What is The Church?

“Disorganized Saints or an Organization of Saints and Sinners?”

The question “What is the Church?”  is extremely important to Seventh-day Adventists so we are not deceived by Satan to “draw apart.”

Perhaps you have heard someone within the context of the Seventh-day Adventist church, ask “what is the church?”  When this question is asked, it is generally an attempt at justification for drawing apart from the organized body because of some disagreement or disciplinary measures and is asked in such a way as to produce doubt as to the organized body being “the church”. Usually an answer isn’t given, its left hanging, but when it is attempted, it’s generally vague; something like; “the church is every true believer”.

A good example of this is found in the September 2017 Gleaner article entitled “What Is the Church that Is Going Through?”.  This article was written just before the Fall Counsel and obviously was in anticipation of some sort of disciplinary measures towards non-compliant entities.

There are a thousand winds of doctrine.  Some of the main ones associated with Seventh-day Adventists are “anti-Trinitarians”, “Feast Keepers”, “Character of God”, “2520”, and others who are simply “anti-organization.”  All have at least three things in common;

  • They generally draw away from the organized church.
  • They all believe that they are the church.
  • And while their churches--if they have a church--don’t have the name Seventh-day Adventist because of legal reasons, the individuals almost always identify themselves as Seventh-day Adventists and in many cases, their names are still on the books of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

But there’s also another group that ask the question “what is the church?”  These are regularly attending members in good standing who are seeing things happening in the church today and wondering just how far apostasy will go and whether or not there will be another “coming out.”  Is the church that is going through going to be the organization or is it the people?

Really, we all should ask ourselves the question “what is the church?”  Not to cause doubt or for self-justification, but so we are not deceived, as Psalm 125:1 says; “… are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever.” (R.V.) The LITV states it this way: “… shall be like Mount Zion; it is not shaken; it remains forever.”

This well-known statement sounds very similar.

“…The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out--the chaff separated from the precious wheat…” (2SM 380.2).

There is a shaking or sifting, but Mt. Zion--which is a symbol of the church is not shaken.  It remains.  This shaking does not remove the church but removes the members whose faith has no foundation, while those who trust in God remain; they can’t be shaken.  Their faith is built on a firm foundation that can’t be moved.

“Soon the battle will be waged fiercely between those who serve God and those who serve Him not. Soon everything that can be shaken will be shaken, that those things that cannot be shaken may remain” (9T 15.5).

Those who have no foundation for their faith claim to serve God, but self is their master.  When the truth cuts across their inclinations they become offended and are sifted out.

“All who wish to draw off from the body will have opportunity. Something will arise to test everyone. The great sifting time is just before us.  The jealous and the faultfinding, who are watching for evil, will be shaken out.  They hate reproof and despise correction” (1T 251.1). 

The reason they draw away from the body and are shaken out is because they have failed to perfect their characters.  They retain a jealous faultfinding spirit and when corrected or reproved they rise up against it.  They have failed to make Christ their foundation and when something arises that cuts against their inclinations they are swept away.

This sifting or shaking removes the chaff from the wheat.  In order to sift something out, it first has to be in.  To sift flour, a sieve is used to separate the fine from the coarse, and it must be placed in the sieve before it can be sifted.

The church is the sieve.  The members come into the church from the world or from other churches.  Some are bad, some are good.  In the parable of the marriage supper, Matthew 22:10 says that the “servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good.”  The parable of the net in Mathew 13 has the same message.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just…” (Mathew 13:47-49).
“The casting of the net is the preaching of the gospel. This gathers both good and evil into the church. When the mission of the gospel is completed, the judgment will accomplish the work of separation… (COL 122.2). 

This gathering in, denotes organization.  The “gospel net” gathers in and holds those it gathers.  Order is essential in the church.  When God led Israel out of Egypt, He gave specific directions for thorough organization.  God is the same today as He was then.  He is a God of order.

In its infancy, there was much resistance against organization by Sabbath-keeping Adventists, but as this movement grew it was seen that organization was essential.  In an address to the General Conference, Ellen White described this struggle over organization and the outcome;

“We sought the Lord with earnest prayer that we might understand his will, and light was given by his Spirit, that there must be order and thorough discipline in the church, that organization was essential.  System and order are manifest in all the works of God throughout the universe.  Order is the law of heaven, and it should be the law of God's people on the earth.”

Then she gave some of the reasons that organization was needed;

“To provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying the work in new fields, for protecting both the churches and the ministry from unworthy members, for holding church property, for the publication of the truth through the press, and for many other objects, organization was indispensable.” 

She went on to say;

"We had a hard struggle in establishing organization. Notwithstanding that the Lord gave testimony after testimony upon this point, the opposition was strong, and it had to be met again and again. But we knew that the Lord God of Israel was leading us, and guiding by his providence. We engaged in the work of organization, and marked prosperity attending this advance movement. As the development of the work called us to engage in new enterprises, we were prepared to enter upon them.”

She then explained how the Lord had led in the establishment of our schools and health institutions:

“What is the secret of our prosperity? We have moved under the order of the Captain of our salvation. God has blessed our united efforts… The system of organization has proved a grand success… As we have advanced, our system of organization has still proved effectual.” 

“…Let none entertain the thought… that we can dispense with organization. It has cost us much study, and many prayers for wisdom that we know God has answered, to erect this structure. It has been built up by his direction, through much sacrifice and conflict. Let none of our brethren be so deceived as to attempt to tear it down, for you will thus bring in a condition of things that you do not dream of. In the name of the Lord, I declare to you that it is to stand, strengthened, established, and settled.
“…We know how much it has cost to work out God's plans in the past, which has made us as a people what we are. Then let every one be exceedingly careful not to unsettle minds in regard to those things that God has ordained for our prosperity and success in advancing his cause.” 

The question “What is the Church?” asked in relation to church organization and authority seems to be to “unsettle minds in regard to those things that God has ordained.”  In ending her address to the General Conference she states;

“We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and his teaching in our past history” (GCDB, January 29, 1893).

By seeing how God has led this movement in establishing organization and knowing that God is a God of order and not confusion, we can be assured that He will continue to lead us in the same way.  There will be no dispensing of order now, especially as the final call; the last message of mercy is to be given to the world by Seventh-day Adventists.

“Some have advanced the thought that as we near the close of time, every child of God will act independently of any religious organization. But I have been instructed by the Lord that in this work there is no such things as every man's being independent... As we near the final crisis, instead of feeling that there is less need of order and harmony of action, we should be more systematic than heretofore. All our work should be conducted according to well-defined plans”  (MR311 14.3). 

The opposite of organization is disorganization.  Are those who “act independently of any religious organization” simply just disorganized saints?

“…Yet notwithstanding all the evidences that God has been  leading the body, there are, and will continue to be, those who profess the Sabbath, who will move independent of the body, and believe and act as they choose. Their views are confused. Their scattered state is a standing testimony that God is not with them”  (1NL 56.4). 

If God is not with them, can they really be saints?  Is there any such thing as disorganized saints?

“The church is the bride, the Lamb’s wife. Every true believer is a part of the body of Christ. Christ regards unfaithfulness shown to Him by His people as the unfaithfulness of a wife to her husband. We are to remember that we are members of Christ’s body” (Lt39-1902).

The Body is an organization.  It is what holds everything together. 

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. … If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? … And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you…” (1 Corinthians 12).

There are many members but one body.  All are to act in harmony with the body.  The ear is not to act independent of the body nor is the eye or the foot or any other part of the body. Without the human body all of the members-including the internal organs would fall apart and be of no use.   They would die. They function only when connected to the body.

The body of Christ is His organized church.  Each individual member is part of that body.  Apart from the body, the members would be of no use.  They would eventually die.  The eye can’t function on its own, neither can the foot.  Only in connection with the body can they function.

“If the lost sheep is not brought back to the fold, it wanders until it perishes.” (KC 28.6) 

To be what Christ wants us to be in the world; we must be part of His Body and work in harmony with Him and with each other.

While the character of each member will be individually tested, “None, no not one, can go alone to heaven. God has a people whom He is leading, guiding, and instructing. They must be subject one to another. If one undertakes to go alone, independently, to heaven he will find he has chosen the wrong path that will not lead him to life” (Lt19-1861).

Why is this topic “what is the Church?” so important?  Many, because they don’t agree with decisions made by the church or have some other grievance, separate themselves into distinct, independent parties or just leave, convincing themselves that they are the church.  Once separation takes place (even though they might later see their error) pride takes over and makes it nearly impossible for them to make the decision to return.  It was the same with Lucifer’s rebellion in Heaven:

“…Lucifer was convinced that he was in the wrong… He nearly reached the decision to return; but pride forbade him. . . . He persistently defended his own course, and fully committed himself to the great controversy against his Maker. . . .”  (FLB 70.3).
“Decisions may be made in a moment that fix one's condition forever…” (1NL 74.2) 

That is a sobering thought!  Here is a sure test as to whether we are on the Lord’s side or not;

“When anyone is drawing apart from the organized body of God's commandment keeping people, when he begins to weigh the church in his human scales and begins to pronounce judgment against them, then you may know that God is not leading him.  He is on the wrong track”  (3SM 18.4). 

It is my prayer that God’s people will be so fixed in their understanding of what the church is, that they cannot be moved, they will not be shaken but will remain; members of Christ’s body--the organized Remnant people of God.


Randy owns a construction company in Newport, Washington, and is President of Last Call Out Ministries.  He is happily married to Cherie.