They Crept in Unawares, Part 2

Gospel Compromise and Toleration of Immorality

 What you read in Part I may have shocked you.  Or you may have asked, “What’s the problem?”  Either way, divergent responses would confirm the point of Part I:  Our beliefs and practices which we affirm through vote as a global church are in many cases quite different from the actual practice of faith as carried out in local settings.

Though we still carry the same name and contribute to a common purse, we face an unprecedented spiritual crisis which could affect the finances, mission, and very structure of the church as we have known it.  But God is not unprepared for the emergency, for He already has pointed out the solution.  In fact, the text from which the title for this series is derived presents the divine solution: 

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort [you] that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.  For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 1:3-4).

“The common salvation” and “the faith once delivered to the saints” depict a singular gospel for every person and every circumstance.  It does not change with the times or the situation.  Similarly, the Three Angels’ Messages (Revelation 14:6-12), begin with “the everlasting gospel.” 

The problem described here in Jude is a distortion of grace—the gospel itself—which leads to the acceptance of lasciviousness, or sexual immorality[1] within the church.  That “certain men crept in unawares” is a rebuke to an unwatchful church.  As a result, the faithful must deal with actual sexual immorality in the church.  More than this, they must earnestly contend for the true faith within the church.

Is it possible that the acceptance of sexual immorality within the church today is likewise the result of a false gospel—a distortion of grace—that slipped into the church long ago?

Various Gospels in God’s Church Today

Do we all believe the same gospel within the church today?   Dr. John Webster of La Sierra University has spoken about four gospels within Adventism.  Dr. Herbert Douglass in his book, Fork in the Road, points back to the 1950’s to explain how a different gospel arose within the church.  At first the two paths at a fork may appear alike to many, but the farther the two paths diverge, the more noticeable the differences become.  Likewise, we did not get to the point overnight where we face internal division about biblical membership standards in the context of LGBT practices.  

Dr. William Johnsson, who formerly edited the Review for about 25 years, wrote The Fragmenting of Adventism, which he updated in his book Where Are We Headed?  Adventism after San Antonio, published by the Pacific Union Conference in April 2017.   Johnsson says that “two radically different versions of Adventism are competing for the future.”[2]   Johnsson identifies key differences among us which include creation, the gospel, church structure, the Remnant doctrine, hermeneutics (principles of biblical interpretation) and Ellen White.   He also criticizes President Wilson for trying to unify the church on women’s ordination, as voted by the world church at San Antonio.  

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The book infers that entire unions might leave the denomination if pushed to comply against their consciences regarding women’s ordination.  Is that what the Pacific Union is planning next?  They not only published the book, but sent it to every minister in the Pacific Union and advertised it to the membership in the Recorder.   Likewise, the North Pacific Union is also sending the book to every minister in that union.   

However, Johnsson rightly sees the divide in our church as encompassing far more than women’s ordination.   Hiding beneath this issue are really two radically different versions of Adventism.  First, let’s consider the gospel according to Johnsson.

The Gospel Johnsson Promotes

We now consider in this article Johnsson’s presentation of the gospel in Where Are We Headed.  He is correct to emphasize the cross.  However, he essentially reduces the gospel to “Christ died for our sins.” [3]   In contrast, the Bible says that if Christ were not raised, we would yet be in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).  So, obviously, salvation could not be completed at the cross.  Likewise, Romans 5:10 says “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” 

Johnsson does not emphasize the importance of Christ as our example, nor His living ministry today to empower that example in the lives of believers, nor the fact that, without holiness, no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12:14.    In contrast, the Bible marries the living ministry of Christ to His death on the cross.  Both aspects are essential to salvation, as are justification and sanctification.                                                                                                                                    

Limiting saving righteousness to justification apart from regeneration and sanctification is a one legged gospel which has produced the Laodicean condition of false assurance as described in Revelation 3:15-17.  What is more, it is directly contrary to such Bible passages as Second Thessalonians 2:13 and Titus 3:5, which explicitly include the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration and sanctification within the process of salvation.  A justification-only gospel is very much the source of the Laodicean disease, not its cure. 

The Gospel Taught by GraceLink

Years ago, Johnsson’s “guiding star,” his wife Noelene, [4]  helped produce [5] a curriculum called GraceLink for our young people, which has been likewise noted for divorcing [6] salvation/grace from conversion/obedience.  

This is the theology of salvation that undergirded Desmond Ford’s rejection of the investigative judgment.   So it should not be surprising that, after years of GraceLink, statistics [7] show only about 37% of our young people in grades 6-12 definitely believe in the investigative judgment.   Even more troubling, studies show that about half of our college age young people think one may be a good SDA and a practicing homosexual at the same time. [8]

The Everlasting Gospel

It is true that fallen sinners can be justified only by faith in the atoning sacrifice, not by works.  Romans 3:20, 28.   It’s true that repentance, which is a condition for the forgiveness of sin,[9]  comes only through appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ, for it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. [10]   However, justification is called our introduction to the grace in which we stand.[11]  If justification is our introduction to grace, it cannot be a complete picture of grace, and neither can justification be the sole basis for salvation.

Furthermore, the same Bible says “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”  1 John 1:7.   Walking in darkness is defined as not doing the truth.  God’s word is truth (John 17:17).  Therefore walking in the light as Christ is in the light involves doing the truth, or obeying the Bible,  which this verse states plainly is a condition for receiving the cleansing benefits of Christ’s blood. 

Likewise Ellen White says that “No man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.” {FW 100.1}

Obviously, Christ’s death alone was not enough to save us—man’s response of faith, repentance, surrender and obedience is also essential.  By faith in a living Christ in heaven, divine power is available through His merits alone, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, for man to actually keep the commandments of God.  As our pioneers came to see Christ’s ministry in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary before the ark containing the law of God, they came to realize the importance of obedience to the law of God by which we are judged—the Sabbath commandment included.  They found this configuration also in the Three Angels’ Messages.

This gospel framework is found also clearly in the writings of Ellen White, when she confirms that the Third Angels’ Message is the message of justification by faith in verity. [12]   Her statement marries justification by faith not only with the faith of Jesus, but also with keeping the commandments of God (See Revelation 14:12).   It links the obeying of God’s law to true repentance, conversion and ultimate salvation.  We find the same picture in our baptismal vows and fundamental beliefs.

The Three Angels’ Messages lie at the core of our General Conference Mission Statement, but Johnsson dwells on only one aspect of the Three Angels’ Messages—the gospel as he defines it.  And he does not connect the everlasting gospel to obedience to the Law of God as a condition of salvation, as determined by the investigative judgment, as the Three Angels’ Messages do. 

In a nutshell, the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14:6-12 is about Calvary winning hearts and minds by love, bringing about true repentance and ultimately bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.[13]   It’s about forgiving grace and transforming, empowering grace.  It’s about restoring the moral image of God in man, bringing heart and character into congruence with the Ten Commandments.[14]   These truths are central to Scripture, Ellen White’s instruction, and our fundamental beliefs, but are not emphasized in Johnsson’s book under evaluation in this article.                           

Immorality and the False Gospel

Just as a false gospel and toleration of immorality were bedfellows at the time Jude wrote his epistle, so they are bedfellows in the church today as exposed in the LGBT agenda in Part I of this series.   However, Johnsson makes no mention[15] of this particular divide in the church.   He also does not mention how the hermeneutics of Dr. Sakae Kubo, which he praises, have led Kubo to publicly advocate the acceptance of gay marriage within the church.[16]  It is extremely problematic that we have current church leaders who have promoted Johnsson’s book. 

Worse yet, these same leaders have largely neglected to remove those teachers and pastors under their authority that are urging that we tolerate immorality within the church.   In light of Jude 1:3-4, it is time for God’s faithful to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.  It’s time to demand that this state of affairs be corrected. 

More than this, those Seventh-day Adventists under the influence of a truncated “grace orientation” are not at all true to Scripture.  For biblical grace includes not only forgiveness (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7) but also of power for obedience (II Cor. 9:8; 12:8-9; Titus 2:11-13; Heb. 12:28). 

Worse yet, the one-sided picture of grace that many Seventh-day Adventists accept today would qualify as a subtle form of spiritualism according to Ellen White.  She says that spiritualism, in its final disguise, would profess to accept Christ and the Bible, but would dwell on the love of God to the neglect of his holy law, his justice, and His judgment. [17]  

These are the very attributes of God’s character and His plan to save man that are so neglected within the church, especially by many priding themselves with their “grace orientation.”    This means our struggle within the church is really over the character of God, His law and His final solution to the sin problem.  Spiritualism is not only knocking at our doors.  It has already entered the church, bearing fruit in sanctioned immorality within its borders.   

Are We Really Divided?

Johnsson isn’t the only one concerned about a church divide.  In January of 2014 Spectrum magazine predicted a split of the Seventh-day Adventist Church into two separate organizations “based on a decade of long-standing differences and numerous lawsuits between regional church leaders in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and the rest of the world church.”  Reasons listed for the split mirror many that Dr. Johnsson mentions, but also include the investigative judgment doctrine.[18]  

In contrast, Johnsson would like everything to continue as it is, with administration allowing pluralism in the church.  Of course, it’s more comfortable that way for those who in heart are not loyal to our official teachings.  But where does the question of integrity come in?   Shouldn’t those who really don’t believe all the doctrines of the church repent or leave, instead of trying to change the church into their own image from the inside?   What should the faithful do when they aren’t leaving? 

Bible Instruction for the Church about False Teachers and Immorality

Matthew 7:5 says to take the log out of one’s own eye before attempting to take a speck out of a brother’s eye.  Failure to do this amounts to the kind of judging which Christ strictly forbids in vss. 1-2.  So the call to correct error in the church is first a call to self-examination:  Do I truly love my brother?  Have I been praying for him daily?  Have I put away not only wrong attitudes but also any personal compromise from my own life in preparation to speak to my brother about his wrong?   Am I prepared to speak respectfully?

In Matthew 13 we find the parable of the wheat and tares.  Both this story and the “judge not” passage in Matthew 7 are often misused to blur the distinction God intended to exist between the church and the world.  But this difference is made very clear in our biblical theology of baptism and church discipline.    Our interpretation of the parable of the wheat and tares must take into account these other scriptures that give clear direction about when people, in fact, do need to be removed from the church.  Notice only a few examples:

When it comes to public matters, the Bible has clear instruction:  1 Timothy 5:19 says “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.  Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”  First of all, never should anyone proceed to discipline based on unsubstantiated gossip.  However, public wrongs are supposed to be publicly corrected, even if a pastor or leader is involved.  The reason is “so that others may fear.”  Public rebuke will discourage others from going down the same path.   Also, the necessity of public rebuke requires public clarification and/or repentance.                                                                  

The Bible says “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject”.[19]  Heresy is false teaching.  Therefore, a heretic is someone who promotes or accepts false teaching.  This verse says our approach to dealing with a heretic should be redemptive and winsome.   But clearly, those who persist in holding false teaching should be rejected, or removed from the church.  Likewise the first reason for Church Discipline, and perhaps the most neglected one, as listed in our Church Manual is “Denial of faith in the fundamentals of the gospel and in the fundamental beliefs of the Church or teaching doctrines contrary to the same.” [20]   

Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 5 reproves the Corinthian church for not disfellowshipping a person known for having practiced sexual immorality.  It lists other vices that should be treated in the same way, including fornication.  Fornication is a broad term that covers all forbidden sexual practices such as premarital, extra marital, and same sex sexual activity.[21]   

In light of such Scriptures, it is clearly a misuse of the parable of the wheat and tares to deactivate proper church discipline.   For example, 1 Corinthians 4:5 explains the true meaning of the parable of the wheat and tares—we are not to judge the secret things or the motives that prompt people in their actions.   Ellen White clarifies further that the parable of the wheat and tares is a caution against judging “character and motive” regarding those whom we “suppose to be a spurious Christian,” because “the real character of these pretended believers is not fully manifested.”  She says, in contrast, that “Christ plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church.” [22]

Who is Responsible?

Regarding the vital importance of protecting the true gospel within the church, Galatians 1:6-8  says  “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”           

The word “accursed” comes from “anathema,” which refers to excommunication/disfellowship. When the church fails to follow this instruction, God regards it as being removed from Christ who called us.   

Commenting on the ministry of Elijah in a time of great apostasy, Ellen White says:

If God abhors one sin above another, of which His people are guilty, it is doing nothing in case of an emergency.   Indifference and neutrality in a religious crisis is regarded of God as a grievous crime and equal to the very worst type of hostility against God.  Testimonies to the Church, Vol . 3, p. 280.

It could not be stronger.   God holds the church responsible.   To do nothing in the current crisis is a grievous crime equal to the very worst type of hostility against God.  And it is evident that faithful lay people are going to have to take the lead. 

To the church at Thyatira Christ Himself says  “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”[23]   When the church tolerates false teachers Christ is deeply offended—He holds this against the church.  That includes all of us that are in the church, not just the leaders.  We are all responsible.

The beloved apostle says “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed:    For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”[24]    If false teachers are allowed in the church or even wished well, God holds us responsible for their wrong. 

Commenting on this principle as illustrated in the Old Testament story of Achan, Ellen White says that God holds his church, as a body, responsible for the sins existing among them.[25]   As the result of Achan’s sin, Israel was defeated at Ai, and Israelites lost their lives in that attempted conquest.   Can God bless the church today with His presence in Latter Rain power unto conversion of souls if we continue to neglect proper church discipline?  How serious are we about going home?

Furthermore, when sexual immorality came into Israel on the borders of the promised land, Israel received the judgments of God in a plague.  While Moses was weeping and praying for the plague to be removed Zimri, a prince in Israel, strode into the camp with a prostitute on his arm.  The plague was not removed in response to the prayers of Moses until Phinehas executed judgment on the pair in Zimri’s tent.  Likewise, God expects proper church discipline within the church today to avert His coming judgments on our apostasy.[26] 

Last of all, consider that we have a representative form of church governance.  If we elect negligent leaders, we are responsible.  The present state of affairs should bring us all to tears, to repentance, to our knees and to action. 

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What Can We Do?

  1. Read the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy with prayer to find God’s will so you can practice it yourself and set the right example,  and thus be able to detect the difference between truth and error within the church when it arises. 
  2. Engage in self-examination regarding your own attitudes and lifestyle. 
  3. Pray earnestly for yourself, the church, and your leaders.
  4. Consider resolutions you might introduce in your local church or conference that could make a difference.
  5. Read the biblical requirements for baptism and church membership and the section on Church discipline in the Church Manual, so that you know the official position of the world church.  Use your influence to uphold loyalty to the Church Manual in your local church.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions when local or conference leaders are remiss regarding their duty.
  6. Be a worker in your local church.  Be available for leadership and serving on the church board.   Be faithful in your tithes and offerings. 
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask your pastor or even conference leaders specific questions about what they believe regarding fundamental beliefs and practices of the church.  Encourage them to emphasize key doctrines on which they may currently be silent.  
  8. Lobby and encourage your conference leadership to deal appropriately with workers, churches or schools that are straying from the official beliefs and practices of the world church.  Know the individuals on the conference Executive Committee.  They are there to represent you.  Those administrators and committee members who are labored with and still are unable to give proper leadership should have the integrity to step down.  If they don’t, they should be encouraged to do so, and as a final resort, replaced if necessary. 
  9. How do we replace them?  We follow the principles in Matthew 18,[27] involving as few people as possible.  However, this instruction shows the final authority is not the church leaders, but the church.  If all else fails, it says, tell it to the church.   
  10. In a conference setting, the conference membership is the church.  The conference constituency meeting is the local court of appeal for dealing with rogue leaders or churches.  After a redemptive process, Conferences could vote to withhold financial support from a church or university for uncorrected conditions such as revealed in Part I of this series. [28]  
  11. In addition to addressing issues locally and in a local conference constituency meeting, an appeal may also be made to the next higher level of the church—the union, the division and finally the General Conference leadership. 
  12. Ask for a copy of your conference Constitution and Bylaws—and read it. 
  13. Become acquainted with the rules for parliamentary procedure the conference has adopted for meetings.  Be prepared to speak up if those rules are violated in a constituency meeting. 
  14. Be available to be a delegate to your conference constituency meetings where conference leadership is elected.  Know what your current leadership believes and what they have done, or failed to do, to support the official beliefs and practices of the world church, before blindly voting them into office.   Examine their track record regarding upholding the biblical beliefs and related practices of the church. 
  15. Obtain a copy of the General Conference Working Policy and become familiar with it.[29]

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[1]  A common biblical word for sexual immorality in the Bible is fornication, which is a broad term taking in all sexual activity outside the confines of a heterosexual marriage.

[2] Page 3

[3] Where Are We Headed?  Adventism after San Antonio by William Johnsson, p 59

[4]  Where Are We Headed?  Adventism after San Antonio, p. ii (Forward) 

[5] https://www.gracelink.net/assets/gracelink/Lessons/Primary/2018/Q1/Primary/Student/P-18-Q1-L00.pdf see p 2.

[6]  http://www.a4t.org/Hands/gracelink-3 From a Feb 14, 2001 letter of concern to the General Conference re. Gracelink:  Point #6—“On your website you state that the purpose of these lessons is to "resolve the confusion about salvation by separating talk about our response to God's grace, the good works Christians do, from the discussion of the salvation God's grace has freely given us."   Initially the Gracelink  website contained this statement of purpose:  "Through our lessons and children's stories we want to impart the full impact of a grace orientation.  Discussions about salvation will emphasize the actions of God toward us.  We will resolve the confusion about salvation by separating talk about our response to God's grace, the good works Christians do, from the discussion of the salvation God's grace has freely given us." 

[7]   From Dr. Bailey Gillespie’s research in Valuegenesis.

[8] https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-10-17/landmark-survey-reveals-in-depth-beliefs-perceptions-of-adventist-members/   Last accessed 1/10/18. 

[9] Acts 2:38  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 

[10] Romans 5:12

[11] Romans 5:1-2 (NASB77) Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

[12]Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel's message in verity.’ “   Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.  Evangelism p. 190 

[13]  2 Corinthians 10:5

[14]  Hebrews 8:10

[15] No mention in Where are we headed?  Adventism after San Antonio 

[16]  http://spectrummagazine.org/article/news/2014/04/05/viewpoint-how-our-understanding-homosexuality-has-changed   Last accessed 1/9/2018.

[17]  The Great Controversy, pp.557-558

[18]  http://spectrummagazine.org/blog/2014/01/19/brave-new-world  Last accessed 1/9/2018.

[19]  Titus 3:10 

[20]  2015 Church Manual, p 62

[21] Dr. Ekkardt Mueller’s article on Fornication at the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference. https://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Fornication%20rev%20%282%29.pdf

[22] Christ’s Object Lessons p. 64, as quoted in the Church Manual 2015, p . 64

[23]  Revelation 2:20 

[24]  2 John  1:10-11  

[25]  Testimonies to the Church, Vol 3, p. 269

[26] The point to be marked is, that Moses’ prayers were not heard, neither his weeping nor the sorrow and prayers of those who had maintained their integrity, until justice was executed upon that demoralized God-defying prince. God says of Phinehas, He “hath turned away my wrath from the children of Israel.” It was the greatest mercy that Phinehas could do to Israel, to deal promptly and decidedly with the guilty, and thus be instrumental in turning the wrath of God from the congregation of Israel. Something besides prayers and tears are needed in a time when reproach and peril are hanging over God’s people. The wicked works must be brought to an end. The very work of justice done by Phinehas was an atonement for Israel.  Review and Herald May 17, 1887, par. 12

[27]  Matthew 18:15-17 

[28]  2015 Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, pp. 40-42. 

[29]  Call the GC at 301-680-6000 and asking to be transferred to the office of the Secretariat, request your own copy of the GC Working Policy in pdf format which can be emailed to you.