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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

22nd General Conference Session Special Report

The Doctrines of the Faith
Part
Peter D. Lausevic
The Doctrines of the Faith

When we talk about our faith we often refer to that element that makes it possible to believe in God and place our trust fully in Him. We obtain such a faith through the study of His word. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). This is the most prevalent way that faith is used in the Bible. However, faith is more than believing and trusting. Faith is the basis on which we formulate that upon which we believe. This basis is what we call the doctrines of the church. We must be clear on what these doctrines are, for which we must earnestly contend. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3, emphasis supplied).

This faith makes us who we are; it differentiates us from the rest of the world as well as from the professed churches in Christianity—and when manifested in our character, it becomes the power to influence and change the world. “Though few in numbers, without wealth, position, or honorary titles, [the early Christians] were a terror to evildoers wherever their character and doctrines were known.”1

If we do not keep a vigilant watch over these set of beliefs, the devil uses this avenue as an entering wedge to get into the church and capture well-meaning souls for destruction. “Well would it be for the church and the world if the principles that actuated those steadfast souls were revived in the hearts of God’s professed people. There is an alarming indifference in regard to the doctrines which are the pillars of the Christian faith. The opinion is gaining ground, that, after all, these are not of vital importance. This degeneracy is strengthening the hands of the agents of Satan, so that false theories and fatal delusions which the faithful in ages past imperiled their lives to resist and expose, are now regarded with favor by thousands who claim to be followers of Christ.”2

It is this faith that makes us who we are. “Many claim that it matters not what one believes, if his life is only right. But the life is molded by the faith. If light and truth is within our reach, and we neglect to improve the privilege of hearing and seeing it, we virtually reject it; we are choosing darkness rather than light.”3

Our faithful forefathers were willing to die rather than give up the doctrines of the faith. This was especially true during the period of Pergamos, when many were forced to make such a choice between their life and their fundamental system of beliefs. The testimony of the True Witness was, “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth” (Revelation 2:13, emphasis supplied).

Prayer for unity

In our desire to maintain the pure faith, we must also be just as eager to form a bond of unity one to another. Before the cross, before Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for such unity. “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21, emphasis supplied). This union of believers one to another is a requirement before we can experience the outpouring of the Latter Rain and it is the prerequisite to successful evangelism. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1, emphasis supplied).

Without this power of true love, the pure, vivifying, transforming agency of the truth becomes dead and destructive in its character. “A jealous regard for what is termed theological truth often accompanies a hatred of genuine truth as made manifest in life. The darkest chapters of history are burdened with the record of crimes committed by bigoted religionists.”4

The purpose of the truth is unifying in its nature, and this is why it radiates past all types of human barriers. Its work is not in the intellect merely but in the change of nature. “The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ’s day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul.”5

When we truly experience the truth in the form of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then individuals from different nationalities, languages, cultures, and personalities are able to work together in the bond of unity, and the natural result is that the world will believe that Jesus is the true Messiah and that the gospel really “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16).

A General Conference session

The purpose of a General Conference session is not merely to elect new officers, evaluate methods of labor, formulate rules for the organizational structure of the church, and make sure we are in a strong financial basis so that we can enter into new countries. The main reason for calling delegates from all parts of the world field is to make sure that our doctrines are founded upon a strong scriptural basis. The very first record of a General Conference session is found in Acts chapter 15. As important as such sessions may be, Inspiration did not see the need to record the election of officers or its guidelines on how the organizational structure will operate. There were doctrinal issues that were causing unnecessary divisions in the church, and the purpose of this meeting was to find a consensus consistent with biblical teachings under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When doctrines are causing divisions, it is not a time to polarize ourselves one from another and to form factions as did the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The purpose of church leadership is to guide the members into a oneness that is miraculous from the standpoint of this world. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:11–14, emphasis supplied).

This means that when a point is causing divisions in the church, it is time to prayerfully lay that subject aside until we can find a platform of unity in a General Conference session. “The [circumcision] matter resulted in much discussion and want of harmony in the church, until finally the church of Antioch, apprehending that a division among them would occur from any further discussion of the question, decided to send Paul and Barnabas, together with some responsible men of Antioch, to Jerusalem, to lay the matter before the apostles and elders. There they were to meet delegates from the different churches, and those who had come to attend the approaching annual festivals. Meanwhile all controversy was to cease until a final decision should be made by the responsible men of the church.”6

Before that first recorded General Conference session, the various factions did not travel from place to place debating their ideas and trying to influence those coming to the session. They were to lay their differences aside until the proper time and place for this discussion.

Too often we really believe in the need for unity and even strongly teach the need for it and then do all in our power to make sure that everyone agrees with “me.” Genuine unity is not based on everyone agreeing with “me” but rather everyone submitting to the evidences given, based on the unerring Scriptures of the prophets. Real submission has been and ever will be the basis of true religion. “Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:7). We have a very important principle in that meeting in Jerusalem regarding the rite of circumcision. “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28). “The council did not claim infallibility in their deliberations, but moved from the dictates of enlightened judgment, and with the dignity of a church established by the divine will. They saw that God Himself had decided this question by favoring the Gentiles with the Holy Ghost; and it was left for them to follow the guidance of the Spirit.”7 The purpose of the session was to understand the will of God as revealed through the Holy Spirit either directly or through the experiences gained by seeing the blessing that God had given to those who were guided by the purported “new teaching.”

This means that many delegates had to change their mind from what they had at first thought. They were there to listen, not just to speak. “And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.” After Peter gave the clear evidences of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers who were not circumcised, then the delegates were in a mood to listen quietly and patiently to the apostles who had labored for the gentile world. “Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them” (Acts 15:7, 12, emphasis supplied).

Sometimes people have a wrong idea of what it means to be a delegate. Since we are elected to represent certain areas, we feel that we must vote according to what we are told by our constituents. If that were the case, we would not even need to spend all the money and time to go to a session. All we would need to do is send out a ballot to the various units, and they could simply vote without having everyone come together. But that would defeat the real purpose of a delegation session. We come together not only to express our views on a subject but also to listen to the opposing view. By listening we sometimes change our mind and accept what we were not prepared to accept before we came together. And sometimes, we may even conclude that neither side was correct and, as a result, come to a completely different conclusion. “God calls upon those who hold responsible positions in Sabbath School work to put away all egotism, all self-confidence, and pride of opinion; if a message comes that you do not understand, take pains that you may hear the reasons the messenger may give, comparing scripture with scripture, that you may know whether or not it is sustained by the word of God. If you believe that the positions taken have not the word of God for their foundation, if the position you hold on the subject cannot be controverted, then produce your strong reasons; for your position will not be shaken by coming in contact with error. There is no virtue or manliness in keeping up a continual warfare in the dark, closing your eyes lest you may see, closing your ears lest you may hear, hardening your heart in ignorance and unbelief lest you may have to humble yourselves and acknowledge that you have received light on some points of truth.”8

The reason for this is because unity can only come when we surrender our will to the written will of God. “If the professed followers of Christ would accept God’s standard, it would bring them into unity; but so long as human wisdom is exalted above His Holy Word, there will be divisions and dissension.”9 This is why there is no room for personal opinions or preferences or even the traditions of the church. The reason we discuss doctrinal issues at a General Conference session, even some issues coming up again and again, is so that we can be very clear that our beliefs are clearly based on the Word of God, and the Word of God alone. “God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in its support.”10

Implementing resolutions

After the resolutions are made, we are not to go from country to country teaching these resolutions. That is not our message to the world. We need to know them as workers and members, but our unified message is to have a clear inspired basis. “In the commission to His disciples, Christ not only outlined their work, but gave them their message. Teach the people, He said, ‘to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:20). The disciples were to teach what Christ had taught. That which He had spoken, not only in person, but through all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament, is here included. Human teaching is shut out. There is no place for tradition, for man’s theories and conclusions, or for church legislation. No laws ordained by ecclesiastical authority are included in the commission. None of these are Christ’s servants to teach.”11

We must also be very careful how we apply the decisions that we make, even with the clear biblical evidences in their support. We must remember how the truth is to be taught. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Sinful people were attracted to the pure truth and impeccable purity of Jesus. “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (Luke 15:1, 2).

Jesus came to save sinners. The way He could reach them was because they realized that sinful though they were, the Messiah really loved them. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “Now that Jesus has ascended to heaven, His disciples are His representatives among men, and one of the most effective ways of winning souls to Him is in exemplifying His character in our daily life. Our influence upon others depends not so much upon what we say as upon what we are. Men may combat and defy our logic, they may resist our appeals; but a life of disinterested love is an argument they cannot gainsay. A consistent life, characterized by the meekness of Christ, is a power in the world.”12

In other words, people need to know that we actually love them and that, in teaching the truth, we are doing so because of that love.

The servant of the Lord testified: “It seems to me that the Lord is giving the erring, the weak and trembling, and even those who have apostatized from the truth, a special call to come fully into the fold. But there are but few in our churches who feel that this is the case. And there are still fewer who stand where they can help such. There are more who stand directly in the way of these poor souls. Very many have an exacting spirit. They require them to come to just such and such terms before they will reach to them the helping hand. Thus they hold them off at arms’ length. They have not learned that they have a special duty to go and search for these lost sheep. They must not wait till these come to them. Read the touching parable of the lost sheep. . . .

“The Pharisees murmured because Jesus received publicans and common sinners, and ate with them. In their self-righteousness they despised these poor sinners who gladly heard the words of Jesus. To rebuke this spirit in the scribes and Pharisees, and leave an impressive lesson for all, the Lord gave the parable of the lost sheep.”13

Conclusion

The resolutions as they were decided follow this article. I hope that in reading them along with the references may be a blessing to you and an encouragement to the believers around the world.

References
1 The Great Controversy, p. 46. [Emphasis added.]
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid. p. 597.
4 The Desire of Ages, p. 309.
5 Ibid.
6 Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 63. [Emphasis added.]
7 Ibid., p.70. [Emphasis added.]
8 Counsels on Sabbath School Work, pp. 28, 29.
9 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 124.
10 The Great Controversy, p. 595.
11 The Desire of Ages, p. 826.
12 Ibid., pp.141, 142.
13 Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 20, 21.