Peter, I join you in this example!
I’m not saying she didn’t mean what she said. I’m saying to take one sentence from a whole chapter and interpret it to mean that we must try, more or less in our own strength, to become perfect is to make her say something beyond what she meant. Big difference. She was a practical woman who would be appalled that people think they have to make themselves perfect before Christ can come.
Even if the meaning of this isolated statement from COL is being overblown, I think that you are underestimating the force and number of statements where she calls for just what you claim would appall her. Overcoming “all inherited and cultivated defects” is one that stands out, along with many other similar sounding statements that point to sinless perfection as necessary for approval by God, for passing his judgement, and for admission into heaven…always before Christ comes.
It is a horrible distortion of grace, and a horrible burden placed on so many conscientious people. It is also a horrible misreading of the NT. It places a premium on individual salvation as opposed to the new creation as community, and a view of spiritual life that emphasizes extreme introspection, as opposed to the relationally oriented type of Spirit filled life in community that is continually emphasized by the NT writers. A relational emphasis and outworking that is seen as the appropriate response to God’s saving grace in Jesus.
Thanks for the clarification, Frank, as this is what I was trying to understand from your comments. We do indeed agree that the Bible was “written by inspired people in specific times, places, and cultures, not in an ahistorical or acultural vacuum,” and I have no desire to get around that fact. Rather, I embrace it.
However, my concern remains. Your comments previously and now, specifically on Revelation, still seem to me to go beyond seeing local/original context as an interpretive factor to making local/original context the interpretive factor. Or if not that, at least you seem to be making local/original context so important as to preclude the possibility that a biblical writer could write something that made little or no sense to his immediate audience–yet is not that the basic premise of much of the prophetic genre: that something is coming upon a future audience, and thus the present audience will to some large or small extent “not get” all that is being expressed by the prophet?
Just for the sake of clarifying my position, I find historicism to be essentially sound and not in violation of the basic hermeneutical practice of taking original context under strong consideration. Undoubtedly, some Adventist (and other) historicists have taken their hermeneutic too far at times; they have refused to allow mystery to remain in the text where mystery should have been preserved. But those abuses aside, I believe historicism, properly applied, can provide sound meaning (and yes, guidance) to believers today without violating the original context of the biblical text.
We mostly agree. Again, my contention is not that the perfection called for excludes vs. 43-47, but rather, that it includes vs. 3-42, as well. It would be difficult to argue that loving one’s enemies does not by definition include humility (v. 5), mercy, (v. 7), being a peacemaker, (v. 9), etc., etc., would it not? To therefore make Christ’s understanding of teleios exclusive of previous portions of Matthew 5 seems to me to be unwarranted.
I appreciate the clarification, Frank, thank you. And though we disagree on historicism, I agree with your thoughts, here. The Book of Revelation should not be interpreted by today’s newspaper headlines. USA Today and CNN are actually not hermeneutical tools (contrary to what some in Adventism might say today!). Strong attention to the original setting in which a biblical author wrote can lead to excellent, insightful, and life-changing insights for people today.
Thanks, Frank, I appreciate the conversation.
This is if you see the main purpose of biblical prophecy as being foretelling future events for future generations, rather than forthtelling, in light of the higher cosmic perspective that the prophet brings to bear on his audience’s present situation, and their future destiny. And, I believe that their destiny was more bound up in how they responded to their present issues, in light of the word of the prophet speaking for God, rather than knowing some sort of future scenario and timing of future events.
To me, this is largely what Revelation was. It was apocalyptic, classical prophecy, and circular letter, all rolled up into one, addressed to meet the present crises of its original hearers. To assume, as most historicist readings do, that the only portion that made sense to the seven churches in Asia Minor was the first three chapters is a horrible misreading of the book. It discounts that it was a letter in its entirety, that had meaning and purpose for its original audience. The entire book, bound at the beginning and end by its address to the churches seems to call for this type of reading. I think that historicism by its very nature obscures this, in favor of a historical trajectory of the entire church era, that renders not just small portions, but most of the book as largely incomprehensible to those for whom it was first intended.
Secondly, how does the history of interpretation bear out the results of the historicist approach? Luther thought that Laodicea was the church in his age. William Miller thought that it was his, and his entire prophetic scenario crashed and burned after revisions from 1843 to 1844 proved to be failed dates of Jesus’s return. The subsequent Adventist historicist framework has been totally revised from Uriah Smith’s understandings, to the new historicism of the past fifty years. Vague appellations such as secularism, materialism, and many other isms have replaced Smith’s outdated and seemingly less relevant identification of symbols in the text. IOW, the whole system lends itself to constant revisions that often do not seem to be anchored in the text itself, and with little regard for its own contemporary cultural and historical setting.
Additionally, the threat of Roman domination to drive enactment of a Sunday law, not only in an increasingly secular America, but also in a totally secular Western Europe, and in large portions of the world where Christianity is a decided minority, and with the RCC embroiled in its own world wide scandals, makes far less sense in the 21st c. than it did in the 19th to the early Adventists. Speaking plainly, I just don’t see the Sabbath any longer as the issue in Revelation.
What I do see, is that the pressures faced by the Christian church in its witness for Christ throughout the world are over who is worshipped, not when. Christians regularly face temptation, hardship, and even face the loss of their lives over this issue, not the Sabbath. This was the issue in the 1st c., as well. Thus, Revelation, in its context, can be applied and can speak to all Christians in all places and in all ages concerning these pressures, from political and ultimately cosmic powers. Adventist historicism doesn’t even really leave room for this, as the crisis boils down to worship time as the indicator of true faith, and the true remnant, post 1844.
Finally, Jesus himself, in his own eschatological discourses and parables, continually cautioned about watching for signs that weren’t signs, about continual readiness, because his followers would not know the time of his coming, that it could be sooner or later than we think, etc. In contrast, the entire historicist approach is built on what is pretty much the opposite. It tries to map out history, points to significant dates, supposed end time signs, and timelines (many of which are questionable, sometimes changeable, and subjectively derived) to convince of the nearness of Jesus’s return.
It ends up with a highly sectarian reading of the book, that I just have a harder and harder time buying as John’s, and ultimately Jesus’s message to the seven churches, and to Christians of all ages.
Frank, I agree that often there were dual plus applications. But, other times 1 Pt.1:10-12 is interesting. They did not fully understand the time of the first coming of Messiah and we can not fully understand the timing of His second coming no matter the efforts of some. They end up worshiping the message more than the One it is about.
Some thoughts brought to mind by some of the comments:
It goes without saying that the influence of Ellen White on the Adventist view of the gospel and issues such as LGT has been profound.
Even setting aside her statement in COL about Christ waiting for someone to perfectly reflect His character before He returns, we have other statements that speak of the necessity of achieving some level of holiness before we are saved. While an Adventist I was never a student of her writings but here are a few quotes of hers regarding salvation put forward by a proponent of LGT:
‘When souls are converted, their salvation is not yet accomplished. They then have the race to run. An arduous struggle is before them.’
(Ellen G. White, My Life Today, p. 313)
‘The keeping of these (ten) commandments comprises the whole duty of man, and presents the conditions of eternal life. Now the question is, Will man comply with the requirements? Will he love God supremely and his neighbor as himself? There is no possible way for man to do this in his own strength. The divine power of Christ must be added to the effort of humanity.’
(Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, November 24, 1887)
‘We cannot have the assurance and perfect confiding trust in Christ as our Saviour until we acknowledge Him as our King and are obedient to His commandments.’ (Faith and Works, p.16).
‘His (the believer’s) life, cleansed from vanity and selfishness, is filled with the love of God. His daily obedience to the law of God obtains for him a character that assures him eternal life in the kingdom of God.’ (Sons and Daughters of God, p.42).
Some of these quotes are taken from an article in Advindicate of April 30, 2018 entitled ‘ASSURANCE OF SALVATION AT THE TIME OF THE END’.
Here is the link to the full article:
Thus, it seems clear that in these quotes she feels that obedience to the law is a mandatory requirement for salvation. (I am quite sure someone can supply other statements of hers supporting righteousness by faith. That in itself is a huge problem.)
I think this legalistic view of salvation pushes one toward LGT - to the idea that there will be some who totally obey the law and have achieved some sort of meritorious perfection in God’s eyes. After all, that is the goal of the proponents of LGT and the belief is that the Holy Spirit empowers them to achieve it. (Compare this view to that of Ray S. in comment # 217. I believe Ray understands the gospel and what it means to be ‘in Christ’, the theme of much of Paul’s writing).
An Adventist defender of hers (and LGT advocate) told me that the conditions for salvation are the same in both the old and new covenants - obedience to the law. The only difference is that in the NC the Holy Spirit has been sent to help us obey.
In the little I have read about LGT, I have found that there is little mention of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ (let alone an acknowledgement of their centrality in the Christian faith as most Christians believe). It seems to me that if Christ is mentioned, it is usually very briefly, almost as lip service to assure the reader that the LGT idea is Christian.
Contrast that view to Paul’s statements:
‘I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.’ (Gal 2:21)
‘But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that which we were bound’ and ‘you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ.’(Rom 7:6, 4).
As I see it, the problem is that these folks are trying to perfect the carnal man, the flesh, the outer man, the man they were born, the one born selfish and sinful and alienated from God.
They don’t understand that this is not God’s plan. He knows that the law must be honoured and upheld and He knows we have all sinned and fallen short. But, praise God, His wisdom and love toward us produced another plan in which the law has been satisfied because our old, carnal man was crucified in Christ on the cross, legally declared dead by God and, in God’s eyes replaced by new creation life. This is the gospel.
As I see it, having the goal to tame the flesh of the outer, carnal, sinful, man, (our ‘dead man walking’) already declared by God to be legally dead, in order to try to achieve salvation completely misses the purpose of the gospel. It is doomed to failure because it is not the plan of God.
Ironically, the only way we will ever become sinless is when this divine seed planted within by the gospel, this new creation life comes to maturity and our old self is fully removed. Right now God imputes or counts or reckons us to be fully righteous because someday these things will come to pass and it will in fact be so.
We are the betrothed of Christ (as we await the marriage supper of the Lamb) much as Mary was betrothed of Joseph. In that state she became pregnant with the Holy Seed of God in a physical sense and the gospel says that we have now become pregnant with this divine Seed of new creation life in the spiritual sense. Our task, as was hers, is very important. It is to nurture this Seed of Christ.
Peter says that we have been begotten again with imperishable (immortal) seed through the word of God (the gospel).
Paul likened Himself to a sort of surrogate father to Gentile believers. ‘…for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.’
This new life planted by the gospel, this Spiritual Seed of Christ growing within is our hope of glory (Col 1:27). He will be fully brought forth or born into glory at the return of Christ (Rom 8:19-21).
Paul said that he received the gospel as a revelation from Christ. I believe God will either reveal it directly to each of us or provide someone like Ray S. to testify of it to us. I also believe the LGT folks have not yet had such an awakening.
I also have the impression that the LGTarians have an agenda, to get control of the Church. Like Putin trying to get control of America. The only thing needed is to have one guy at the top leadership to endorse the ideas, and the mission will be accomplished!
They already have their guy, George!
Yes, Dave, in LGT thinking, Christ merely becomes an addendum and a means to an end…our perfect law keeping. But, this is the logical extension of Adventist theology, and that of EGW. The law is the central issue…not Christ himself and the gospel of God. It is truly a distorted mess of the NT and of healthy spiritual life itself.
I don’t know, George, but it would make sense that if sinless perfection is the goal and our failure to achieve it is delaying Christ’s return, then it follows that those not striving and advancing toward this goal are an impediment to what the LGT folks consider the true remnant.
I’m not sure if Christ is even ‘a means to an end’ in this way of thinking.
If keeping the law is the goal, then Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection is only a kind of aside that shows us God loves us.
I really appreciate your comments and those of Ray S. because you both centre what you are saying on Christ and the gospel.
This was so well put. It expresses my thoughts on this subject so well. Thank you.
When I brought up the possibility of the U.S. having clearly entered a stage of decline, during lesson study at my church, I was strongly opposed. I understood the opposition. They were of the mindset that the U.S. was to stay in a position of dominance until the end of time. That is their world view largely informed by 19c thinking. The bible does not say that. Other sources in Adventism do.
And I thought nobody would say what you just said… Right!!..
If I could only be introduced to one, just one person who is not delaying Christ return… Wouldn’t it be great???
Yes…historicism actually ignores history at points, as well as the movements within our contemporary world. China is on the ascendency. The US is not. What if America, over the course of time, becomes a second tiered world power, like Italy, or France? (No offense intended to anyone!)
Additionally, post-Christian thought and influence is becoming more dominant in America, rather than the concern for the Christianizing of the nation. Can we continue to believe that a death decree based on blue laws is going to happen, not only here, but internationally? It keeps becoming less and less likely, even to the point of absurdity. Is this the greatest pressure to faith that Christians face throughout the world?
The Adventist historicist view locks its adherents into one possible prophetic scenario of events prefacing Jesus’s appearing…something that Jesus’s own parables and end time discourses warn against. The possibility, or the eventual occurrence of any other course of events destroys it. Or, it will then get remade with nary a wink.
It has too many problems as a means of interpretation.
Then God is not actually God and instead is a hoax, which demonstrates the obvious weakness and failure of the LGT deception.
In the gospels, Jesus walks on water and Peter asks Jesus to have him walk on the water to Jesus. Jesus tells him “come”. Peter walks on the water, but gets distracted by the wind and waves and needs Jesus to save him. This is the problem with lgt or other forms of sinless perfection, we have to look away from Jesus to see if we are walking on water and as soon as we do we will start to sink. Perfection cannot be attained by focusing on perfection, so there is no point in thinking about it. Always look to Jesus. Sinless perfection is looking to self and will fail.
Completely agree, John.
God has His own timetable and I do not believe any human can advance or delay it. If and when God wants something done He will raise up someone to do it. I think that to believe otherwise does not recognize the sovereignty of God over His creation.
But I believe that way of thinking does not carry much weight in Adventism. To me, Adventism’s theology is very anthropocentric which naturally follows from its understanding of God and man and their relationship. While I was an Adventist I couldn’t perceive that. Only when I independently studied both the Scriptures and other theologies did I gain the perspective to see that. Even though it can be daunting to re-examine one’s suppositions, I encourage everyone to do likewise.
We usually become what we behold.
‘Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…’