Leading Question: Why is it important to be able to tell whether a revival is genuine or false?
Lurking in the background of today’s lesson is the conviction that the truth, especially about the 10 commandments, should be as clear to anyone else as it is to a Seventh-day Adventist. Charismatics, in particular, are known for arguing that the warmth of their Spirit-driven experience is superior to the coldness of a community that keeps the law without such warmth.
What biblical examples can one cite on both sides of that issue? And what might be the truth of that quip that often makes the rounds, “If I hadn’t believed it, I never would have seen it with my own eyes”?
Solidly on the side of the 7th day Sabbath:
1. Deut. 4:13-14. The ten commandments were clearly distinguished from the additional Mosaic
2. Deut. 31:26. The additional Mosaic legislation went in a book that is placed beside the ark of the covenant containing the 10 commandments.
3. Deut. 4:22-33. God affirms that fear is the right response to his law; Moses says that the people are to turn neither to the right or to the left:
22 These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. 23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24 and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25 So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27 Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”
28 The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. 29 If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! 30 Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” 32 You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. 33 You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.
4. Num. 15:32-36. God commanded that a man be stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath.
5. Luke 4:16. Jesus went into the synagogue to worship “as his custom was.”
6. Luke 23:56. While Jesus was in the tomb, the women rested on the Sabbath “according to the command.”
7. Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4. On his mission trips, Paul worshiped regularly with the believers on the Sabbath.
Loosening traditional attitudes toward the Sabbath?
1. Matt 12:1-12, Jesus defends his disciples for eating from a grainfield on the Sabbath, heals a
man on the Sabbath , and declares that he is Lord of the Sabbath.
2. John 5. Jesus goes out of his way to heal a man on the Sabbath who had been ill for 38 years, and commands him to pick up his bed and carry it on the Sabbath.
3. Romans 14:5. Some judge one day to be better, others judge all days alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.
Note: Among conservative believers, many react strongly against the seventh-day Sabbath and against the idea of the non-immortality of the soul. Why? Haven’t Adventists argued that Scripture is quite clear on these matters? On the other hand, liberal believers often reject the idea of miracles completely, including the resurrection, second coming, and the idea of a prayer- answering God. Why? Aren’t these things clear in Scripture?
In 2 Kings 5, the prophet grants Naaman permission to bow in the temple of Rimmon while on the arm of his Rimmon-worshiping master. Naaman has already made the astonishing admission that there is no God anywhere but in Israel (2 Kings 5:15). Yet his master, the king, doesn’t know that yet. So Naaman put his request this way: “When my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the LORD pardon your servant on this one count” (1 Kings 5:18). The prophet answered: “Go in peace” (1 Kings 5:19).
Why? The ten commandments are clear. Shouldn’t the prophet have demanded more?
Adaptation/Accommodation/Condescension/Contextualization. All these words refer to the same idea, namely, that God adjusts his teachings and commands to the ability of the people to understand. It is a difficult concept for devout conservatives, but one that is quite clearly illustrated in Scripture. In the writings of Ellen White, I know of only one explicit statement affirming that kind of “adaptation,” her comment on the horrifying custom – horrifying to us, that is – of blood vengeance, the custom lying behind the need for cities of refuge, a half-way house to a more humane approach to justice. This is Ellen White’s comment in PP 515 (1890), the only appearance of this quotation in any of her published writings. The key phrases are in bold type:
This merciful provision was rendered necessary by the ancient custom of private vengeance, by which the punishment of the murderer devolved on the nearest relative or the next heir of the deceased. In cases where guilt was clearly evident it was not necessary to wait for a trial by the magistrates. The avenger might pursue the criminal anywhere and put him to death wherever he should be found. The Lord did not see fit to abolish this custom at that time, but He made provision to ensure the safety of those who should take life unintentionally.
In short, when someone cannot see even important things like the Sabbath, we should not be too hasty to judge. Yes, we need discernment; and no, we don’t need to join every revival that comes along. But we do need discernment on how to deal with those who do not see things our way.
In conclusion, two additional Ellen White quotations illustrate the principle of adaptation. Given Ellen White’s reputation as a hard-liner, I find many believers surprised and blessed by both these quotes, the implications of which are significant. The first one from 3T 20-21 (1872) is in the context of health reform; the second one is counsel to a minister in 1887 who is leaving north America to minister in South Africa, a new land for him:
Health Reform Adaptation. We must go no faster than we can take those with us whose consciences and intellects are convinced of the truths we advocate. We must meet the people where they are. Some of us have been many years in arriving at our present position in health reform. It is slow work to obtain a reform in diet. We have powerful appetites to meet; for the world is given to gluttony. If we should allow the people as much time as we have required to come up to the present advanced state in reform, we would be very patient with them, and allow them to advance  step by step, as we have done, until their feet are firmly established upon the health reform platform. But we should be very cautious not to advance too fast, lest we be obliged to retrace our steps. In reforms we would better come one step short of the mark than to go one step beyond it. And if there is error at all, let it be on the side next to the people. (Testimonies 3:20-21 )
Speaking on points on which we can agree. In laboring in a new field, do not think it your duty to say at once to the people, We are Seventh-day Adventists; we believe that the seventh day is the Sabbath; we believe in the non-immortality of the soul. This would often erect a formidable barrier between you and those you wish to reach. Speak to them, as you have opportunity, upon points of doctrine on which you can agree. Dwell on the necessity of practical godliness. Give them evidence that you are a Christian, desiring peace, and that you love their souls. Let them see that you are conscientious. Thus you will gain their confidence; and there will be time enough for doctrines. Let the heart be won, the soil prepared, and then sow the seed, presenting in love the truth as it is in Jesus.
– Gospel Workers, 119-120 ; Evangelism, 200; cf. “Letter to a Minister and His Wife Bound for Africa” [June 25, 1887 = Letter 12, to Elder Boyd; almost verbatim “original” of the Gospel Worker quote] in Testimonies to Southern Africa, pp. 14-20.
Both of these quotations illuminate the wonderfully gracious quotations from Ellen White, found in 6T 120-123. Perhaps the most important for our purposes is this one:
The Lord wants His people to follow other methods than that of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation be just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges that only drive them further from the truth. The work which Christ came to do in our world was not to erect barriers and constantly thrust upon the people the fact that they were wrong. (121/122)
He who expects to enlighten a deceived people must come near to them and labor for them in love. He must become a center of holy influence. – 6T 121-122
Two additional quotations from that section of the Testimonies are also worth noting, most likely they were addressed to A. T. Jones, one of the best known Catholic-bashers among Adventists at the turn of the century:
In the advocacy of the truth the bitterest opponents should be treated with respect and deference. Some will not respond to our efforts, but will make light of the gospel invitation. Others – even those whom we suppose to have passed the boundary of God’s mercy – will be won to Christ. The very last work in the controversy may be the enlightenment of those who have not rejected light and evidence, but who have been in midnight darkness and have in ignorance worked against the truth. Therefore treat every man as honest. Speak no word, do no deed, that will confirm any in unbelief.
If anyone shall seek to draw the workers into debate or controversy on political or other questions, take no heed to either persuasion or challenge. Carry forward the work of God firmly and strongly, but in the meekness of Christ and as quietly as possible. Let no human boasting be heard. Let no sign of self-sufficiency be made. Let it be seen that God has called us to handle sacred trusts; preach the word, be diligent, earnest, and fervent. – 6T 122
The influence of your teaching would be tenfold greater if you were careful of your words. Words that should be a savor of life unto life may by the spirit which accompanies them be made a savor of death unto death. And remember that if by your spirit or your words you close the door to even one soul, that soul will confront you in the judgment.
Do not, when referring to the Testimonies, feel it your duty to drive them home. In reading the Testimonies be sure not to mix in your filling of words, for this makes [122/123] it impossible for the hearers to distinguish between the word of the Lord to them and your words. Be sure that you do not make the word of the Lord offensive. We long to see reforms, and because we do not see that which we desire, an evil spirit is too often allowed to cast drops of gall into our cup, and thus others are embittered. By our ill-advised words their spirit is chafed, and they are stirred to rebellion.
Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or the reader. Because of that drop of poison, one will discard all your good and acceptable words. Another will feed on the poison; for he loves such harsh words; he follows your example, and talks just as you talk. Thus the evil is multiplied.
Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work. – 6T 122-123
The ultimate goal of all gospel workers is to be able to sensitively deal with human minds wherever they meet them.
As workers for Christ, we want sanctified tact. Study to be skillful when there are no rules to meet the case. Win hearts, not repulse them. In this kind of work more than in any other that can be undertaken, you need wisdom from above. Many souls have been turned in the wrong direction, and thus lost to the cause of God, by want of skill and wisdom in the worker. Tact, wisdom, and good judgment in the laborer in the cause of God increase his usefulness a hundredfold. If he can only speak the right words at the right time, and manifest the right spirit, it will exert a melting power on the heart of the needy one. – Gospel Workers (1892), 392
In short, all God’s people need the gift of discernment. And we don’t need to be hasty in our judgments.
Finally, an important passage of Scripture that points to the need for discernment:
2 Timothy 24 The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.