Nine years ago, after we had started our self-supporting daughter church in the parish of St. Thomas, Jamaica, West Indies, the then President of the East Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at a convention notified his members and leaders about our off-shoot church. He stated that we were not Seventh-day Adventists and therefore they should be aware of us! Certainly, this did something to the minds of the sincere members and leaders who truly love their church. They were now put on guard against us by this president who had never spoken to me on the matter. We were now viewed as their enemies because we were presented to them as antagonistic towards the SDA church. It was conveyed to these honest SDAs that we have left “the church” and “the truth.”
Consequently, from that day forward, the majority of Seventh-day Adventists and especially those in the area where we operate despise us, while the others just tolerate us! All because of the irresponsible attitude of one husbandman.
To help you to see the far-reaching effect of this president’s action, I will connect another incident with this one which occurred on a Sabbath evening several years ago when an elder and I decided to pay a visit to an evangelist friend of mine who was conducting a meeting in the same vicinity where our daughter church is located. When we arrived on the site where the tent was erected, it was evident that there was a break in meetings so we went to the back of the tent to see the evangelist but were told by three women who were seated there that he had left for a baptism service at another location.
Interestingly, one of the ladies, who apparently recognized us, asked a very strange question: “Did you come here to be re-baptized?” What really prompted this poor lady to ask us such a question? Evidently, it had to do with what was told to her and others by the conference leadership; that we have apostatized from “the truth” and we are not “under the conference,” therefore we are no longer a part of God’s church.
This experience demonstrated that there exists a great degree of ignorance among many Seventh-day Adventists, members and leaders alike, concerning the phrase “off-shoot,” and equally, who or what is the true source of salvation and what are the qualifying characteristics of a true Seventh-day Adventist Christian! Sadly, this was the very same condition of the Jewish church in the time of Christ.
Isaiah says, “Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:1, 2).
Israel was a vine planted by God for a special reason—that of being Jehovah’s representatives, fruitful in every good work.
“God’s law must be exalted, His authority maintained; and to the house of Israel was given this great and noble work. God separated them from the world, that He might commit to them a sacred trust. He made them the depositaries of His law, and He purposed through them to preserve among men the knowledge of Himself. Thus the light of heaven was to shine out to a world enshrouded in darkness, and a voice was to be heard appealing to all peoples to turn from idolatry to serve the living God.” Prophets and Kings, 16.
Israel was God’s choice vine, planted by Him to be the avenue to Christ—“the true vine”—the only source of salvation for the nations of earth. But ancient Israel did not fulfill God’s purpose. She failed to reflect the lovely character of Jesus to those in darkness. So the Lord reasons, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto Me” (Jeremiah 2: 21)?
Through Hosea God said of His church, “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images” (Hosea 10:1).
In disappointment the Lord asked, “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard. What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. … and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (Isaiah 5:3–7, last part).
Israel, the church in the wilderness, was an off-shoot of “the vine” by God’s special favor and faithfulness, and by His goodness He made her into a choice vine. This the Jews should never have forgotten. An off-shoot by definition is a branch or lateral shoot from a main stem of a plant. So then, an off-shoot is not a different species from the parent stock. It has in itself the same nature and features like that of the parent stock from which it springs.
The Jews should always have remembered that they were but an off-shoot of “the vine” as was stated by God through their prophet Jeremiah: “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto Me” (Jeremiah 2:21)? The phrase right seed according to the Hebrew means a vine-shoot of the genuine sort. This is how an off-shoot comes about!
According to Ellen White, this choice vine that God planted was His church, His true representative on earth. “The Lord planted His church as a vine in a fruitful field. With tenderest care He nourished and cherished it, that it might bring forth the fruits of righteousness.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 240.
This choice vine was a representation of “the true vine” that God Himself planted in a manger in Bethlehem. Ellen White reveals what Jesus meant by these words, “ ‘I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman’ (John 15:1). Our Heavenly Father planted on earth a goodly vine, whose fruit would impart to the children of men eternal life. But this precious plant appeared to human eyes as a root out of dry ground, seeming to have no form nor comeliness. When it was claimed to be of heavenly origin, the men of Nazareth became enraged, and cast it from them. The inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem took this vine of God’s own planting, and bruised it, and trampled it under foot, hoping thus to destroy it forever. But now the Husbandman removed his precious vine, and planted it in his own garden, beyond the spoiler’s reach. The stock and root were concealed from human sight, but still ‘the branches run over the wall’ (Genesis 49:22). Thus grafts could be united to the vine, and, partaking of its nourishment, these became branches, and flourished and brought forth fruit.
“This figure of the vine is a perfect symbol. God sent His Son from the heavenly courts to a world seared and marred with the curse. In Christ was righteousness, peace, life—every blessing necessary for man’s happiness. But the world hated the Son of the infinite God. The world saw nothing attractive in Him. The best gift of Heaven was slighted and spurned. Christ was ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3). Yet ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed’ (verse 5). Christ was hated by evil men because His character was spotless, His works righteous. He came to be the Redeemer of the world, yet He was taken by wicked hands, and shamefully entreated, and crucified.” The Review and Herald, September 20, 1881.
The Holy Scriptures state, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). “But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him” (Matthew 21:38, 39).
Ellen White continues her explanation, “God raised Him from the dead, and He ascended to Heaven to present His blood as the propitiation for our sins.
“Though hidden from mortal sight, Christ still lives as the world’s Redeemer, the representative of man in the heavenly courts, and the medium through whom all blessings flow to the fallen race. … In this vine is all spiritual life. From Christ’s fullness alone can we obtain nourishment unto eternal life. The vine stock is unseen; but the branches—members of His body—are visible.” The Review and Herald, September 20, 1881.
We see here that Jesus Christ is “the True Vine” and His presence constitutes the church! He alone is the source of salvation for whosoever will!
Whom do the branches represent? Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). “The branches” Ellen White wrote “represent the believers in Jesus Christ. Those who truly believe, will do the same works that He did. They are united to Christ by the faith that works by love and purifies the soul.” The Southern Work, 52.
It is evident from this next quotation that the branches (Christians) comprise the church and hence are nourished by Jesus Christ, the True Vine. “The branches do not sustain the vine, but the vine supports and nourishes the branches. The church does not support Christ, but Christ, by His vital power, supports the church.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 344.
How do the branches stay connected to the vine? In John 15:8, 9, Jesus said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples. As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love.” “Every branch of the vine, subjected to the pruning of the wise Husbandman, will bring forth clusters of precious fruit. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love’ (Galatians 5:22). … The branch can maintain its connection with the living vine only on condition that it bear fruit. Said Christ, ‘If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love’ (John 15:10). …
“Love to God and love to our neighbor is the sum and substance of true piety. Those who are destitute of this love, and yet claim high attainments in spiritual things, may for a time deceive their fellow-men, but they cannot deceive God. Says the True Witness, ‘I know thy works’ (Revelation 2:2, first part). And in the great day of final accounts, God ‘will render to every man according to his deeds’ (Romans 2:6).” The Review and Herald, September 20, 1881.
Ellen White on another occasion explained the importance of unity in relation to this fruit of love that the branches must bear in order to stay connected to Christ. She wrote, “Unity, fellowship with one another and with Christ—this is the fruit borne on every branch of the living vine.” In Heavenly Places, 72. Unity is not a distinct, separate fruit that the branches must bear; it is an offspring of love. This is what the servant of the Lord explains: “The golden chain of love, binding the hearts of the believers in unity, in bonds of fellowship and love, and in oneness with Christ and the Father, makes the connection perfect and bears to the world a testimony of the power of Christianity that cannot be controverted.” Our High Calling, 173.
The Jewish church was destitute of the love of Jesus and the unity that it produces! Is the SDA church destitute of God’s love and unity? We get our answer from an article in The Review and Herald dated February 25, 1902, under the topic “The Need of a Revival and a Reformation.” It states, “ ‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent’ (Revelation 2:4, 5).
“I am instructed to say that these words are applicable to Seventh-day Adventist churches in their present condition. The love of God has been lost, and this means the absence of love for one another. Self, self, self, is cherished, and is striving for the supremacy. How long is this to continue? Unless there is a reconversion, there will soon be such a lack of godliness that the Church will be represented by the barren fig tree. Great light has been given to her. She has had abundant opportunity for bearing much fruit. But selfishness has come in, and God says, ‘I will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.’ ”
Also, with reference to unity among SDAs, this is what she wrote: “There is a great and solemn work to be done by Seventh-day Adventists if they will only be converted. The great trouble is the lack of unity among them. This is a sin in the sight of God—a sin which, unless God’s people repent, will withhold from them His blessing.” The General Conference Bulletin, April 7, 1903.
Like so many SDA leaders and members today, the Jewish leaders and people failed to realize that their church was not “the true vine” but a choice vine, an off-shoot of “the true vine” – Jesus Christ. It was because of their constant refusal to understand this important truth that they rejected Christ and consequently were severed from “the vine.”
The Seventh-day Adventist church is, without question, God’s true church, just as the Jewish church was God’s true church in Christ’s time. The rejection of Christ and the path of rebellion and disobedience that the Jewish church took following that rejection led down the very same path the SDA church organization is pursuing. If she fails to repent, then a similar fate—final rejection by God—will be meted out to her that the Jewish church experienced.
It was out of this whole experience that Christ was forced to establish the new Christian church. In the book, The Desire of Ages, pages 231, 232, we see how this all happened. “If the leaders in Israel had received Christ, He would have honored them as His messengers to carry the gospel to the world. To them first was given the opportunity to become heralds of the kingdom and grace of God. But Israel knew not the time of her visitation. The jealousy and distrust of the Jewish leaders had ripened into open hatred, and the hearts of the people were turned away from Jesus.
“The Sanhedrin had rejected Christ’s message and was bent upon His death; therefore Jesus departed from Jerusalem, from the priests, the temple, the religious leaders, the people who had been instructed in the law, and turned to another class to proclaim His message, and to gather out those who should carry the gospel to all nations.
“As the light and life of men was rejected by the ecclesiastical authorities in the days of Christ, so it has been rejected in every succeeding generation. Again and again the history of Christ’s withdrawal from Judea has been repeated. When the Reformers preached the word of God, they had no thought of separating themselves from the established church; but the religious leaders would not tolerate the light, and those that bore it were forced to seek another class, who were longing for the truth. In our day few of the professed followers of the Reformers are actuated by their spirit. Few are listening for the voice of God, and ready to accept truth in whatever guise it may be presented. Often those who follow in the steps of the Reformers are forced to turn away from the churches they love, in order to declare the plain teaching of the word of God. And many times those who are seeking for light are by the same teaching obliged to leave the church of their fathers, that they may render obedience.”
If there is one reason for the existence of independent SDA churches or self-supporting SDA churches, this would be it: the desire to render loving obedience to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, the question must be asked, Is God opposed to self-supporting SDA churches or ministries? The answer is obvious: No, He is not! The evidence is clear.
“That which God purposed to do for the world through Israel, the chosen nation, He will finally accomplish through His church on earth today. He has ‘let out His vineyard unto other husbandmen,’ even to His covenant-keeping people, who faithfully ‘render Him the fruits in their seasons’ (Matthew 21:41). Never has the Lord been without true representatives on this earth who have made His interests their own. These witnesses for God are numbered among the spiritual Israel, and to them will be fulfilled all the covenant promises made by Jehovah to His ancient people.” Prophets and Kings, 713, 714.
Let us never forget these words written in 1903: “The Lord Jesus will always have a chosen people to serve Him. When the Jewish people rejected Christ, the Prince of life, He took from them the kingdom of God and gave it unto the Gentiles. God will continue to work on this principle with every branch of His work. When a church proves unfaithful to the word of the Lord, whatever their position may be, however high and sacred their calling, the Lord can no longer work with them. Others are then chosen to bear important responsibilities. But if these in turn do not purify their lives from every wrong action, if they do not establish pure and holy principles in all their borders, then the Lord will grievously afflict and humble them, and, unless they repent, will remove them from their place and make them a reproach.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, 102.
Jesus appeals to you and to me, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. … If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4, 6). The fruit that we all must bear to prove that we are connected to Christ is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is love (Galatians 5:22).
This is what the Jewish leaders and people failed to produce because from the very beginning they rejected the True Vine! Your prayer and my prayer should be, Lord, let this not be my attitude! Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). The question that Jesus is asking you and me today is “Lovest thou Me” (John 21:15)?
Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.