The second advent movement is not only repeatedly foretold and definitely identified in Bible prophecy, but the forces that seek to hinder its progress and thwart the purpose of God are also described. Of one of the signs of His coming and of the end of the world, Jesus said: "There shall arise false christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." Matt. 24:24. It is of paramount importance that God's remnant people know how to recognize and how to resist these false prophets.
How to Recognize
The apostle Paul not only warned the elders of Ephesus of the grievous wolves who would enter in among them, but he also said that "of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Acts 20:29, 30. This prophecy began its fulfillment in Paul's day, and it will reach its climax just before the return of Christ. It would be impossible to find a better description of offshoots from the advent movement. Notice some of the outstanding characteristics of digressors from the faith by which we may ever recognize them.
Arise in True Movement.—In order to deceive and lead astray "the very elect," false teachers and schismatic movements must arise in and diverge from the advent movement itself. We need constantly to remember that there is but little danger to us from religious movements wholly outside our own.
Gather to Themselves.—They are never so much interested in making disciples for Christ as for themselves. , Their purpose is wholly selfish, for it is "to draw away disciples after them." They seek to accomplish their purpose by fair means or foul, "not sparing the flock." They are not concerned about the consequences, if only they can accomplish their selfish ends. They crave the leadership, and love "to have the preeminence." 3 John 9.
Tear Down and Scatter.—One of the chief characteristics of false teachers in all ages is that they do their work among individuals and churches already established. They do not go out among the unconverted in this country or to the heathen in foreign countries to win new converts and establish new churches. Their chief ambition seems to be to tear down what others have established, in order to build up themselves. They do not hesitate to tear down and scatter in order to gather to themselves both disciples and means. This is one of the outstanding identification marks of divergent movements, and it gives evidence that their work is not of God.
Closely Imitate the Genuine.—It is of vital importance that we recognize that counterfeits are dangerous in proportion to their likeness to the genuine. The counterfeit money that is the most dangerous and deceptive is that which is so nearly like the original that only an expert can distinguish between them. We must realize that all divergent movements are based upon a mixture of truth and error, and not on teachings which are wholly false. In fact, many of their doctrines are t hose of the true, original movement. And those of our workers who make blanket condemnation of everything they teach as being entirely erroneous are not only inconsistent, but are defeating their own purpose. Failure to recognize this principle was the cause for many a mistake in dealing with these errant movements in the past. The only safe course is to recognize and acknowledge truth wherever found, and then proceed to show that the defection is the more dangerous because truth has been placed in a false setting for the purpose of deception.
How to Resist
In dealing with these factions we must anticipate their arrival, and meet them before they arrive. It has been truthfully said that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and this principle applies here with special force. A true shepherd will warn his flock of the coming of false prophets, and will help them to know how to recognize them even when they appear "in sheep's clothing."
Study of Prophecies.—The most important method of dealing with false teachers and divergent movements is to locate them in prophecy, and warn God's people against them before they arrive. It is not only our duty as leaders to study diligently the Scriptures and the Spirit of prophecy for ourselves, but we must persistently urge our people to study for themselves. There is a most urgent need for a revival along this line. Ignorance of the writings of the Spirit of prophecy among us is pathetic and even tragic, and this ignorance constitutes the greatest asset of apostates in their work of deception. Most false teachers, especially during the earlier stages of their career, place great emphasis on the study of the "Testimonies" in an effort to get a hearing among our people and to establish the orthodoxy of their teachings. Our surest safeguard against these sidetracking movements is a thorough knowledge of the truth and a spiritual experience commensurate with its sacredness.
Deep Spiritual Experience.—But knowledge alone will not protect us from apostasy. We must also possess a deep spiritual experience. The importance of this is emphasized in Volume V, pages 706-709, of the "Testimonies." When God's people are given the spiritual food that satisfies the longing of their souls, they will not be tempted to seek for greener pastures. A church properly fed is built up spiritually, and able to resist the influences of false teachings and spurious movements. A dead, lifeless church which has the form of godliness without the power, whose minister is destitute of spiritual life and his sermons are devoid of spiritual appeal, is the most fertile field in which offshoot movements can flourish. Our most effective bulwark against these disrupting influences is therefore a deeply spiritual and diligently studious ministry whose messages meet the spiritual needs of those over whom God has made them overseers.
We are always in the greatest of danger of catching physical diseases when the body vitality is low. A healthy body seldom succumbs to disease germs. Similarly the church or individual member enjoying spiritual health and vitality is virtually immune to the deadly infection of heretical teachings.
Wounds Within.—There are some diseases, however, which fasten themselves upon even a healthy body through wounds or bruises. As spiritual leaders we must do our utmost to avoid unnecessary wounds and bruises in the church, for such constitute one of the chief feeding grounds for the germs of defection, and the favorite starting point for irregular movements. False teachers hurry to the church that has been injured and divided, as vultures fly to a carcass. Not only should we make every proper effort to prevent wounds, but if they exist, we should seek to heal them by pouring on the balm of Gilead and injecting the church body or church member with the highest possible powers of resistance.
Present Laodicean Message
Many digressing movements lay great stress on the Laodicean message, using it as a club to condemn and discourage. Their leaders have no difficulty in proving from the Spirit of prophecy that this solemn message applies to Seventh-day Adventists and should be preached as the basis for a revival and reformation.
When these deceivers come to a church where the shepherds of the flock have neglected to preach the message "upon which the destiny of the church hangs," they have but little difficulty in getting a hearing and gaining a foothold. It is not at all difficult to prove to our people that the Laodicean message is Christ's final appeal to His remnant church, and that its acceptance is the only means of receiving the latter rain and being fitted for translation. We must either acknowledge that the Laodicean message applies to us as a people or reject the Spirit of prophecy. There is no other alternative.
But when this message has been presented before the deceivers arrive, they have been deprived of one of their most effective weapons. Experience has demonstrated that false teachers are virtually helpless in the church where the spiritual instruction and counsel have been given in the setting of the Laodicean message, and where the call for a spiritual revival and reformation has been kept prominently to the front. On the contrary, the ministers who encourage their members to feel that they are "rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," are preparing the way for heretical wolves to divide and devour the flock, and they are responsible for the consequences. It is not only essential that the Laodicean message be proclaimed to the church by its divinely appointed ministry, but that it be presented in its true light as a love message to heal and restore, and not as a club to wound and destroy.
We cannot deny that many of us are in a "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" spiritual state. Christ Himself thus diagnosed our disease. But we are nevertheless the supreme object of His regard. No object on earth is so dear to the heart of Christ as His church, even in its weak and defective spiritual condition. The Laodicean message is a rebuke of love, and it contains no evidence whatever that we are a cast-off and utterly rejected people. The Laodicean church is Zion, and not Babylon. To indicate that Christ sends this love letter to Babylon is an insult to our divine Lord, and to insinuate that He stands at the heart door of a harlot and pleads for admission into her affections, is blasphemy of the worst type, to which we should refuse to give even a hearing.
Study Analogy of Type and Antitype.— Finally, a series of studies on the exodus and advent movement in type and antitype is one of the most effectual of all warnings against divergent movements. In scores of places in the writings of the Spirit of prophecy we are told that the advent people are following in the footsteps of ancient Israel and are repeating the history of that people. The parallels are strikingly similar in almost every respect, and especially in regard to deviating movements. There were many of these defections in the exodus movement, one of which involved 250 leaders and 14,700 lay members. But they all went to pieces and came to nought, while the original movement went on to final victory under divine leadership through the gift of prophecy.
When, under the leadership of the "mixed multitude," the children of Israel murmured and even rebelled, and through unbelief failed to fulfill God's purpose for them, He did not cast them off nor reject them. Neither did He call out the faithful into a new movement under new leadership. The Lord cast out the rebels and cleansed the original movement, which continued to be divinely guided till its final triumph. Regardless of their deplorable spiritual condition during the wilderness wanderings, the Israelites were still God's chosen people, whom He loved "as the apple of His eye." The same organization that left Egypt reached the Promised Land, and left all divergent movements and their leaders buried in the sands of the desert.
There can be no question that the advent movement of today is also cursed with a "mixed multitude." And among these unconverted worldlings originate the murmurings, rebellions, and apostasies that have hindered our progress and delayed the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose for His people. Thus far in our journey toward the Promised Land we have witnessed many deflective movements arise and seemingly flourish for a time, and then go to pieces and come to nought. Those now in existence, and the others that will arise in the future, will share the same fate. Their message is a perversion of the gospel of Christ. The final shaking will purify the advent movement of all rebels. The original movement that started out of spiritual Babylon in 1844 will go through to the heavenly Canaan, and the spiritual skeletons of all apostates and their offshoot movements will be left scattered along the wilderness route of modern Israel's journey.
The advent movement will reach its destination because it is under divine leadership. Those who wholly follow the Lord by obedience to His instructions through the prophetic gift, and who maintain their love and loyalty to His divinely established church and organization, will triumph gloriously, and celebrate their joyful home-coming on the sea of glass. There can be no question regarding the final triumph of the advent movement. The only question pertains to the individual members. Will you and I triumph with it?
* Presented at Lake Union Institute.