Is It Our Fault that Jesus Has Not Come?

In a new video created by the Revival and Reformation Committee of the General Conference for the 100 days of prayer preceding the General Conference session, the point is clearly made that Jesus has not come because the Seventh-day Adventist Church members and leaders have not surrendered fully to the leading of Jesus. Consequently the work has not been completed. This startling message and the truncated history portrayed to make the point concern a number of church workers who are digging into historical writings and asking questions.

Do we truly hold the key to the second coming? Is the whole world waiting for us to get our act together? Did all the wars of the 1900’s occur because of the lack of humility of the little Adventist band in the 1800’s? Drawing on a two page letter published in Testimonies Volume 8, the video begins with a dramatized recreation of Seventh-day Adventist church history placing it in 1901. Prophet Ellen White sits at her desk writing. Next the video dissolves to a scene with George Irwin, then president of the General Conference, talking with Arthur G. Daniells, the administrator who was soon to replace him. The conversation happens just before the scheduled session of the General Conference that year. “It is our fault that the Lord has not come, as leaders we have let the Lord down,” he says. The two men pray a prayer of confession, pleading with God to “forgive us and change us.”

The scene shifts to another conversation between Stephen Haskell and former GC president George Butler as they go into what appears to be the Battle Creek Tabernacle. Inside the church with the brethren assembled for meeting Haskell steps up to the pulpit and reads Psalm 106, and its lament “We have sinned, O God.” Another prayer follows, with Haskell telling the Lord that we cannot continue as we have been.”

Screen capture from the film: Haskell and Butler speak together.

President Irwin addresses the group and says that this 34th session of the General Conference is the most important one ever to be held. He says that it is essential for all to call on God for forgiveness, confess sins to one another, and discover oneness of heart. One by one men in the audience rise to confess their sins and to ask specific brethren for forgiveness. Someone breaks into song and “Bless be the Tie that Binds” echoes as the screen turns to black.

Then we learn that what we have just watched was but a dream of what might have been as Ellen White awakens from vision. Apparently, the General Conference brethren did not humble themselves, and Mrs. White dissolves into tears. That concludes the historical recreation portion of the video.

Current General Conference Vice President Ben Schoun appears next and provides the segue from what might have been a revival in 1901 to the present day. Revival is still needed he suggests, and invites those watching to join in a prayer “to make me willing to be made willing.” He is followed with a similar plea first from GC Vice President Armando Miranda, who chairs the Revival and Reformation Committee, and then by President Ted N. C. Wilson. But it is Mrs. Nancy Wilson who gets the final say. She refers to Ellen White’s vision that Christ was ready to come, but we failed, and pleads with those watching to pray for their leaders at the upcoming session of the General Conference.

Screen capture from the film: Nancy and Ted Wilson.

Jim Ayer, vice president of Adventist World Radio and a member of the Revival and Reformation Committee, says the inspiration for the video came to him during a retreat the committee held in December 2014. Four days after sharing his idea with the committee, he was given a green light and a budget of $47,000. He ran the script past the Biblical Research Institute and the Ellen G. White Estate and incorporated the minor suggestions that were made. Everyone who read the script was very enthusiastic about it, he adds. People volunteered to pay for their own costumes and bought their airline tickets to San Francisco where the movie was filmed. The way everything seemed to come together easily made Ayer feel that God was in the making of the video.

However, students of the 1901 GC session, like Gerry Chudleigh, who have watched it question the interpretation given, specifically by using the words from Ellen White that “no change was made” in 1901. Since Ellen White called for major decentralization at the 1901 session and later praised God when those changes were voted, it is clearly misleading to suggest that this vision was meant to question the experience of everyone at the 1901 session. The words “no change was made” make it obvious that she was referring to a small group of people who did not change, not to the whole church or even all leaders because most did make important changes,” he says. That GC Session is famous because autonomous union conferences were created, departments were created at all levels of church structure, the General Conference Executive Committee was enlarged, with representatives from around the world, and the office of General Conference president was abolished and replaced with a chairman of the GC committee. (The presidency was restored in 1903.)

Author and historian Gil Valentine notes that the video gives the impression that the dream on which the drama is based, took place at the time of the 1901 conference. But in actuality it is related in a letter written almost twenty months later and after two calamitous fires in Battle Creek. Valentine is the author of “The Prophet and the Presidents,” a book which goes into this period in depth. He points to the explanation for the vision that was given by Ellen White’s grandson, Arthur White, in his six volume biography of his grandmother. The vision concerned the problems surrounding Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his continuing struggle to keep the medical work separate from the church’s work.

Screen capture from the film: Ellen White receives a vision.

“To take this 1903 dream and consider that it applies to the whole church seems to be a serious misunderstanding and a misuse of it. It seems to constitute an attempt to reshape the past to support a particular theology of explaining the long delay in the Advent. The dream actually concerned a specific situation that emerged later in 1902 and 1903, and it was a lament about 1901 in the light of those specific problems,” Valentine says.

The records of the 1901 conference show that at the end of the meetings Ellen White was actually delighted and hugely relieved by the outcomes and achievements of the historic session. She felt that the changes voted there to the structure of the church organization had exceeded expectations beyond measure.

In his biography of his grandmother, Arthur White quotes her as saying in her concluding speech, “I was never more astonished in my life than at the turn things have taken at this meeting. This is not our work. God has brought it about. Instruction regarding this was presented to me, but until the sum was worked out at this meeting, I could not comprehend this instruction. God’s angels have been walking up and down in this congregation. I want every one of you to remember this, and I want you to remember also that God has said that He will heal the wounds of His people” ("Ellen G. White: A Biography," Volume 5, page 110.2).

This enthusiastic account by Mrs. White sees God as having guided the conference with angels walking its aisles. What happened to change her mind twenty months later? Had God led and then somehow not led?

Valentine explains that the background of the 1903 vision is an accumulation of intervening developments that changed Ellen White’s perspective. By 1903 the Kellogg dissension problem had not been solved – it had grown worse. At the autumn council of 1902 there had been an attempted coup d’etat when Kellogg and his colleagues tried to unseat Arthur Daniells (elected in 1901) from the presidency midway through his term.

Then as the 1903 GC session approached after lengthy correspondence with Daniells and others it became clear to Ellen White that the issues of re-organization would have to be worked through again in order to arrive at a lasting workable arrangement for the relationship of the GC to the Sanitarium and Dr. Kellogg’s work. It is really Kellogg that she is having trouble with. That is why the January 3, 1903 letter in which the vision is recorded is addressed to the Battle Creek Church.

During the 1903 General Conference session she took the opportunity to relate the dream to the delegates as an appeal to resolve the disagreements with Kellogg and his supporters. In response, delegates engaged in two lengthy earnest seasons of prayer, confession and repentance. In that sense the dream very effectively achieved its immediate purpose. A new organizational constitution was subsequently voted at the 1903 session. That problem was resolved. But the specific larger problem of Kellogg and his desire for the Battle Creek sanitarium to be a non-denominational institution completely separate from the church could not be resolved so easily.

Valentine suggests the video’s very focused retelling of Ellen White’s dream takes it out of context. He feels that applying the dream to the whole church in 2015 “requires a leap and seems a serious misrepresentation of the purpose of the testimony. To use it as a basis for blaming church members for the delay in the return of Jesus seems a sad and mordant misuse of it,” he says.

What producer Ayer wanted to get across in the video was the need to humble ourselves before the Lord. “Surrendering to God and allowing God to drive (our lives) is what this movie is all about. What might have been, can be,” he says. And the feedback that he has received from people who have seen the beta test version of the video that was shown at churches in Georgia, Michigan, California, and West Virginia pick up on that. One pastor told him that a church member came to him after seeing the movie with a concern about the pastor and the two of them were able to work through things. A healing of relationship occurred. Others who have seen the video question the implied theology of saying that it is our fault that Jesus has not come. Do we truly hold the key to the second coming?

Screen capture from the film.

In the 1986 book “Pilgrimage of Hope,” Roy Branson laid out three responses to the delay in Christ’s second coming that various Adventists have proffered over the years. The first is the expansionist view that Christ’s return is dependent on the gospel going to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. The second is the moralist view that God is waiting until he has a people whose faith makes them “perfectly safe to save.” Both of these approaches are similar to the social gospel which tries to create a perfect society, Branson suggests. It confuses good works with redemption. “The problem with the ecclesiastical gospel (which includes the expansionist and moralist views) is not that the church thinks it should witness to what Christ has done or that the church believes that God works ever more fully in the lives of members—it is that the church thinks that its good works achieve the salvation of the world. Too often the church regards itself as the hinge of history. It is not. The center of history is the cross and resurrection of Christ.”

The third response to Christ’s delay is a cosmic understanding of the second coming. In this view, “when the Lord will return and exactly what will bring His return is beyond our finite human knowledge. Like the problem of evil ‘this problem of delay’ is a mystery to be acknowledged.”

Today in many theological circles the conversation about eschatology has changed somewhat from what it was in the time of William Miller when the focus was on predicting precisely when the Lord would return. As Jesus scholar William Johnsson put it in his speech at the recent Weniger Awards ceremony at Loma Linda University, the important thing is not when the Second Coming will occur but who it is that will come.

In his reflection about the Second Coming and the video, Branson suggests that, “the most important question is whether something so enormous as hope can rest on something so fragile as one group of human beings. Hope depends on God.”

And that is something upon which both the producers and the critics of the movie can probably agree.

The movie is scheduled to be shown during the General Conference Week of Prayer next week, according to Ayer.

WATCH: "What Might Have Been Can Be"

Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6697
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Thank you, Bonnie Dwyer, for this thorough and balanced report on the “What Might Have Been” film. It is important that when we tell our history, we tell it as honestly as possible. Thanks to Gil Valentine for the historical perspectives.

I’m watching the video now with great interest.

-MM

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It could be confused with LGT redux?

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The idea that the second coming of Christ is a function of Adventist character development is–and has always been–preposterous. And if you don’t find it preposterous, try telling it to your non-SdA Christian friends. Maybe the conversation would go like this:

Baptist friend: I can’t understand why God is still waiting. For years, we’ve been dreaming about the rapture and the second coming.

Adventist: Well, I happen to know the answer; it’s because we Adventists are not as sanctified as we should be.

Baptist friend: “What do you people have to do with this?”

Adventist: “Well, you see, in 1844 God rejected every Christian denomination because they rejected William Miller’s false prophecy. God hated that, called you people Babylon and Apostate Protestants. The Adventist church was established to replace all of you people; it’s the only organized denomination on the face of the earth that God approves of and Jesus will not return to earth before we Adventists have reached the standard of sanctification that he expects of us.”

You can’t call anything “truth” that is so ludicrous that you would be ashamed of sharing it with your neighbors.

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Aage,

You really said it all. It doesn’t get any more outlandish than that.

I’ve told some Christians about some of the SDA beliefs, not this particular idea, and they look at me like I’m from another planet.

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this video is a real tear jerker…i just wish i could attend the san antonio general conference…
too bad i need to work for a living :disappointed:

This is the height of arrogance.

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Thanks Bonnie for such an informative article explaining interesting details about the video. Very elucidative indeed!

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The campaign for re-election in San Antonio has moved to the adventist public sphere,.

The idea that the consummation of world history hinges on a little band of “faithful” adventists is a form of totalitarian, historical pantheism that is indeed sectarian, and cultic. To claim for onseself the lead role in the universal-sacred-cosmic play, and its exclusive historical fullfillment, is pure hubris and idolatry. It is a blatant repetition of the first sin in the garden. To me, this is the ugly face of the adventist version of historicism.

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Oh desperate people. Is this video a diversion to something else that is going on. Or is it simply an expression of the underlying cultic orientation. The longer earth continues, the more desperate the church appears in trying to make itself relevant.

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I can’t explain why the historical context of the events reviewed in this video has been misrepresented. Did they do this mischieviously? This would really surprise me! Could they have made the same point without misreading history? Yes!

However this be, I believe two points may ring true. First, our attitudes and relationships toward each other can certainly impact on the progress or otherwise of our mission to proclaim the gospel in it’s end time context.

Secondly, does God use other Christians to spead the gospel and an understanding of salvation with the world? Most surely! Did many Christian organizations turn from embracing the gospel in it’s glorious, end time context just before 1844? Have other Christian organizations rejected this since? Are we Adventists able to reject this message in the same way? Yes, yes, yes!

God is using Adventist people as his instruments to share this message, a message that the whole world will hear before he comes. If we neglect for any reason to do this, from the human perspective, our Heavenly Father will wait until this happens. God has not selected Adventists for this end-time mission because of something special in me or in you. We hold the message in very earthen vessels. But God is searching for our response!!

It is also true that God will come at His appointed time. God is sovereign. This truth must be held in tension with the above. Our God is able to weave these two threads of His plan together. What God has joined together, I cannot separate!!

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Thank you Bonnie, for this excellent editorial.

I have to admit that after reading half-way through the first paragraph, I had to scroll to the bottom and make sure this piece hadn’t been posted by Sevvy - the actions of the church being reported, seemed just crazy enough to perhaps be parody. Alas no - this video is real, as is the 100 days of prayer preceding the General Conference session.

Not that 100 days of prayer is ever bad. Just that I wonder why 100 days of prayer for the GC session when we haven’t had 100 days of prayer for an evangelistic campaign, 100 days of prayer for war-torn countries, 100 days of prayer for a cure for disease, etc. It seems like a special kind of self-aggrandizement on the part of the church leaders, that a GC session could be SO important in the scheme of earth’s history that it warrants 100 days of prayer.

And as others have suggested, the video does look like a thinly veiled attempt on the part of Ted Wilson to be re-elected as president. Particularly in light of the the manner in which the story is not even true to the history it purports to represent.

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What exactly is that message? Maybe we’re giving the wrong message…

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Yes. That’s the tragedy. While there outside is real living and its needs, some are playing dramas, cheap dramas.
And once again no one will humble himself. What is the criterion for someone’s humility? Words, gestures, forms?

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Yes, it’s very possible that Adventists will give the wrong message! When I read this blog, for example, and the comments, I see how easy it is to have the wrong message!

The message that Adventists are to give is that Jesus Christ through his ministry of compassion, death and resurrection re-established the kingdom of God in this world and defeated the Usurper. As we follow our loving Saviour and seek to extend that ministry of compassion, justice and mercy to our needy world we participate in His kingdom building work. One day soon, our Saviour will completely restore the kingdom in our world. People are invited into His kingdom world, even today.

This kingdom world focuses not on the politics of any earthly sanctuary in an earthly Jerusalem. Rather, it focuses on our God in His heavenly Temple-dwelling place. Neither does it focus on the politics of the beast, but on the pleasures of the Lamb and His people who follow Him, wherever He goes.

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self serving propaganda The Church has never embraced the Gospel how can it send it into all the world. The right arm has become a cash cow. To create an agenda on field trips and Grave consequences! and now tear jerking. The love of the church beyond current policy is the only glue to possible fellowship. moreover when the world is at the stage of the days of Noah then The Lord will return. I see that day as soon. There will be people saved in this generation that never heard of Dan 8:14. Tom Z

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The fact that the coming of Jesus has been delayed because of the spiritual unreadiness of God’s people is the heart and core of Last Generation Theology, which of course is based—not merely on a few Ellen White statements—but on the Bible itself.

The prophet Isaiah wrote of how “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 40:5). Elsewhere in the Bible the glory of God is equated with His character (Ex. 33:18; 34:6-7; Rom. 3:23). Isaiah goes on to say, in another passage, that God’s glory will appear in the experience of His saints:

“Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee” (Isa. 60:1-2).

The apostle Paul echoes this promise in the following passage:

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:18-19).

“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:23).

The apostle Peter elaborates on this point further in the following verses:

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
"Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
"Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? . . .
“Wherefore, brethren, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (II Peter 3:10-12,14).

The word “hasting,” by the way, in numerous modern translations, is translated either “hastening” or into other words clearly denoting the role of God’s people in causing the second coming to happen sooner (see the RSV,NIV,TEV, NLT,NEB, NASB, etc.)

It is on the basis of the above passage that Ellen White offers her famed declaration:

“Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own” (COL 69).

It is truly a thing of splendor to witness the worldwide leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church acknowledging at the highest level that the return of Jesus has in fact been delayed because God’s end-time covenant community has failed—thus far—to achieve through divine grace the final demonstration for which earth and heaven wait.

So far as the historical objections proffered in this piece are concerned, I will take the word of the Ellen White Estate and current denominational leadership any day over the word of historians whose track record is quite dismal in recounting denominational history and in siding with the church’s critics, even when hard evidence points in the opposite direction.

In the end, arguing about the details and chronology of the events in question is less important than recognizing the Bible/Spirit of Prophecy teaching that the delay of Christ’s return is very much the responsibility of His people, and that the promise of complete Christlikeness of character will indeed be fulfilled in the final experience of the last of the seven churches of Revelation:

“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

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That’s good, Peter…

Are you suggesting the video is electoral propaganda?

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Are you saying that this video should be copied by the billions and distributed to every creature on earth so that Jesus can come again?