing.

“There is an increasing indifference concerning the doctrines that separate the reformed churches from the papal hierarchy. … The time was when Protestants placed a high value upon liberty of conscience which has been so dearly purchased.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, 380.

Hierarchicalism always leads to religious persecution and a curtailment of religious liberty, because it denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ in practice. By profession the church acknowledges it, but in practice, it is denied. God ordained that there should be judicious administration and shepherd-like leadership for the furtherance of the gospel, but never at any time were lines of control given to human authority.

The Bible says, “He [Jesus Christ] is the head of the body.” Colossians 1:18. The body is the church. Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have preeminence. Whenever a person assumes undue authority in the church, which authority belongs only to Christ, the church is automatically brought into apostasy because Christ is always the head.

The usurping of authority is the sin of the beast power. “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God [hierarchy] in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” II Thessalonians 2:3.

This is also a danger within the Seventh-day Adventist church as well as in other churches and we need to learn the lessons of history. The Lord foresaw this developing in our own church and sent faithful warnings through Ellen White to our church leaders.

“The spirit of domination is extending to the presidents of our conferences. …

“They are following in the track of Romanism.”

This was being done by exerting a spirit of domination, putting a man or a group of men in the place of God.

“If a man … seeks to exercise dominion over his brethren, feeling that he is invested with authority to make his will the ruling power, the best and only safe course is to remove him, lest great harm be done and he lose his own soul and imperil the souls of others.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 362.

The New Testament church had a simple organization that was efficient, but not hierarchical in nature. There was cooperation, but not control. For example, the apostle Paul tried to cooperate with his brethren, but did not ask permission from the church in Jerusalem to speak or raise up churches in Corinth or Philippi or the other towns that he visited. One of his greatest concerns and sternest warnings was concerning the possibility of undue control being exerted over the local members of the church by some outside force, in fact, the leadership from Jerusalem. Notice, Paul called the elders (plural) of the church at Ephesus and said, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” Acts 20:28–31.

Paul’s concern, over which he stressed with great emotional appeal for three years, was that there would arise leaders in this church who would seek to draw attention to themselves and become a controlling power. He told the elders that they, not he, singular, but they, plural, were to be shepherds of the flock, not set above the flock and to keep this from happening. They were to guard the church from the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the wolves from outside and the wolves from the local congregation, and those who were visiting from a conference or some other church.

This had already been demonstrated in the churches that Paul had established in Galatia. Elders had been selected in the local churches (Acts 14:23). These churches were not independent of the body, but they were highly self-directed and self-sustained and locally organized. A situation arose when leading brethren came from the headquarters church in Jerusalem, namely Peter and some other brethren came from James, the two principal leaders at the headquarters, to minister to these churches in Galatia. Now remember, these people in Galatia had been pagan idolaters and had recently converted to the truth of Christianity. Peter and the other men who came had grown up being taught the Scriptures and had never been involved in worshiping idols.

The Galatians had a tremendous amount of respect for these leaders who had come to them from Jerusalem and it had a terrible effect on the whole congregation. Paul was unsparing in his denunciation of the Galatian leaders for allowing the leaders from Jerusalem to bring apostasy into that church. He said to them, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth?” Galatians 3:1. Notice he does not say, “What has bewitched you?” He says, “Who has bewitched you?” referring to the people who had this influence over them. Paul’s concern was what would happen in the future if the leaders of this church did not protect the church, if they were so weak as to be influenced by these outside forces, by these people from the headquarters church.

Have you ever wondered what Paul would say if he visited our churches today? Is it possible that he would say, “O you foolish churches? Who has influenced you to yield the high standard of truth and practice that was once manifested in your movement?” Paul told the Galatians to, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1. That yoke of bondage he referred to was not just circumcision and the law. If you look at the context of this question in Galatians 3:1 you will see that the yoke of bondage was bondage to leadership that had caused them to waver on a point of doctrine and teaching. He goes on to say, “This persuasion does not come from He who called you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. But he who troubles you … [the leadership from Jerusalem] shall bear his judgment. For you, brethren, have been called to liberty.” Galatians 5:8–10, 13. Paul was concerned about the influence that caused them to apostatize. He was very, very fearful of hierarchal forms of church government that would cause people to look to church councils and leaders for direction rather than the Holy Spirit.

The churches were to be grafted to Jesus Christ, cooperating with each other, and not to develop a human organization, a hierarchy.

This is the kind of organizational purity that has to come back into the church in order for the pentecostal blessings to return. Organizational purity and doctrinal purity go hand in hand and cannot be separated. It is not possible to have doctrinal purity with impure organization. Simple organization and church order are set forth in the New Testament Scriptures, ordained for the unity and perfection of the church.

“The man who holds office in the church should stand as a leader, as an advisor and a counselor and helper in carrying the burdens of the work. He should be a leader in offering thanksgiving to God. But he is not appointed to order and command the Lord’s laborers. The Lord is over His heritage. He will lead His people if they will be led of the Lord in the place of assuming a power God has not given them.” Loma Linda Messages, 464.

Ellen White then said to study I Corinthians 12 and 13 and Acts 15 and learn how the church is to be managed and operated. Again, she continued to write and say that many of the great difficulties that have come into our work are because of this very problem, people wanting to control and rule God’s work. As the church began to grow in the latter part of the 19th century, Ellen White began to warn, over and over, against the kingly power that was coming into the Seventh-day Adventist church. She wrote,

“The high-handed power that has been developed, as though position has made men gods, makes me afraid, and ought to cause fear. It is a curse wherever and by whomsoever it is exercised.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 361.

Many people, when beginning to run or operate churches, had very good motives, desiring to do what was right. But, as time went on, they thought that they should be in control and rule so that the church could have prosperity and grow faster. Ellen White said,

“Rule, rule has been their course of action. Satan has had an opportunity of representing himself.” Ibid., 363. “Let me entreat our state conferences and our churches to cease putting their dependence upon men and making flesh their arm. … Our churches are weak because the members are educated to look to and depend upon human resources.” Ibid., 380.

Hierarchicalism leads directly into apostasy and ultimately persecution. How does that happen? When somebody stands up and proclaims a message from God like John the Baptist or one of the prophets or one of the reformers in the 16th century, the hierarchy persecutes the one who protests. It led to the burning of martyrs during the Dark Ages and the imprisonment and death of God’s prophets and messengers throughout history. It also led to the crucifixion of Christ. This very same thing will lead to persecution in any church, including the Seventh-day Adventist church. Initially, the scribes and Pharisees would never have thought they were capable of putting someone to death, but the time came when they reasoned that they had to crucify Jesus in order to preserve the integrity of the church. Caiaphas actually said that if they did not get rid of Jesus they would be wiped out (John 11:47–50). The cross was a last resort after they had tried everything else to stop His ministry. “They regarded themselves as patriots, who were seeking the nation’s salvation.” The Desire of Ages, 541.

Today, we are Protestants and have the heritage of both the Bible and the New Testament church, the Protestant Reformation, and in America, the rich heritage of religious liberty. Concerning this heritage, Ellen White wrote, “This principle we in our day are firmly to maintain. The banner of truth and religious liberty held aloft by the founders of the gospel church and by God’s witnesses during the centuries that have passed since then, has, in this last conflict, been committed to our hands. The responsibility for this great gift rests with those whom God has blessed with a knowledge of His Word. We are to receive this word as supreme authority. We are to recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment, and teach obedience to it as a sacred duty, within its legitimate sphere. But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, we must obey God rather than men. God’s word must be recognized as above all human legislation. A ‘Thus saith the Lord’ is not to be set aside for a ‘Thus saith the church’ or a ‘Thus saith the state.’ The crown of Christ is to be lifted above the diadems of earthly potentates.” The Acts of the Apostles, 68, 69.

As standard bearers of the concept of the heritage of religious liberty, we cannot imagine that the Adventist church would ever become persecutors. But if hierarchicalism develops in a church, we have seen what always happens. We think that we could never do anything like the Jewish leaders did or like the Catholic hierarchy did during the Dark Ages, but we have already done it. In one situation a disfellowshiped preacher was first fined, then thrown into prison. What was his crime? He had a sign erected that said, “This is a Seventh Day Adventist church.” Because it was not under the control of the church hierarchy, he was put in prison. This happened in the United States, the land of the free, and this man was only set free after a prolonged court battle.

This proceeding was perpetrated by the General Conference in union with the state and it was financed, by the way, with the tithe money of the members of the church. Whether that man was theologically right or wrong is not the point. The church appealed to the strong arm of the state to enforce its will—its decree. When the authority will be employed by the church to accomplish her own ends, then the church has made an image to the beast. See The Great Controversy, 443.

This may be difficult to hear, but the Seventh-day Adventist church structure has been in the process of building an image to the beast for over twenty years. There have been other people, especially in communist countries, who have found themselves first disfellowshiped and then persecuted by the state in coordination with the church.

This is a testimony by Marshall when giving this sermon: “I personally have traveled to Hungary on several occasions and met with hundreds of disfellowshiped and persecuted brethren of that country. These dear brothers and sisters are true Seventh-day Adventists but simply gave the straight testimony of the involvement of the church in state politics and interdenominational ecumenicalism. Their message was given directly to the church leaders by ordained pastors and committed laymen and the response was, they were all disfellowshiped without a trial—over a thousand of them. Although the review acknowledged that the whole process was illegal, nevertheless, by the total silence of our leaders to even reprimand the offenders of this case, and by the continued barring of all the disfellowshiped members from all official church functions or activities, and by the admitting of the perpetrators of this persecution into the official activities of the General Conference, they have fully condoned their actions as a corporate entity. Now Hungary,” he says, “is just an example. The same thing has happened in Africa and other places. We have been traveling down the same dark road as was traveled by the church in the time of Christ and again during the Dark Ages, disfellowshiping and firing pastors here and there to give many examples, not just in the United States but in Europe, and other countries.”

It was this road—hierarchicalism, leading to persecution—that caused Ellen White to tremble. She said,

“My heart trembles in me when I think what a foe we have to meet, and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 406.

“At the time of the first advent of Christ to our world, the men who composed the Sanhedrin exercised their authority in controlling men according to their will. Thus the souls whom Christ had given his life to free from the bondage to Satan were brought under bondage to him in another form.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 361.

The very people that Christ had died to deliver from the bondage of Satan were brought under bondage to him in another form, through the church. That is what will happen just before the Second Coming. It has already happened!

For many years Ellen and James White fought to establish church organization. She stated, “Without some form of organization there would be great confusion, and the work would not be carried forward successfully.” Ibid., 26. Heaven is a place of order and God cannot bless disorganization. However, organization was never intended to become controlling in nature and hinder the preaching of the straight testimony or to persecute those who gave it and dictate how God should direct the work. Organization was never intended for the purpose of wresting the local churches out of the hands of the local members so that they became mere pawns in the hands of the leadership and the ministry. The leadership was to lead by example, prayer and faith, but not by commanding. The organization was not to restrict and control, but only to coordinate and promote the work, the preaching of the gospel and the straight testimony.

The devil fought so hard when James and Ellen White were trying to establish order and organization in the Adventist church that it took about twenty years before they could even become organized. Finally, when it did become organized in 1863 and the devil lost that battle, he switched his tactics to try to make them over-organized so that within four years of organization Ellen White wrote, “I dreamed I was in Battle Creek looking out from the side glass at the door and saw a company marching up to the house, two and two. They looked stern and determined. I knew them well and turned to open the parlor door to receive them, but thought I would look again. The scene was changed. The company now presented the appearance of a Catholic procession. One bore in his hand a cross [ceremonialism], another a reed [the scepter of a king]. And as they approached, the one carrying a reed made a circle around the house, saying three times: ‘this house is proscribed. The goods must be confiscated. They have spoken against our holy order.’ ” Testimonies, vol. 1, 578. She saw in that vision that the order of church organization had become controlling and persecuting in nature. From that time on she was fought constantly by church officials. Just like all the other prophets who were persecuted during their lifetime, now that she is dead she is revered, but the persecution continues against those who repeat her concerns.

In 1888, God gave the church a message through two young ministers, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, but the brethren thought that they should not be allowed to give it until they first had their permission. The issue was Christ our Righteousness. Ellen White’s main concern at that time was not about the doctrine, but the issue of organization and control by church organization which was also contained in that message. Referring to Christ our Righteousness, she said, “God designs that men shall use their minds and consciences for themselves. He never designed that one man should become the shadow of another, and utter only another’s sentiments. But this error has been coming in among us, that a very few are to be mind, conscience, and judgment for all God’s workers. The foundation of Christianity is ‘Christ our Righteousness.’ Men are individually responsible to God and must act as God acts upon them, not as another human mind acts upon their mind; for if this method of indirect influence is kept up, souls can not be impressed and directed by the great I AM. They will, on the other hand, have their experience blended with another, and will be kept under a moral restraint, which allows no freedom of action or of choice.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 112.

“The Lord will never sanction the exercise of arbitrary authority. … Yet these things have been manifest in the management of the affairs in connection with the work in Battle Creek. Words cannot express too strongly the offensive character of the disposition to rule or ruin which has for years been revealed, and which has been strengthening by exercise. …

“Plans are set on foot for restricting the liberty of workers. Through these oppressive plans, men who should stand free in God are trammeled by restrictions from those who are only their fellow-laborers. …

“Our people, who talk of religious liberty, have lessons to learn as to what liberty in Christ really is. The Lord has marked the oppression that has been practiced.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 1357, 1358.

Here in the United States of America, we are privileged to be living in a country that has been made strong and prosperous because of the principles of religious liberty. The Christian exiles who first fled to America and sought an asylum here from royal oppression and priestly intolerance decided that they were going to found a government in this country upon the broad foundation of civil and religious liberty. It was these principles of civil and religious liberty that are the secret of the prosperit and power of the United States of America. It is these same principles that are the secret for prosperity and peace within the church. In fact, the church is the place where religious liberty needs to start. This liberty is not a license to bring false doctrines into the pulpit or to bring in disorderly elements within the congregation, but religious liberty does give freedom of speech, freedom to dissent, freedom of the press without recourse to the law or defamation of character. When there are doctrinal differences, we need to be able to get together and talk those over, frankly and fairly. Error needs to be called by its right name. The problem is, when any kind of error can be taught within a system, if you tell the truth and you are not in the system, it will be rejected. That is how it was in the days of Jesus, so God chose a different channel through which to work. As it was when Jesus was here the first time, it will be again, right at the end of the world.

In the last days, God is going to work apart from those who have tried to control His work and persecute those whom they could not control. Ellen White described it this way:

“The Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things, and in a way that will be contrary to any human planning. There will be those among us who will always want to control the work of God, to dictate even what movements shall be made when the work goes forward under the direction of the angel who joins the third angel in the message to be given to the world. God will use ways and means by which it will be seen that He is taking the reigns in His own hands. The workers will be surprised by the simple means that He will use to bring about and perfect His work of righteousness.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 300.

God’s church is going to be purified and perfected again, just like it was in the early church, but it is going to happen through God’s methods. It is not going to happen through the control of ecclesiastical power curtailing religious freedom.

It is predicted in Isaiah 4 that there is coming a time when everyone who is listed among the living in Jerusalem will be holy. You may think yourself too much of a sinner to be part of that group, but there is a way out. Jesus died to take away the guilt of your sins, to take away the power of sin in your life, to deliver you from your old ways and cover you with His robe of righteousness. But, you can only have it in God’s appointed way. When we try to do God’s work in our own way, we end up ruining it. We must learn the lesson of religious liberty if we are going to have a part in God’s final work.

Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316–788–5559.