A REALISTIC look at the billions of human population in the world today may prove somewhat dis heartening to anyone who believes that Seventh-day Adventists have a message to give to the world. Christianity as a whole is losing rather than gaining dominance among world religions (numerically speaking), and Seventh-day Adventists must be reckoned but a "drop in the bucket" among Christians as a whole. With the world's population more than tripled since we began our history as a people, one might suggest that we face at least as staggering a task today as did our pioneers when they set out with three preachers (and one of those a woman) to warn the world.
Seventh-day Adventists are compelled to acknowledge that their message has never yet been given to "the masses" in any part of the world. Indeed, the great masses in the cities of our nation and of the world are not even aware that we exist, let alone having any idea of what we have to say to the world at this time.
Were it not for the assurances of the prophetic portions of God's Word, supported by the Spirit of Prophecy, we would have no basis to believe that we have a message which the world is going to hear. But we do have the assurance of Revelation 14:6 that the everlasting gospel is to be preached to every nation and kindred and tongue and people, in harmony with Christ's original com mission to the church. Equally, we have the assurance of Revelation 18:1 of another angel messenger to come down from heaven having great power, and the record is that "the earth was lightened with his glory." To the "all nations" which have partaken of the wine of Babylon the invitation is to be extended from Heaven itself, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (verse 4).
Every Position of Our Faith Searched
In a letter written by Ellen G. White in 1886, we have the following encouragement: "Our people have been regarded as too insignificant to be worthy of notice, but a change will come. The Christian world is now making movements which will necessarily bring the commandment-keeping people into prominence. . . . Every position of our faith will be searched into; and if we are not thorough Bible students, established, strengthened, and settled, the wisdom of the world's great men will be too much for us." -Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 546.
We believe that Seventh-day Adventists constitute (despite their present imperfect and Laodicean condition) the final and special witness of God to the world immediately prior to the end of the present age, and therefore have some thing unique and final to say for God to the world today.
We also believe that despite unsound premises, inaccurate deductions, faulty interpretations, and certain theological differences and inadequacies, the men and women who clung to the expectation of the 1844 movement and who emerged from their disappointment with the identifying marks of the Sabbath, the sanctuary truth, and the Spirit of Prophecy, and who evolved into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, were and are the channel for the ongoing messages of the three angels of Revelation 14, and of that other angel of Revelation 18, just as truly as were Christ's immediate disciples the eyewitnesses of His majesty and the channels then of His message of redemption to the world.
These strong convictions make it mandatory for Seventh-day Adventists to present to the world to day precisely the same prophetic messages that called them into existence. These messages also indicate that we have been given the responsibility of beginning the "loud cry" of the third angel's message as portrayed in the work of the "other angel" of Revelation 18. It is with out doubt necessary that the church find ways of expressing these messages in language and experience that will be meaningful to the present generation, but in essence the message must remain unchanged.
The arguments supporting this contention are historical as much as theological, in that a particular people was called into existence historically as the result of the proclamation of a theological understanding of a portion of the Bible.
Our Movement in Perspective
With our advantage of being able to look back ward over the course of the Seventh-day Adventist Movement, we can see in perspective that once the formulative years were terminated about 1848, the cardinal positions of the Seventh-day Adventist Movement had been established. The next epochal event historically, prophetically, and theologically speaking, in the experience of Seventh-day Adventists, was the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888 and the message given emphasis at that time.
Since the three angels' messages of Revelation 14 and the message of the other angel of Revelation 18 are alike "terminal" in that they lead to and result in the second coming of Christ to reap the harvest of the earth (whether in the exaltation of the saints or in the destruction of the unbelieving), there is no logical basis for expecting a change of emphasis in the message Seventh-day Adventists will be giving to the world until time ends.
It is not necessary to rehearse here the message and emphasis of 1888 the message of righteousness by faith, of Christ our righteousness, or of justification and sanctification. Other writers have performed this task admirably and adequately. It is pertinent to observe, however, that the same Spirit of Prophecy that led the "little flock" safely through the shoals and rocks of disruptive and destructive contentions following the Disappointment and brought it on to the relative unity and calm of the next forty years, places unqualified endorsement upon the message of 1888. It also speaks of this message as being the beginning of the voice of that other angel of Revelation 18 that is to result in the earth being "lightened with his glory."
The question may legitimately be raised as to what light would need to be added to the message of the three angels of Revelation 14. Here again, theology, seen in historical perspective, provides the answer. And it lies in the record that others have traced for us of the formalism, Arianism, and legalism that had marred the presentation of the three an gels' messages in the years leading up to 1888.
If 1888 did anything at all, it clarified and corrected the views concerning the nature of Christ, the atonement, the relationship of faith and works, and the joyously good news that righteousness was not and could not be the result of human discipline and effort, in keeping the law. Instead, it was to be received as a gift in response to the exercise of a child like faith, trust, and dependence upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ offered to the penitent believer.
Champions of Righteousness by Faith
Leaders were clearly instructed that the message of 1888 was not to be presented as a new message but rather a recovering of an emphasis the remnant had lost sight of. This approach seems to be supported by the close parallel between the message spoken by the other angel of Revelation 18 and the cumulative messages spoken by the three angels of Revelation 14. It is not so much a change of message, as the repetition or renewed emphasis of a message. And can it not be seen today that with the Christian world leadership abandoning faith in the divinity of Christ and in the adequacy of His atonement we, as Seventh-day Adventists, can and must emerge as the champions of the faith once committed to the saints, and as champions of law and order based upon the commandments of God in this age of unprecedented lawlessness?
If the message that Seventh-day Adventists should be stressing today is any thing other than the message contained in Revelation 14 and 18, then our very reason for existence has lost its validity. It is thrilling indeed to contemplate that in the outworking of Heaven's providence we shall emerge as the champions of the gospel of righteousness by faith and as the champions of the perfect law of righteousness, the foundation of the government of God.
As far as this writer has been able to ascertain, it is our involvement with the three angels' messages that marks us as unique in the Christian world today. In virtually all other respects our doctrinal positions and theological concepts are shared either by the majority, or at least by some other of the evangelical Christian groups. And among those Christian groups there must be hundreds of thousands who are bewildered by the betrayal of their faith that they find in their own communions. In Cod's providence we must lift a banner and light a beacon to which these wanderers may turn for a renewal of their confidence and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The One Great Question
It is perhaps not so much a question of what Seventh-day Adventists should be stressing in their message to the world today. This can be discovered quite readily if the premises laid down earlier are accepted. The much greater question is how Seventh-day Adventists can deliver their message to the world today. Surely it is long past time for this church to invest its time, resources, and men in a prayerful, diligent, earnest commitment to the task of warning a doomed world of its impending destruction on the one hand, and of extending the invitation to eternal life on the other.
Some of the directions such endeavors must take into consideration are the following:
1. The practical communication problem confronting the church today in reaching the more than 3 billion people in the world.
2. The obvious necessity of utilizing all available mass media to give a world wide impact to our message and, at the same time, of developing simple and inexpensive means of multiplying vehicles of communication at the personal level to the masses of the world's illiterate.
3. The necessity of finding ways and means of capitalizing upon the answers to present-day world and national problems that lie in the hands of Seventh-day Adventists so that the attention of the educated, cultured, humanitarian elements of the civilized world may be led to ask, "Whence hath this people such great wisdom?"
4. The need of studying how to convey to the nominal Christian world the valid level of Christianity to which we cling, and of which we could emerge as the champions.
5. The imperative necessity of recapturing that heartfelt enthusiasm for Christ and His truth that was once a trade-mark of Seventh-day Adventists. Particularly, to demonstrate to the youth that we have a task to perform, and a message to give, and a way of life to offer that is more exciting, more meaningful, more relevant to our times, than that which can be offered by any combination of groups or movements operating in the world today.
Another great challenge is that of studying and praying for wisdom to lead our own membership into an active, vital, personal experience with Christ in righteousness by faith, which alone can bring the "latter rain" and the fullness of the "loud cry" of the third angel's message.
Our great opportunity as well as our task in these challenging times is that of alerting genuine but bewildered Christians of every denomination to the fact that there is for them a safe haven and a Christ-centered welcome in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We must demonstrate to their satisfaction that we still champion the cardinal doctrines concerning Jesus Christ and His glorious standard of righteousness the law of Ten Commandments.