Pitting truth against truth

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Resistance to Christ: Climax at Minneapolis
For some time after the great, October 22, 1844 disappointment the focus of the Sabbath-sanctuary group continued to be upon Him Whom they longed to see. But, challenges to debate the law of God resulted in a change. As they repeatedly overwhelmed their opponents with Bible evidence of the perpetuity of the law and the Sabbath a keen appetite for debate was stimulated. And the pride thus evoked turned their focus ever more to self and the doctrines defended rather than to Christ, heart of every doctrine. The result was the onset of the self-righteousness portrayed in the message to Laodicea, the judgment hour church (Rev 3:14-22).

For two reasons our focus came to center on the law. It was not only the primary object of attack; but it was a vital ingredient in virtually every doctrine. Just as Christ and His sanctuary ministry connect all our doctrines subjectively in Himself, even so the law connects them objectively. Indeed, so pervasive is the law that, unless we intentionally keep our focus upon Christ, it inevitably shifts to issues of law and obedience (whether positively or negatively).

Note how central the law is in the pillars of our message. It is not only the standard of judgment, but the very name, Seventh-day Adventist, proclaims the fourth command and the role of the law in preparing us for Christís second coming. Moreover, the sanctuary message portrays the law within the ark in the Most Holy Place as the foundation of Godís throne. And it is the central issue in the spirit of prophecy portrayal of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Thus, every key Adventist doctrine relates both to Christ and to His law, transcript of His character. Even the doctrine of the state of man in death reminds us that the broken law is the cause of death and that to rise in the first resurrection with a right to the tree of life we must obey its precepts. The question then and now: which will become subordinate to the other?

Reaction: Shift of Focus From Christ to His Law
It is never safe to allow opponents to control the nature of our defense of truth. But that is what happened. Attacks upon the law and the Sabbath caused early Adventists to react, not by a focus on Christ, so that every pillar was seen in light of His person, character, and saving purposes, but by intensified stress on what was attacked. This was precisely the enemyís strategy.

In stirring our opponents to challenge us to debate, Satan knew that Scripture evidence is overwhelmingly in our favor. But he also knew that intense public opposition would control many by fear of opposition and ridicule. Yet his real goal was more subtle. He knew that the power of our doctrines lie in relation to their Author. His supreme strategy was thus to separate the doctrines, that represent Jesus and His relation with His people, from Himself, their divine Source. This he would do by posing an unrecognized choice between Christ and His law.

And without the least suspicion of His strategy, we took the bait. Charging obedience to the law with legalism, he induced legalism by stimulating intense doctrinal defense that shifted our focus from Christ Himself to His law, with no sense of a shift taking place. But more seriously, he precipitated a reactive, conspiracy mentality. Thus any strong focus on Jesus was identified as a cover for opposition to His law and to see any focus upon grace as cheap grace.

We had no intension of undermining grace and faith; nor did we sense we were drawing away from the Author and Finisher of our faith. In fact, we still emphasized Jesusí second coming and our need of His grace to gain victory over sin. But there is a major difference between proclaiming Christ and upholding the law with a focus on Him and in proclaiming the law and emphasizing our need for His help to keep it. The first focus is upon Him; in the second the focus is upon the law.

As a result of our continued failure to perceive this difference, God raised up two young men to amplify His appeal to focus upon Christ rather than upon His law. Yet, with the mind-set long developed, key leaders could only see in this a sinister attempt by the enemy to destroy the law and the Sabbath.

Waggonerís Vision of Christ
While listening to an Ellen White camp meeting message in 1882, Ellett J. Waggoner was suddenly lost to his surroundings in a vision of Jesus hanging on the cross. That revolutionary experience, which he compared to Paul's Damascus road encounter, radically changed his approach Scripture and he began to preach every doctrine in relation to Christ and the cross.

He saw the danger of referring to Jesus in relation to our doctrines, especially to the law, which had become our central focus, instead of really proclaiming and focusing upon Him. He saw in Galatians an indictment against placing obedience in competition with the cross, by putting law where Jesus should be. So radical was the shift in his thinking that he lost sight of the context of Galatians and argued that Paul was speaking only of the moral law, rather than the ceremonial law.

More seriously, he failed to follow divine counsel that no new doctrine be presented without first presenting it to brethren of experience and then proclaiming it only if they see light in it. Fearing they would reject his principle, he publicly challenged the interpretation of Galatians 3:23-25 which we had held from the beginning. Not only did he thus forfeit their help in keeping a balance of realities in focus, but by pulling the rug out from under our evangelistic response to charges that obedience to Godís law is a form of legalism, he guaranteed opposition by leaders who could only conclude that he was trying to undermine the law and the Sabbath.

Adventist leaders were especially galled that he and his associate editor, A. T. Jones published this view in the missionary journal, The Signs of the Times. Moreover, they had the temerity to teach their "heresy" to impressionable college students at Healdsburg, while closing their ears to any cautions from older leaders.

Thus from the beginning, their vital call for re-focus upon Christ instead of the law became confused. And the price of their violation of the priesthood principles, in failing to consult with other leaders and await Godís providence to determine the process, would prove to be high. Indeed, heavy mortgage payments imposed upon the church by the ensuing controversy are still being made.

An Expensive Defense of the Faith
Meanwhile, instead of acting on Ellen Whiteís counsel and setting the young men an example by humbly inviting them to sit with them to prayerfully examine the principles from Scripture, General Conference President George I Butler, Review editor Uriah Smith, and evangelist D. M. Canright determined to squelched Waggoner and get rid of his presumed "heresy" by meeting him head on. Canright, who was renowned for his success in debates on the law, revised his book, increasing its treatment of Galatians from 8 to 32 pages. Based on this, Butler himself wrote The Law in the book of Galatians, an 85-page rebuttal to Waggoner's moral law position. This he gave to every delegate to the 1886 General Conference session.

During that session, Butler appointed a nine member committee, including himself and Canright, intended to silence Waggoner once and for all. That Canright was present and that Butlerís position was technically correct, gave great assurance of success. But they needed to learn to focus not merely on technical facts but that even more important are principles of truth that are at stake in every divine message. For despite his factual inaccuracy, Waggonerís focus was upon the key principle that not only pervades Galatians but also Romans and Paulís other epistles.

Meanwhile, in far away Europe Ellen White waited in vain for a response from Waggoner and Jones to a letter of reproof to them for proceeding without counsel. Not having received it, however, Waggoner proceeded to do battle with the conservative leadership. Following the 1886 session he immediately drafted a reply to Butler's The Law in the Book of Galatians and mailed him a preliminary copy of The Gospel in the Book of Galatians. Just then, however, his plans for distribution were halted by a second, urgent letter from Ellen G. White informing him that obedience to Godís methods are imperative and that there is more at stake in divine messages than conveying their theological truth.

In deep repentance Waggoner put his manuscript aside until after the Minneapolis session. But permanent damage was already done. Ellen White told him, "You have now set the example for others to do as you have done, to feel at liberty to put in their various ideas and theories and bring them before the public. . . We must keep before the world a united front. Satan will triumph to see differences among Seventh-day Adventists" (Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p.22). She insisted:

"You have departed from the positive directions God has given upon this matter, and only harm will be the result. This is not in God's order" (ibid.).

Butler Was Right in Fact, But Resisted Christ
How tragic that Godís urgent exposure of a legalism brought on, not by a legalistic doctrine but by an imbalanced focus upon law and obedience and His call for re-focus upon Christ Himself, was not only be presented precipitously, but confused by contradiction of the facts of Galatians.

One need only read Paulís letter to see that his burden was to warn Gentile believers against the Judaizersí efforts to convince them that they must be circumcised and keep the whole ceremonial law to be saved. In concluding his epistle, Paul declares: "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ . . . For neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (Gal. 6:12-15, NASB).

How could Waggoner deny that the text, in both literary and historical context, relates to the ritual law, for which circumcision was the entry rite? That he did not sense his violence to context we can understand only in light of the universal difficulty of thinking paradoxically when principles held dear are threatened. Indeed, as soon as Paul completes his personal introduction in which he establishes his call as apostle to the Gentiles, Paul introduces the circumcision problem:

"But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised . . . But when Cephas came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision" (Gal. 2:3-12; KJV).

Peter, who had testified that the Holy Spirit had declared uncircumcised Gentiles ritually clean, both ate with them and baptized them (Acts 10, 11). But under pressure, he surrendered to the pressure of Judaizers who demanded that Gentiles be circumcised before any social contact with them was lawful. Clearly the ritual law is the context in which Paul introduces justification!

Waggoner Was Right in Principle
But more was involved that the ritual issue. The principle underlying Paulís message is universal. No law can justify. He presents the same message even more clearly in his systematic treatment of Romans. The law cannot justify; it can only condemn. The only ground for justification is faith in the blood of Christ our Substitute. Thus Paul continues: "Nevertheless, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16, NASB).

Though circumcision is the specific issue in Paul's negation of law/works, the principle relates to all law, including the moral law. For Paul challenges any law-based salvation:

"You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. This only would I know from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh [circumcision]? . . .

"And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, `All the nations shall be blessed in you. . .' "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; . . . Now that no one is justified by the law before God is evident; for, `the righteous man shall live by faith'" (Gal. 3:1-11, NASB).

In condemning "works," Paul specifically denies circumcision as a condition of salvation and thus cuts off any claims that Gentiles must be circumcised: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, . . . And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:27-29, NASB). This crucial chapter concludes by assuring that faith in Jesus supersedes Judaism; and baptism takes the place of circumcision.

On the other hand, it was the moral, not the ceremonial law, which was the stumbling block God sought to remove by Waggoner and Jones. For though Butler was technically right, he was amazingly blind to Paul's principle, which Waggoner proclaimed: no kind of law or obedience can substitute for or add to justification by faith; for Christ- crucified is our only source of righteousness.

What Galatians Does Not Say
Waggonerís opponents were certain that his view, whatever his intention, would rob us of the law and the Sabbath. This confusion could have been resolved had they only accepted divine reproof as did Waggoner and Jones, when they finally received it. For Butler and Smith were also reproved for not sitting down with the younger men and, setting their own opinions aside, humbly studying the Bible together. But instead, a conspiracy mentality led them to suspect that Ellen White was a victim of a conspiracy by Waggoner and Jones who, having subverted her son, Willie, used him to control her thinking.

It was two or three years before that conspiracy concept was blown away by the facts. Meantime, accepting the false Evangelical claim that Galatians declares a law done away, their only question was, "which law," moral or ceremonial? The answer to this question could only be the ceremonial law. Thus they could not see that Waggonerís view actually magnified and made the moral law honorable by placing it in the context of Christ-crucifiedĖjust as God had long sought to accomplish.

To understand the dilemma of the brethren, we need to consider the passage: "Wherefore the law was our school master to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith is come, we are no longer under a school master" (Gal 3:24-25). On the surface it does seem that Paul is declaring that a law was done away. And it is readily seen that this law is indeed involved in Paulís epistle. It is too bad they did not sit down with Waggoner and Jones to humbly claim the direction of the Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, actually meant.

Had they humbly studied the issues together, both sides would have been affirmed in what they declared, but corrected in what they wrongly denied. Though technically wrong in claiming the issue was only the moral law, it would have been seen that Waggoner and Jones were right in a practical sense; for the only issue then was the moral law, since the ritual law was not an issue.

What Then Does Paul Declare?
The context actually affirms the law, but insists on a correct understanding of its relation to Godís promises. Each has a different function. The lawís function is to send people to Christ and the function of the promises is to assure what He will do for all who come to Him in faith:

"Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which would have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3:21, 22, NKJV).

The law is thus affirmed as essential to prepare us to receive "the promise by faith in Jesus Christ." The issue is not a nullified law, but the relationship between law and promise. Both are vital. The law cannot fulfill the promise. Yet, the ritual law points to Christ as our Substitute; while, by instilling guilt the moral law induces a divinely ordained sense of need for One who died that through Him we might receive the promise of eternal life. Both thus unite to direct us to Christ as our only source of righteousness and only hope of life.

Therefore, obedience to neither law nor both laws can save us. But they do direct us to Him Who died so that He might save us. It is imperative that we understand the unique and vital function of the whole law in pointing to Christ and in driving us to Him by the pain of guilt and bondage to sin. Both laws direct us to His promises of freedom and life to all who accept His offer of justification by faith. This is the issue in the passage hotly debated at Minneapolis:

"But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor [paidagogos]" (Gal. 3:23-25, NKJV).

Neither text nor context suggests that faith annuls the law. Paul does not say the law ceased when Christ came. Rather, he declares that its custodial function ends "after faith has come"! Unfortunately, KJV confuses Paulís meaning by mistranslating Greek word, paidagogos, as "school master," which translates didaskalos (teacher), instead. Readers of his letter would never have made this mistake; for all knew the clear distinction between paidagogos (custodian) and didaskalos (teacher). The SDA Commentary explains:

"The paidagogos was usually a trusted slave in a Greek household who had the task of watching over the boys of the family. He accompanied them to School, stayed with them in class, corrected them if they misbehaved or used bad language, and was their general guardian. When the children came of age they were free from his supervision. From this it is clear that "schoolmaster" is not the best rendering of paidagogos. The term is more appropriately translated Ďcustodianí" (RSV).

Thus paidagogos, relates to the whole law, but does not refer to the law itself. It is an analogy to portray the function of the law in directing, disciplining, and guarding Godís people until faith should come. Indeed, it is the coming of faith, not the coming of Christ Himself, that displaces the disciplinary function of the law. When the child matured the paidagogos was not "done away." His services, no longer needed for that child, would continue to be needed for any younger children.

Moreover, it was and is the coming of faith in Christ as our righteousness, a faith be which we are declared justified (made righteous), which makes the guilt-imposing disciplinary function of the law unnecessary; for the law is by His Spirit written in the heart. However, for the immature who have not that faith, the paidagogos function of the law must continue. Nevertheless, it cannot itself provide the righteousness which can only be received by faith.

As faith in Christ-crucified removes alienation, guilt, and fear of judgment, the mature child no longer needs the guilt-directed discipline of the moral law.

There was, indeed, a corporate transition at Christ's death in AD 31, when type met antitype. But while a transition from Levitical rites to Christian ordinances of baptism and the Lordís supper, is implied, the focus here is faith, a faith acceptance of the promise certified by His death, as we personally enter His school of grace by claiming His sacrifice as our Substitute and His promise to write His law in our hearts (Deut. 5:29; Jer. 24:7; 29:13; Heb. 8:7-13; Col 2:14-16).

Unfortunately, Waggoner so intensely focused upon the personal that he gave no attention to the corporate transition from Judaism to Christianity, which is also clearly implied. But he rightly insisted that Paul does not contrast law before Christ's coming with promise afterward. Rather he contrasts the jurisdiction of a guilt-inducing law with the jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit, which frees us from the burden of sin and guilt imposed by the law, writing its principles in the mind (understanding) and on the heart (affections and will).

Paul sharply questions those "foolish Galatians" who would submit to circumcision: "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? . . . Does God give you His Spirit . . . because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" (Gal. 3:2-5; NIV) His questions refer to the moral law as truly as to the ritual law.

Yet, Butler and Smith were right: the context is clearly the ritual law. But they were also very wrong. The issue is not, Which law? But, What jurisdiction?óLaw or Spirit? Galatians 3 does deny Levitical jurisdiction (circumcision) as a necessary or required entry rite into Christ. Paul does not, however, say the law in question was done away! Faith in the promise simply transfers the believer from custodial bondage under a condemning law to freedom in the Spirit's custody, based upon promise and sealed by Christ's blood.

Both laws direct us to Christ. The moral law drives us to Him as our only righteousness. Every ritual dramatizes how He saves by His righteousness. The moral law announces eternal death as the result of sin; while the ceremonial law portrays how He transfers our guilt to Himself. Neither law has any power to save. But the principle behind each was to direct us in its own way to the promise of Him Who is our life.

The ceremonial law, of course, was intended to remain only until that which it foreshadowed became a historical reality in the life and death of Christ. However, as we study the "law" or torah, the first five books of Moses containing both the ten commandments and the ritual system, its principles still draw us to Christ in the two ways mentioned above.

Lessons From Minneapolis
The primary issue of Minneapolis was not the law in Galatians 3, but an imbalance of focus. Godís purpose in calling Waggoner and Jones to proclaim His message was to correct that imbalance by shifting the focus from the law and doctrine back to their Author and to His cross. We will see in further historical episodes that the problem existing then has plagued us ever since.

Though most opponents of that message later confessed their error, their resistance to Christ and His Spirit had blunted their capacity to fully grasp the principles involved. And some, like Uriah Smith only confessed their wrong attitude and their error in opposing even Ellen White but never did recognize their theological error. Smith till his death considered that the worst thing that had happened to Adventism was the preaching of Waggonerís message. We will see in other sections that a strange switch has taken place. Many who assumed they were proclaiming his message actually proclaim that of Smith and Butler, but use Waggoner and Jones terms.

The most serious problem then and ever since is the failure of those who oppose each other to follow Godís instructions through Ellen White, to come together humbly and, setting their own prejudices aside, study Godís Word together, seeking the Holy Spiritís guidance in an effort to find unity in truth.

In my next page how Ellen Whiteís warning, soon after the Minneapolis conference that resistance to light breeds heresies, by examining five serious heresies which attacked Adventism within about a decade and a half.

Next: Resistance to Truth Spawns Five Heresies