LandMarks Magazine  

November 2000 Table of Contents


The Sacred Duty of Disobedience
By Ralph Larson

Most converts to the Seventh-day Adventist faith are required to sort out their thoughts about authority and obedience quite early in their experience. When the challenge came to me, I was a teenager working on Friday nights. I had learned about the Sabbath truth and was feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But I was under the authority of the owner of the plywood factory where I worked, and friends warned me that I would be fired if I did not work on Friday nights. On the other hand, God had commanded Sabbath observance. What should I do? I had to think it through carefully. I finally came to the conclusion that I had a sacred duty to disobey the factory owner and to obey God.

Choose Ye this Day

Thousands of other converts to our faith have had similar experiences. They have been brought to the realization that, strange as it may seem, under certain circumstances disobedience can be a duty, even a sacred duty. For many, the challenge came, as it did to me, at the very beginning of their Christian life. And for many the experience has been repeated quite frequently as they have made their way through life. Soldiers have had to disobey their officers; students have had to disobey their principals and teachers; citizens have had to disobey government officials, and members of some churches have had to disobey their church leaders in order to obey God. This has led to the formulation of clear concepts of authority in the minds of most Seventh-day Adventists. When forced to make a choice between obeying God or man, they unhesitatingly choose to obey God. They consider that, under such circumstances, they have a sacred duty of disobedience to man.

It would be well if such choices were forced upon us only outside of the church, but the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy make it clear that it can happen within the church. In Acts 5:17–20 we find the record of a situation in which church leaders commanded the apostles to not preach any more about Christ and imprisoned them, but an angel opened the prison doors and ordered them to go back to the temple and continue preaching. Thus, they had a sacred duty of disobedience to church leaders.

Ellen White’s inspired comments on this situation are most instructive. She writes: "’The angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.’ We see here that the men in authority are not always to be obeyed, even though they may profess to be teachers of Bible doctrine.…Because those who were once the depositaries of truth became unfaithful to their sacred trust, the Lord chose others who would receive the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and would advocate truths that were not in accordance with the ideas of the religious leaders." Testimonies to Ministers, 69, 70.

An even more startling passage is found on page 81: "But unless the truth is enthroned in the heart, and a thorough transition takes place from darkness to light, those who handle sacred responsibilities are ministers of darkness, blind leaders of the blind." Ibid.

A Horrifying Situation

This is appalling. We can hardly imagine such a horrifying situation. What could be the cause of such a condition? Look again at the first quotation above. A careful reading of this entire chapter in Testimonies to Ministers will reveal that the issue is truth, sacred truth. The word "truth" is used over and over in the chapter. Church leaders have an obligation to the truth of the Bible. This is a sacred trust. If they become unfaithful to this sacred trust by ignoring or rejecting the truth of the Bible, they become ministers of darkness in their handling of sacred responsibilities. What then of those who nevertheless obey them? On page 91 where there are three usages of the word "truth" we find this warning: "I call upon God’s people to open their eyes. When you sanction or carry out the decisions of men who, as you know, are not in harmony with truth and righteousness, you weaken your own faith and lose your relish for communion with God." Ibid.

There is, then, such a thing as a sacred duty of disobedience even within the church. This grim reality forces us to look at our leaders, as our prophet admonishes us to do, with open eyes. The history of Israel places a tragic example before us: "The Jews perished as a nation because they were drawn from the truth of the Bible by their rulers, priests, and elders. Had they heeded the lessons of Jesus, and searched the Scriptures for themselves, they would not have perished." Ibid., 109.

Ministers of Darkness

They were drawn from the truths of the Bible by their church leaders. Obviously there is nothing about high position that guarantees spiritual authority. Church authority is grounded in Scripture and is limited by Scripture. In order for the church and its leaders to speak with "duly constituted church authority," they must say about sin what God says about it in His Holy Word. "She [the church] must say about sin what God says about it." The Desire of Ages, 84.

If church leaders reject the Scriptural definitions of sin and advance their own human opinions as "duly constituted church authority," they betray their sacred trust, they blaspheme God, and they become ministers of darkness. We then have a sacred duty to disobey them.

The Sin of Christians Suing Christians

No sin that is mentioned in the Bible is defined more clearly, or denounced more emphatically, than the sin of Christians suing Christians in worldly courts. "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you. because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" 1 Corinthians 6:1–8.

To this unmistakably clear admonition from the Apostle Paul must be added the equally clear and emphatic warning from Ellen White: "Those who justify their course of action in going to law, and that with their brethren in the church, are acting out the spirit that developed the rebellion in heaven." A Message to our Physicians, 5. We must understand this to be the spirit of Satan.

"Lawsuits between brethren are a reproach to the cause of truth. Christians who go to law with one another expose the church to the ridicule of her enemies and cause the powers of darkness to triumph. They are wounding Christ afresh and putting Him to open shame." Acts of the Apostles, 306.

"I have written largely in regard to Christians who believe the truth placing their cases in courts of law to obtain redress. In doing this, they are biting and devouring one another in every sense of the world. ‘to be consumed one of another.’ They cast aside the inspired counsel God has given, and in the face of the message He gives they do the very thing He has told them not to do. Such men may as well stop praying to God, for He will not hear their prayers. They insult Jehovah, and He will leave them to become the subjects of Satan until they shall see their folly and seek the Lord by confession of their sins." Selected Messages, Book 3, 302.

Read that paragraph again, and then prepare yourself for a shock. "Why," you are probably asking, "are these grim warnings being published to our readers?"

Because, dear reader, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is now launching a series of lawsuits against Seventh-day Adventists.

Duly Constituted Church Authority

Why are these Seventh-day Adventists being sued? For the "crime" of correctly identifying themselves as Seventh-day Adventists. The first successful suit was against Pastor John Marik and his congregation in Hawaii. Now they have succeeded again with Pastor Rafael Perez and his congregation in Florida. Though the case was won by the General Conference in a Federal court, it is now being appealed, and the final outcome is uncertain. Meanwhile, many other suits are in preparation, in a demonstration of total contempt for both the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy.

The procedure, with some variations, is as follows:

  1. A group of true Seventh-day Adventists is found whose members are worshipping separately, in a home or some suitable place in an effort to protect themselves from the false doctrines that are being taught in many Seventh-day Adventist churches today.

  2. The group is ordered to stop using the name "Seventh-day Adventist."

  3. If they do not obey this order, they are disfellowshipped on the charge of failing to obey "duly constituted church authority."

  4. Then it is announced that a group of non-Adventists has been found using our church name. It is claimed that it is all right to sue them, since they are "non-Adventists."

But are they really non-Adventists? Most emphatically not! They are believing, teaching, and practicing the true Seventh-day Adventist faith, with no corruptions from Liberalism, Calvinism or Modernism. This fact is carefully obscured by the misrepresentations that they are troublemakers and rebels who are "refusing to submit to duly constituted church authority." Their appeals to church leaders to consider the theological problems with which they are concerned are ignored.

Therefore, when confronted with a choice between submitting to the threat of a lawsuit conducted in total contempt of both the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy, they consider it their sacred duty to disobey men in order that they may obey God. They hold that authority, which is exercised in contempt of Scripture, cannot be "duly constituted." Under these circumstances they believe that there is a sacred duty of disobedience to man and obedience to God.

One Day Closer to "Home"

Distressing as these apostate prosecutions (persecutions) may be, they should not discourage us. We have been clearly forewarned. God’s special messenger, Ellen White, has written that in the last days our worst enemies will be those who once shared our faith.

"As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the Third Angel’s Message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side. Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls. They become the most bitter enemies of their former brethren." The Faith I Live By, 336.

How comforting it is to know that our heavenly Father is not surprised or shaken by all of this, as we may be. He knew all about it and gave us an abundance of advance information to bolster our courage. When we see these things happening, we need not panic nor be discouraged. We can remind ourselves that the prophecies must be fulfilled, and say with Jesus: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 21:28.

November 2000 Table of Contents



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