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Dissident groups: the threat and the truth

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Archives / 1992 / April

 

 

Dissident groups: the threat and the truth

D. Douglas Devnich

D. Douglas Devnich is president of the SDA Church in Canada, Oshawa, Ontario.

 

There are times when one must be totally frank. For some time I have hesitated to write on a certain subject that some have urged upon me. Recently, however, my participation in a weekend of spiritual emphasis convinced me it is time to address a problem that is tearing out the heart of Adventism and its mission. The local church where I was speaking—and others as well—are being scandalized by dissident "ministries" whose leaders claim that "mainstream" Adventism is in apostasy. These "masquerading ministries" assert themselves as the only ones who still give the "straight testimony," the only remaining representatives of the "True Witness."

Consider, for example, this quotation from the journal Our Firm Foundation (OFF): "What a shaking we face with 6 million members, the majority of whom do not understand the three angels' messages and the message of the cleansing of the sanctuary" (November 1991).

Even though I admit that we who preach and teach could do better at preaching Jesus Christ in the context of the three angels' messages and of the sanctuary doctrine, it is irresponsible to allege that the majority of today's Adventists do not understand this matter of great importance. The implication is that the editorial staff of OFF enjoys superior understanding and if anyone wishes to have that esoteric knowledge, he or she must read the journal and give financial support to the OFF organization.

Before I go on to share with you some important information about several dissident "splinter groups" that now plague the church, may I give you my personal reasons for having hesitated to address this issue?

1. Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39), a wise man, suggests that if a cause is of men it will fail, but if it is of God, one would not want to be found opposing it or God.

2. The apostle Paul (Phil. 1:15-18), a spiritual man, advises that if Christ is preached, even from wrong motives, we ought to rejoice.

Now, however, the evidence is clear that several of the leaders of such groups and the writings or tapes they produce do not measure up to the standards of 1 and 2 above. So I choose now to follow Paul's challenge, as stated in 1 Corinthians 14:7, 8: "If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will any one know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?" (RSV).

As a leader it is my duty to inform the members of our church in Canada of what is causing confusion today in the same way the "speaking in tongues" (babbling) confused the church in Paul's day.

Many pages could be filled with compelling information that would help Adventists who personally know Jesus Christ to see the importance of dissociating from the dissident leaders and organizations that position themselves as the "true" and the "faithful" guardians of historic Adventism. However, the constraints of space limit me to making only passing reference to some, while placing emphasis on others.

For your information, Charles Wheeling, who has promoted private teachings and programs, is no longer a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Fellow members of his own local church voted to drop his name from the members' list. The Bible teaches us that the body of believers is able to discern what is true from what is false. I would suggest that Wheeling's former congregation acted prudently.

There is documented evidence that the Prophecy Countdown program directed by John Osborne is a controvertible operation. Documentation indicates serious allegations against the operation and its director. John Osborne was disfellowshipped from the Florida Conference membership for his " apostasy."

I wish now to return to a discussion about the content and methods of the Firm Foundation organization. The September issue of OFF carried an article from Ralph Larson entitled "The Tithe Problem—Who Is Responsible?" Careful readers recognized many half-truths therein. Typical of many articles in the OFF magazine, it distorts the writings of Ellen G. White to make her say what the OFF authors want her to say. On several occasions I have cross-checked the Spirit of Prophecy references with the original text and have found gross misquotations drawn out of context. (This is a phenomenon not limited to dissidents, unfortunately.)

The Ralph Larson article leaves the false impression that E. G. White would approve of individual church members withholding tithe from the local church treasury, preventing it from passing through denominational channels. The Larson article further emphasizes that because of the "unsanctified attitudes" of ministers in the church, members should exercise their individual choice of which ministries they should support with their tithe and offerings. Those ministries are supposedly outside of the organized church.

Now, here is the real tragedy. That article is only a sample of how deceptive OFF writings are quite regularly. Unless the readers of OFF are vigilant, they will miss the deception. I refer you to the following quotation in full as given in the Larson article:

"God desires to bring men into direct relation with Himself.... Every man has been made a steward of sacred trusts; each is to discharge his trust according to the direction of the Giver; and by each an account of his stewardship must be rendered to God. .. . We are responsible to invest this means ourselves" (Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 176, 177).

If you actually go to volume 7 of the Testimonies and read that passage you will find that Ellen G. White does not even use the word "tithe" in her article. The testimony, entitled "The Author" (pp. 176-181), addresses the issue of whether denominational publishing houses should pay royalties to authors of published books and articles. Ellen White's point is that authors should be allowed "to hold the stewardship of their own works."

Larson's use of ellipses (. . .) pulls together sentences that are not connected in the original source. He applies the words "we are responsible to invest this means ourselves" to make Ellen White address the issue of tithe, when in fact she addresses altogether a different issue—that of investing the returns or profits from authorship. In fact, Ellen White doesn't deal with the tithe question at all in that section of the Testimonies. So much for the "straight testimony" of OFF writers.

Dear brothers and sisters in the church, may I plead with you to consider how serious is the willful intent to mislead on the part of unscrupulous writers and speakers who sanctimoniously criticize others of falsity and apostasy. The very things they accuse others of doing are clearly things they themselves have problems with. Let us be more discerning about who we follow or what we proclaim to be special "light" for this time. Too frequently these merchants of dissension use a veneer of supposed late-breaking prophetic fulfillments to appeal to Adventists to give support to their causes. Repeatedly, fanciful reports of prophecies fulfilled have proved to be hoaxes.

For example, several years ago Jan Marcussen declared with certainty that he had inside information that President Reagan at that moment had on his desk a decree to sign that would enforce a national Sunday law. Church leaders at the General Conference found that to be a false claim, and of course to this day no decree has been signed by either President Reagan or Bush.

In discussing these problems of dissident independent groups, I in no way claim that the organized church is without fault. I myself do not possess flawless judgment or deportment. However, I know that in this age of confusing, dissident voices it is far safer to commit my resources to God's service when it is directed by councils of trusted men and women, rather than to give support to individual operators who shun accountability to authorized boards and committees.

May God be with us as a church. Shall we not press together and help one another toward the kingdom of heaven? When we know Christ, we can trust that He will lead us personally and help His church to fulfill its divinely ordained purpose.

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The case of John Osborne has caused much perplexity. He has become famous or notorious for his videos on celebration worship and supposed New Age infiltration into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He has never been ordained as a minister and neither was the Rolling Hills group an organized church.

The Rolling Hills Company was organized in 1987 with John Osborne as lay leader. In June of 1990 the Florida Conference Executive Committee removed Osborne as the lay leader because of his "recent public activity . . . that we feel does not correctly represent the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists."

Conference administration was then given written notice that John Osborne and the Rolling Hills Company refused to accept the committee action. Conference leaders continued to work with this group but found them unyielding. Thus, on November 29, 1990, the Florida Conference Executive Committee disbanded the Rolling Hills Company. Then on September 29, 1991, the same committee dropped John Osborne from membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for apostasy. It also voted "to accept the request of Dianne Osborne and Johnny Osborne to be dropped from the Florida Conference Church subject to verification by the conference officers that this is indeed their wish."

So John Osborne was disfellowshipped but his wife and son were kept on the records for the time being. In the meantime the Troy church in Montana voted in all three as members on profession of faith. Montana Conference leaders are now working to rectify that situation.

We will keep you informed as church leaders wrestle with the sometimes difficult task of keeping the balance between diversity and conformity. —Editors.

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