Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sabbath School Insights No. 11, Qtr 3-05

Special Insights No. 11

Third Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“The Spiritual Life”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“Lord of Our Worship”



Worship and the 1888 Message


One of the privileges of being a Seventh-day Adventist is the opportunity to engage prophetic events through the lens of history. President Harry Truman once said the only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know. Sadly, too many of us seem unable to grasp the depth and gravity of just why God willed this Movement into existence.


Just a brief review: At the conclusion of the 2300 year prophecy in 1844, we find our heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, entering into His final phase of cleansing in the Most Holy Place in the Sanctuary. Prior to this transition the Protestant Reformation is in a more or less holding pattern for several hundred years. In fact, the church experientially is in decline as the Enlightenment has taken a dreadful toll on the church, particularly as commitment to objective truth begins to give way to subjective experience. Man and his accomplishments are increasingly celebrated as the Industrial Revolution picks up steam and Darwinism begins to take hold.


German theologian Frederic Schleimacher becomes the modern father of historical criticism, which interfaces well with the accomplishments of man. Because there is an axiom from the early church fathers, “As man believes, so a man worships,” society’s celebration of man’s accomplishments began to affect the church’s worship through a growing “revivalism” which tended to downplay heart repentance and reformation.


Into this vacuum steps the message of Adventism that directs man’s attention away from himself to his High Priest in heaven. However, there’s a problem, a major one! There was prophecy that directed us to Christ’s heavenly ministry, but was there to be more light that would enable God’s people to enter into the spiritual maturity needed for the final cooperation with Christ in His final work of cleansing? This maturity, I believe, must find its center in heart-felt worship, first individually, and second corporately.


While there wasn’t another timeline prophecy to follow, God didn’t leave His people languishing. In probably the most well-known quote of the 1888 era, Ellen While makes it clear that God sent through brothers Jones and Waggoner a “most precious message” (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91). This was clearly not a dusted-off version of the evangelical teaching of justification by faith. This message provided deeper insights into the extent to which God went to save the human race. Martin Luther wasn’t privileged to understand the depth of the message and neither were the great Puritan theologians. Even John Wesley’s understanding of justification by faith had a tendency to keep its adherents in the Holy Place with the veil between them and the Savior in His final phase.


According to Ellen White, this “most precious message” clears away any misunderstanding as to the distinctiveness of the message by stating that the 1888 message is “justification by faith.... its fruit is unto holiness” (Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889, emphasis mine). Because it is a message delivered to God’s people that is MOST precious while Jesus is in the MOST holy place, it behooves the careful student to see the correlation between the message and Jesus’ presence in His final phase. “Fruit is unto holiness” is a profoundly simple “promise” of obedience, which is the essence of worship.


Thinking of worship as obedience by faith to the truth of the gospel enables one to experience worship personally and corporately in methods and ways that honor the presence of Jesus in the Most Holy Place. Only the message of 1888 can produce such worship! At the point of heartfelt belief in the gospel, all the differences in worship styles, whether they be dull or entertainment-driven, begin to drift away.


Unfortunately, the rigid legalism of 19th century Adventism began to give way in the 20th century to the gospel understanding of those who only knew Christ in the Holy Place. The evangelical gospel has a tendency to focus only on a truncated version of the finished work of Christ. It’s incomplete, for it sees not the actual identification of Christ with the human race, but only a vicarious substitution that keeps Christ at arm’s length from those He came to save. Because of this lack of sufficient identity with the human race, the believer develops, I believe, a greater sense of independence, which is increasingly reflected in the “culturally relevant” worship. Reverence and awe begin to drift toward a celebration of self. Because the Savior is kept at arm’s length through the evangelical gospel, man increasingly behaves as the children of Israel did with the golden calf when Moses and Joshua stayed “too long” on Mt. Sinai. Man left to himself will begin to reconfigure God in his personal life, and in no area is this more easily demonstrated than in corporate worship.


Satan knows that if he can suppress the 1888 message and keep it as a historical relic to be observed and not embraced with the heart, then he can continue to nudge the church toward a worship that will so redefine God that it will make Him as irrelevant as He became in the days of Elijah. Moreover, he knows that through generating man-centered worship he can keep our eyes off the ministry of Christ in the Most Holy Place. By keeping our eyes off the High Priest, we fail to grasp the message which, as already noted, is designed to mature a people that will result in Christ’s exit from this earth. For surely then, the Bride has made herself ready (Rev. 19:7).


Let us therefore remember that it does matter what methods we choose to worship our Lord in the Most Holy Place. He is a holy God as described by Isaiah 6. This must also be reflected even in our outreach attempts, as we should be aware that “what we win them with, we win them to.”


Surely in this time of unprecedented national tragedy, it is high time that an increasingly elevated view of God be revealed in our lives and worship. On the great typical Day of Atonement it was a time of sobriety and vigilance as God’s people followed the human High Priest in His work. Dare we do less as we follow the Divine/human High Priest in His final work? The 1888 message believed in the heart is the key to that maturing cooperation.

Dale Martin


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