A Flat Earth, The Recycled Theory That Refuses to Go Away

The science-lover in me wants to nail this coffin shut.  Do you know someone who is intrigued by the thought that the world might be flat (rather than being a sphere)?  I do.  (Or maybe, properly, I knew them before they believed that.)

And if I were to select my nails, I would use some that weren’t available to Ellen White when the same idea began to be preached by a couple traveling Adventist workers in 1887.

For example, I would make a reference to how GPS satellites float in one position in the heavens by balancing centrifugal force with gravity.  Such force couldn’t hold anything up in the air over a flat earth.  Or I might make reference to how the curvature of the earth can be seen from a certain altitude.  Or I might mention how airplane travel times match well the theory that the southern tip of South America is much closer to Australia than it would be on a flat earth.  Or I might mention a lot of other things (like how accusing the USA of lying about putting people on the moon is a violation of the 9th commandment).

But I don’t need any nails for this one.  (Though, admittedly, I could place one every inch around the parameter of the coffin and still have nails to spare.)

Why not use them?  Because when those traveling Adventists chose to promote a flat earth some 130 years ago.  Ellen White wrote them about it.  And she didn’t use one bit of science. Instead, she used common sense.

Any kind of theory or hobby that Satan can lead the minds of men to dwell upon, he will draw their attention to, so that they shall not be engaged in giving the solemn message for this time. Do not, my brother, become entangled with ideas that have no connection with the work for this time.  It is better to be teaching the truth as it is in Jesus.  Better to be seeking for true godliness, heart holiness, freedom from all selfishness, freedom from all envies and jealousies.  {21MR 413.1}
It is better to pray and humble the soul before God and let the world, round or flat, be just as God has made it.  Try most earnestly by faithful continuance in welldoing to seek for a clear title in the inheritance in the earth made new.  Better lead the flock of God to drink at the higher streams; better by precept and example seek God while He may be found.  Call upon Him while He is near.  There is a revival needed in the church.  When the teachers are drinking fresh draughts from the well of Bethlehem, then they can lead the people to the living stream. My soul is weighed down with the burden of the condition of things in New York.  May the Lord raise up helpers, men whom He can teach, humble men whom He can lead to bear a clear, sharp testimony in faith.  God help you to seek His face, to walk carefully, to put self out of sight, and exalt Jesus.  {21MR 413.2} 
I hope Brother Wilcox will be a truly converted man. This is his great need at the present time. He wants meekness, he wants humility, he wants genuine piety, and without it he is as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. His soul and your soul need the indwelling of Jesus. Whether the world is round or flat will not save a soul, but whether men believe and obey means everything.--Letter 43, 1887. {21MR 413.3} (This is the entire letter).

Don’t imagine that this letter sent the topic away from Adventist permanently.  The devil has been in the business of recycling for a very long time.

And so it was seventeen years later that Ellen White wrote her son Willy about encountering another man who wished to talk to her about it.  She started the letter, “Mother is weary…” a reference to her own energy level.  But soon she mentioned the man.

On Sunday afternoon I urged the truth with more decided firmness and power.  A man was present who had expressed a desire to see me and talk with me in regard to the round and flat world.  I sent him a message that when Christ gave my commission to do the work He had placed upon me, the flat or round world was not included in the message; the Lord had taken care of His house, His world here below, better than any human agency could care for it, and until the message came from the Lord, silence was eloquence upon that question.  {21MR 414.2}  . . . .
The great question is, What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? This is the science of what constitutes the higher education, and when this question is properly adjusted, the capabilities of the whole man are called into full exercise. There will be no agitation of the question whether the world is round or flat, but the whole burden of the soul is: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? We need now to make every talent that God has given us to be employed to His name's glory.  {21MR 414.5} 

Five days later she wrote to the physicians and medical workers about several things, including a similar message about the flat world theory of the man.

Let those who are presenting theories as to whether the earth is round or flat, leave this question, for God has not given it to them to solve, and earnestly inquire, "What shall I do that I may have everlasting life?"  Let them heed the answer, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself."  {21MR 419.6} 
Nonessential questions will be brought in by those who do not purify their souls by obeying the truth. They fall far short of the standard of loving God supremely and their neighbor as themselves. I am bidden to say that sophistries will be brought in to take the place of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. The message is given, "Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." This word has been fulfilling among our people.  {21MR 420.1} 

The man mentioned above who brought this issue to Ellen White’s attention in late August, 1904, was very much in earnest about it. In her diary for that day she said that “an urgent request came to me from” the man about what was “to him a very important matter.” {21MR 421.3} 

Yes, it was very important to that man.  Still, I am not going to nail the coffin (though it begs for nails).  Instead, I am going to answer men like him today as you should: “Nonessential questions” are not to occupy our time.  And resolving the flat earth theory scientifically won’t help at all.  Why not?

Because the Devil has an entire quiver full of new distractions to throw upon us as soon as one has run its course.  And if one is debunked today, the Devil can recycle it about twenty years from now and most men will be none-the-wiser.

Satan has a multitude of questions to bring in through various minds and ingenuity as all-important. Take the Word, plainly stating the truth for 1904…  {21MR 421.5} 

And that is what we are to do. Take the Word. Plainly state the truth for 2016 (the Three Angel’s Messages) and leave off from chasing the devil’s rabbits.  Or, using a different metaphor, don’t waste your nails.

James White wrote about the flat earth in the 1860’s.  And though his statements agree well with what his wife wrote after his death, he wasn’t writing to attack the idea at all.  Rather, he was writing to contrast its benign character with what he understood to be a very serious error…the idea that there is “no Holy Spirit.”

The honest deacon who believes the world flat and immovable may be just as good a christian, as devotional in all his exercises, and as godly in his walk, as one that believes otherwise.  Such a faith, or such an error, has little or nothing to do with religion or practical godliness, because it neither denies the necessity nor worth of the atonement. {January 28, 1862 JWe, ARSH 68.14}
But not so with the error that says, "No Spirit." This error strikes at the very root of the matter, and with one fell stroke it crushes down everything before it, leaving man utterly destitute of all goodness. I do not contend against forms, neither do I deny the worth of doctrine; yet I do say that when we take out the Spirit of God from the religion of the Bible, the rest that remains is not worth speaking about. {January 28, 1862 JWe, ARSH 68.15}

So James thought the error of the flat earth was harmless.  Ellen White taught it became harmful if it became the message, but irrelevant otherwise.

View from International Space Station on October 20, 2014.

The theory of the flat earth, as it is currently promoted, originates with an organization that has proven itself to be an enemy of present truth.  But if this idea is recycled in three years (rather than in 20) it might then be by someone else’s hobby.  So attacking the character of the teachers isn’t the best method either.

Instead, the right method is to leave foolish questions alone.  The right method is to stand firm against gusty doctrines.

But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain (Titus 3:9).
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.  For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein (Hebrews 13:9).

You read that right: avoid foolish questions.  I hear you breathing a sigh of relief realizing you are not obliged to review your high-school physics and astronomy.

But before you exhale that sigh, read the statements again.  We aren’t to replace the distractions with inaction.  We are to replace them with agitations of the real issue.  And even if we are doctrinally correct, many of us may have hobbies that hobble us as verily as do foolish theory their earnest promoters.

So if you are hobbled, leave whatever it is alone.  I’m thinking that through too.  I’m always strategizing about how best to go spreading the three messages here in Asia--the other side of our round globe.