Have you enjoyed studying this series of lessons on the sanctuary? The great news in this series is righteousness by faith! A judgment is going on in heaven in which Jesus, our High Priest, is presenting Himself as the sacrifice for those who accept Him by faith. What does this mean for daily living? Our last lesson in this series closes with a look at the relationship between grace, works and confidence in our salvation. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and learn more!
Exhortations from the Sanctuary
Commentary for the December 28, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:33-35, NIV
Our lessons this quarter have focused on the book of Hebrews. This book is foundational to the idea of a heavenly sanctuary, a concept held in common by those within the Seventh-day Adventist communion. While not every Adventist is fully invested in this idea, it is enshrined in number four of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the denomination. To be sure, it does not advance the detail that the Epistle to the Hebrews does. However, it places Jesus in the sanctuary in heaven, a sanctuary deemed to be identical to the one the Jews had here on Earth. Why is this an important idea for Adventism?
On October 22, 1844, Christ was supposed to return in the clouds according to William Miller’s understanding of the cleansing of the sanctuary.[i] This was an appropriate understanding as on the annual Day of Atonement in the Mosaic Law, the high priest stepped out of the Most Holy Place of the Sanctuary, cleansing it by placing the sins of the altar on a goat to be taken and left in the wilderness. However, Christ did not return on that date, a date which had been calculated from the relevant passage in Daniel.[ii] Either the calculation was wrong or the understanding of what cleansing the sanctuary meant had to be incorrect.
The Millerites, struggling to understand The Great Disappointment, as the failed prophetic date came to be known, did not have to struggle long. The very next day, a Methodist, Hiram Edson, claimed to have a vision that the sanctuary was not the Earth, but a heavenly one, and that Christ, rather than cleansing the Earth, went from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place to begin the cleansing ceremony.[iii] Rather than continuing to research this topic, the group of believers that would coalesce into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863 found in Hiram Edson’s vision an explanation that they could move forward with as a denomination, a doctrine that continues to the present day. Due to her status as church prophet, Ellen White’s endorsement of this idea pretty much put the lid on any further discussion of alternative explanations, so much so that anyone who might later challenge it faced the possibility of literally being “kicked to the curb” by the denomination. A prima facie example of this might be the treatment of Desmond Ford at Glacier View Ranch, Colorado.[iv]
Doctor Ford (he currently holds two doctorates), at the time an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister, felt that there was merit in exploring that the calculations might be in error as opposed to simply assuming that the cleansing of the sanctuary was erroneously understood. However, as several of those attending the Glacier View conference perhaps rightly understood, such a possibility would tumble the entire edifice of Adventism to the ground. For over a century, the church had structured its systematic theology on the assumption that the cleansing had been misunderstood by William Miller, and not that his calculations were in error. The former became the foundation of the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment, a belief held solely by Seventh-day Adventists that Jesus in 1844 began the final judgment of all of mankind, beginning with the dead and progressing eventually to the living.
In 1889, Ellen White identified the doctrine regarding the heavenly sanctuary as being an unmovable pillar of Adventism.[v] Although not officially stated, Ellen White’s infallibility is also an unmovable pillar of Adventism. This is commonly understood even though she clearly stated in private correspondence that today is public that she was not infallible.[vi] When we consider these things the entire “house of cards” seems very tenuous. If we admit the fallibility of Ellen White, then it becomes possible to admit that the Investigative Judgment/Sanctuary Cleansing doctrine might be worth a second look. However, if that turns out to be in error, a distinctive defining characteristic that sets Seventh-day Adventism apart from other denominations crumbles and we must search for a clearer understanding of what the time prophecy of Daniel is all about.
Doctor Ford asks if perhaps the seventy weeks of Daniel[vii] has only symbolic significance similar to Jesus telling Peter to forgive until you have done it “seventy times seven.”[viii] In this way, the seventy weeks might appear to be simply a way of stating “until the purpose is fulfilled” instead of a number meant to be taken literally. Some felt that honestly examining these things would be profitable toward greater understanding of what went wrong in 1844. However, Doctor Ford’s temerity in even raising the question resulted in purges of entire churches in the 1980s, let alone his own defrocking.
In some ways, the purging continues to this day as conservative Adventists, emboldened by Glacier View and its results, continue to rail against those who still feel that the truth has nothing to fear from open investigation. If they could, they would push all those who question our doctrines from church fellowship as disloyal and even traitorous. They would do this even in spite of what Ellen White said against such attitudes. She wrote, “The sin that leads to the most unhappy results is the cold, critical, unforgiving spirit that characterizes Pharisaism. When the religious experience is devoid of love, Jesus is not there; the sunshine of His presence is not there. No busy activity or Christless zeal can supply the lack. There may be a wonderful keenness of perception to discover the defects of others; but to everyone who indulges this spirit, Jesus says, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” He who is guilty of wrong is the first to suspect wrong. By condemning another he is trying to conceal or excuse the evil of his own heart. It was through sin that men gained the knowledge of evil; no sooner had the first pair sinned than they began to accuse each other; and this is what human nature will inevitably do when uncontrolled by the grace of Christ.”
“When men indulge this accusing spirit, they are not satisfied with pointing out what they suppose to be a defect in their brother. If milder means fail of making him do what they think ought to be done, they will resort to compulsion. Just as far as lies in their power they will force men to comply with their ideas of what is right. This is what the Jews did in the days of Christ and what the church has done ever since whenever she has lost the grace of Christ.”[ix]
Perhaps the crux of the controversy over the Sanctuary Doctrine is that we tend to view Ellen White as infallible when it serves our purposes to do so, but when she writes something that goes against the grain that we support, our answer is often “Yes, but…” At Walla Walla University, I once had the opportunity to watch two college professors in debate, each with their stack of 3x5 cards containing relevant Ellen White quotes to support their viewpoints. In the end, I came away very much believing that proof texting Ellen White can become very much like proof texting the Bible. It can give the prophetess a wax nose to be twisted in whichever direction one chooses. We see that doing this with the Bible has resulted in many denominations that dialogue little with one another. Perhaps the same is taking place within Adventism over the inspired writings unique to the denomination. Certainly there are rifts and enough rancor to keep those rifts growing.
Perhaps the current quarterly was a “shot across the bow” from one side of the issue directed at those who want more open discussion of the subject. If so, the entire history of the Christian church is more than ample evidence that suppression of dissenting viewpoints does not make them disappear. Even when the church had the power of the state behind it as in the horrendous violence of the massacre of Saint Bartholomew in France in 1572, it could not eliminate theological dissent.[x] Why does the church think it can silence it, today?
Sadly, the whole controversy is perhaps as though it were fought amongst the stars in heaven as opposed to here on Earth anyway. Having taught Sabbath School classes for several decades, I know from experience that while church members may say I believe in the Investigative Judgment and the Sanctuary Doctrine, not one in ten, if asked, could give an adequate explanation of what they mean, in spite of several quarterlies dedicated to those topics over those same decades. As a theologian, the subject involves my area of expertise and training, but I doubt that it, or even theology, is on the front burner for much of the membership.
[i] “William Miller (preacher),” www.wikipedia.org
[ii] Daniel 8:14
[iii] “Hiram Edson,” www.wikipedia.org
[iv] “Sanctuary Review Committee,” www.wikipedia.org
[v] “Counsels to Writers and Editors,” Ellen White, pgs. 30-31
[vi] “Letter 25,” Ellen White to her husband James
[vii] Daniel 9:24-27
[viii] Matthew 18:21-22
[ix] “Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings,” Ellen White, pg. 126
[x] “St. Bartholomew's Day massacre,” www.wikipedia.org
"EXHORTATIONS FROM THE SANCTUARY"
December 28, 2013
Texts: Hebrews 10:19-25; Hebrews 4:16; Exodus 24:8; James 4:7, 8; John 13:34; Hebrews 10:24, 25
This week it was difficult to pick up a newspaper, listen to the radio, or log onto the Internet without seeing the headlines 2013 Year in Review. One such media outlet, CNN World, posted "2013: The Year in Pictures" on their website. They have also selected what they consider to be notable events that have occurred in the United States as well as throughout the world.
Of the selected events that follow, which ones have impacted your thinking the most: the same-sex marriage debate; the fiscal cliff; the second term election of President Barack Obama; the bombing at the Boston Marathon; the rescue of three women and a six-year-old girl held captive in Ohio; the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma that killed 25 people; the jury's decision to not charge George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin; the extreme weather sparking wildfires and flooding; the shooting inside the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington D.C. that killed 13 people, including the shooter; the federal government shutdown; or the Affordable Care Act?
Perhaps these International events have impacted your thinking more: the birth of Prince George to the Royal family; the 266th pope to be elected and named Francis; nuclear tests in North Korea; the military coup in Egypt; Russia providing asylum for Edward Snowden; or civil war and chemical weapons in Syria, to name a few.
If you have a Facebook account, your computer can make a collage that will enable you to take a look back at what allegedly are the notable things you posted during the year 2013. Is there any correlation between your year in review and what CNN World highlights?
We have also come to the end of four quarters of Bible Study lessons. In what we might call the 2013 Adult Bible Study Guide Year in Review, we have studied the origins of our planet; looked into the lives of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Zechariah, and Malachi; we've reviewed the need for revival in our spiritual life; and conclude this week with our last lesson of the Sanctuary series.
Consider for a moment this question: How have the Bible lessons I've studied each week during this year made a difference in my life and helped me cope with the events in my corner of the world?
As we come to the end of a year and conclude our lessons on the Sanctuary, it seems fitting to pay particular attention to the exhortations in the final lesson of 2013: "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings...Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful...Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds...all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:19-25).
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