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Fourth Quarter 2018 • October, November, December
COMMENTARY—ONENESS IN CHRIST
Week 5: October 27–November 2
COMMENTARY ON "The Experience of Unity in the Early Church"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This lesson was going along nicely until it mentioned the early Adventists. Yes, they had a common experience in 1844, but to “tie their hearts together” in error is still error. And to say that this bonding experience over a failed prophecy gave birth to the Adventist church is to say that that church is founded on a mistake—a very bad foundation on which to base a church.
Notice how the lesson neatly camouflages and ties together Adventism’s sin of holding onto the failure of an unbiblical prophecy by the statement, “the truth about the pre-Advent judgment and all that it entails.”
The “pre-Advent judgment” is a supposed judgment of believers of all time, starting with Adam and continuing to those alive today. But this teaching denies the truth of Romans 8:1: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Strong’s Concordance defines condemnation this way: “2631—an adverse sentence, and 2632—to judge against, condemn, damn”.
Any judgment comes after a trial, and the pre-Advent judgment is a trial to determine worthiness for salvation. But if we are in Christ, we have already been declared just, not based on our own virtue but on that of Jesus which cannot fail or change.
To say “and all that it entails” is to insert a threat to our security in Christ. We know what the “pre-Advent judgment” entails—a trial or examination to decide if we are “worthy to be saved”. Of course, we all know we are not—if we are to be evaluated on our own merits.
I have noticed that the Sabbath School lessons often insert words or phrases that are unique to the Adventist church and which describe ideas that are internally held dear but are off the subject being discussed. That unique vocabulary is used to give those ideas the authority needed to emphasize the so-called truth of them without having to examine them or hold them up to the truth of the Bible to verify their accuracy.
In attorney-speak, that deceptive method is called “stipulating” to something—agreeing to the truth of something without actually saying it or proving it.
By stating it as fact, it gives it weight and substance without making the reader or hearer think it through. It just assumes that everyone is in agreement with the whole idea, a method which is actually a way of convincing people of the truth of an idea without the bother of thinking. This use of “insider words” is fairly typical cult behavior and usually slips in because people are so used to it.
The lengthy EGW quote in today’s lesson goes on about the angst, sorrow and regrets of the disciples over their supposed lack of understanding while Jesus was still with them. It is very poetic and very unbiblical. There is nothing in the text that remotely hints at or supports such a lyrical description of self-evaluation. All the Bible says is that they “devoted themselves to prayer”, and that is all that needs to be said.
But the Ellen White words are said, apparently, to lead into a couple of questions about our own regrets.
Looking to the past with regrets is not really useful. All our sins have been forgiven and wiped clean, if we have trusted the finished work of Jesus and repented of our sin, and to waste time regretting our past actions is to just waste time. Yes, we can learn from past mistakes, but learning from our failures is completely off the subject of Acts 1:12-14.
In answer to the first question at the end of the day, I wish I had believed in Jesus and what the Bible clearly says instead of wasting so many years in faith that was not real faith and hope that was only wishful thinking, not joyful anticipation.
Having said that, I find the joy and faith I now have in Jesus is so much more fulfilling than repeated regrets over the past.
Here we see another of those assumptions inserted as fact:
“Thus, we see here the continued importance of God’s law as part and parcel of the Christian message regarding Jesus, whose death offers everyone who repents forgiveness for their violation of God’s law. No wonder one of the crucial texts regarding the last days deals with both the law and the gospel: ‘Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus’ (Rev. 14:12, NKJV).”
Then there is another:
“Also, as with Mount Sinai, when Moses received the Ten Commandments (Exod. 19:16–25, Heb. 12:18), numerous extraordinary phenomena occurred at this Pentecost.”
When someone is afraid to walk by the Spirit, they tend to cling to the Law (or at least select parts of it), so the law is inserted here completely out of context.
The “extraordinary phenomena” at Mount Sinai were the direct, open display of God’s majesty and holiness in clouds, smoke, trumpets, thunder, and warnings to keep back. Then, while Moses was on the Mount receiving the Law, the people worshiped the golden calf, and when Moses came down and saw that flagrant disobedience, about 3,000 people died.
At Pentecost, however, the manifestations of God were like tongues of fire, and those who were filled with the Holy Spirit spoke in the tongues of the people present at the temple that day. On that day, about 3,000 were saved—brought to spiritual life.
The contrast between the two events quite clearly shows the superiority of grace over the law. Law kills: grace gives life.
Then there is this confusing paragraph:
“In a unique way, Pentecost helps undo the dispersion of the original human family and the formation of ethnic groups, which began in earnest at the Tower of Babel. The miracle of grace begins the reunifying of the human family. The unity of God’s church on a global scale testifies to the nature of His kingdom as restoring what was lost at Babel.”
First of all, the dispersion of the human race was by the command of God, not a result of the loss of unity. When they refused to disperse, God stepped in and confounded their language so that they would separate and fill the earth.
Second of all, God’s kingdom restores what was lost at the fall, not what was “lost” at Babel. All that was lost at Babel was a common language and the foolish, sinful plans of man to build themselves up to the heavens while disobeying God’s command to fill up the earth —to spread out. To completely ignore what was lost at the fall, back in Genesis 2, is to trivialize the purpose of the kingdom of God. The “miracle of Grace” is to restore life to human beings whose souls are dead in their sins, so they can be in relationship with a loving God and live eternally with Him.
Thirdly, to say that something was “lost” at Babel and needed the kingdom of grace to be restored is to subtly—or not so subtly—blame God for what was lost. But I guess if you are going to blame God for your own mistakes in 1844, you can blame Him for everything else too!
Today’s lesson misses the significance of the new believers’ “breaking bread” together. While the text is not explicit that the reference is to the Lord’s Table, it likely is. Jesus had commanded His disciples to eat the bread and wine as often as they did it in remembrance of Him. They likely ate in remembrance of Him whenever they met together and shared a meal.
Adventism with its materialistic worldview misses the power and significance of born-again believers meeting and fellowshipping together. It is a celebration of the life of Christ to be together, not just interpersonal socializing and “getting along”.
To quote from Wednesday’s lesson:
“In a sense the last commandment reveals the root of the evil manifested in the actions condemned by all the other commandments.”
The sin of covetousness is not the root of evil condemned by the other nine commandments; to say that it’s the root of evil is to trivialize sin. Sin is not just bad behavior or not obeying the Ten Commandments —it is the result of having a dead soul, separated from God and incapable of good. As such, it is so much more than just not obeying 10 do’s and don’t’s.
Furthermore, the root of all sin is unbelief. It is not pride nor greed nor appetite; it is unbelief. Not trusting God’s word implicitly and acting on it demonstrates the sin of unbelief.
This quote is inaccurate: “The obvious elements that fostered this unity in the early church were prayer, worship, fellowship, a common vision, and the study of God’s Word.”
The Spirit of God indwelling the members of the early church was what provided the unity; the prayer, worship and fellowship were an outgrowth of the unity, not the cause of it.
The indwelling Holy Spirit is not part of a false gospel. Adventism can at best only mimic “unity”, and they approach it as a discipline which they must practice and grasp to attain. Unity in the Spirit, however, requires submission to the Lord Jesus on the part of believers. Only the Holy Spirit can teach a person to submit for the sake of God’s glory, and only the Holy Spirit can protect true unity by speaking out and protecting the flock from false teachers who would disrupt biblical unity.
I find it interesting in Discussion Question number one that there is a search for what we can “do” to be doing the things that were done in the early church. For someone without the indwelling Holy Spirit, finding something to do to show our unity is of prime importance. By contrast, one who is filled with the Holy Spirit finds that those behaviors flow naturally. Sure, sometimes we have to look for the opportunities, but the Spirit is what makes us want to do those things.