Visible threats to God’s remnant church and to the purposes of Jesus
God’s love is unchanging but how quickly the world is changing. The time in which we live has been characterized as liquid modernity, a period in which change is so rapid that social institutions have no time to solidify. These changes are impacting the mission of the church. Evil is a science and Satan is doing his utmost to practice his science upon your mind. Perhaps you recall this warning:
‘The time of trouble, such as never was,’ is soon to open upon us; and we shall need an experience which we do not now possess and which many are to indolent to obtain. It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality; but this is not true of the crisis before us. The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal.(The Great Controversy, p. 622)
There are many threats to God’s remnant church and the purposes of Jesus. Many bits are invisible or at least not clearly and fully understandable. We have many questions about various events of the past 24 months and only incomplete answers. But God has a plan. His plan is for all of us to triumph through Jesus, even in these unprecedented times. We are to be successful missionaries for Jesus in our homes and before the world. His plan for His church is for it to press together in spite of the remarkable forces which would tear us apart.
I want to speak to you about where we were as a people, where we are, and where we are going.
This message forms the third part of a trilogy of messages. I hope you will find time to listen to and think on all three. The first is "A Nation of Cowards," which looks at courage and cowardice, revisits the question of selfishness, and walks through four key paragraphs outlining end-time developments offered in the book The Great Controversy.
The second is Still Blind After All These Years, which looks especially at other-love, self-love, and oppression. We also look there at remarkable predictions made by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in the 1940s of what the future would—and largely has—become, seventy years later.
But now The Arrow that Flies by Day. I want to look with you at present threats, threats we can see in the open.
Let’s open our Bibles to Genesis 11:1-9. The whole earth had one language and one speech. But because of the Fall and the entrance of sin men united do what whatever they willed in open rebellion to God. But God intervened and confused their languages there. They left off from building the tower not because they no longer wanted to build it but because they were unable to build in their separated groups.
What do we find at the terminal end of the Bible? In Revelation 17 and 18 the kings of the earth, the merchants, the governments, the religious authorities, the wealthy, are united in Babel again, but no more converted than before. In spite of divine interventions they have managed to build their tower. Revelation 18:7 marks the apparent triumph of Babylon:
In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.
There is the description. She has glorified herself. She has lived luxuriously. She says in her heart I am queen, I have it all, I have all control, I will see no sorrow. I have triumphed over all! But John goes on to tell how her judgment comes suddenly, finally, and completely. Friend, sometime right before the end, Babylon—all who constitute her—will seem to triumph. They will think they have attained their goals. The world seems in their grip. Godlessness has triumphed.
But it hasn’t; it appears that it has. Think what this must mean; think what the state of the world at that time will be.
Where We Were
Although this is a bit strange, it is difficult not to look back with some appreciation to when the divisions in the church seemed more mundane. There were different views on the nature of Christ, on women’s ordination, on music and worship. Although these disagreements were strong, there was still a sense of possibility. The church would sort these problems out and go straight on. We had no sense of doom and impending dissolution. We had religious liberty; the state guaranteed it. Yes, in some very distant future it would all collapse and the mark of the beast would be imposed and all that, but we would make it through. In some measure we were unaware how deep the loud gnawing and chewing of ideological termites had gone.
But here is an important foundation for what is coming. Eric Foley, from Voice of the Martyrs, writes, “You can be baptized and you can believe, but you will not be a member of the Underground Church unless you know how to suffer.”(Eric Foley, Preparing for the Underground Church, p. 93) Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship writes, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. . . In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and His call are necessarily our death as well as our life. . . The call of Christ, his baptism, sets the Christian in the middle of the daily arena against sin and the devil.”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 99)
In Live Not by Lies, Rod Dreher warns, “The old totalitarianism conquered societies through fear of pain; the new one will conquer primarily through manipulating people’s love of pleasure and fear of discomfort.”(p. 185) Without our clearly noticing it the world around us has become more hedonist. Not only our young but many of us want a Christianity without suffering. This kind of Christianity will soon burn away like a morning mist and leave nothing behind. While we were busily running through our lives while the world changed under our feet.
Where We Are
Look where we are today. There’s no narrative held in common. As members in the same church we gather-in our news and views of the day from a multitude of mutually conflicting sources. We all have the Bible, and purportedly it is our authority. But we ourselves seem to be as fractured as the culture.
We need to be like the “sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”(1 Chronicles 12:32)
Democracies thrived on shared truths but communist states operate under shared and imposed lies. Almost exactly thirty years ago, in August 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. But our west today is itself changed. The dominant regime in the US enforces lies by a cancel culture. If you disagree out loud with the approved narrative, you will be destroyed socially, financially, and professionally. Truth is casualty. We are lied to regularly and openly by the state. James Clapper was testifying before congress as the director of the NSA. Senator Wyden asked, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper responded, "No, sir." Wyden asked, "It does not?" Clapper added, "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly." When Edward Snowden was asked during a January 26, 2014, television interview what was the decisive moment that caused him to whistle-blow, he replied: "Seeing the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress. . . . Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back."
Have you heard to the Trusted News Initiative? TNI is a consortium of mega-news and tech companies. Their mission is to target individuals and groups for censorship. Major funding comes from the BBC, participating corporations include media giants like Associated Press, Canadian Broadcast Corporation, Reuters, the European Broadcasting Union, Agencie Francais Presse, Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, the LA Times and more. Silicon Valley partners include Google/YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and so on. TNI decided they would promote only vaccine use, and would suppress stories about early treatment options and non-vaccine treatments. TNI is all about censoring the internet and the media. So whatever the facts ultimately and actually are about covid, the gatekeepers of the societal narrative predetermined they would advance one and only one line of approach and suppress all others. Even MDs are having their social media accounts involuntarily edited, censored, and deleted.
I’m not going to even start on the questions about how we may have been lied to about Afghanistan, the 2020 presidential election, George Floyd, and so on. There is significant evidence in these cases and more that big tech, big pharma, government, the media and others have colluded to tell a unified narrative which may not accurately reflect the facts.
My point is not to venture into those specific topics. I want us to understand that things have changed. To make good decisions we need trustworthy sources of data. In some measure, we need an accurate, shared narrative. But our world has crossed that line. It is broken; there is no shared narrative.
But it gets worse. Our world today is post-community. People are more lonely than ever before and there is very little local community. We have our own fragmented individual networks but we are more alone than ever before. Nor is there any consolidation of networks in sight, and that means there is no possibility that any time soon we are going to see a consolidated narrative. Instead there is more and more and more confusion. Social connection is gone and replaced only by more and more victim groups.
But then, what would you expect to be seeing as Babylon grows ever larger toward its maximum? More and more confusion.
You and I, in contrast, have present truth about God, about Jesus, about His message for these last days. Our message is not trust the government nor is it enter into rebellion against the government. We are a separate community, we are transnational, we are part of something higher and bigger and grander, the kingdom of God.
We are warned to be in the world but not of the world.
If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.(John 15:19)
We are not of the world. Self-love is the fundamental principle of the world: shark eat shark, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, get your piece of the pie. It is the madness of creature aspiring to godhood. It means the mad attempt to exit God’s creation and become the master of one’s own creation. If this were the case, if we were all in the shark tank together, so to speak, the world would not mind, because individuals have little real value in that setting. The world loves its own but only with a pale, self-serving love. One more person in the shark tank is one more potential person to victimize.
But we are not of the world; Jesus has chosen us out of the world. We are chosen to exit the self-serve principle and embrace the other-love principle. And to the extent that we have embraced that call from Jesus, the world hates us. We are in the world as light and leaven, not merely as victim material. We are on God’s team, active firefighters fighting flames of self-destruction. It is intolerable to the world that we exist and condemn its self-service by our presence. We are in the world to change people, to get them out of the kingdom of the prince of the power of the air and into the kingdom of the Prince of peace who hung crucified in air. We are the most dangerous creatures in this world because being in Christ, we are new creations.(2 Corinthians 5:17)
We are in a different place than we have ever been. We here in America have passed from freedom into soft totalitarianism.
That is to say, in many respects the world has already gained entrance into the church. We bring it with us into the sanctuary when we bring our smartphones, and when there is a notification in the middle of a sermon and we stop to check it while supposedly we are listening to God’s word. Is it any wonder that the church is weak and young people do not see the church standing out or standing up? Our churches so often are rebroadcasts of the news of the week, another repetition of the mainstream narrative, just like we hear it on the radio, and in the stores where we buy goods mostly manufactured in China. We are not willing to suffer. We are not willing to go against the world. We received Christ at a discount somehow and we don’t plan to pay more.
Where We are Going
So where are we going? Our neutered world is replacing truths shared in common with lies shared in common. Truths, like that all people are created with the same unremoveable rights, like life and liberty, are being replaced with lies such as that it is appropriate for the common good to restrict movement, restrict speech, to force this or that behavior.
In short, purpose has been removed from our lives. With the removal of the biblical narrative of man made in God’s image, we are turning to ideology. Lies such as the idea that America was built on racism (the 1619 Project), that the government is our parent and savior and will make things more equitable, even that it will save the planet from global warming, are taught us every day. But we have misunderstood the tendency of our own system. The organizing principle of liberalism is not pluralism but dualism. It claims to include all, but instead organizes people into two groups. Then is measures those two groups in terms of ideology. It brakes down common purpose until society is a collection of disconnected purposeless pieces, and then imposes its ideology. Desperate people turn to ideology for purpose. So you have one group characterized as a good group and another group characterized as a bad group.
This is what we see today. People who support one president or another, one political party or another, one viewpoint about masks or another, one viewpoint about vaccines or another. Instead of the testimony of Scripture, that we all have sinned and need salvation through Jesus, that we are all fallen and all prone to make mistakes and that the governments are made out of the same kinds of people and thus the governments are also prone to make mistakes, we take on ideologies that have been prefabricated for us. We step into the box we view as the good box and brace ourselves to fight the people we think are in the evil box.
Orwell very accurately captured the situation in our own time.
The past, starting from yesterday, has been abolished. . . Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.(George Orwell, Nineteen-eightyfour, p. 155)
Every book has not been rewritten nor every street renamed but we are clearly living when government and media and big tech are in full collusion.
Our very language is being changed day by day. Ideas like equality are being replaced with opposite ideas like equity. Again, in Orwell’s Nineteen-eightyfour, Syme, one of the specialists in Newspeak tells Winston Smith, “The revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.”(p. 52) something similar to this is already happening.
Ryszard Legutko, Christian from Poland, makes this crucial observation:
“Once a man joins an ideological group all becomes clear to him and everything falls into place; everything is either right or wrong, correct or incorrect. And this perception soon changes the man himself.”(Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy, p. 137)
So, what happens when an unconverted person—a person trapped in self-love—encounters ideology? The ideology gives the person a means of ordering his life and universe without God. Now he has an option which does not require other-love. What is he going to do? Ideology is a trap for the unconverted.
But what happens when a person animated by other-love encounters a person of ideology? He knows he is encountering a person who has a misapprehension of the world. He knows God wants that person to see more clearly than he does, and to have an accurate representation of God’s kingdom. The other-love person has compassion for the ideologue because he knows that person is effectively blinded to reality. Satan has no greater thrill than to dehumanize the believer to the eyes of the ideologue so that the ideologue engages in violence and even murder.
The Ditch Some Have Been Flirting With
In the past 24 months is that some Seventh-day Adventists have become ideologues. Especially some become adherents to theories about vaccines that they hold with an effectively religious zeal. Some are ready to force you to be vaccinated. Some are determined to explain to you how the vaccines are part of a deadly scheme to kill people in bushels. Friends, time will sort this question out. We make the devils laugh when we let them divide us over a questionable item. We are erecting dogmas and losing the story.
I show you a better way. Matthew 6:14-15:
If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
This is, for the true Christian, our secret weapon: our ability to forgive one another. If we can’t do this we don’t have an authentic Christianity to share with the world.
Here is what I suggest to myself and to each of you. Love and respect every brother or sister no matter what their viewpoint in these things. We’re all adults around here, right? Then if someone chooses to be vaccinated, love and respect them. Don’t harass them about their decision. Accept that they made their decision based on what they regarded as the best information they had. Let us hope that the vaccines will be safe and effective. If someone chooses not to be vaccinated, love and respect them. Don’t harass them about their decision. Accept that they made their decision based on what they regarded as the best information they had. Let us hope that the health practices they are engaging in are safe and effective.
At the beginning of this situation we were all trying to sort things out. In some places incorrect decisions surely were made. Forgive your brother, forgive your sister if they excluded you, even if they do not even now agree a mistake was made. Our strength if we are real Christians is in forgiving each other. Time will reveal much more about these matters and I don’t think it will take very much time. The facts are the facts whatever they are. It is more important for us to forgive and to fellowship together with each other than it is to argue today about facts which will be clearer tomorrow.
I hope each of us will be a son of peace, kind to brothers and sisters in Christ. You may think the persons sitting next to you is off in ideological lala land. Maybe she is. But you can love that person and stand your ground. Home fellowships will have their place in the times coming under soft totalitarianism. But for now the church building is still where we belong on sabbath morning. We don’t go to church because the sermon is always perfect or all the songs are sung in perfect pitch. We are part of the living and giving of Jesus’ three angel messages for our time. We have more in common with each other than we realize. How will we help each other climb out of mistaken ideologies unless we can visit together, think together, speak together, worship together and experience the Holy Spirit together? Time is short but there is time to be holy. There is time to love your brother and sister even if they have wronged you.
If we want to know what to do, first we must first determine to which story we belong. Do we belong to the story of confusion and conflict and Babel? Do we belong to the story of self-love and covetousness and the aspiring to rewrite the world with us as its central figure? Is that our story? Or, is ours the story of Jesus who, being nailed to the cross, said, Father forgive them; they understand so little what they are engaged in? Can we suspend judgment, withhold vengeance, grant that my brother, my sister did what at the time they thought was right?
One invaluable lesson from Covid is that we cannot trust governments. We cannot trust health authorities. And, in a way, we cannot depend on our own brothers and sisters but must instead trust in Jesus. This is a very painful lesson because we don’t know how to suffer.
Disunity is one of the visible threats to God’s work. It is an arrow that flies by day. If there is any congregation that can overcome it, you are it. Gather in strength from Jesus and begin to be healed. Start now.
2021-09-04 Chewelah WA SDA church via Zoom