In 1913, two years before her death, Seventh-day Adventist Church cofounder Ellen White called Arthur Spalding into her office. Spalding was a young pastor who had been working for her as a literary assistant. She spoke to him about the great work to be done for families. This, she said, was the most important work—fathers and mothers learning how to work for and save their children. Spalding accepted the trust and, in 1919, when the General Conference launched the Home Commission, he was asked to be the leader.
In 1933 (May 18–June 8), Spalding published a four-part series for the Review and Herald that brought the Elijah message prominently before ministers and parents in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was entitled, “In the Spirit and Power of Elijah.” How fitting that in the centennial celebration of this founding message in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we reflect together on the Elijah message and its meaning for families.
The biblical basis of the Elijah message
In the days of Ahab, king of the 10 northern tribes of Israel, starting about 860 B.C., Elijah’s 30-second prayer was heard by thousands of apostate Baal worshipers gathered on Mount Carmel. “ ‘That this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back again’ ” (1 Kings 18:37). Then come seven epochal words, “Then the fire of the LORD fell” (v. 38).
The final words of Old Testament prophecy were written by Malachi (his name means “My Messenger”) about 430 B.C. They are echoed in the first prophetic words recorded in the New Testament by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah, “ ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers’ ” (Mal. 4:5, 6). They are also the words spoken by Jesus to His three closest disciples: “ ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things’ ” (Matt. 17:11).
These words applied to John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the first coming of Christ. They also apply to those preparing the way for the second coming of Christ, those who proclaim the eternal gospel found in the three angels’ messages (Rev. 14:6–12). What today’s fallen culture has destroyed, the Elijah message will restore. And Ellen White declares, “The restoration and uplifting of humanity begins in the home.”
I had diligently studied the Elijah message for 30 years before I learned what its two key points were.
Key 1: The essence of the Elijah message lies in claiming the merits of the blood of the Innocent Sacrifice for us and our children. In answer to Elijah’s prayer on Mount Carmel, “the fire of the LORD fell.” Where did the fire of God’s wrath deserve to fall? It should rightfully have fallen on the thousands of Baal devotees and blot them off the map. Where did it fall? It fell on the innocent sacrifice instead. Ellen White says: “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. . . . He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His.”
Key 2: The victory in the Elijah message lies in claiming the power of the Holy Spirit for ourselves and our children.The dynamite of the “Spirit and power of Elijah” that filled the life of Elisha with a double portion; of John the Baptist, Elijah’s New Testament counterpart; and of today’s Elijahs, who will proclaim the everlasting gospel to a perishing world, is the Holy Spirit. He is Christ’s representative and will descend in our lives with latter rain power (see Joel 2:23–29). His infilling will enable us to be victorious as we live through the final chapters in the earth’s sinful history. He has the power not only to give us revival and victory but also to restore what is broken in our relationships.4
What happens when the Elijah message is lived out?
I think of a young lady by the name of Doris. Doris was raised in an Adventist home. She went to Adventist elementary school, academy, and college. But when the day came that she could legally do what she wanted to do, she was gone.
Doris went to the big city, which offered a myriad of interesting things. Between the money, bright lights, and entertainment, there was little time for church. Doris was enjoying her life in the city, but when she had a little time in her apartment and began to think of times past, she really did love and miss her mom and dad. On Friday nights in particular, Doris would begin to have a little nostalgia for home. Is Mom playing the piano? Are they listening to songs for Sabbath? Are they eating cinnamon rolls this Friday night as we always had when I was home?
Another Friday night, another battle of nostalgia. What are Mom and Dad doing now? Something was tugging at Doris’s heartstrings. One night, she picked up her phone. “Hello, Dad, Mom? It’s me, Doris. I love you. I’m coming home!” Doris not only returned to her blood family she also came back to her church family. There was joy in that home and in heaven that night.
Rebuilding the altars
Before the miracle could occur on Carmel’s heights, the broken-down altar had to be repaired. What percentage of Seventh-day Adventist families report daily family worship? According to Global Church Member Surveys recently published by the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research based on data collected in 2017–2018, about 37 percent of the global respondents reported daily family worship. About 35 percent reported family worship less than monthly.
Sadly, in the North American and the Northern Asia-Pacific Divisions, there is a 10 percent increase in members in the 2017–2018 survey reporting family worship less than once per month or not at all. Yes, today’s culture is making inroads. There is time for television, the internet, and cell phones, but there isn’t much time for Jesus in the family circle. And of course, the goal is not once-a-day or once-a-week family worship—but worship twice a day—welcoming angel protection in the morning hours and praising God near the sunset hour for His goodness. This, together with personal devotions, strengthens our daily walk with God.
Today, more than half of Seventh-day Adventist family altars need repair. A quarter of a century ago, in a classic study completed by L. Edgel Phillips in a doctoral dissertation at Andrews University titled “An Exploratory Study of the Aims and Methods of Family Worship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,”Phillips arrived at what is probably the most comprehensive research-generated model of family worship ever done. Thirty-one aims of family worship emerged. When analyzed, these telescoped into God-oriented aims and family-directed aims.
The God-oriented aims included:
- making Jesus real in the life,
- drawing the family close to God,
- being a link between God and the family, and
- claiming the merits of the blood for the forgiveness of sin.
The family-directed aims included:
- promoting the religious heritage of the family,
- making happy memories,
- providing time to teach family values, and
- drawing the family members closer to one another.
The most powerful method found in drawing families closer to God and to each other was “relational self-disclosure”:
- asking forgiveness for wrongs done to each other,
- talking about what God means to each individual,
- greeting and welcoming each other,
- discussing the problems of the day,
- expressing thanks for the good things that have happened,
- sharing experiences of the day,
- making prayer requests,
- inviting the Holy Spirit into each person’s life, and
- quoting Bible promises.
The second most powerful method was affirmation:
- A personal sense of well being
- An accepting, loving, affirming atmosphere, and
- Adequate time
The third most powerful method for drawing families closer to God and to each other was prayer. This included praying around the circle, praying sentence prayers holding hands, taking turns praying, and praying both morning and evening.
An unforgettable worship experience
It happened at Ouray, Colorado. We were vacationing at the lovely Amphitheater Campground. Nature was superb, but inside our trailer, the family members were not talking to one another. Can you guess what day of the week it was? Sabbath. This particular morning, my wife Millie had had it. She was ready to turn in her “mother button.” Thinking it might help, I asked the family to go for a hike and have our worship service out on the trail. Far up the mountainside at a bend in the trail, it began to rain. We found refuge under a large pine tree and sat on a log. There we began to evaluate our family problems. Without negative emotions, we began to communicate. After a while, I said, “We all seem to have the same goals. Why don’t we join hands in a circle and make a covenant with God and determine to support and help one another?”
The rain fell on our little circle and the peace of the Holy Spirit showered on us. I prayed that our covenant would endure. Millie prayed that God would help her to be a good mother. Our son John prayed that God would help us polish up the rough places in our lives. Our other son Wes thanked God that we had an opportunity to understand one another better. The boys then ran down the mountain. I asked, “Millie, do you think God is going to answer our prayers?”
Years later, speaking appointments took us to the West Coast. As we were winging our way back home, the captain’s voice came over the intercom. “On the right side of the aircraft, you have an excellent view of Telluride, Colorado.” My eyes followed the road from Telluride winding through the canyons toward Ouray, some 30 miles beyond. I could see the majestic ridges above the Amphitheater Campground. Somewhere down there at a bend in the trail under a pine tree was a sacred spot in the history of the Youngberg family. A place where Millie had answered my question with confident affirmation, “Yes, I do.”
You undoubtedly also have some sacred spots—yes, even covenant spots in your family’s history. Share them with each other.
Before the miracle could occur on Carmel’s heights, the broken-down altar had to be repaired. What percentage of Seventh-day Adventist families report daily family worship?
Our children will stand alone
Elijah stood alone atop Mount Carmel surrounded by King Ahab, his soldiers, 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah, and thousands of Baal devotees. But was he alone? Thousands of angels attended him. In addition, God took time to assure him that there were 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Elijah and God made a majority!
Daniel learned faithfulness to God in the family worships and activities in his Judean home. When carried captive to Babylon, he was ready to stand alone when expected to eat of the king’s dainties, which had been offered to idols. Daniel stood alone when the law went forth that all must worship the king. He stood alone (with angels around him) when thrown into the lions' den.
Someday, you and each of your children may stand alone when laws that curtail your religious freedoms will be proclaimed and enforced. Ellen White states, “This day is just before us. The members of the church will individually be tested and proved. They will be placed in circumstances where they will be forced to bear witness for the truth. Many will be called to speak before councils and in courts of justice, perhaps separately and alone. The experience which would have helped them in this emergency they have neglected to obtain, and their souls are burdened with remorse for wasted opportunities and neglected privileges.”
Earth’s faithful children will not be alone when they stand victorious on the sea of glass and receive for time and eternity the crown of life. Let’s not waste our opportunities or neglect our privileges. Let’s preach and practice the Elijah message now.
- Scripture references are from the New King James Version.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), 349.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940),25.
- See John B. Youngberg, Heart Tuning: A Guide to Better Family Worship (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985).
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5(Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1889),463.