By Elder Lawrence Nelson
Every week we receive letters and phone calls from sincere, faithful Seventh-day Adventists who are greatly disturbed because of the rapid growth of apostasy within God’s true church. These individuals are concerned about drama being portrayed from the sacred pulpit during the worship service and promoted as an Adventist theater presentation. They are troubled about the deplorable so-called Christian rock music with the devilish beat and noise of drums, the clapping of hands as displayed in entertainment during the eleven o’clock service, and when prayer is ascending some of our members are following the Pentecostal custom of extending the hands and arms upward which is the first step in speaking in an unknown tongue.
To make matters worse, some pastors are openly questioning the Spirit of Prophecy, and preaching New Theology together with compromising heaven’s standards.
If any members questions these procedures such pastors are stating from the pulpit, “If you don’t like it, leave us. Go some place else.” Excitement and entertainment are becoming a part of the majority of worship services. So are we to be surprised that, as a result of such activities, we hear of Seventh-day Adventist churches that have separated from the sisterhood of churches and no longer worship on the Sabbath day with us, but they now conduct their service on Sunday? Such a church is the Damascus Road Church in Maryland – a church of over 500 members. Is it any wonder then that a remnant within our church are beginning to wonder if God’s church will survive?
But before we answer this problem let us pray. Oh, loving Father, many are crying aloud because of the abominations that are creeping into Thy church. Please, give us an answer from inspiration that will assure Thy remnant in this crisis that Thy church will be triumphant. Please, give us wisdom to comprehend the enormity of this condition and how we can personally meet this apostasy with divine assurance. We ask this in the blessed name of Jesus, Amen.
Now let us read together Matthew 13:24-30. “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
“So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”
In many of Christ’s parables the listener is left to discover for himself the divine truth revealed, but this is not the case with this parable of the wheat and the tares. At the request of the disciples Jesus explained every detail, leaving no room for doubt. As we read in verses 37- 40, “He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.”
Now let’s recap these truths. The field is the world. The good seed are the children of God’s kingdom. The tares are the children of Satan. The enemy who sowed the tares is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world. The reapers are the angels. At this point we must pause to establish a fact. This parable is a description of God’s true church today as we learn from reading Christ Object Lessons p. 70. “‘The field,’ Christ said, ‘is the world.’ But we must understand this as signifying the church of Christ in the world.”
Now what I am about to say may come as a shock to many faithful members. Both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy teach that the remnant church contains both the wheat and the tares. This explains why we are grieved when we see both the true and the false believers mingled together within God’s true church. Both Dean and I have personally experienced this struggle between the wheat and the tares. Often we have gone to bed at night with tears in our eyes as we see what is happening in our beloved church. And it is only natural that one experiences a feeling to arise and help God cleanse His church by casting out the tares. But Christ has emphatically commanded not to do this.
In Matthew 13:30, Jesus stated, “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” What we need to understand is that Christ was an authority on farming. He knew that it was impossible to pull up all the tares without uprooting some of the wheat.
I’ve done some gardening in my days, and I’ve tried to pull up some of the weeds without disturbing the good plants only to discover that this was not always possible, since the roots of the weeds often entwined around the good plants. We don’t mind as we garden for food here on earth if we lose a plant now and then but God is talking about human beings and eternal life or destruction in a lake of fire. The loss of one soul needlessly would grieve His heart. Remember the story of the one lost sheep. The price that Jesus paid for the redemption was above our comprehension. Remember how He suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross for you and me that we might be saved.
The counsel of Christ is absolutely correct and is to be obeyed, for He said, “Wait until the harvest.” Any spirit-filled Adventist knows within his heart that the end of the world is right upon us. We can see that the garden of the Lord is producing a crop of both tares and wheat – both deeply rooted within the church. This problem is becoming so acute that the saints of God are beginning to wonder if the tares will so dominate the wheat that the wheat will be choked to death and not be able to produce fruit for the harvest.
Ellen White was aware of this condition for she wrote these things and told us that they would get so bad…well let me read it to you. I’m reading from Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 380 in which she states that things will get so bad, that “the church may appear as about to fall.” No wonder we are becoming alarmed. We see tares among the wheat; goats among the sheep; wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing among us. I love my church but both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy tell us that these conditions will only get worse and worse. I trust you will pardon my use of a slang expression, but “you ain’t seen anything yet.”
Just listen to what the servant of the Lord was shown that will take place. Review and Herald, August 9, 1906, “As has been foretold in the Scriptures, there will be seducing spirits and doctrines of devils in the midst of the church, and these evil influences will increase.” Then reading Review and Herald, January 7, 1904, “False theories will be mingled with every phase of experience and advocated with satanic earnestness in order to captivate the mind of every soul who is not rooted and grounded in a full knowledge of the sacred principles of the Word. In the very midst of us [did you notice that?] will arise false teachers, giving heed to seducing spirits whose doctrines are of satanic origin. These teachers will draw away disciples after themselves.” And beloved, this has already happened.
Statistics will reveal that some 75,000 Adventists left God’s true church because of Dr. Ford’s preaching the false doctrine regarding the sanctuary truth of 1844. In the Review and Herald, August 19, 1890, “The enemy has men in our ranks through whom he works….Satan uses these who claim to believe the truth, but whose light has become darkness, as his mediums [notice that word. He uses these men as his mediums] to utter his falsehoods and transmit his darkness.”
Then in Testimonies for the Church, Volume 8, p. 293, “The experience of the past will be repeated. In the future, Satan’s superstitions will assume new forms. Errors will be presented in a pleasing and flattering manner. False theories, clothed with garments of light, will be presented to God’s people. Thus Satan will try to deceive, if possible, the very elect. Most seducing influences will be exerted; minds will be hypnotized.”
Conference after conference has held seminars for their pastors in which they were taught from material produced by one of the world’s foremost leaders in the field of hypnotism. No wonder Ellen White wrote in This Day With God p. 312 “The developments of these last days will soon become decided. When these spiritualistic deceptions are revealed to be what they really are—the secret workings of evil spirits—those who have acted a part in them will become as men who have lost their minds.” Again in Testimonies to Ministers p. 409, “Many [did you notice that?] will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan.”
Now I hope that these quotations have done something. I hope they have awakened you. These things are happening in our church today. This is why many are considering leaving the church. They are tempted, as the disciples of old, to forsake the Lord’s church. Some are even asking, “Doesn’t God have a pure church, somewhere where we can go to fellowship with like believers and worship our holy God in the true spirit of reverence?”
Many are asking for a direct answer to this problem. And beloved, praise God, He has given us the answer! Listen to this. I am reading from The Faith I Live By p. 305, “Has God no living church? He has a church, but it is the church militant, not the church triumphant. We are sorry that there are defective members. …While the Lord brings into the church those who are truly converted, Satan at the same time brings persons who are not converted into its fellowship. While Christ is sowing the good seed, Satan is sowing the tares. There are two opposing influences continually exerted on the members of the church. One influence is working for the purification of the church, and the other for the corrupting of the people of God.”
Now I can personally testify to such an experience. As an evangelist for many years I used to preach five nights a week for three months to thoroughly convert the new believers. I also held a nightly baptismal class after each meeting commencing the third week of the series. And when I was fortunate enough to have a Bible worker, she held additional weekly meetings for the new believers to ground them and also visited in the their homes giving Bible studies. But in spite of all these efforts I discovered that some of the hundreds that I have baptized later became tares in the church.
In recent years there has been a trend for a one or two week effort which has greatly accelerated the tares due to quick baptisms and little grounding in the truth. But we must never forget that the Seventh-day Adventist church is not merely a church among all other churches. It is, in a very special sense, God’s remnant church of Bible prophecy. This church was brought into existence in this end time by God Himself, through His divine providence, with the express purpose to call His people out of Babylon.
Inspiration teaches that our church emerged from the apostasy that filled the world during the Dark Ages to proclaim God’s last warning message contained in the three angels’ messages by calling attention to the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Therefore we are God’s remnant church and as such (and please note carefully my words) this church is never to be succeeded by another. Our identity is an established Bible truth. This is why when honest people join this church they do so, not as a matter of convenience, but because of divine conviction.
Our mission is to preach the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. We are God’s last effort to seek and save the lost. This church is the last opportunity to display God’s truth and mercy before the close of probation. So beloved, I do have some good news. Although the devil is attacking our church as never before, so much so that it will soon appear as if to fall, praise God, this church is soon to celebrate a final victory. Our church will triumph.
At this point in our study, we need to seek a clarification of divine terminology. Please follow me closely. Today, God has called the church “militant” but soon, very soon, the church will be called “triumphant.” This helps us to understand the following quotation. I’m reading from Manuscript Releases, Volume 9, p. 154, “The church militant is not the church triumphant. Earth is not heaven. The church is composed of erring men and women who will need patient, painstaking effort, that they may be educated, trained, and disciplined by precept and example, to do the work with acceptance here in this life, and to be crowned with glory and immortality in the future life.”
Reading further in Evangelism p. 707, “The members of the church militant who have proved faithful will become the church triumphant.” Isn’t that a glorious thing? How thankful we should be to know that, without question, God does have a church today that must undergo two distinct phases in its existence. She is now experiencing the church militant and soon all who prove faithful to the divine truth are destined to become the church triumphant.
Now, let us discuss the church militant phase. In this state the church is composed of both the wheat and the tares, each exerting the opposite influence. The wheat are constantly striving to purify the church by upholding the pillars of our faith and resisting compromise while at the same times the tares are leaning toward corruption by trying to get the church to become like Babylon. Anyone in tune with the Holy Spirit can see this taking place within our church today. So we should be aware, as predicted by God, that the church militant will be mixed with evil that will increase and increase until probation closes. But keep in mind that this is not my problem or your problem but God’s problem.
Consider how He plans to deal with this problem. Testimonies to Ministers p. 45, 46, In our churches, “there are those who are faulty and erring, as tares among the wheat, God is long-suffering and patient. He reproves and warns the erring, but He does not destroy those who are long in learning the lesson He would teach them. He does not uproot the tares from the wheat. Tares and wheat are to grow till the harvest.” So plainly it can be seen that it is not God’s purpose to uproot the tares prior to the harvest. And when will the harvest take place? – I’m reading from Christ Object Lessons p. 72, “The harvest is the end of probationary time.”
During the probationary period, God expects you and me to be active in our efforts to defeat the purposes of Satan. Inspiration tells us just how to engage in such efforts. I’m reading from Upward Look p. 77, “It is by teaching the truth that we are to defeat the purposes of Satan. Christ illustrated this work in the parable of the sower. The teaching of this parable is illustrated in God’s own dealing with men and angels. Satan is a deceiver. When he sinned in heaven, even the loyal angels did not fully discern his character. This is why God did not at once destroy him. Had He done so, the holy angels would not have perceived the justice and the love of God. A doubt of God’s goodness would have been as evil seed that would yield the bitter fruit of sin and woe. Therefore the author of evil was spared, fully to develop his character.
“Through long ages God has borne the anguish of beholding the work of evil. He has given the infinite Gift of Calvary, rather than let any be deceived by the misrepresentations of the wicked one, for the tares could not be plucked up without danger of uprooting the precious grain. And shall we not be as forbearing toward our fellow men as the Lord of heaven is towards Satan?” Now isn’t that a beautiful description of God’s love that we ought to express to the tares that are living within the church today?
Now I do feel that you have a question. How does one relate to the intrusion of evil that is creeping within the church? Scripture will give us the answer. Paul describes the church as a great house as we read in 2 Timothy 2:20, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.” Now inspiration explains this more fully. I’m reading from Review and Herald, February 5, 1901, “The ‘great house’ represents the church. In the church will be found the vile [did you hear that?] as well as the precious. The net cast into the sea gathers both the good and bad.”
But Paul does not encourage us to leave the great house. As you read on he addresses and advises us to avoid the foolish and the unlearned, but never does he encourage us to depart from the church. He further admonishes us not to enter into disputes but rather to pray much and instruct in meekness. I have been active in the circle of leadership for many years serving as a pastor, a conference departmental secretary in both the local, union and General Conference. I have seen and experienced the tremendous problems of evil facing the church. Oh how much our leaders of today need our prayers. Especially should we pray for those administrators who have been taken captive by Satan. We should pray that the Holy Spirit will mightily convict them of truth and help them to change captains before it is forever too late.
As we consider our church don’t forget that the Spirit of Prophecy declares that it is the visible, militant church which is composed of both wheat and tares. Then she speaks of an invisible church which is composed of faithful souls found in both the Catholic and the Protestant churches. These individuals love, and have accepted Christ as their personal Savior, and are following Christ to the best of their knowledge. Such individuals, the Lord tells us, constitute God’s invisible church.
Listen as I read from Great Controversy p. 390: “Notwithstanding the spiritual darkness and alienation from God that exists in the churches which constitute Babylon, the great body [do you comprehend that?] of Christ’s true followers are still to be found in their communion.” Now that is thrilling news! What a statement that the great majority of God’s true people are still to be found in the surrounding churches of Babylon. At present they are known only to God and designated as invisible to us. But it is not God’s will that they remain invisible much longer for shortly we are told they will become part of God’s visible church for they will heed the call to come out of Babylon and join God’s remnant church.
But you ask: When will this take place? – This will happen when Sunday worship will be enforced by law and believe me, we may expect this at any time now. When this takes place the tares within the church will all leave us just as God foretold. They will be shaken out. Millions now within the church will rush to leave the church while at the same time millions within Babylon will leave their churches and join with God’s remnant as the latter rain is poured out. This will be known as the great exchange. I’m reading from Evangelism p. 700, “Multitudes will receive the faith and join the armies of the Lord.” Praise His name!
When this is accomplished Inspiration states, Evangelism p. 707, “The members of the church militant who have proved faithful will become the church triumphant.” Thus the shaking out of the tares takes place at the harvest. The coming Sunday Law will be the great test to cause this mighty transfer of members. How often in past history God has used the efforts of Satan to fulfill His purpose. This final test will usher in the close of probation for those within the church.
I’m reading from Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 81, “The time is not far distant when the test will come to every soul. The mark of the beast will be urged upon us. Those who have step by step yielded to worldly demands and conformed to worldly customs will not find it a hard matter to yield to the powers that be, rather than subject themselves to derision, insult, threatened imprisonment, and death. The contest is between the commandments of God and the commandments of men. In this time (note those words) the gold will be separated from the dross in the church.”
This test in faith will remove the tares out of the church. So let us not forget – any effort or movement to separate the wheat from the tares in God’s church prior to the enforcement of the mark of the beast is premature and if activated before this test, it would result in the loss of many precious souls. This is why the Lord warned against pulling up the tares prior to the harvest.
So my beloved, God has a plan to clean up His church and this will happen when the mark of the beast is enforced. How clearly God has described why this will happen. I’m reading from Great Controversy p. 608, “As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition.” Did you notice inspiration’s emphasis on the lack of obedience to the truth as the reason they leave us?
Reading again from Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 136, “Soon God’s people will be tested by fiery trials, and the great proportion (again I must emphasis – the great proportion) of those who now appear to be genuine and true will prove to be base metal. Instead of being strengthened and confirmed by opposition, threats, and abuse, they will cowardly take the side of the opposers. (And then these words…)…To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battle of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardliness, and loyalty from their treason.”
Last Day Events p. 173 says, “There will be a shaking of the sieve. The chaff must in time be separated from the wheat. Because iniquity abounds, the love of many waxes cold. It is the very time when the genuine will be strongest.” There will be a separating from us of those who have not appreciated the light nor walked in it. Once again permit me to emphasize. It is the tares that leave or separate from the wheat. Never do we find in the scriptures that the wheat leave the tares or separate from the church.
And now for some very exciting news. When this church, God’s remnant church, the visible, militant church will be tested and every tare shaken out then God’s invisible church within Babylon will separate and join God’s militant church making it God’s triumphant church. Don’t you just feel like saying Amen?
We read in Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 380, “The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place. None but those who have been overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony will be found with the loyal and the true, without spot or stain of sin, without guile in their mouths. We must be divested of our self-righteousness and arrayed in the righteousness of Christ.” Thus it is that God tells us that those who believe that they can continue to sin until Jesus comes will be shaken out and separated. But praise God the wheat, who have been overcoming their sins in the power of the Lord, will be accepted as the visible church of God.
So beloved, God has used the plainest language to encourage us never to separate from the church. Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 21 says, “No advice or sanction is given in the Word of God to those who believe the third angel’s message to lead them to suppose that they can draw apart. This you may settle with yourselves forever. It is the devising of unsanctified minds that would encourage a state of disunion….There must be no separating the faithful [from the church] in this great testing time.”
Then in Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 397 we read, “I am instructed (you know, I always listen carefully when I read that) to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over, God has called us as a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time.” Isn’t that encouraging?
And then in Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 68 are these words: “I know that the Lord loves His church. It is not to be disorganized or broken up into independent atoms. There is not the least consistency in this. There is not the least evidence that such a thing will be.”
We may be filled with anguish as we see apostasy creep into the church, but let us not be guilty of apostasy ourselves by entertaining any thought of leaving this church. We have been divinely instructed that should we leave this church and join some new organization, this will be considered apostasy by God. And where do I read such things? Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 390 tells us, “Every truth that He has given for these last days is to be proclaimed to the world. Every pillar that He has established is to be strengthened. We cannot now step off the foundation that God has established. We cannot now enter into any new organization, for this would mean apostasy from the truth.”
So brother, sister, let us take courage. Let us keep the faith. Let us often reflect on these words found in Isaiah 4:3, 4, “And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem: When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.”
Let us pray. Loving Father, give us courage today through Thy Holy Spirit to be faithful as individuals; to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. We know that Thy church will triumph and by Thy grace we want to participate in the great celebration of victory over sin. We look forward to the time when we can live with Thee throughout eternity in a sinless world. And we ask this in the name of Jesus, Amen.