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Fourth Quarter 2018 • October, November, December
COMMENTARY—ONENESS IN CHRIST
Week 6: November 3–9
COMMENTARY ON "Images of Unity"
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).
The lesson opens with a decent explanation of the meaning of symbols, but I am puzzled by this one statement: “For instance, the essence of the whole biblical sacrificial system is, in a sense, symbolic of the much greater reality: Jesus and the entire plan of salvation.”
Maybe I am just nit-picking, but the essence of the whole biblical sacrificial system IS symbolic of the much greater reality. Not just “in a sense” but exactly. Every bit of it was to teach the Israelites about salvation and the holiness and purity of God. That was so vital that to deviate from it was to bring down death. For instance, if the high priest entered the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement without the proper sacrifices to remove the sins of the people and of himself, he would die.
I almost missed it ,but this phrase caught my eye: “There is continuity between Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New.”
That seems innocuous enough until you remember that Adventist belief, a belief they share with quite a few other Christians, which says that because the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God is done with Israel, and the Church has replaced Her. To those who hold this view, the Church is called things like “spiritual Israel”.
In From Splendor To The Shadow p. 368, EGW says this:
But, thank God, to spiritual Israel have been restored the privileges accorded the people of God at the time of their deliverance from Babylon. In every part of the earth, men and women are responding to the Heaven-sent message, “Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come.
I used to believe that idea because that’s what I was taught, but I can no longer accept it, now that I study the Bible without the Ellen White lenses. There is quite a bit of Scripture to refute that idea.
For instance: the covenant with Abraham was ratified by God Himself and no rebellion or disbelief by people on earth can change it. Paul says this in Galatians 3:16, 17:
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.
In Jeremiah 23:23–26, God promised to not reject Israel and says that the fixed order of day and night would end before He would ever reject them:
And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Have you not observed what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the Lord chose, He has rejected them’? Thus they despise My people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.’”
And again, even more clearly in Jeremiah 31:35–37:
Thus says the Lord,Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the Lord, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.
Here God is clearly saying that day and night, dark and light, or ocean waves would have to end before Israel would “stop being a nation before me forever”. To be a nation “before God” is to be a distinct, separate entity who enjoy the blessings, ultimately, that God promised to Abraham. These blessings have not happened yet so they are still to come. To stop being that entity "before God”, or put it another way, to be rejected by God, would make God a liar.
That one statement about the “continuity” was inserted there to reaffirm the assumed belief in the abomination called Replacement Theology. To deny Israel’s place in God’s favor is the same as cursing them and God as stated in Genesis 12:3 and 27:29, that is a very dangerous thing to do.
The quote from 1 Peter 2:9 is about the Church, not about Israel, as they are not the same entity.
Then, after the text in Deuteronomy 7:6-7, come these two questions: “What prompted God to select the descendants of Abraham as His people? How is this still applicable today?”
God chose the descendants of Abraham for His own reasons and rescued the Children of Israel in honor of His promise to Abraham which He prophesied beforehand.
Then, the first sentence in the very next paragraph reaffirms the idea that the Church has replaced Iarael by connecting the “holy nation” (which was Israel) with the church.
The final question is actually a dangerous one, stating that our salvation depends totally on what Christ has done and not on anything we can do. Does that include keeping the Sabbath or being a vegetarian? It would be interesting to sit in on a Sabbath School lesson and ask that very question.
The passage from Ephesians 2:19-22 says that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but nowhere does it say that the Church replaced the foundation.
“The church also would cease to exist if it did not make Christ the cornerstone of its activities.”
Then why all the focus on healthful living, the Sabbath, and the preoccupation with endtime prophecy? Did the author actually think that statement through? In actual fact that is true, which does not bode well for those who focus on doctrine, not Jesus.
The comments about family and loyalty are very true as they relates to the Church—the Body of Christ, not just one denomination. But then they lost me in the next paragraph in saying that “doctrinal truths” are part of what unite us as well as the new life in Jesus. A belief in common doctrine can unite a group of people, but the new life in Jesus is the only thing that can unite them in true, eternal life.
It is gratifying to see the author make the distinction between the singular and plural use of “you” in the two 1 Corinthians texts. Too often they are misunderstood and combined into the singular, used to threaten that God will destroy you if you don’t take good care of your body.
Such a good start—and then this:
For Paul, God resides within the Christian fellowship; hence, his warning that anyone who attempts to destroy this fellowship will suffer the consequences of the judgment. The unity of believers is at the core of this fellowship and of God’s presence in this temple.
The statement about God’s presence in this temple, in context the fellowship of the believers, sounds quite good on the surface, but it seems to be saying that the indwelling of God is in a corporate sense, not individual. This is further confirmed a couple of paragraphs down where we are warned:
These attitudes and behaviors are real threats to Christian unity and cause the withdrawal of God’s presence from His temple.
That, in fact, directly contradicts what Jesus said in John 14:16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”
That understanding of God’s presence would go along with the lack of belief in a spirit, but it also denies what Jesus said in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
His presence there is because His Spirit is dwelling in each one, and so when we gather together, He is there by His Spirit.
In the next paragraph this is inserted, “Though this text is often used in the sense of taking care of one’s physical body” (which is, of course, what Christians are supposed to do anyway), perhaps to support the “health message” which is itself “another gospel” condemned in Galatians 2.
Once again, the key Adventist doctrines are inserted here and there, probably not even noticed, but giving weight to the special doctrines that all are supposed to just assume, to stipulate to, in attorney language, without thought or proof.
The day is ended with a good paragraph about unity, but getting to it is confusing and contradictory to say the least.
“Read 1 Corinthians 12:12–26. How does this image of one body with many parts apply to your local congregation? How does it apply to a worldwide organization like the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”
Once again there is the concerted effort to say that the Adventist church IS the body of Christ, excluding all others.
But verse 13 says: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
There is only ONE BODY, of which those members of the Adventist church who are saved, are a part.
There are several statement here that need comment:
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has grown by leaps and bounds.” This comment is ignoring the fact that the exit out the back door is is nearly 50%, according to the records kept by the Department of Archives and Statistics of the General Conference.
And this one:
“Our ethnic, racial, cultural, educational, and age differences must not be permitted to divide us in Christ.” One way the cultural differences are being recognized is the way that EGW is not much of an issue in other places of the world. There is little or no regard for her, and in fact, many have not heard of her at all.
Also, when included under the statements about the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the last part of the paragraph, “we are all one in Christ”, carries a different meaning from normal Christian understandings. From the context, the “we” includes those in the Adventist church and not anyone else. This assumptive language is a subtle way to reinforce the belief that only Adventists are the true body of Christ.
The next-to-the-last paragraph starts out well but falls apart in the last half. While our unity and safety as people of God does depend on our proximity to Him—through believing in Jesus—it is not directly related to our obedience.
This is classic Adventist-speak and reflects the belief that although our sins are forgiven up to the moment of “conversion”, after that it is up to us to keep ourselves saved. Adventism offers no assurance of salvation, which is a hopeless position to be in for anyone with any self-awareness. We all know that we don’t do so well in the obedience column, and it leads to either rampant legalism or else to hopelessness as we wonder if we are “safe to save”.
Just thinking about it brings back the hopeless feeling of knowing, wondering, if I am obeying enough to tip the balance beam in the right direction. Thank God that He has assured us in His Word that we are safe in Him!
The last question at the end of the lesson repeats the idea that we have to obey His voice to be saved. Again it comes down to obedience, law-keeping, and Sabbath-keeping for any hope of salvation.
What a sad distortion of salvation by faith.
Question 2 says in part: “God wants His people to be united in the closest bonds of Christian fellowship.” While very true, how can “His people” be united with the rest of the body when the rest of the body is considered to be lost unless they join the Adventist segment of the body? The unity God wants is within the framework of the entire body, not just one small segment that self-righteously excludes the rest of the body. In addition, that unity is only based on the real gospel.
Question 3 says that we must rely on God’s grace and not our own merits, a statement which is absolute truth. How can you then add to that the necessity of keeping the “Law”, or at least selected bits of it? Law-keeping is relying entirely on your own merits even if you say that God gives you the strength to do it. As we know that God’s grace cannot fail, therefore our salvation comes down to what we do or don’t do—which is trusting our own merits.
The lesson ends with quotes from Ellen White demonstrate the confusion she has left her followers. She says salvation is by faith in Christ alone, while she also says that keeping the commandments is necessary for salvation.