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Pitting truth against truth

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Adventism Route From 1844 to Minneapolis
William Miller, a deist farmer, began to sense that the Bible met his deepest spiritual needs and, on the challenge of his deist friends set about in 1816 to test the inspiration of Scripture. Two years of intense study (1816-1818) not only convinced him of its inspiration but, on the basis of the 2300 day prophecy of Daniel 8:14, "Unto 2,300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed," he concluded that Jesus would return in about 25 years. For thirteen years he continued to challenge his own findings, as he waited in vain for someone to proclaim this vital message. By 1831, he could no longer resist the call to preach it himself and began to proclaim that Christ would come about 1843.

As many pastors joined him in his proclamation, scores of thousands accepted this message. But, so universally was the sanctuary identified with the earth, that neither he nor his co-laborers realized that the sanctuary to be cleansed was in heaven. Not even their detractors questioned this. Eventually, on the basis of the timing of the typical day of atonement, the expected date was agreed on as October 22, 1844. So urgent was the message and so sharp was the focus upon Christ, His coming, and how to prepare for Him, that believers from the various denominations united, setting aside their doctrinal differences.

When Christ did not come to earth as expected, many abandoned their interpretation as a delusion. Others decided they had mis-calculated the starting point of the 2300 day/year time prophecy and began to set new dates. Three small groups insisted on both the validity of the prophecy and the accuracy of its calculation. Each also maintained a focus on Christ, as they sought a broader understanding of what they called, present truth. In a year or two these three groups converged, each providing an essential element to a re-proclamation of the sanctuary cleansing message, thus fulfilling the instruction in Revelation 10:11, "Ye must prophesy again," and obeying the angelís instruction in the next verse:
    And there was given unto me a read, like unto a, and the angel stood,
    saying, "Rise, measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that
    worship therein" (Rev. 11:1).

The very morning after the disappointment, after earnest prayer and breakfast, three Adventist friends proceeded to visit and encourage their fellow believers. When, en route, Hiram Edson suddenly saw Christ passing from the Holy Place in heaven to His Most Holy Place ministry, it suddenly dawned on him that the sanctuary addressed in the prophecy was not the earth, but in heaven, to be cleansed by Christ, its High Priest. After more than three months of study to determine the Bible teaching, O. R. L. Crosier, an editor and one of the three, published the Bible evidence that on October 22, 1844, Christ entered His Most Holy Place ministry of judgment in the great Day of Atonement in heaven.

Meanwhile, Joseph Bates began to preach and to publish that the seventh day is Godís true Sabbath; while God gave Ellen Harmon a vision affirming the ""midnight cry"" proclamation. As these three came in contact with each other and found harmony in the validity of the sanctuary message, they repeatedly met together for earnest study and prayer. Though there were at first many other differences, as met together from time to time, they worked through those differences that were of substance and on the basis of Bible evidence, as confirmed by visions, they developed the basic doctrinal pillars of faith, which they identified as "Ďthe third angelís messageí (Rev 14:6-14) which, they were assured, was Godís final warning to mankind that must be proclaimed in all the world. Those pillars formed a powerful, unifying message:
    (a) the soon coming of Christ;
    (b) the heavenly sanctuary and judgment hour message;
    (c) the law of God, basis of Godís judgment;
    (d) the Sabbath, sign of Creator worship;
    (e) the gift or spirit of prophecy, promised to God's last day emissaries of truth;
    (f) and the mortality of the soul and bodily resurrection at Christís coming.

For some time their focus remained upon Jesus, great High Priest of the sanctuary, Giver of the law, Lord of the Sabbath, the One Who called Ellen Harmon (White) as His special messenger to those who proclaim the Day of Atonement, judgment hour message, and soon coming of Christ, Himself "the resurrection and the life."

Their message was thus simple, harmonious, and powerful. It was not merely a collection of doctrines but a proclamation of a person, Jesus Christ, in which every pillar had its focus upon and meaning in Him, Creator and High Priest. All thus united in one, unbroken whole in Him and His sanctuary ministry.

But, as in Christís day, religious leaders determinedly opposed that message. Seeing the centrality of the law, with its Sabbath command, as the central doctrine and foundation of the sanctuary-judgment message, obedience to which was key to preparing for Christís coming, they aimed their weapons at the law and accused its adherents of legalism. Claiming Christ had done away with it at the cross, they challenged its evangelists to debates on the law.

To the delight of the small Sabbath, sanctuary group, the mighty Goliaths quickly fell when struck by the sling shot of Godís Word. For its clear and manifold evidences established the perpetuity of the law of God and the continued sanctity of the Sabbath, central feature of the ten commandment and standard of judgment.

Delighted with their success, Sabbath observing Adventists soon turned the tables and began challenging their opponents to debate. As a dangerous pride began to develop, their focus inevitable began to shift away from Christ to self. Moreover, the intensified focus upon obedience to the moral law and the Sabbath also tended unwittingly to shift the proclamation focus from Christ to the doctrines themselves, even as they insisted that faith in Christ was not enough, but must be accompanied by obedience.

They continued to echo James Whiteís insistence that we are not saved by Sabbath keeping but by Christ; yet, as the decades passed the focus was increasingly on present truth doctrines rather than upon Christ, heart of each doctrine. As a result, earnestly denied charges of "Ďlegalismí" became ever more true in experience. The fault lay not in the doctrines, however; for, when properly focused upon Christ, they provided a tremendous hedge against legalism, that imbalanced focus on human obedience that fosters a sense of merit by obedience and thus leads to self-righteousness.

As early as 1852-1853 Ellen White was thus led to apply to the ""little flock"" of Sabbath keepers the reproof given to the church of Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22), which they had applied to the Sunday keeping Adventists. By the latter part of that decade, a strong "straight testimony" was being calling for repentance. There was a hearty response to the call; but a sharp defense of "present truth" doctrines continued to overshadow Christ, their central principle, and an intensifying competitive spirit of debate unwittingly turned attention ever further from the "faithful and true Witness." Thus appeals to receive from Him and to claim His robe of righteousness were received more in a doctrinal, than experiential context.

For the next three decades repeated calls for repentance and a focus on Christ Himself, the central theme of every doctrine, continued to be affirmed, yet in practical terms went unheeded. Though intellectually appreciated, no change of focus permitted the messages to transform their experience or their proclamation. The problem was not insincerity, but a lack of capacity to internalize its spiritual principles while continuing a doctrinal focus that fostered gratification in having the truth and being able to "prove" it.

Assuming they had received the Laodicean message, leaders and people often expressed gratitude to God for the messages sent through His servant, Ellen White. Yet, as they failed to grasp and apply the principles, He chose a new channel through which to speak. Two young men, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, began to call for a shift of focus from the law to Christ-crucified, Author and embodiment of the law.

Unfortunately, that Christ-centered message seemed to reflect claims of their opponents who consistently contrasted faith in Christ with legalism in trying to obey the law. Thus their message was mistaken for, and opposed as, antinomian (against law) heresy. By 1884/1885 intense conflict had already begun, despite the fact that during that same time, Ellen White was led to give some of her most intense calls to repentance.

That conflict came to an initial climax in the 1886 General Conference session, when President, G. I. Butler tried in vain to silence them. But a far more intense climax would come at the 1888, Minneapolis General Conference session, where Christ Himself and His representative, the Holy Spirit, were unwittingly resisted.

Next: Resistance to Christ: Climax at Minneapolis