Should We Leave the Church?

Last week I received a letter from a person in the Northwest, who said I was a devil because I was not giving a call out of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.

A week or so before that, I received a letter declaring I was doing wrong because I did not make it my first work to tell people that all those, not in the organization, cannot be saved.

The individuals who write these letters may be well-meaning in their intentions, but their position is not mine.

 There is a great controversy. It has been fought for over six thousand years, and is now being waged in our world, and among the Advent people.

But that controversy is not the church. It is something quite different. Yet there are those who are trying to change the terms of the great controversyand make it a battle over organizational relationship.

The heart of the controversy lies somewhere else. Only those who recognize the fact will be able to relate themselves properly to other believers.

Let me say that again, but in different words: Only those who place as top priority the true basis of the controversy, will be able to come into close harmony with all the other children of God. In contrast, to make interpersonal relationships the foundation stone of Christianitycan only lead, ultimately, to friction, exclusiveness, and, efforts to dominate, and, frankly, I-am-better-than-you Phariseeism.

What then is the key issue in the great controversy?

The question of paramount importance concerns obedience to God and His Word. Is the Creator true and just in all that He does? Does He have a right to command us? Are we obligated to obey Him?

The issue is not the church, it is obedience. People are not the basis of the great controversy, it is the Word of God. Organizational groups are not the center of the crisis, it is God, His character, and whether we will submit to and obey Him.

The Final Crisis will be fought over obedience to the Bible Sabbath, part of Gods holy law. Does God have a right to be obeyed, or not? Should creatures obey their Creator? Should they live clean, honest lives, in harmony with the Ten Commandmentswhen He, by the great sacrifice of Calvary, makes it possible for them to do so?

The Final Test will come over your loyalty and your obedience to God and His law. Organization will not be the test. The question will be whether you keep the Bible Sabbath and violate the Sunday Law. Organizational membership will not be the issue.

At that time, there is a good possibility that nationwide Sabbathkeeping organizations will be dismantled or taken over. When the crisis comes, Adventist organizational structures will very likely come to an end. The Inspired Writings indicate that denominational positions, committees, policy books, and chain of command will have been shattered. No longer will your pastor witness and give Bible studies for you. No longer will an organization tell you what to do, keep you in line, or do your missionary work for you. You, and a few faithful ones in your locality, will do it yourself. In that day, you will stand almost alone.

But is not denominational loyalty and membership certificates integral to the great controversy? Organizational connections are an effect, not a cause, in Christian experience and in the coming conflict.

You will not overcome in the Final Crisis because you are a church member, but because you have put away sin from your life, and are so thoroughly dedicated and obedient to Gods Word, that you can face death and, and by His grace, carry on through to the end.

Let no one imagine that church membership is going to deliver him in that final hour, or in all the hours before then. It is a personal, full relationship with God which alone can enable one to resist temptation, obey Gods Word, and prepare for the hour of deathor the Final Crisis which the National Sunday Law will bring upon us all.

But the situation becomes even more complicated, when we consider the fact that, because of their consistent obedience to the Inspired Writings, many of Gods faithful ones have been disfellowshiped from the church! Are they going to be lost because they do not have church membership? Of course not.

How could organizational membership be the central issue, when so many have been forced to leave the denomination?

There are faithful souls who have been disfellowshiped for sincerely doing their best to help all in their local congregation to see the importance of study and obedience to our precious heritage, the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy writings.

Disgusted with the repeated calls they have given to obedience and a return to earlier teachings and standards, men have ejected them from local congregations. Are they going to be lost because wicked men cast them out? Of course not.

It is clear that organizational relationship is rapidly becoming less of an issue. There was a time when, being a true Seventh-day Adventist, could generally be equated with being an accepted, on-the-books church member. But, especially since the early 1980s, the entire matter has become very confused. Many of Gods most faithful, commandment-keeping people are now outside the denomination. In view of this situation, it is rather foolish to declare that only those in the denomination are Gods people, and only they will be saved.

Well, then, what about those outside the organizationwho declare that the denomination is Babylon, and that everyone in it is destined to burn in hellfire?

That is a devilish teaching, and it is inspired by Satan!

It is the prince of darkness who prompts individuals to declare that true Advent believersany of themare reprobate and destined for perdition.

Yes, we are to protest the evils in the denomination, so that those evils will be put away. Contrary to what some imagine, that is a good work and very necessary. But we are not to denounce Gods faithful ones as evil! The track of error lies close beside the track of truth. It is right to reprove sin; but it is wrong to denounce Gods faithful ones as being of the devil.

There are men, just now, who are eagerly holding meetings; whose message is that Seventh-day Adventists are Babylon, and that the entire Adventist denomination is Babylon.

But the God of heaven has given them no such message. The Seventh-day Adventist denomination has thousands upon thousands of faithful souls who love their Lord and obey His Word. Enter any local Adventist church and you will find many faithful children of God. They are not making a big noise, but are quietly doing the best they can under adverse circumstances in their homes and, frequently, in their local church.

Scan your sight over the entire world field, and you will find large numbers of true, solid Advent believers, and many faithful workers.

Look at the official teachings of the church. Yes, they were damaged somewhat at the Dallas Session, and the official doctrinal books and magazine articles since then have not helped, but the official teachings are still, for the most part, relatively close to our original positions.

It is correct to say that there is rapidly-growing apostasy in our denomination, but it is a wicked errora lieto declare that the denomination is totally evil. That is just not so. Neither the beliefs, the actions, nor the people are totally evil.

That brings us to another point. If it is not our work now to condemn the denomination as of the devil, how then are we to relate ourselves to it? Should we be in it? Should we be out of it? Should we avoid it as the plague? Should we obey whatever church officers tell us to do?

We should pray for fellow Advent believers, and former believers who once rejoiced in the truth, and try to help them. Some of these fellow believers are still in the church, and some have been cast out. Some of the former believers are no longer in the church, but many aresome of them in high positions as pastors, teachers, and administrators!

The God of heaven did not place you and me here merely to slavishly obey church leaders, nor did He assign us the task of forsaking fellow believers.

Instead, He expects us to obey His Word implicitly, and to work for all those about usincluding true and backslidden believers.

God has many faithful souls who are out of the denomination, and He has many who are in it. They need your prayers and your help. Many, in and out of the organization, have backslidden from Gods truth. They also need your help.

Stop and ask yourself: What would the devil like me to do? The answer is obvious: Satan would prefer that you not witness to others. You know so much, and he wants you to keep quiet. An effective way to do that is to tempt you to think that you would do well to retire from the battle, and stop trying to encourage others to obey God.

But remember the remarkably true-to-life illustration of the man traveling through the snow drifts. He is about to give up, lay down, and enter the sleep of deathwhen he stumbles upon a fellow traveler already fallen! In his urgency to save the other one, he must rouse himself to still greater effortand, in the process, he himself is kept from drifting off to sleep.

You will notice that I have repeatedly emphasized the words, denomination and organization. I have not said much about the church.

In times of relative peace from intense persecution, Gods church has organization. In times of great persecution, each faithful soul and the few around him must stand alone or in little companies, without any organizational support or guidance whatsoever. Then there are those times of apostasy, when faithful souls dare not lean on their church organization for encouragement or guidance.

Gods church has organization, but the organization is not the church. What then is the church? The true church is composed of faithful souls. In the Spirit of Prophecy, we are told it is commandment-keeping people who compose Gods true church. However, we are also told that there will be tares in the church.

In regard to church organization, many people tend to swing to one or the other of two extremes. They either fear it, or idolize it. Some want to have nothing to do with organization, while others want it to do their work for them and save their souls. They hope that the work it does in their stead will help get them to heaven.

But the truth is that neither the organization nor the church is the issue. The basic issue throughout the ages, and in the Final Crisis, is your and my personal relationship to Jesus Christ, and our obedience to His Inspired Writings. Organizational relationship is only on the periphery of the matter.

Persecution or apostasy may drive us out of an organization, blessed fellowship may bring us into one. But, more and more, as we near the end, we will have to stand alone or nearly alone. Yet, through it all, we should continue trying to help and bless otherseven those who have cast us out.  

Read carefully in every description of Gods people after the National Sunday Law crisis beginsand you will note that they are alone or in small groups. Not once are we told about even a medium-sized Adventist congregation.

And what kind of work are they doing? Read the books, and you will find they are doing an individual work of ministry: healing the sick with natural remedies, and going from home to home giving Bible studies. Not once will you find a reference about evangelistic efforts, church councils, policy decisions made or enforced, ministerial retreats, or even campmeetings.

When the crisis hits, it will be illegal to be a Seventh-day Adventist. We cannot know with certainty whether the structure of our denomination will go on past the National Sunday Law edict. There are three possibilities:

(1) The tares in the denomination will flee from it, and become Sunday keepers. The organizational structure and buildings which remains, will not be featured (according to the Spirit of Prophecy, as we have noted above) in final events, therefore it is very possible that it will have been closed down by governmental powers.

(2) The tares in the denomination will at that time eject the last of the faithful ones, fully take control,and the Seventh-day Adventist Church will become Sundaykeepers!

A key point here is whether the organization will go through to the end. There is no doubt that the church, the faithful, commandment people of God, will; but what about the organization? Let us review the facts again:

First, as noted, above, we find no indication, even a hint, that the people of God will be in a centralizedor even decentralizedorganization, from the beginning of the National Sunday Law crisis onward.

Second, we instead find that they will be standing alone or in very small groups.

Third, we find that they will be doing their missionary work as individuals or, possibly, in two-by-two teams.

Fourth, we find no indication that any denominational institution will still be in operation after the crisis beginswith the sole exception of the publishing work . No hospitals, no conferences or union offices,and no conferences or unions!

Fifth, the people of God, during the final crisis, and beyond, are going through a special experience that is marked by their having to rely upon Christ alone. No longer are others doing their Christian work for them, or telling them what to do.

Sixth, we are all well acquainted with the concept in Testimonies to Ministers, page 300, which stipulates that God will directly and personally guide each of His people in the Final Crisis. At that time, there will be no leaders to organize the work and tell people what to do. That time will be past.

The most complete collection of Spirit of Prophecy statements on final events is to be found in our End Time Booklet Series on last-day events. Read them through, and see if you can find any quotations which run contrary to the above points; that is, that indicate there will be an Adventist denomination after the crisis begins.

There is no doubt that God desires that His people be organized. There is thorough organization in heaven, and there ought to be among His people on earth. The leaders, fully dedicated to Gods glory, should lead, and the people, cheerfully willing, should gladly give themselves to the work. Yet, due to human imperfections, it appears that, in the final great crisis, the Lord will take the work personally in His hands. We can be thankful for that.

Oh, how we wish we had a perfect organization now! Oh, how we wish we could yield ourselves fully as cogs working in that organized work. But Gods plan at this time is to fit us to carry on through to the end. Because of apostasy in standards and beliefs, He is having to fit a people individually for the Final Crisis, which is soon to break upon us all. Day by day, He is having to prepare us to draw warmth from the coldness of others, to trust in Him when others around us fail.

You are very special to your God. He has a special plan for your life, and He is gradually working it out.

Rejoice that He wants you for His own! Rejoice that he wants to use you to help others!

Pray earnestly that He will show you your duty, individually.

And, may I add, beware of the itinerant preachers who travel about denouncing Adventists, still in the denomination, as Babylon; who preach strange new theories; who get angry when you show them clear Bible/Spirit of Prophecy reasons why they are wrong.

If ever there was a time when we needed to study Gods Word, it is now.

                          Vance Ferrell

 Do not war against faithful believers in the church or out of the church. They are not your enemies. The problem are those who are compromising their faith, disobeying Gods Word, lowering their standards and trying to import strange, new doctrines.