From Beyond the Pulpit – Offshoots and Fleas…

by Stan Hudson who served as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 38 years and is currently the Director of Creation Ministries at the North Pacific Union Conference

What IS it with these offshoot movements anyway? We have the 2520 people, we have anti-Holy Spirit people, we have vegan or die people mostly on the right, we have evolutionists and God doesn’t kill anybody people on the left. And they all have some sort of claim of new light.

One of the really rare perks of aging (I mean, experience) is having seen these movements come and often go, but also having seen what they accomplish. I now offer a few observations….

These movements always start with a discovery of something that heretofore had escaped serious notice, things that carry a look of “knowledge.” We all know that knowledge puffs up (except in the case of yours truly). And I note a few puffy people in these experiences.

Generally the knowledge is based on something somewhat obscured in Scripture. That is, the clear understanding should not be taken in favor of the more obscure newer understanding. This runs counter to a couple of key points: the correct way to study any Biblical topic is to use the vast majority of texts that are clear (the soul that sins shall die, the dead know nothing, Lazarus sleeps) and THEN go back to the few texts that say something different (the smoke of their torment ascends forever) and look at the context and key words. Those different texts can then be moved back into the body of clearer ones. You never base an understanding upon the tangential statements over against the clear ones. Secondly to do so assumes God isn’t very good at communicating truths. All doctrines fundamentally say something about God, and that He hides truth from seekers is not my image of a loving Creator.

Then there is the powerful lure of knowledge. We remember how it worked for Eve. To know something that others don’t yet puts a person in a place of power. And we all are born with a craving for this. And it is especially true for a church like ours that rightly is blessed with rich truths. We can out-argue most anyone. These movements attract arguers.

Which brings me to Jesus’ great council of “by their fruits you will know them.” What is the fruit of these movements? Greater and richer images of Jesus? Is He the center of their lives, the One who is the Desire of Ages? Or instead is there bitterness, division and name-calling?

Once I visited a group of church builders who were going to come and do a project for my church. They were preparing for lunch and had been arguing about a topic (1888). A woman said to me, “Pastor, when you pray the blessing for our lunch would you also pray that we have unity?” I joked, “Sure, but a lot of time people who want unity are really asking that God would make people believe like them!” She glared at me with a look that was startlingly demonic. I remember thinking God’s Spirit was not very present in their ruminations.

Hear this from 5T 291: “God has not passed His people by and chosen one solitary man here and another there as the only ones worthy to be entrusted with His truth. He does not give one man new light contrary to the established faith of the body. In every reform men have arisen making this claim…. The greatest harm to God’s people comes through those who go out from among them speaking perverse things…. Let none be self-confident, as though God had given them special light above their brethren.”

I think of the famous image from EGW that the Adventist Church is like a dog barking at a fast-moving train (representing this world), trying to get its attention. These offshoot reform movements can then be likened to fleas biting and distracting that barking dog from its mission.

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