Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Work of the Prophets

Our lesson this week shows how the prophets, including Ellen White, are required by God to do things they would rather not do. This is especially true when they are called to give instruction and reproof to individuals. Invariably, the prophet is criticized though the message really comes from God.

Generally, the work of a prophet is to preach the Gospel: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If that is true, why does God ask prophets to deliver unpopular messages of reproof to individuals and groups? Is it possible that we need to be individually warned when we have personal “filters†that are interfering with or preventing us from hearing the Gospel?

A message that puts the glory of mankind in the dust is just such a message:

“The offense of the cross is that the cross is a confession of human frailty and sin and of inability to do any good thing. To take the cross of Christ means to depend solely on Him for everything, and this is the abasement of all human pride. Men love to fancy themselves independent. But let the cross be preached, let it be made known that in man dwells no good thing and that all must be received as a gift, and straightway somebody is offended†(E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 113).

When the special message of Christ our righteousness was first given to our church in the 1880s and 1890s, our church’s prophet likened our reception of it to that of ancient Israel:

“Now I want you to be careful, every one of you, what position you take, ... because you see imperfections; ... and judge them [Jones and Waggoner] from that. ... You are to see whether God is working with them, and then you are to acknowledge the Spirit of God that is revealed in them. And if you choose to resist it you will be acting just as the Jews acted†(MS 2, 1890; Sermon, March 9; The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 608, 609).

Often, Israel attacked her messengers with either threats or actual physical persecution. To avoid this, they were forced to flee. The 1888 counterpart is when Ellen White was sent to Australia, and Waggoner to England. She wrote:

“The Lord was not in our leaving America. ... Those who were weary of the testimonies borne were left without the persons who bore them. Our separation from Battle Creek was to let men have their own will and way, ...†(Letter to O. A. Olsen, 0-127, 1896; 1888 Materials, pp. 608, 609).

The prophet Micaiah had almost been forgotten when Jehoshaphat asked Ahab whether there was still another who could tell them the will of the Lord. Ahab identified Micaiah, but added that “I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster†(1 Kings 22:8).

The 1888 counterpart is recorded:

“Some have been cultivating hatred against the men whom God has commissioned to bear a special message to the world. They began this satanic work at Minneapolis. Afterward, when they saw and felt the demonstration of the holy Spirit testifying that the message was of God, they hated it the more, because it was a testimony against them†(Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 79, 80, 1895).

Ellen White likened Israel’s experience to that of the Adventist church, associating our experience with a delay of the Second Advent:

“The history of ancient Israel is a striking illustration of the past experience of the Adventist body. God led His people in the Advent movement, even as He led the children of Israel from Egypt. In the great disappointment their faith was tested as was that of the Hebrews at the Red Sea. Had they still trusted to the guiding hand that had been with them in their past experience, they would have seen of the salvation of God. If all who had labored unitedly in the work in 1844 had received the third angel’s message, and proclaimed it in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts. A flood of light would have been shed upon the world. Years ago the inhabitants of the earth would have been warned, the closing work completed, and Christ would have come for the redemption of His people†(The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 291; emphasis added).

The message of Christ Our Righteousness was given to our church to strengthen the faith of a corporate group that would be ready to stand in the events leading up to the final Advent of Christ. Times when God has had to execute judgment are always notable for the need for nothing but faith. Those who have relied on what they think is faith, plus their good performance, will find no assurance to sustain during trouble. Like five of the virgins they will realize their mistake, but there will be no time to learn and receive the gift of faith. There is nothing human nature can muster that will sustain them in that terrible time.

Since it was given by the prophet and the “heavenly credentialed†messengers, the message itself has been analyzed, dissected, diluted, criticized, ignored, mischaracterized, and for a few, accepted. In some cases, it has even been difficult to find the message because suspicion and misunderstanding have kept the information and books in vaults or off trusted bookstore shelves.

We as a church do not need the work of another prophet to give us some new message. It is unreasonable for the laity to sit back waiting for this or that leader to accept and and teach this message. Those of us who have been privileged by God to know this “most precious message†are not to keep it hidden, as if it was meant to benefit only us. We are responsible to continue the work of the messengers. We need to return to the original simple message, and study to understand it so we can accept and teach it to our people.

Like the prophets of old and more recent history, all believers are duty-bound to tell the true Gospel regardless of its reception. By so doing, God is involving us in the most important aspect of a prophet’s work: sharing the Good News.

—Arlene Hill