Presented at Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, October 24, 2018
It’s October, and it’s a rich history month, both for Adventist and the greater body of protestants. But, have you ever thought about the way God called His people out of darkness and into His marvelous light? I have found four common steps our spiritual forefathers followed and we should too, if we would make it into Christ’s kingdom:
- Identifying The Problem That Requires Reformation
- Proposing And Sharing of the Solution(even if it meant death or excommunication)
- Walking In The New Path
- Being Faithful Until Death
The church is Christ’s establishment (Matt 16:18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”, Matt 28:18-20, Act 2:47 “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved”, Act 7:38 “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us”). It wasn’t the idea of man, nor a device from the devil, but from Christ Himself. Since the church is His tabernacle, then He defines its rules and doctrines.
For a time, after the resurrection of Christ, the early church was pure and powerful “The early Christians were indeed a peculiar people. Their blameless deportment and unswerving faith were a continual reproof that disturbed the sinner’s peace.” (GC88* 46.1 chpt 2). Because of this, the church was under attack since its beginning. Like Cain who killed his faithful brother Abel (Gen 4), many turned on these faithful servants of Christ and persecuted them:
These persecutions, beginning under Nero about the time of the martyrdom of Paul, continued with greater or less fury for centuries. Christians were falsely accused of the most dreadful crimes, and declared to be the cause of great calamities—famine, pestilence, and earthquake. As they became the objects of popular hatred and suspicion, informers stood ready, for the sake of gain, to betray the innocent.” GC88 40.1 (chpt 2)
But even with the death of a vast number of Christians, the church continued to grow!
“Thousands were imprisoned and slain; but others sprung up to fill their places” (GC88 42.1,chpt 2). Satan realized that he could not destroy Christians by violence, so he sought a more devious plan of attack: if he could not beat them, he would (under a disguise) join them. “Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church” GC88 49.2 (chpt 2). Starting with the “nominal conversion” of Emperor Constantine, Christianity was no longer illegal, but became popular and accepted gradually. Unfortunately many who joined the church brought their superstitions, idol worship and sinful practices that tarnished the purity of the precious bride of Christ.
In time, the papacy was established and the church of Rome, who then outlawed the Holy Scriptures.
For hundreds of years the circulation of the Bible was prohibited. The people were forbidden to read it or to have it in their houses, and unprincipled priests and prelates interpreted its teachings to sustain their pretensions. Thus the pope came to be almost universally acknowledged as the vicegerent (a person exercising delegated power) of God on earth, endowed with authority over Church and State” (GC88 51.3,chpt 3)
Not having the Bible in their own hands meant that everyone had to depend on the priests for biblical interpretation. After a few centuries of its establishment, the church had become something entirely different.
Many of the laws and teachings of the early church became obsolete and changed under leaders (like Constantine: “He issued numerous laws relating to Christian practice and susceptibilities: for instance, abolishing the penalty of crucifixion and the practice of branding certain criminals; enjoining the observance of Sunday and saints’ days; and extending privileges to the clergy while suppressing at least some offensive pagan practices” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Constantine-I-Roman-emperor). The abuses of the Roman church lit the spark that started the reformation.
“The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. As her power increased, the darkness deepened. Faith was transferred from Christ, the true foundation, to the pope of Rome. Instead of trusting in the Son of God for forgiveness of sins and for eternal salvation, the people looked to the pope, and to the priests and prelates to whom he delegated authority” (GC88 55.1 chpt 3).
Despite all that was happening, there were a few faithful followers of Christ who would not accept the papal teachings as their own. These realized that they couldn’t remain in the church, so to protect their families and themselves from error, they separated from the church and even society at times. A group of people who did this were the Waldenses (GC 88, chpt 4). These Christians (who lived in the mountains of France and Italy) had received a copy of the scriptures, and when in seclusion in the roughed hills, memorized large portions of scripture so that they would always have the Word on their hearts. They were also one of the first early missionaries: writing portions of scripture on pieces of paper, and sharing it with people when they came to mingle with society in cities and towns.
The faith and fortitude of the Waldensian Christians are to be mimicked and taught. But, they were not the only ones in history who protested the evils of the Roman church.
Here are a few faithful ones who have a common list of characteristics that we too, should have, if we want to see The King and be a part of His Heavenly Kingdom:
1) JOHN WYCLIFFE OF ENGLAND: “In the fourteenth century arose in England the “morning-star of the Reformation.” (GC 79.3, chpt 5). While he was in college, he was able to gain access to the Holy Scriptures and began to study them.
The Problem: This theologian and priest saw a contrast between the church in the Bible and the church of his day. He saw that the current church downplayed and even changed laws in the Bible, and elevated human traditions in its place.
The Solution: Wycliffe began to write and publish literature against the evils of those who claimed to represent God. “Wycliffe began to write and publish tracts against the friars, not, however, seeking so much to enter into dispute with them as to call the minds of the people to the teachings of the Bible and its Author. He declared that the power of pardon or of excommunication is possessed by the pope in no greater degree than by common priests, and that no man can be truly excommunicated unless he has first brought upon himself the condemnation of God” (GC88 84.1 chapter 5). He desired to illuminate the eyes of the people and to present the faith of God in its purity and beauty. He was also the first to translate the Bible in the local language of the people. The Bible was now in English and this penned the way for people (when they did have access to it) to read and understand God’s word for themselves.
Walking In The New Path: Not surprisingly, the church attacked Wycliffe. Papal bulls (proclamations issued by the pope) were dispatched to silence his influence, but The Lord thwarted the enemy’s plan and protected him. With the attacks targeted towards him, Wycliffe stood firm and kept his eyes fixed on God.
Until Death: The church sought ways to destroy Wycliffe and his influence, but couldn’t. Under constant threat of death he continued steadfast and immovable, continuing to hold onto the True Vine Christ Jesus (John 15:1), and even to his death, remained faithful.
2) JAN HUS OF BOHEMIA (GC88, chpt 6) (Bohemia is now the Czech Republic /central Europe). Many of the Waldenses traveled to Bohemia after suffering persecution in France and Italy, so there was already a few faithful souls who knew about the true teachings in the Bible. Jan Hus (15th century) had a humble childhood but excelled in his studies later on and was quickly well known throughout Europe. Shortly after, he was appointed a priest to a local church and was encouraged to preach from the Holy Bible in native language, which was forbidden by Rome.
The Problem: As Huss studied the Bible, he also saw the abuses and errors inflicted upon the people by the Roman church.
The Solution: His close associate, Jerome, was familiar with Wycliffe’s writings and shared them with Huss who later (after earnest study of these writings and scripture) accepted them and preached them boldly to the people. His influence and devotion to God’s word lead many to Christ and many took these truths to other parts of Europe. The Roman church summoned for him to appear before the pope, but even the king and queen of Bohemia protected him and requested he remain in Prague.
Walking In The New Path: His opposition forced the church to declare Prague ‘under interdict’ (or prohibition). All religious services were suspended and churches closed; marriages had to take place in the church’s yards and burials took place without any religious rites. Many condemned Huss for bringing this ‘curse’ upon Prague, to which he withdrew himself, but he remained faithful.
Until death: In time and under continual opposition, he was imprisoned and tried. “When required to choose whether he would recant his doctrines or suffer death, he accepted the martyr’s fate” (GC 88 107.2 chpt 6). Even as he was being burned alive, he sang to Jesus until he was no more. His enemies were even struck by his heroism. His death was not in vain as it led to even more reformers and converts to the true understanding of God’s word.
3) MARTIN LUTHER OF GERMANY (16th century) was also a man with a meager upbringing like Jan Hus. Although his father wanted him to be a lawyer, and he started his studies in law, he abandoned these and to join the monastery (He did this because he made a vow to God, that if He saved him from a violent thunderstorm he was caught in, he would become a monk). Although this change in his life goal angered his father, he (Luther) didn’t want to break his vow to God. During his devotion, Luther was passionate about doing religious works to gain salvation. “He led a most rigorous life, endeavoring, by fasting, vigils, and scourgings (whippings), to subdue the evils of his nature, from which the monastic life had brought no release” (GC 88 123.1, chpt 7). He would have easily killed himself performing all these works to ‘cleanse himself from his sins’, but a friend by the name of Staupitz told him he didn’t need to punish himself and Christ’s death was enough (GC 88 123.2, chpt 7). After some time, he accepted this and this brought some peace to his soul.
The Problem: After Luther became a priest and a professor at the University of Wittenberg, he dedicated himself to the study of the scriptures. When he visited Rome once, he was shocked by the irreligious talk among professed men of God. When he attained his doctor of divinity degree, he was free to teach people from the Holy Bible which he loved so dearly, and enlighten the path of those in darkness. While he did his part, the Roman church did it’s part and the sale of indulgences made its way to Luther’s town. Many of his congregants purchased these false means of salvation and Luther was motivated to put an end to this.
The Solution: He sought to debate this issue with the church, so on October 31st 1517, he posted his 95 propositions (or theses) on The Castle church www.history.com/topics/martin-luther-and-95-theses. Since the printing press had just been invented, Luther ’s proposals were quickly duplicated and spread across Germany and he became a household name quickly. Luther, like many reformers before him, didn’t plan to break from the church he loved, but sought to reform it from within. Despite this, he too had to part ways with the church. In the years that followed, Luther was cut off from the church and proclaimed a heretic (one who differs in opinion from accepted beliefs). Although he was excommunicated from Rome, many continued to follow Luther and spread his writings. It was his followers who were called protestants initially (and then Lutherans later) www.Britannica.com/topic/Lutheranism.
Walking In The New Path: Luther held onto his faith and conviction throughout his life. Even though the church sought to kill him, he was protected by many friends and officials in high places, and was hidden for a great portion of his later years where he was able to translate the Bible into German.
Until Death: The church never got the chance to destroy Luther. He died in the town of his birth, Eisleben, Germany (https://lutheranreformation.org/history/the-death-of-Luther/) after living out his favorite scripture: “the just shall live by faith” Romans 1:17
After Luther, many other reformers sprung up from different countries and throughout history. They all proclaimed the truths of the bible and protested the abuses of the Roman church. Soon, across the ocean, reformation was taking root too.
4) WILLIAM MILLER OF THE U.S.A. William Miller (GC88, chpt 18) was son of an army general and a pious woman. Although this farmer-turned-preacher was a deist (one who believes a Deity created the world, but who doesn’t interact with humanity) for many years, after he fought in the 1812 battle, “he saw evidences that there was a God, after all, who intervenes in human affairs” (http://whiteestate.org/pathways/wmiller.asp ).
The Problem: As he studied the books of Daniel and Revelation, he saw evidences of a literal second coming plainly taught in the Scriptures. After he spent two years studying the Bible, “in 1818, he reached a solemn conviction that in about twenty five years Christ would appear for the redemption of His people” (GC 88 329.2, chpt 18). Although he was elated about this news, he knew many were not ready to meet their Maker.
The Solution: He started to feel uneasy.
“When I was about my business,” he said, “it was continually ringing in my ears, Go and tell the world of their danger. This text was constantly occurring to me: ‘When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.’ [Ezekiel 33:8, 9.] I felt that if the wicked could be effectually warned, multitudes of them would repent; and that if they were not warned, their blood might be required at my hand.” GC88 330.1.
After trying to silence his conscience, and ultimately giving into The Lord’s leading, this reserved farmer became a powerful popular preacher around all of New England. Many flocked to the tents and churches Miller spoke at, and hundreds denounced their selfish and evil ways to be ready for Christ’s second coming.
The Reformed Way: Since becoming a Christian and receiving this message, Miller held firm to His God and Creator. He spread the message of urgency and hope faithfully and was also well known for being a mild and kind-hearted soul.
Until Death: Although Miller wasn’t the one to set the actual date of the Lord’s coming (which was believed to be on Oct 22,1844), he, as well as others accepted this date and waited patiently on that day for Jesus. That day of great anticipation turned to be a day of great disappointment as The Lord didn’t return as he hoped, but Miller did not abandon the faith. He famously wrote: “Although I have been twice disappointed, I am not yet cast down or discouraged. . . . I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light,–and that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see Him for whom my soul yearns.”–The Midnight Cry, Dec. 5, 1844, pp. 179, 180. (http://whiteestate.org/pathways/wmiller.asp)
These four men all followed distincted steps as they matured in their walk with The LORD:
— They identified the problem that required an action
(Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted
Romans 15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.)
— They proposed and shared their solutions with others (through sermonizing and writing books and pamphlets)
(Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost)
— They walked in the new path in the light they received
(2 Peter 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.)
— They were faithful to The LORD until their death
(Matthew 24:13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved,
2 Timothy 2:3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 4:5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.)
We should follow the same path as laid out by The LORD and as The Lord promised, ‘he He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved”
* GC88 – “The Great Controvery, 1888 Edition” Ellen G. White.