The Children of Yahweh are given signs for which to watch, so that we will not be surprised by the events that take place around us. (Amos 3:7)
I - INTRODUCTION
This article sets forth the Creation Seventh Day Adventist position on "tests of fellowship." This is an important and timely study, since the fragmentation that has been widespread in almost every form of Christianity has shown itself just as eager to weaken and dilute even the Advent message in these last days.
In a time when the world is more morally corrupt than ever b efore, in a time when the highest standard of righteousness in all of spiritual history is being offered to the saints, in a time just before the return of the Savior Himself, we find the would -be bearers of the "most solemn message" confused, divided, wit hout anything like the influence they should have, and certainly without a testimony of victory in Yahshua on more than just a "theoretical" level.
The splitting of Churches was a problem even in the days of the apostles, although it was nothing then compared to what it was now. Still, with prophetic preparedness, we have received a rebuke handed down through the ages; "strife, seditions, heresies" and so on are listed among the "works of the flesh," in Galatians 5:20. The word heresy does not mean, as many seem to believe, "a theological position with which I happen to disagree." It literally means, "dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims," with emphasis on the "dissensions." A heresy is not "a bad idea," but the conflict that results from one or more individuals holding to something that the Body of Christ has considered unsound. Another similar term in the Bible that has the same meaning is "schism," a split in fellowship over doctrinal disagreements.
A schism is something of which, in the Body: Christ said there should be none. (John 17:21) Paul said there should be none. (1Cor 15:25) John said there should be none. (1John 2:19) Ellen White said there should be none. [Testimonies for the Church Volume One, page 207]
All that is recognized within Adventism as "Light," from the Greatest, to the Greater, to the Lesser, is consonant that there must be no divisions within the Body of Christ! The Church can tolerate a lot of differences among its members, as we will see in this study - even differences that supposed Christians in the past have been willing to separate, even kill and die, for - but there is a sharp distinction between a difference and a matter over which a heresy may legitimately result.
We need to decide what our tests of fellowship must be; we need to decide where we will plant our flags, what theological hills to defend, and what areas we must leave to the individual Christian conscience and simply say, as Paul did, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." (Rom 14:5b)
There is a balance to be struck between all having the same mind, (1Cor 1:10, Phil 4:2) and the liberty that each individual believer has in Christ. (Gal 2:4, 1Cor 10:29)
If this balance is not found and maintained, we will fall into one of two ditches on the sides of The Way of Holiness. (Isa 35:8) Either we will accept individuals into fellowship who deviate from pure doctrines to such a degree that they will not only fail to attain the character of Christ, but lead others by precept and example into perdition along with them, or we will be so rigid in dogma that we become the judges of other men's consciences. Neither of these were what the Messiah had in mind for His Bride. Both the condemnation of others' individual, conscientious decisions, (1 Tim 6:4, 1Cor 10:29, Rom 14:4) and the tendency toward ministries independent of the orga nized Church (Mat 12:30, Acts 15:24, 19:11-17) - the natural result of schisms - are uniformly condemned by those who spoke and wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
So how do we determine our tests? Are we to come up with a creed, a list of "X number of fundamental doctrines" that our potential members are to sign before baptism? "The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And fifth, to commence persecution against such." [Review and Herald, Battle Creek, Michigan, Third-Day, October 8, 1861] That the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists has followed the mainstream churches in precisely these steps that they once denounced is beyond any degree of reasonable doubt, but what of those within it who seek to find the true path? What of those from other Churches (or no Church at all) who seek to find the truth as it is in Christ Yahshua?
We must learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us, or we will certainly make the same errors. This is a Biblical principle with a wide scope of application: "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted [...] and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." (1Cor 10:6, 11)
The Three Angels' Message, and the prayer of the Messiah in John 17 demand, absolutely demand, unity among Christians. We read, in the Spirit of Prophecy quote mentioned above, "God is leading out a people, not a few separate individuals here and there, one believing this thing, another that. Angels of God are doing the work committed to their trust. The third angel is leading out and purifying a people, and they should move with him unitedly." [Testimonies for the Church Volume One, page 207]
In another place, "God has a church upon the earth, who are His chosen people, who keep His commandments. He is leading, not stray offshoots, not one here and one there, but a people." [The Faith I Live By, page 282 ] Some within Adventism, in love with their own ideas, have mused, "Ellen White saw the Christians in the last days in 'little companies,' so why should we unite with you in fellowship, since we disagree on Doctrine X?"
Ellen White did indeed see "little companies" of believers in the last days, but we must read the entire quote to get the entire thought: "Out of the large group professing a belief in the second coming of Christ, this remnant came, little companies of seekers after truth." [Manuscript Releases 1, p. 52] Take note: They are not "stray offshoots," but one "remnant," (singular) and they seek after one "truth." They are little companies in that they are separated one from another due to circumstance and geography; but make no mistake, the remnant is not divided in terms of its theology or beliefs. To accept that position is to take hold of the very philosophy of the Arch-deceiver, who would like nothing more than to see the apostolic commission thwarted: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [schisms] among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1Cor 1:10)
A great deal more may be said on this topic, but in the interest of time and space we must restrict ourselves here to dealing with one narrow matter: On what is this great unity to be based? We cannot arbitrarily accept into fellowship anyone who claims to be "with us," for doctrines do indeed have great value, and were given for a reason. (Pro 4:2) The number of errors in nominal Christianity has simply exploded since the days in which the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Centurion Cornelius were baptized on the very day they spoke their belief in Christ Yahshua. There must be no creed other than the Bible, but in this age of Babylonian confusion there must be clearly defined foundational beliefs, or there will be chaos. One way to address this matter, perhaps the simplest, is to ask, "Is Doctrine X really something worth dividing over, or can we relegate that to the realm of individual belief and practice?" This is the subject of our current study.
II - WHAT A "TEST OF FELLOWSHIP" IS
There are four main elements of a valid test of fellowship, and there are four corresponding errors that can be made regarding them, as we shall see in Section III.
Tests of fellowship involve:
1) Acceptance of general principles leading to Christian character
Since all the law and prophets is based on Agape, that perfect, divine love, (Mat 22:37-40) any doctrine that we accept must, if it is from Yahweh, lead the Christian to more fully reflect this principle in his or her daily deportment. From the keeping of the Sabbath to the giving of tithe, from the sharing of communion to rejoicing in trials, all of these reflect our love and commitment to the Creator and to one another.
That last should be no surprise. A Christian accepts providence, the natural outworking of divine law, as a blessing even if trials result; this is one sure sign of the right character. A Christian bears reproach with dignity and patience, because he is in Christ, and "doth not commit sin," (1John 3:9) by misrepresenting his Savior to the on-looking world and universe.
Creation Seventh Day Adventists do, as a matter of faith, ask potential converts if they have the testimony of victory over every known sin in their lives. This is because a character that has once been truly exposed to the saving love of the Messiah (1John 3:6) is transformed naturally into a new creature. The Scriptures tell us, in addition to what was quoted from 1 John 3:6, 9, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." (2Cor 5:17) Yahshua Himself taught, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36)
As Adventists we accept the instruction of the Spirit through a relatively recent vessel: "Not one should be buried with Christ by baptism unless they are critically examined whether they have ceased to sin, whether they have fixed moral principles, whether they know what sin is, whether they have moral defil ement which God abhors. Find out by close questioning if these persons are really ceasing to sin, if with David they can say, I hate sin with a perfect hatred." [Manuscript Releases Volume Six, page 165]
As sin is directly tied to character, and is not so much a matter of individual acts as a condition of the heart (1 John 3:4 says that sin is literally anomia, a condition of "lawlessness") this is certainly a valid test of fellowship. The Church of Christ is not a place where men learn to develop life. It is a living Body of a living God; It is a Bride, pure and vital, and It has a work to do that can only be accomplished in victory, purity and unity. This, and all other doctrines relating to a character-based principle, constitutes a legitimate area of belief worth examining in potential converts. Aside from personal victory, and an open testimony thereof, (Rev 12:11) other doctrines of key importance for forming a Christian character include:
a) Gospel Order, as outlined in Matthew 18:15-20, since this deals with how we demonstrate agape to one another.
Transparency in Church-related dealings, understanding the difference between secrecy and privacy. We must always be open and honest with our brethren. (Lev 19:11, Col 3:9) Even though some things are legitimately private, there is simply no need to hide those actions and words that affect others outside the home circle
Acceptance of Protestant Christian principles; this involves a protest of both the arbitrary authority of Churches and the intrusion of civil power into religious beliefs and practices. According to the Messiah we must know what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, (Mat 22:21) and if we fail to make this distinction, the character will never be perfect before Heaven. Protesting ungodly powers that attempt to regulate the worship of the saints is one of the elements of the Everlasting Gospel of Revelation 14, since the "Beast" that attempts to enforce a mark of allegiance on the "very elect" is just such a power as this, to induce false worship by deception or force.
Tests of fellowship involve:
2) General agreement with the principles of prophetic interpretation.
This general agreement involves a basic understanding of Adventist doctrines including the Sanctuary and Day of Atonement, since these particulars are necessary for evangelism. The apostle writes, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." (1Peter 3:15) If someone asks a Creation Seventh Day Adventist, even the most recently baptized member, "What is it that sets your beliefs apart from any other Church?" the answer that he or she gives reflects the degree to which Yahweh is sanctified (or considered holy) in the heart.
One who understands the holiness of the Almighty will earnestly hunger and thirst after the knowledge of the Savior, and will have found beauty in the Plan of Salvation. The Scriptures will be searched, and the understanding will be enlightened: "blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled." (Mat 5:6) In these last days, this Plan has much to do with the activities of Yahshua as our High Priest in Heaven, as the Book of Hebrews makes quite clear; and fundamental Adventist doctrines, particularly those derived from the study of prophecy, are closely tied to this matter.
The principles of prophetic interpretation as embraced by Adventism have led us, for example, to a unique understanding of the events of the year 1844. This is based on the clearly established timeline provided by the prophet Daniel, and supported by the visions of the Apocalypse. Knowing, earnestly believing, that we are in the very last days of human history places a ce rtain urgency on our work. Christ said, when the days remaining in His ministry were numbered, "I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work." (John 9:4) Everyone who truly belongs to His Bride must - will - be of that same Spirit. "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His," (Rom 8:9b) therefore an understanding of the prophecies and the times in which we are living is certainly a legitimate basis for a test of fellowship
Tests of fellowship involve:
3) A basic standard of belief and practice.
This is also tied to character; it establishes a valid basis by which a potential applicant for baptism may be accepted or rejected, or by which an occasion of disfellowship can take place. Some Christians hold Matthew 7:1 to be an entire dogma: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." This is not, however, the entire picture, and even those who believe that the thought ends there would not object to the removal from fellowship of a murderer, rapist or compulsive thief. Some, even among the most adamant "non-judges," might even vote to disfellowship individuals because of personal dislike
Matthew 7, if we read as far as verse 5, does not provide a rule, but a process. If you see an error in a brother, do not immediately rush to judgment. First, see if you are guilty of that which you perceive in another - this is the way to avoid hypocrisy. Next, begin to apply Gospel Order, which has already been mentioned. If you follow this process, "then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." There may indeed be motes in our brothers' eyes, but it must be the Bible, not our individual fancy, that is used to determine what a "mote" looks like.
The Ten Commandments are the most obvious standard of righteousness; indeed, they constitute the only codified standard of righteousness in the entire Bible - Old Testament and New. It is the New Testament that says the Law must be used lawfully. (1Tim 1:8) It is the New Testament that defines sin (its only definition) as "a transgression of the Law," or literally, "A state of being lawless." (1John 3:6) It is the New Testament that shows us the penalty for transgressing the law... death such as that suffered by the Son of God Himself. It is the New Testament that quotes the Savior saying, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
Those who believe that the commandments of Christ are somehow different from the Decalogue must understand that there is no Biblical basis for such a notion. Further, we read in the Sermon on the Mount, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)
The "law and the prophets," which can mean nothing but that which was stated in the Law and exalted by the prophets, is equated directly with "these commandments" that Christ is tel ling His followers to do and teach. The Old Testament stated just such a thing centuries earlier: "Also I will make Him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for Him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with Him. His seed also will I make to endure forever, and His Throne as the days of Heaven. If His children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes." (Psalm 89:27-32)
Who is this everlasting King of an everlasting Throne, but Christ? Who are His seed, and His children, but Christians? What is Yahweh's "Law" here, but the very principles upon which His Kingdom is based, known to all who read the Psalms as the foundation of the Covenant with Israel, and the New Covenant with those of the spiritual circumcision? (Phil 3:3)
Creation Seventh Day Adventists, therefore, do make obedience to the 10 Commandments, and their obvious extensions, tests of fellowship.
One who has not forsaken adultery, stealing, blasphemy, and so on will not be accepted into fellowship. One who practices health-destroying habits, like smoking, is in slow but steady vi olation of the commandment against murder (for one who kills himself, and pays to have himself killed, is indeed a murderer) and also against stealing, "For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." (1Cor 6:20) One who does not pay tithe is likewise a thief. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, 'Wherein have we robbed thee?' In tithes and offerings." (Mal 3:8) "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." (Mat 23:23) Christ affirms that the payment of tithe is something that ought to be done by the righteous, but at the same time cautions against making exactness in such things of more importance than any other matter of the law, judgment, mercy and faith. These are examples of obvious extensions of the comman dments.
The Church of Yahshua also considers the observation of New Moons to be a test of fellowship, primarily because they are tied to the development of the perfectly victorious character. Some have said, "If the New Moon is not in the Decalogue, it should not be made a test of fellowship." This is merely a more subtle argument than those who say, "The New Testament never e xplicitly commands us to 'Remember the Sabbath day,' so it should not be made a test of fellowship."
The truth is that all instructions from Heaven are important for the development of the Christian spirit and mind, and, unless they are openly repealed by a divine source, maintain every el ement of the purpose for which they were provided. This is true whether or not the instructions appear where individuals think they should. Both the Old and New Testaments teach us to keep New Moons as sacred days, and in fact it is the New Testament that gives us the reason why Christians should keep it (see below on Colossians 2). New Moons were often tied to Sabbaths in Israel. (2Kings 4:23; 1Ch 23:31; 2Ch 2:4, 8:13, 31:3; Neh 10:33; Isa 1:13, 66:23; Eze 46:1; Hos 2:11)
The verse in Isaiah 66 is particularly important. Seventh-day Adventists have traditionally used this verse to prove that the seventh-day Sabbath is eternal, that it is kept even after sin and sinners have passed away, even in the New Creation - therefore, they rightly conclude, it is an everlasting principle for Christians as well as for Israel of old. Yet how often the verse's other blessing is overlooked:
"'And it shall come to pass, that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me,' saith Yahweh." (Isa 66:23)
New Moons are days of worship, (Psa 81:3) of ceasing from worldly labor, (Eze 46:1 - where they are distinguished from the regular "six working days") and of ceasing from trade. (Amos 8:5) In other words, they are kept in a very similar fashion to Sabbaths, with the exception that light work is permitted. "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, 'In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein, but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto Yahweh.'" (Lev 23:24, 25) This is said of the Feast of Trumpets, which was the seventh New Moon of the ceremonial year.
Paul tells us, in an often mistranslated and misunderstood passage, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the New Moon, or of the Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come, but the Body of Christ." (Col 2:16, 17) In other words, only the Body of Christ (the New Covenant Church) is equipped to decide matters of practice for its members, including those of Sabbaths, New Moons, eating and drinking. Those who read these two verses in new Bible translations may not understand how much the wording of Paul's epistle have been manipulated; in the King James Version, at least, the words that have been artificially added are in [brackets] or italics, so that the genuine meaning may still be obtained if those particular words are excluded.
New Moons, as the passage states, are "a shadow of things to come," and, being yet future in fulfillment, continue to have type-antitype significance. More on the spiritual significance of New Moons may be found in the article "The Cycle of The Moon", please contact us to receive a copy of this article.
Ultimately, however, a violation of the New Moons does go back to a violation of the Ten Commandments, just as surely as do smoking or drunkenness, although neither of these is "explicitly stated." It not only violate s the principle of the fifth, to honor your parents, but others also. Of the fifth in particular we read a spiritual application: "Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" (Heb 12:9) In the interest of time, we will conclude this section with the above example, and mention that further information on the relationship between the New Moon and the Decalogue is available in the article at the above internet address, and upon request.
Tests of fellowship involve:
4) Accepting the mission of the Church as a whole.
This needs no lengthy explanation. The Scriptures ask, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3)
If the principles of prophetic interpretation are understood, if the character is right, and if a commitment is made to Christian behavior, there will naturally be an evangelistic focus held by each member of the Church of the Messiah. The commission Yahshua gave to His people was not to build big Churches, not to join hands with fallen ecclesiastical organizations, and not to employ worldly means to maintain and increase the borders of Spiritual Israel.
The work of the Church is to defend the widows and orphans, to strengthen the weak, heal the sick and uplift the oppressed. (Isa 1:17, Mat 10:8) The work of the Church, briefly told, is to win souls to the kingdom. Yahshua said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature," (Mark 16:15) with the understanding that the Good News intimately involves all those elements listed here. If any focus other than this is held, by either the entire Church or individual members, this is a rejection of the very first principles of Christianity.
In addition to the external mission of the Church, there is also an internal family structure that must be respected if unity and focus are to be preserved. The Bible teaches us that "[God] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Eph 4:11, 12) Note that the structure of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, pastors and so on is necessary for the work of the ministry and the building of the Body as well as for the preparation of the saints. Thus, the missionary elements of the Church are closely connected to the respect of ecclesiastical order
While it is true that no pastor or elder is given the commission to command members in matters of conscience, they do have a r esponsibility to guide the actions of the Body to a certain degree. We read of the respect due to those whom Yahweh has placed as the under-shepherds of His flock: "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." (1Tim 5:17) "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren." (verse 1) "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses." (verse 19) All must be in harmony on this matter, or time and energy will be wasted by inte rnal conflicts, violations of Gospel Order, and petty rivalries or power struggles; "Can two [or more] walk together, except they be agreed?"
There is also, as with most spiritual concepts, a divinely ordained means by which this principle is demonstrated. In a system similar to faith and works, (visible works reveal intangible faith) the Bible provides baptism as an outward declaration of unity. Baptism, however, is not a commonly understood doctrine in these individualistic times. Some will say, "I am baptized into Christ," and mean by these words that they need make no formal commitment to their fellow man. This is, in actuality, a rejection of the principle of agape. Both of the rootcommandments are "like" one another, (Mat 22:39) absolute love for Yahweh, and absolute love for one's fellow man.
In the Bible, baptism was not merely into the "Head, even Christ," (Eph 4:15) but into His Body, His Church on earth.
We read: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (1Cor 12:13) "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." (Rom 6:3, 5) "Then they that gladly received [Peter's] word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship..." (Acts 2:41, 42a
In all the teachings we have regarding baptism, both the recorded precept and the preserved example, we find baptism resulting in immediate fellowship and community. Further still, we know from the words of Christ that the will of the Father is to be done on the earth "as it is in Heaven," (Mat 6:10) and Heaven is known for its meticulous record keeping. (Exo 32:32; Dan 7:10; Mal 3:16; Rev 3:5, 20:12) We find a "type" to fulfill in the work of the rebuilders of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, "And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal [i.e., sign] unto it." (Neh 9:38)
We believe that it is in accord with the principle of agape, the precedent of Scriptural types, and the example of the apostles to unite in word and deed, and our local congregations each contain a "membership roll" of all baptized members as a "witness" to the world and universe of our unity. Many Biblical examples of this concept may be cited, (e.g., Josh 24:27, Jer 32:10-12) and a book entitled A Sure Covenant that examines these verses and the Scriptural teachings on Church membership. Please contact us to receive a copy of this book.
III - WHAT A "TEST OF FELLOWSHIP IS NOT"
Each of the principles discussed above has a close counterfeit, or unlawful excess, associated therewith.
The first valid concept has to do with principles and character.
A valid test of fellowship is not: 1) A demand for absolute conformity with all preferences and beliefs
There is a distinction that must be made between convictions and preferences. A conviction is something for which an individual would sacrifice his or her life. For the Christian, obedience to God rather than men despite persecution and death is understood as a conviction. The apostles said, "We ought to obey God rather than men," (Acts 5:29) yet it must be understood, even while fully accepting this, that there are some things solely between God and man.
Different levels of understanding are permitted in even the fou ndational beliefs, and even in the Bible you do not find rigid instructions in every particular, but principles. By way of example, the Creation Seventh Day Adventist diet is not "vegan," or "vegetarian," but "healthy." Scripture says that while "the kin gdom of God is not meat and drink," (Rom 14:17) "whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1Cor 10:31) This is the balance between the two ideas.
The Creation Seventh Day Adventist style of dress is "modest." (1Tim 2:9) The Creation Seventh Day Adventist style of speech is, "pure." (Zeph 3:9) The style of dealing with our fellow men is "peaceably." (Rom 12:18) Yet in none of these cases does there exist a list of transgressions to avoid or points to check off. Here the principle pointed out in Matthew 18 and 7 are applicable: we must "weed our own gardens," as it were; and if we wish to raise an objection to the beliefs and practices of another, we must first ensure that we are clean of any wrongdoing in that area lest we be found either a false wi tness or an unjust judge of the servant of Another.
The second valid concept has to do with a general acceptance of prophetic principles.
A valid test of fellowship is not: 2) An absolutely uniform understanding of prophecy.
The details of prophetic fulfillment may vary among members. In current CSDA understanding, there are many blanks yet to be filled in regarding such areas as the "Two Witnesses" of Revel ation 11, the exact means by which the twelve Tribes of Spiritual Israel are identified, the future application of the "Seven Thunders," and so on. In general, we also have a very different interpretation of the Mark of the Beast than mainstream Adventism.
This is actually a perfect example of the balance to be found between general acceptance and uniform understanding. The principle behind the Mark of The Beast is identical in both the mainstream Adventist church and the CSDA movement. We both will claim that a union of Church and State results in the Image of the Beast, (Rev 13:14) and that this Image will enact a law for the purpose of controlling the allegiance and consciences of the saints. The mainstream Adventist church believes that this fulfillment comes in the form of a Sunday Law, involving an a cceptance or rejection of the literal seventh day of the week as a day of rest.
Understanding the principle behind the formation of the Image, and being Protestants by nature, Creation Seventh Day Adven tists protest each and every union of Church and state that enacts human laws to defend an ecclesiastical organization, or to enforce its decrees by means of civil law.
Ellen White, whose work we certainly accept, wrote, "Regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered." [1 Selected Messages, p. 57] The testimonies do speak of a Sunday Law, but time and place must be considered. The testimonies to the nation of Israel included promises that Yahweh would never turn loose of His people as a nation, yet when these people broke that covenant, Yahweh was not bound to the already-broken contract, (Zec 11:10) and called new keepers for His vineyard. (Mat 21:41)
Similarly, Seventh-day Adventists may be willing to surrender their freedom and lives protesting a Sunday law that attempts to force disobedience to the Seventh-day commandment, yet as Paul writes, "though I give my body to be burned, and have not agape, it profiteth me nothing." (1Cor 13:3) If an individual protests the Sunday Law with all his being, yet fails to see tha t the current SDA Trademark law that is threatening the freedom of Christians is a violation of precisely the same principle of religious liberty, he demonstrates that he does not have the mind of Christ. Understanding the principles underlying prophecy is absolutely essential; even if precise interpretations differ, one who supports true principles will naturally protest all manifestations of opposition to the right concepts
In other words, one who stands against a religious Trademark will automatically reject a Sunday Law, but... one who looks at the Sunday Law as an evil of itself, and does not understand why it violates the Law of God, might not protest the Trademark and thus fall captive to the mind of the Dragon as it operates through various governmental "Beasts." To obey without understanding (e.g., because "Ellen White said so," "My pastor said so," or "The Church believes so") is not true virtue, and certainly not true obedience.
In this matter, humility and willingne ss to discuss opinions and interpretations (for no "private" interpretations are valid - 2Pet 1:20) will ensure that harmony and unity are preserved by faith, and not by any artificial means.
The third valid concept has to do with principles relating to beliefs.
A perfect counter-example is this... a valid test of fellowship is not: 3) A demand for absolute uniformity in our understanding of the Godhead.
This is a somewhat "hot" topic in Adventism today, for many will (rightly) point to Ellen White's statement that, "the personality of God [...] is everything to us as a people." [Letter 300, 1903]
Yet we must understand that there is a difference between the "personality" of God, which reveals itself in His dealings with us and the infinite sacrifice of His Son for our sakes, and the "nature" of God, which is a mystery that no created mind can possibly be equipped to grasp. It must further be understood that Ellen White's statement about the personality of God was made in a time when various Adventist teachers did disagree about the precise nature of the Godhead, and for entirely different reasons than a compromise with any worldly or pagan inte rpretations of divine teaching
The Adventist Church was not, by any means, Trinitarian in its approach to the Godhead, yet differences in opinion regarding precisely how this worked were certainly allowed. To be sure, though the Adventist church officially taught against the do ctrine, we never read of any individual being rejected for fello wship simply because he or she was Trinitarian. The issue simply did not come up, even while recognizing that the "personality" of God was of supreme importance, and the Bible itself reveals that "this is life eternal: that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3)
Creation Seventh Day Adventists, while not members of a Trin itarian Church, and while not establishing any Creed to say, "This is what God is like," do not make this matter a test of fellowship. We understand that even in the days of an acknowledged prophetess of the Advent movement, differences in views about the Godhead went uncorrected, and perhaps for a very good reason. As long as we agree upon the "personality" of God, and by the Holy Spirit we emulate His character as it is revealed in Christ Yahshua, we understand from the Word that we are accepted in Heaven, for "in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." (Acts 10:25) We are certainly responsible for all the light that comes from Heaven, but until a prophet or apostle appears who testifies, "This is precisely what the Godhead is like," there may ce rtainly be harmony even in the midst of diversity.
Finally, the fourth valid concept has to do with the mission of the Church as a whole. A valid test of fellowship is not: 4) A need to accept the mission of individual members of the Church
There is no test of fellowship structured around the question of who is or is not an apostle, a prophet, a teacher, a pastor or an evangelist. Individual missions are for individual consciences and callings, and as Yahshua said to Peter, "If I will that [John] tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me."(John 21:22)
Disagreements are certainly possible regarding who is to do what job, yet order may be maintained as long as we do not attempt to forcibly interfere with what others believe they should be doing for the Church and Yahshua. We read in the Book of Acts concerning a "sharp" disagreement between Paul and Silas over the suitability of John Mark as an evangelist. (Acts 15:37- 41) While in these last days we would not suffer the disagreements to become so pronounced as to separate us in work even for a time, we do note that not everyone needs to be comfortable with the work of everyone else before "the grace of God" (verse 40) may settle upon the movement.
The CSDA Church has even studied with, and baptized, individuals who did not believe that Ellen White was necessarily inspired - but they did agree with all the principles that she set
forth, because they merely upheld the same concepts that are found in the Scriptures. It must be the same with the workers today, and tomorrow. If a thing is true, it is true regardless of who says it; Moses once declared, "Would God that all Yahweh's people were prophets, and that Yahweh would put His Spirit upon them!" (Num 11:29) As long as we are in harmony regarding the mission of the Church, the work will advance by means of those members who stand in their integrity.
This idea is not limited to prophets or apostles either. Based upon the very principles of Protestantism, there need be no arbitrary acceptance of an elder's instructions or a pastor's decisions. Church officials exist to guide, to exhort, and to instruct, but never to force. If the behavior of an individual becomes so rebellious that it does disrupt the general mission of the Church, then a disfellowship may be in order as per the first, third and fourth valid tests of fellowship; but aside from this each individual is accountable primarily to Christ for "the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2Cor 5:10)
IV - SUMMARY
There can never be enough said about the unity, purity and victory that is experienced by the members of the Church of Christ. There can never be enough said about the beauty of the principles underlying a Christian's behavior and system of b eliefs. The perfect "mind of Christ," manifest in erring mortal flesh, will be the subject of study by angelic and human minds for all eternity, and the Plan of Salvation will be seen as the greatest of all sciences. Yahweh has accomplished the ultimate transformation, sinner to saint, and He has made this sublime process available, at infinite cost, to all who will come to Him and be healed.
We understand, however, that in the multitudes who stand up to be counted there may be wolves "in sheep's clothing," (Mat 7:15) or individuals who, while genuinely seeking eternal life, are so deficient in understanding that they may misle ad others and cause difficulty for the work. Valid tests of fellowship a llow us to determine who is ready to embark upon the walk of sanctification and who, for whatever reason, must first seek to be justified by a genuine acceptance of Christ before they are ready for baptism.
While the individual members of the Church cannot arbitrarily take it upon themselves to become the judges of conscience or sincerity, the Head of the Church has said to us, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven," (Mat 18:18) and also, "by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20)
By seeing the character of Christ in other individuals, we can recognize that they have partaken of the same Spirit that ha s called us out of darkness and into the light of Salvation. By seeing that they are committed to a system of beliefs and pra ctices that leads them to holiness, by seeing that their understanding of prophecy will complement the work of eva ngelism, and that they are in agreement regarding the mission of Christ's people, we cannot do other than offer to them the "right hands of fellowship." (Gal 2:9)
We do have to be careful, at the same time, of "adding" tests to the Bible's clear instructions and enacting our own standard of righteousness, as did the Pharisees of Yahshua's day. Christ died for the freedom of every member of the human race, and if the members of His Body are not the most free, and the most ardent defenders of the liberty of others, then we are guilty of misunderstanding the Spirit that led Him through a life of selfsacrifice, a near-thankless ministry among men, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Cross of Golgotha, and the dark grave of the accused transgressor. By His resurrection, Yahshua showed that love is stronger than all these things; and by our lives, lived in harmony with His, we reveal this same enduring truth to a world that has long been deprived of the majesty and goodness of Yah, the Creator and Redeemer of all.
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