JERRY A. STEVENS
Retired General Conference Worker
Ponderer of Our Changing Times
Our title poses a very great question indeed. Let’s restate it slightly to ask, Who’s in charge of my life, my destiny? Before answering, be careful to think through all implications. Your response to this question may expose your willingness— or reluctance— to accept the authority of God as manifested in the two primary mechanisms He has chosen, in His infinite wisdom, to guide His true followers into His ark of safety. A rejection of either mechanism ultimately imperils one’s eternal standing with Heaven. Please read on.
According to the most current list of fundamental beliefs held in common by the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide, two of those beliefs bear upon this matter of authority. In the next two paragraphs we render the exact wording of the beliefs, adding italics to spotlight our emphasis in the present instance.
The Word of God. The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.
The Gift of Prophecy. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.
Do you accept these two statements without reservation? I sincerely hope so. Anything less than full acceptance could leave you open to any number of false doctrines, with possible loss of eternal life. That’s a very sobering consideration. In His loving wisdom and tender mercy, God has placed this double hedge about us for our own good. Wandering outside the borders of His authority, as once happened in a certain Edenic garden of old, is an action fraught with the highest danger.
So please, dear reader, whatever you do, stay with the ark. The seas may get rough at times, but God’s great ship is going through. I have watched close personal Adventist friends get caught up in the confusing maelstrom of what the Bible terms “every wind of doctrine,” and have been made sick at heart to witness the result: their “ears . . . turned unto fables.” Never forget that God’s archenemy is alive and well, and he lives right here on planet Earth. But we can and must disappoint the deceiver, achieving each successive victory in the strength of Jesus Christ.
Singed but Not Burnt
Once upon a time, a 22-year-old Vietnam veteran returned to his fatherland jaded, cocky, and ready to complete an interrupted higher education in a public university at a time when he was now three years older, and presumably more mature, than most of his fellow students. During his military service he had already cast aside all the effects of a boyhood Christian upbringing. Thus deprived of any anchor, he was completely unprepared for what was about to threaten to bury any semblance of a spiritual life forever.
As supplemental reading for the second of a two-part required course called Western Institutions, this young man’s history professor recommended in the course syllabus two books: Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. The doubt created in the student’s mind by reading the first book gave way to outright skepticism upon reading the second. After reflecting upon Paine’s treatise, this young fellow promptly announced to his newlywed bride that he had now espoused Deism, just like Paine, and that here was a philosophy that seemed intellectually satisfying.
But, thanks be to God, the juvenescent bride promptly rejected any such notion as so much rubbish, and refused to go along with such a harebrained idea. Yes, dear friends, that young woman, my wife Penny, had a head on her own shoulders and knew how to use it!
For my own part, I abandoned all hope of discovering any true religion, and thus stopped seeking such for a full 10 years—that is, until this same young woman unwittingly turned my attention to the investigation of Bible prophecy as a verifiable means of determining whether Christianity might constitute the only true religion. That’s a story we don’t have room to tell here, although it appears in a recent Adventist Review (“My Search for Truth,” April 13, 2006, pages 27-29).
Let us now fast-forward in our story to reach the point where, as a brand-new Adventist, I began to undertake an earnest study of the entire Spirit of Prophecy library. I soon encountered some passages that rendered me absolutely thunderstruck. “The youth of today will be likely to meet skeptics and infidels wherever they may go, and how necessary that they be equipped, so that they may be able to give a reason of their hope with meekness and fear. Thomas Paine has passed into his grave, but his works live to curse the world, and those who doubt the truth of God’s Word will place these infidel productions in the hands of the young and inexperienced, to fill their hearts with the poisonous atmosphere of doubt. The spirit of Satan works through wicked men to carry on his schemes for the ruin of souls” (Messages to Young People, p. 85). Evidently God sees a qualitative, significant difference between a Deist and an infidel!
Friends, if I hadn’t already become a convicted Seventh-day Adventist shortly before discovering such passages, they would have been sufficient to confirm forever my belief in the validity of the gift of the Spirit of Prophecy. At this precise moment in my life God certainly had my attention, for these words exactly described my very own life experience. The Lord’s modern-day prophetess registered other pointed comments about Mr. Paine, two of which follow.
“Satan is now doing, through individuals like Thomas Paine, what he has been trying to do since his fall. He is, through his power and lying wonders, tearing away the foundation of the Christian’s hope, and putting out the sun that is to light the narrow way to Heaven. He is making the world believe that the Bible is uninspired, no better than a storybook, while he holds out something to take its place; namely, spiritual manifestations” (Early Writings, p. 265).
“Now [a certain brother Torr] has changed. He did not take up his duties. He did not follow the light. He seemed to enjoy the suggestions and statements of [certain weak, contemptible] tracts, and sent them everywhere. Next he was without an anchor, and he began to read Tom Paine and has come out an infidel. He says there is no personal Devil—no pre-existence of Christ, no prayer is called for. He is sowing his seeds of death . . . (Manuscript Releases, vol. 8, pp. 64, 65).
So you see, it makes all the difference in the world, not only what we read, but also whom we accept as authority over our lives. My 10-year sidetrack nearly derailed my spiritual life forever—at the very least it retarded all spiritual progress. In sum, I got singed, and very nearly burnt.
It matters very much, as we said at the outset, whose authority we accept over our lives. In this and the next issue of Adventists Affirm we explore the great dual theme of the authority both of Scripture and of the Spirit of Prophecy for today’s believer. We have been blessed to assemble a very fine group of contributing authors to explore this theme from several angles. We believe you will be both AFFIRMed and blessed as you read and reflect on the articles herein. We wish to extend sincerest thanks to each one of this issue’s authors. Borrowing the immortal words of Charles Dickens’s Tiny Tim Cratchit, we say in all humility and gratitude, God bless us, every one!