Adventism and the Seven Churches

Posted Sep 07, 2012 by Adrian Ebens in Adventist Church Hits: 1,922

The principle of repeating history is clearly laid out in the Bible. The experience of Abraham going down into Egypt and coming out was repeated by Israel centuries later. (Also see article comparison of Adventistism to Abraham) The experience of Israel itself provides an example of God’s people in the last days. Note what Ellen White says

Satan's snares are laid for us as verily as they were laid for the children of Israel just prior to their entrance into the land of Canaan. We are repeating the history of that people. 5T 160

Again, another important statement:

"That which hath been is now: and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past." In mercy God repeats his past dealings. He has given us a record of his dealings in the past. This we need to study carefully; for history is repeating itself. We are more accountable than were those whose experience is recorded in the Old Testament; for their mistakes, and the results of those mistakes, have been chronicled for our benefit. RH April 20 1897

One of the eras of history that has interested me is the period of the Seven Churches. The material given to us in Rev 2 and 3 outlines the history of the church in a general sense but more specifically in an organisational sense. I say this because of the seven stars in the hands of Christ which are the leaders of the seven churches (Rev 1:20). Leaders are directly related to organisation.

As a point of interest, the history given in Revelation 12 is the story of how the truth of the Bible survived amongst God’s people. It went into obscurity and was hidden for 1260 years by the Celtic church, the Waldensians and others. The history of Rev 2 and 3 is broader because of its specific address to church leadership and their successes and failures in organisation. The difference between Rev 2,3 and Rev 12 is vital for many reasons, but that issue goes beyond the scope of this article. Read more about this here.

What has been of interest to me is how the history of the seven churches can be used to indicate the typical development of a church in any era. In the following table I wish to outline the organisational principles I see in these Seven Churches.

Church (AD)

Meaning

Organisational Principle

Experience

Ephesus
(31-100)

Desirable

Establish Foundation

Lost first love.
Rev 2:4

Smyrna
(100-313)

Sweet smelling when crushed

Advance amid persecution

You are Rich.
Rev 2:9

Pergamos
(313-538)

Exalted by marriage

Advance by compromise

Appearance of Baalim and Nicolatians
(Rev 2:14,15)

Thyatira
(538-1517)

To wear away

Expand by Institutional Dominance

Tolerates Jezebel
(Rev 2:20)

Sardis
(1517-1798)

Things remaining

Fractured by spirit of resistance and independence

A name that lives but is dead. A few not defiled.
(Rev 3:1,4)

Philadelphia (1798-1844)

Brotherly Love

Distilled by Love of the Truth

Not denied my name, hast a little strength. Prepared for Most Holy Place experience. 
(Rev 3:7,8)

Laodicea (1844-2nd Advent)

Judging the people

Separated by Judgment; Wise and foolish virgins.

Say you are rich but are poor blind and naked. Repent!

If we follow this sequence we see God’s church is established and then persecuted. The persecution leads to compromise which then allows the enemy into the church and to assert its dominance. The spirit of dominance combined with a spirit of rebellion leads to a resistance movement that then fractures the church. From this process a small group are distilled and cling to the truth while the rest fuelled by either a spirit of dominance or independence make up the foolish virgins in the judgment for they have not the oil of Christ which is a loving and gentle spirit.

I would like to suggest that this experience is taking place within the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and it has many lessons for us.

 

Organisational Principle

Experience

Adventism

Establish Foundation

Lost first love. Rev 2:4

1840-1863. First love experience 1840-1844, Laid doctrinal platform 1847-1848. Lost first love. Example in 1856 failure of Andrews and Loughborough in Waukon Iowa.

Advance amid persecution

You are Rich. Rev 2:9

1863-1895. Rich by 1888 message. Attacked by other churches, Sunday laws, false claims of denying divinity of Christ.

Advance by compromise

Appearance of Baalim and Nicolatians (Rev 2:14,15)

1895-1931. Kingly power, Kellogg, Ballenger, 1919 Bible Conference. Begin ministerial association. Connection with fundamental protestants. Trinity introduced.

Expand by Institutional Dominance

Tolerates Jezebel (Rev 2:20)

1931-1980. Introduction of Trinity, Church Manual and Church policies. QOD, expansion of institutions.

Fractured by spirit of resistance and independence

A name that lives but is dead. A few not defiled. (Rev 3:1,4)

1981 – Present. Rise of independent movements. War over Sanctuary, RBF, Victory over sin, Ellen White, Woman’s ordination, Trinity to name a few.

Distilled by Love of the Truth

Not denied my name, hast a little strength (Rev 3:8)

Just ahead. Cling to name of Son of God and maintain gentle Spirit of Christ. Regain access to Most Holy Place experience. A door opens and shuts.

Separated by Judgment; Wise and foolish virgins.

Say you are rich but are poor blind and naked. Repent! (Rev 3:17,19)

Closing scenes. Spirit of Philadelphians engage work of repentance and receive the seal while the rest are spued out  or cut down by slaughter weapons. Ezek 9. Rev 3:18,19

The above chart is highly summarised and there are many other points that could be added, but I think the sequence is established and therefore the admonition can be given.


Our Church is currently in the experience of Sardis. This is a reaction to the institutional dominance of the church and its toleration of Jezebel. Sadly the spirit of Jezebel also fuels the spirit of independence and resistance of Conservative Adventists while also igniting the social justice movement of woman’s ordination and human rights. The same spirit grew both movements within the church. The Non-Trinitarian movement has largely been groomed in this spirit and also contributes to further fracturing, division and a spirit of resistance. 

If we look at the events at the close of Sardis, we see that political forces end the visible leadership of Thyatira in 1798. This drove God's people back to Daniel and Revelation to find a prophetic context for the giving of the Three Angel’s Messages. Will political forces bring an end to the Adventist Church in its current form? Will it drive people back to the prophetic books to prepare them for a repeat of the Third Angel’s Message strengthened by the fourth angel? This angel which will rally those who follow Jesus into the Most Holy Place and have not denied the name of the Son of God and kept His sweet spirit. There are lessons for us from the close of the Sardis period.

The church faces challenges from both the conservative spirit of independence and the liberal spirit of social justice. These forces will completely facture the church and only those who have searched the Scriptures thoroughly and held the foundations given in the beginning and find the open door to the Most Holy Place will hear the gathering call of the 4th angel. 

Those who are motivated and driven in response to the churches failures of 1895-1980 will act their part in accelerating the fracturing of the church and will have a name that they live and yet are dead. A few names that have not defiled their garments with such a spirit will receive the spirit of the 4th angel and will tell the world of the lovely Jesus with a spirit of love, peace and joy coming from the Most Holy Place.

I have felt the spirit of Sardis in my own soul as I consider the situation of our church. I need to pray daily for grace not to be drawn into that mode of thinking. I want to set my affections on things above through the open door and maintain my joy in the face of great sorrow in and around the church.

Rev 3:22  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.