"Immorality on the Border"
In our denominational history the 1888 rejection of Christ and His Holy Spirit as the beginning of the latter rain can be likened to the rebellion of ancient Israel when the twelve spies returned from their search of the "goodly land." Ten of the spies denied that they could conquer the land, which was in essence denying God's covenant promise to Abraham. Their failure to comprehend the full depth of the covenant promise and their lack of faith in God caused them to magnify every conceived obstacle. Only two men stood before the entire congregation and proclaimed "we are well able to overcome it" and enter the Promised Land by faith in God's power alone (Num. 13:30). This rebellion among the people included the rejection of the prophet who stood with Caleb and Joshua (Num. 14:1-5).
At Minneapolis in 1888, there were two men and a prophet who proclaimed "we are well able" to proceed to the heavenly Canaan through faith in Christ's righteousness and His power over all sin. The majority spurned this good news, rejected the message, the messengers, and the prophet who supported them. In so doing the leaders of the church also rejected Christ who delegated those two messengers and gave them the message they were proclaiming (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1353; Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 90-91, 96-98). Thus, because of unbelief what should have been "a quick work" has resulted in more than a century of wandering in the wilderness (Review and Herald, Oct. 6, 1896; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 450; vol. 5, p. 217; vol. 9, p. 29).
Following promptly on the heels of the rejection of the Spirit of Prophecy and the message of Christ and His righteousness in the context of the everlasting covenant, we find a plunge into pantheism. J. H. Kellogg influenced many of the leadership to accept a false concept of the very character and essential being of God. The pantheism openly promoted by Kellogg beginning at the 1897 General Conference Session, and especially in his book The Living Temple, is no different than the ancient Canaanite religion that caused Israel to stumble on the very borders of the Promised Land. Opening the door to spiritualism this "alpha of heresies" paved the way for our deepening confusion regarding the Gospel of righteousness by faith that would ensue over the next half century. "In the 1950s we borrowed and endorsed the Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones's concepts of 'righteousness by faith.'" E. Stanley Jones preached a "deficient Christ" who could be augmented through the acceptance of supposed "truth" found in all religions, including Eastern mystical pantheism. Highly refined spiritualism was being offered to the church, but it is a terrible counterfeit species of righteousness by faith that destroys confidence in God. Through theological compromise Baal was usurping the place of Jehovah, and we didn't even notice (see Knocking at the Door, p. 83; Faith on Trial, chap. 1; Baal Worship and the Long Delay).
In the midst of this theological confusion on July 11, 1950, God again sent two messengers to the leadership of the church with a plea to recover the message of Christ and His righteousness as A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner presented it during the years 1888 through 1896. Elders Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short attended the General Conference Session that year as delegates from Africa, where they were serving as missionaries. Impressed by the call from Elder L. K. Dickson for the church to correct our course, and "make a right turn at this session where we took a wrong turn in 1888," these two young missionaries wrote a letter to the General Conference Committee that resulted in nearly 60 years of debate. Key points in this letter included the observation that the spiritualistic sophistries introduced by Kellogg, and the highly refined spiritualism and false "Holy Spirit" promoted by E. Stanley Jones, had deceived the people of God into departing into Baal worship even while hovering on the very brink of the heavenly Canaan.
Flipping back to our present study we find that the children of Israel were at ease, parked on the eastern shore of the Jordan River ready to enter the Promised Land. All their enemies had been subdued and perhaps they were feeling a trifle smug (even Laodicean?). Balaam's curse had proven to be a blessing, and they now viewed the man (mistakenly) as a prophet of the true God of heaven--an erroneous opinion that Balaam promptly used to an evil end. Having failed to curse Israel, Balaam switched tactics and under the guise of friendship and goodwill, he threw an enormous party on Mount Peor. Enticing as many of the Israelite leaders as he could to attend this festival, Balaam charmed God's people through sensuous pagan music, visually stimulating religious pageantry, and the allure of sexual fantasy. "Passion had full sway; and having defiled their consciences by lewdness, they were persuaded to bow down to idols" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 454). Israel committed spiritual adultery within sight of the Promised Land when they should have been taking possession of the precious promise of God's everlasting covenant. Some of the brightest lights went out in this apostasy (see Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 80-81). Moses warned ancient Israel (and us) to not make any covenants with the unbelievers, "for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Him above all people that are upon the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:1-11). Be aware, what Satan cannot accomplish by direct frontal attack he will achieve through beguiling subterfuge. Since the fall of our first parents compromise with error in the name of improvement, unity, or increased knowledge has always been Satan's method.
During the mid-1950s and concurrent with the confusion over who God is and what constitutes righteousness by faith, Satan brought yet another challenge to the leadership of the church. Beginning in the spring of 1955 and continuing until the summer of 1956, a series of conferences took place between the leadership of our church and two Evangelicals, Donald Grey Barnhouse and Walter R. Martin. Barnhouse was editor of Eternity magazine, theology consultant for Billy Graham, and author of an article which discussed the challenge for people from various theological positions to understand one another. Martin was a Southern Baptist minister, consulting editor for Eternity, and author working on a manuscript he hoped would define the aberrant theological views of several major cults in America. His intention was to include in this work the Seventh-day Adventist Church primarily because we held certain "heretical views" such as Christ taking upon His sinless nature the fallen nature of Adam at the Incarnation*; Christ's on-going ministry in the heavenly sanctuary since A.D. 31, and Christ's work since 1844 in cleansing the hearts of His people (see The Consecrated Way, pp. 119-121); the investigative judgment; Sabbath as the seal of God; and the mark of the beast (to mention only a few points of contention).
According to Mr. Martin, the main thing which hindered our acceptance into the Evangelical fold were certain "divergent teachings" in the older Adventist literature. Because of our expressed "eager desire to join" with the Evangelicals, Martin hoped that once these divergent views were pointed out to the leadership of the church, the aberrancies would be remedied through editorial control and harmonization with the Evangelical theological position. Fear of exposure as an heretical cult caused modern Israel to take yet another left-hand turn which resulted in serious compromise on certain fundamental doctrines of the church that make us distinctive from all other religions on earth. We were now retreating toward Egypt (for applicable counsel see Testimonies vol. 5, pp. 217-218). M.L. Andreasen stated plainly that "The present conflict within the denomination is not one of semantics, as some have insisted. It is a question of our denominational existence."
How did God solve the apostasy at Baal-peor? Leaders of the people who were foremost in the apostasy were ordered executed and their bodies hung up as a testimony that God's justice would be swift and sure. The execution followed corporate repentance and involved a corporate action on the part of the whole camp. Those repenting for the sins committed on Mount Peor were not the ones who rebelled against God; the rebels were killed. Spiritual adultery will not be tolerated, but will receive just recompense. Our success and prosperity depends on our remaining a separate and distinct people. We are a movement specially called by God in direct fulfillment of prophecy to carry the message of Christ and His righteousness to a world living under fatal deception and dying in sin. But Satan has been quite successful thus far in frustrating the purposes of God for His "peculiar people" and the world at large. Taylor G. Bunch stated that "1888 is not only an important date in the history of the Advent movement because of the message that began at this time, but also because it marked the beginning of Satan's greatest efforts to strengthen his positions and thwart the purpose of God through His people." Compromise of God's truth for the sake of "unity" has no place in this final war. "The enmity of Satan against good will be manifested more and more as he brings his forces into activity in his last work of rebellion; and every soul that is not fully surrendered to God, and kept by divine power, will form an alliance with Satan against heaven, and join in battle against the Ruler of the universe." (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 465).
*It should be noted here that the editions of Bible Readings for the Home Circle published after 1888 and before the 1950s contained a succinct description of the nature which Christ assumed, that was written by E. J. Waggoner. In the editions published after the meetings with Barnhouse and Martin, those notes were rewritten to expunge any mention of the fallen nature.
Baal Worship and the Long Delay, Donald K. Short.
Faith on Trial, Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short.
The Knocking at the Door, R. J. Wieland.
1888 Re-Examined, R. J. Wieland and D. K. Short.
An Explicit Confession Due the Church, R. J. Wieland and D. K. Short.
Exodus and the Advent Movement in Type and Antitype, Taylor G. Bunch.
Letters to the Churches, M. L. Andreasen (Leaves of Autumn Books).
The M. L. Andreasen File (compilation by Laymen Ministry News).
Christianity Today, Feb. 5, 1990, “The Recent Truth About Seventh-day Adventism,” Kenneth Samples.
Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin.
The Truth About Seventh-day Adventists, Walter Martin