When Probation Closes for the Church
By Elder Lawrence Nelson
There are two camps of belief among the historic Seventh-day Adventists of our day. One group insists that the developments of apostasy within the organized church has now reached a point where God considers His church has become Babylon and therefore He has fully separated Himself from the organization and has no further need of it. The other group believes that the organized Conference church is indeed growing at an alarming rate in apostasy as Ellen White predicted, but until the church embraces and teaches the immortality of the soul and Sunday worship it is still God’s one and only true church – and not Babylon.
Some assume that the conference leadership is the church, but in reality the conference leadership is only a small part of the church. Today the Adventist membership is approaching twelve million, but only a small fraction of that number are elected officers or employees of the denomination. Conference leadership is an exercise of the gift of government, which the Bible teaches should be used for the perfection of the church. But like other gifts, government can be perverted and misused by those in positions of leadership and this can result in apostasy. The misuse of such a gift of the Spirit, even though widespread, does not automatically cause the rejection of the whole church by God.
In this study I must give acknowledgment to Bob Jorgenson for his excellent help in its development. Before we proceed let us pause to pray for divine guidance. Loving Father, we mortals are totally dependent on Thee for heavenly guidance as we see apostasy increasing at an alarming rate within Thy church. May the Holy Spirit guide us in our study to know when probation closes for the church. This we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.
To begin I would like to invite you to join me in a brief visit to Belshazzar’s palace during his last night on the throne of Babylon. Inspiration clearly states that this king was personally aware of Nebuchadnezzar’s banishment by the decree of God and he also knew of his conversion and miraculous restoration. But Belshazzar’s life of ease set aside these lessons which he should never have forgotten. He neglected these facts which could have been the means to obtain a knowledge of God’s saving truth.
On this last night as king of Babylon, the army of the Medes and Persians had surrounded this mighty city, yet Belshazzar felt secure in his seemingly impregnable fortress of massive walls and gates of brass. Unprepared for the overwhelming surprise that awaited him, he made a great feast for a thousand of his lords in which they drank wine until reason was abolished with intoxication. As a result, the king participated in riotous orgies which led him to command that the gold and silver vessels of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from God’s holy sanctuary in Jerusalem, be brought to this debauchery crowd that they may drink wine from these sacred vessels and praise their gods of gold, silver, wood and stone.
Little did Belshazzar think that the Heavenly Watcher of this idolatrous act was present when suddenly a bloodless hand began to trace on his palace wall the characters of doom which gleamed like fire. So terrifying was the scene that the king’s knees smote one against the other. In vain the astrologers and soothsayers tried to interpret the writing. At last the queen mother remembered Daniel, who years before has made known Nebuchadnezzer’s dream and begged that he be called.
When Daniel was brought before the king he was promised to be made the third ruler of the kingdom if he would interpret the writing. But Daniel answered, “Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another.” Before interpreting the writing the prophet reminded Belshazzar of Nebuchadnezzar’s sin and fall and how God had dealt with him. Then he boldly rebuked Belshazzar for his great wickedness, showing him how he might have learned of God and obeyed Him; but he did not. Now he was about to reap the consequences of his rebellion.
“‘Thou, … O Belshazzar,’ the prophet declared, ‘hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.’ Turning to the heaven-sent message on the wall, the prophet read, ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.’ The hand that had traced the characters was no longer visible, but these four words were still gleaming forth with terrible distinctness; and now, with bated breath, the people listened while the aged prophet declared: ‘This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.’” Prophets and Kings p. 529-530.
This sad interpretation simply means that Babylon’s probation had come to an end. God had withdrawn His protection and they were left to reap the results of their sin and apostasy. In Testimonies for the Church , Volume 5, p. 208 is this quote: “With unerring accuracy the Infinite One still keeps an account with all nations. While His mercy is tendered with calls to repentance, this account will remain open; but when the figures reach a certain amount which God has fixed, the ministry of His wrath commences. The account is closed. Divine patience ceases. There is no more pleading of mercy in their behalf.”
We should be familiar with the fact found in Great Controversy p. 627 that the Loud Cry message is actually an announcement that our country has filled its cup, which closes its probation. It is when the National Sunday legislation is passed that the limit of God’s forbearance is reached and national apostasy is followed by national ruin. Again I quote, “As the approach of the Roman armies was a sign to the disciples of the impending destruction of Jerusalem, so may this apostasy be a sign to us that the limit of God’s forbearance is reached, that the measure of our nation’s iniquity is full, and that the angel of mercy is about to take her flight never to return.” Testimonies for the Church , Volume 5, p. 451.
An account is also kept with cities. It was when the men of Sodom tried to rape the angels who visited their city that their cup was filled and judgment came upon them. Their probation closed. In Patriarchs and Prophets p. 159 I read these words, “That last night was marked by no greater sins than many others before it, but mercy, so long slighted, had at last ceased its pleading. The inhabitants of Sodom had passed the limits of divine forbearance—‘the hidden boundary between God’s patience and His wrath.’ The fires of His vengeance was about to be kindled in the vale of Siddim.”
Israel also had a standing as a nation and also as a church. Certainly we would not question whether or not they experienced a close of probation as a nation for they are referred to as a nation divorced from God. I’m reading from Acts of the Apostles p. 145. “Jehovah was no longer to be found in that palace of loveliness. Israel as a nation had divorced herself from God. When Christ, near the close of His earthly ministry, looked for the last time upon the interior of the temple, He said, ‘Behold your house is left unto you desolate.’ Matthew 23:38. Hitherto He had called the temple His Father’s house; but as the Son of God passed out from those walls, God’s presence was withdrawn forever from the temple built to His glory.”
Israel is also referred to as a nation unchurched. Notice the following passage, “It was not the hand of the priest that rent from top to bottom the gorgeous veil that divided the holy from the Most Holy Place. It was the hand of God. When Christ cried out, ‘It is finished,’ the Holy Watcher that was an unseen guest at Belshazzar’s feast pronounced the Jewish nation to be a nation unchurched. The same hand that traced on the wall the characters that recorded Belshazzar’s doom and the end of the Babylonian kingdom rent the veil of the temple from top to bottom, opening up a new and living way for all, high and low, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. From henceforth people might come to God without priest or ruler.” Manuscript Releases, Volume 1, p. 392.
When Christ was crucified that Jewish nation became unchurched, meaning that it had lost its status as God’s church. It was no longer His church, His chosen agency for the development of truth, His special depository for the oracles. A new movement now became God’s visible church. It has always been this way. When God closes the probation of a church He points people to a new movement as His church, thus when probation closed for the Jewish church at the crucifixion of Christ immediately the attention of seekers of truth began to be directed to the new apostolic church which rapidly gained prominence through divine working and intervention.
Thus it was with the Protestant churches in 1844. By rejecting the proclamation of the first angel’s message they closed and sealed their destiny. God at that time was raising up a new movement and drew attention to it as the new depository of truth and the oracles of God. The ministry of a prophet marked His designation of the new movement as His chosen people – the visible church of God on earth. This is what became known as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are clearly told that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will also be weighed in the balance, which means that it definitely has a probationary status and will come to a time when the account is settled.
Notice how this statement reads, “In the balances of the sanctuary the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to be weighed. She will be judged by the privileges and the advantages that she has had. If her spiritual experience does not correspond to the advantages that Christ, at infinite cost, has bestowed on her, if the blessings conferred have not qualified her to do the work entrusted to her, on her will be pronounced the sentence: ‘Found wanting.’ By the light bestowed, the opportunities given, will she be judged .” Testimonies for the Church , Volume 8, p. 247.
In the sealing message of Testimonies for the Church , Volume 5, p. 207 – 212 it speaks of a time of visitation for God’s church – a sign of probation’s close and approaching ruin – when God’s presence has left the church because of overflooding worldliness throughout the membership of the church. It is at this time the sealing commences in the church followed by the beings with slaughter weapons carrying out the judgments of God. In this section on the sealing of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we look more fully at what is taking place in the church in the time described in Ezekiel the ninth chapter. Perhaps it will help us to see that just as Israel was preserved in spite of rebellion and apostasy, to bring forth the Messiah, so the Seventh-day Adventist Church was brought into existence and will be preserved in spite of apostasy and rebellion to initiate the sealing of God’s faithful people.
Until this sealing commences, until the separation of the wheat and the tares takes place, we are unwarranted in concluding that the probation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has closed. Let us keep in mind that the movement that finally emerges following probation’s close of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a purified movement – the first in earthly history to be free of any tares. Should any new group supercede the Seventh-day Adventist Church before the sealing takes place, it would still contain the wheat and tares together and simply perpetuate apostasy and rebellion and would undoubtedly arrive at a further depth of apostasy than we already have and in a shorter length of time.
A superceding movement would have to either totally disqualify the whole Advent movement since 1844, or else disqualify itself since all it would be doing is repeating the accomplishments of the Advent movement previously. Furthermore, to supercede the Advent movement of 1844 – 2001, it would need to provide providential interposition and compel world-wide recognition on a greater scale than that of the Advent awakening of the 1840’s which we are told by Inspiration was the purest and greatest since Pentecost. Many statements clearly refer to a probationary status for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the possibility of filling up its account.
For an example I’m going to quote Testimonies for the Church , Volume 5, p. 529. “It is time that we were closely examining our hearts to see whether or not we are in the faith and in the love of God. If there is not an awakening among us who have had so great light and so many privileges, we shall sink to ruin, and our fate will be worse than that of Corizan and Bethsaida; ‘for,’ as Christ said of these cities, ‘If the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they should have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.’”
We also read in Testimonies for the Church , Volume 8, p. 67, “Jerusalem is a representation of what the church will be if it refuses to walk in the light that God has given. Jerusalem was favored of God as the depository of sacred trust. But her people perverted the truth, and despised all entreaties and warnings. They would not respect His counsels. The temple courts were polluted with merchandise and robbery. Selfishness and love of mammon, envy and strife were cherished. Everyone sought for gain from his quarter. Christ turned from them, saying: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often I would have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ Matthew 23:37.” In spite of such counsel there are some today who feel that they are God’s new movement, His church that supercedes the Seventh-day Adventist Church; the pure and true remnant who are to give the Loud Cry and experience the power of the Latter Rain.
As I have examined such groups I have been amazed at the strange teachings and winds of doctrines being promoted by some of these independent channels. There is much ignorance regarding how the Lord has led and what the pillars of truth have been. I have come to the decision that it is presumptuous to claim that probation has now closed for the Seventh-day Adventist organized church, or that it has become Babylon and that some new ministry has now become the true remnant church.
There are two chapters in Desire of Ages entitled “The Chosen People” and “The Fullness of Time” that will help us to come to a right conclusion. Before we discuss these two chapters let us briefly discuss the history of the great conflict between Christ and Satan. As Satan developed his accusations in heaven against the eternal God his cleaver attack was that God was selfish and arbitrary. Satan claimed that God was so strict with His justice that He was unable to forgive any transgression. Therefore, Satan claimed that God’s character and government were based on justice only – with absolutely no mercy. There was no way that God could effectually answer this charge except to allow time for the development of Satan’s principles and timely demonstration that God’s character and government would prove Satan to be wrong.
God prepared for His demonstration by raising up a people. Through them He purposed to bring forth to the world His demonstration that would forever answer the false insinuations and accusations of Satan. The Desire of Ages chapter about the chosen people discusses these people. It was, of course, the nation of Israel. To the chosen nation God committed sacred oracles, a knowledge of His law, sacred ceremonies and services, the ministry of prophets and many other blessings. He designed through them that the world would see the goodness of His character, but even more, He designed that through Israel the supreme demonstration would take place that would prove that there was self-denial and forgiveness with God.
A chosen people was a very important part of settling the issues in the great controversy. Satan recognized the favor which God had bestowed upon Israel and with cunning and malice he worked to undermine every detail of God’s plan to accomplish His purpose through Israel. A bitter conflict developed over whether Israel could even be maintained intact long enough to bring forth what God had promised.
Speaking of the nation in Nehemiah’s time Inspiration says, “The Lord showed his rebellious people that they were dependent upon him for prosperity and safety, yet his eye was upon them. They were feeble, exposed to the ravages of their enemies; yet they were the guardians of the worship of the true God, and were to preserve a knowledge of his law until the Prince of peace should come.” Review and Herald, March 18, 1884. Here we find a declaration that Israel was basically promised an existence and a standing as God’s chosen people until the Messiah came.
Satan did his utmost to prevent that from happening, but of course if took place anyway. It happened in spite of rebellion and in spite of apostasy in Israel. It happened in spite of the fact that the leaders of Israel constantly plotted how to prevent Jesus from carrying forward the work He had undertaken in God’s great plan. No amount of apostasy and rebellion kept Israel from having the first opportunity to receive the Messiah and herald His advent. (See Desire of Ages p. 231, 351).
The preservation of Israel as a distinct nation for over a thousand years was a witness to the fact that through Israel the Messiah was to come. In addition to God’s need for a chosen people there was also a need for a fullness of time. This was revealed when the condition of the chosen nation, and of the entire world, was ripe for the demonstration that God was going to make. The conditions that constituted the fullness of time included the fact that Satan had succeeded in perverting the faith of Israel. It was within Israel that the deception of sin reached its highest attainment.
Desire of Ages p. 35, 36 tells us that Israel had developed to maturity the concept that man can save himself by his own works. Thus they cause God to be viewed as a tyrant. We can now see that Satan had infiltrated the nation of Israel. They were actually demonstrating more effectively than any heathen nation around them the idea that God is all justice and that there is no mercy with Him. Thus the fullness of time for Israel included a development in which the issues of the controversy came into prominent display. It was in this setting that God sent His Son and demonstrated the existence of the very thing denied by Satan.
Try to visualize with me this picture. Within Israel the claims of Satan’s demonstration and the claims of God’s demonstration were taking place side by side so that the universe could easily evaluate the characters of God and Satan. If God had sent His Son previously it would have been premature; it would not have been the fullness of time. Likewise, if the door of probation had been closed for Israel any sooner than when God closed it, it would have been the failure of God’s plan and the success of Satan’s rebellion.
Inspiration tells us that even the holy angels saw no room for hope at the time of Christ’s first advent. They expected to see Jehovah arise and sweep away the inhabitants of the earth. So, if the decision had been committed to any of the heavenly beings as to when to close the door of probation for Israel, God’s character would not have been effectively demonstrated. The claims of Satan would not have been adequately answered; the extent of God’s self-denial and forgiveness would not have been demonstrated correctly. God would have been misrepresented. In Desire of Ages p. 761- 764 it describes how Christ came to this earth and forever settled the question of whether there was self-denial with God. All heaven was amazed and glorified God for the wonderful revelation of His marvelous love when Jesus died on the cross. It revealed that God was not only a God of justice, but a God of mercy.
But Satan was not to give up so easily. He now came forward with a new argument and it went something like this: “Yes, we see that there is mercy and forgiveness with God. His justice is not so strict and harsh as we once thought. We can now see that in reality God is so full of mercy that we don’t need to be concerned about His justice.” So Satan now declared that God’s mercy excluded justice. This became the new emphasis of his attack.
The Desire of Ages tells us that this is the big issue now; accountability for obedience to God’s law is the big issue to be settled in the last phase of the great controversy. Where we close the door of probation for the chosen people of our time we will display whether we reflect the thoughts of God or the sentiments of Satan. Beloved, I think we all know in our hearts that we can make many apparently righteous declarations denouncing sin and apostasy, we can look pretty pious and yet still be cherishing and promoting the sentiments of Satan. If we close the door too soon we are erring on the side of justice, if we close the door too late we are erring on the side of mercy. To error on these issues in the controversy, at this hour of earth’s history, is to neutralize both justice and mercy.
I believe we are being tested today on this very issue: Is probation closed for the Church? To show before the universe who had a correct reflection of God’s mind in this matter, I purpose that just as in God’s ancient church, there were two demonstrations that took place side by side, so today, the church is a stage where two final demonstrations are taking place. As apostasy increases there will be a demonstration that proves that mercy does not lower justice in the least. It will prove that those who have availed themselves of the provisions of mercy can meet and survive the demands of justice. It will bring forth a people who stand with perfected characters before the universe ready to be sealed by God.
But it also appears that, just like in ancient Israel, Satan had commandeered the stage of demonstration and is endeavoring to present his deception that mercy excludes justice. So he now promotes (listen carefully): “Do as you please and if it feels good to do it in your form of worship, do it.” He insinuates his philosophy that it doesn’t matter how you eat, dress, drink or act – just love everybody and don’t make waves. We see this taking place all through God’s chosen people who are representing and echoing Satan’s big argument. They spring up in the most unexpected ways and places. Whereas in the time of Christ’s first advent people were led to look on God as a harsh tyrant, today people are led to look upon God as a soft and pliable, Granddaddy-type of person who accepts everybody just as they are.
The keynote of Satan’s smooth and attractive deception is that God’s requirements are not as strict as we once thought as in former times. Vice is now consecrated as a part of religion. Abominations that shouldn’t even be named among Seventh-day Adventists are cloaked with religious garb and called “ministries.” We see ministries such as drama and the urging of our dear young people to become clowns, belittling the third angel’s message. There is an attempt to bring in plans and methods totally unacceptable to God and to sanctify them by making them tools of evangelism. Then we are pointed to the number of people attracted by these methods as evidence that God is blessing through these means. But we have been told that we show great blindness when we lower the standard to attract more people into the church and then make that increase of numbers a cause for rejoicing. (Please see Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 31).
Now a few words about the Seventh-day Adventist Church – when its probation closes and the sealing commences. There is a most valuable commentary on the final sealing event as described in Ezekiel chapter nine. This commentary is found in Testimonies for the Church , Volume 5, p. 207 – 216. I recommend if you have this volume that you read it carefully. It is surprising to observe how often things are clearly stated in Inspiration but ignored and overlooked. These pages describe what is transpiring in the church at the time when the sealing commences. This is spoken of as a time when people in the church are under great pressure to turn from loyalty to God’s law. Clearly they are under pressure to give in to the characteristics mentioned in this passage. Notice carefully: they all refer to the people who are in the organized church when the sealing commences.
In the following quotes I have added in some places the words “in the church” because Ellen White clearly states that these things take place in the church. I have a number that I want to read.
1. “Those who have had the greatest light and privileges are contaminated by prevailing iniquity in the church.”
2. “There are two classes in the church. One class, who has increasing love for God’s precepts; another class who holds them in contempt.”
3. “The time for God’s visitation has almost come (in the church).”
4. “Those in the church who walk in the light will see signs of approaching peril.”
5. “It is their duty to labor diligently to save others in the church.” (There is no mention of calling the church Babylon and telling people to withdraw membership.)
6. “The time in the church is one when the danger and depression of the church are the greatest.”
7. “There is a little company who are standing in the light within the church.” (Obviously the vast majority in the church is not standing in the light in the time described here.)
8. “The other class in the church is trying to throw a cloak over existing evil.”
9. “Notice, the little company are vexed day by day with the sins and iniquitous abominations promoted by the rest of the unrighteous church members in the church.”
10. “The remnant mourn before God to see true religion despised (in the church).”
11. “They lament and afflict their souls because of the corruption and the apostasy which are evident almost everywhere in the church.” (Beloved, how clearly Inspiration has described what we now see beginning to take place in the church.)
12. “It’s a time when the servants of Satan triumph in the church.”
13. “God is dishonored and the truth is made of none effect in the church.”
14. “At this time here we see that the church, the Lord’s sanctuary, was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God.”
15. “The dumb dogs that would not bark will suffer the vengeance of God and will never again lift their voices to teach the truth.”
Surely my brethren and sisters we can see that what is being discussed here in Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5 is the final confrontation of the members of the Seventh-day Adventist, the organized Conference church, with the final testing and sealing truths to be given in the church. There has been no call to have the faithful members withdraw their membership. There has been no message of the announcing the church as Babylon. There have been faithful messages of warning and reproof given in the church. There have been mourning and soul anguish that is a characteristic of those who are the true children of God in the church.
Frankly, I haven’t seen very much of this spirit on the part of most of those who are promoting that we leave the church and who call the church Babylon. I have seen a lot of bitter, vindictiveness; a lot of angry accusation and denunciation, a lot of sarcasm and ridicule, a lot of name-calling and jumping to conclusions, but precious little of the anguish of spirit and the sighing and crying that is here described as the earmarks of the faithful little company found in the church. It has often seemed to me that there are many who would be very upset if God should offer to the organized Seventh-day Adventist Church the opportunity to repent and to be His chosen vessel in proclaiming the last message to the world. The attitude of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son more suitably accords with their attitude. Maybe we should see some valuable lesson of application in this story if we were to apply it as a prodigal church. See Testimonies for the Church , Volume 8, p. 250.
Many, I am afraid, do not want to see the church healed. Is this the true reflection of the thoughts of God regarding the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Many other passages of Inspiration describe similar characteristics of the time when the sealing takes place. The time when, within the church, there emerges a pure and faithful remnant just as in ancient Israel there emerged at the close of their probation a pure and faithful membership in the New Testament church. If all descriptions that are pointed out here are not talking about the Conference, organized, Seventh-day Adventist Church then I beg of you to tell me what church is it talking about who have had great light, the people who have stood as guardians of God’s momentous truth. Without malice I would quietly ask, “Is it your group?” I cannot but believe that it is the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
To be a member of the church does not mean at all that I support the apostasy or the worldliness that is flooding in. Rather it indicates that I recognize that God is the rightful owner of the church and I am to be a voice calling every church member to give their rightful allegiance to God. I am to call upon my fellow church members to heed the most solemn and important truths ever given to mortals, which have been committed to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Membership in the Conference Seventh-day Adventist Church is not an issue of supporting everything that is done by its leadership, but rather it signifies that I firmly believe that God has designated the organized Seventh-day Adventist Church as the visible entity in which He will bring forth in living demonstration a perfect people who will be sealed and give the Loud Cry that will test the world.
So, let us personally claim the church that Christ so beautifully described in His revelation to John found in Revelation 14:12, “Here is the patience of the saints. Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
Let us pray. Thank you, God, for helping us to see that we are not to close the door of probation for Thy church, but leave this for Your divine wisdom. Father, please give us the strength and the wisdom and the help we need amidst the increasing apostasy to be preparing for Thy divine sealing of our characters. Help us, God, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.