The Cowardice of the Laity

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The Cowardice of the Laity


The Cowardice of the Laity

By Colin Standish

I have recently returned from ministering in Brazil. The story there parallels the story that I have heard in so many countries of the world—especially those in Latin America. Earlier in the year, my brother Russell, Elder Perozo, another Hispanic pastor, and I ministered in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. In each of these three countries we met very dedicated, truth-believing, earnest, witnessing Seventh-day Adventists who have been cast out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for righteousness sake. We have found similar situations in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and El Salvador.

Two Phenomena

Our church is facing a most inexplicable situation where church discipline is meted out to some of the most faithful and dedicated church members. I know that to many this will seem to be impossible but it is not.

A second phenomenon is also taking place: Men and women who have committed serious sins and crimes in many instances are not being disfellowshipped. I am personally familiar with situations where adulterers and thieves among the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s ministers have been retained in the ministry by being transferred to a new church. In one case of attempted embezzlement a pastor was transferred to a new Conference and given the largest church in the Conference. Later he became the secretary of two Conferences and later still a Conference president. He had been found guilty by a court of law as was another minister and his wife who were indicted for stealing VCRs from a large department store. This second pastor was also moved to another Conference.

More than 25 years ago a Union president told me that in his Union were 17 "recovered" adulterers. These men did not lose their membership or their ordination, and they retained their active credentials to minister elsewhere. This situation becomes very alarming in the light of the scandals that are raging through the United States and Australia where clerics of the Roman Catholic Church in America and clerics of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church in Australia and Great Britain are being exposed for protecting priests who have sexually violated children in their parishes. This present scandal does not include priests who have been guilty of adultery with consenting adults. The cases in the Seventh-day Adventist Church are likewise not isolated cases nor are they limited to the first world countries.

Such allegations were rarely heard 30 or 40 years ago, but now they have become increasingly common. Yet, just as there seems to be a turning away from disciplining those who have brought shame and reproach upon God’s remnant church those who, in love for God, stand up for truth and righteousness are being disfellowshipped. How can this be in God’s remnant church? How can it be that pastors and leaders and elders can be so blind to the real issues that are confronting our church?

We should not be surprised, for Jesus warned that the very sanctuaries established to glorify His name and to be places of worship and praise to Him are places where many faithful will be cast out and persecuted:

"They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." John 16:2.

Paul also stated, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." 2 Timothy 3:12.

Now, I am not suggesting that it has come to the place where faithful people have been killed. But church history attests to the fact that the deeper the apostasy in a church organization the greater the persecution against faithful people. In our church these righteous souls cannot be silent when they see their beloved church, the church chosen of God to take the everlasting gospel to the world, falling deeply into the practices of the fallen churches of Christianity. The reason, however, above everything else which leads to the persecution of the righteous is that the laity do not play their God-given role. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We believe that the laity are the ones alone who should be leading the local church congregations while the pastors go to the regions beyond to establish new companies of believers.

Some months ago in an e-magazine entitled Hovering Over the Churches, I quoted many of the statements of the Lord, urging that pastors stop focusing their attention on our churches so that they could evangelize new communities that know not the truth.The lay people were encouraged to lead out in the business and services of the church and be responsible for the witness of God’s truth in the communities surrounding the local church.

The Influence of Leadership

Throughout history the laity have been subjected to the thoughts and controlling influence of priests, pastors, and church leaders. It is often the leaders and pastors today who incite the people against God’s faithful. This situation is vividly described in the experience of the life of the faithful prophet Jeremiah. God gave a very stern and urgent message through Jeremiah to the leaders and people of his day. Here is God’s command:

"Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word." Jeremiah 26:2.

Knowing that this would be such a difficult message to give, the Lord commanded Jeremiah not to soften down the message even in the slightest extent. When Jeremiah preached this message, here was the response:

"Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die." Verse 8.

It will be noted that, led by the priests and the false prophets, all the people sided against this faithful, righteous prophet, shouting that he was worthy to die. Immediately the ecclesiastical leaders called for the secular leaders, the princes of Israel, for it would be their responsibility to carry out the death decree. Once again, in great courage Jeremiah repeated to the princes what he had said to the people knowing that his life could be forfeited within moments. Note his words:

"Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent Him of the evil that He hath pronounced against you. As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you. But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants therof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears." Verses 12–15.

Almost miraculously the princes decided to spare the life of this faithful prophet: "Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and to the prophets; This man is not worthy to die: for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God." Verse 16.

One of the most amazing turnarounds came in the response of the people, the ordinary laymen of Judah. When the highest authorities present—the priests and the false prophets—declared that Jeremiah was worthy to die, they shouted with them. However, when the higher authority of the princes said he was not worthy to die, the people immediately changed sides and supported the princes. This was but one of many demonstrations where the people were afraid to speak out against the words of the leaders. Tragically, humanity is little different today. Most laity have so yielded their minds and decision-making responsibilities to men in authority that they readily support such pastors and leaders no matter how right or wrong are the issues. It will be this fear of leadership that will lead to devastating consequences for God’s people at the hands of unconsecrated leaders and people.

A similar experience happened in the time of Elijah. Once again we have a courageous prophet who knew that his life could be forfeited at any moment. When the people were gathered on Mt. Carmel they dared not speak against the king nor the false prophets. Elijah gave them every opportunity, challenging this large company of lay people with these words: "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word." 1 Kings 18:21.

It will be noted that not one of these cowardly lay people had the courage to declare that he was standing with the prophet. They all surrendered to the power of the leaders of that day. Only when God had in a miraculous way answered the prayer of the prophet and the mighty flame from heaven ignited the water-saturated sacrifice and altar, only then did they have the "courage" to declare themselves for the prophet:

"And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, He is the God; the Lord, He is the God." Verse 39.

Thus, it should not be surprising that when the high priest and the rulers of Judah shouted for the crucifixion of our precious Lord that the masses of people shouted with them that He should be crucified.

"But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto Him, Let Him be crucified." Matthew 27:20–22.

If the priests and leaders had said, "Release Jesus," the people would have cried, "Release Jesus." But under false loyalty to wicked leaders the people called for the cruel crucifixion of Jesus. And they brought upon themselves the dreaded curse: "Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children." Verse 25.

Evidence of Backsliding

As a student of history, especially church history, I have noted the repetitious nature of the history of churches. Pure churches do not contemplate the persecution of their members. Such a thought is anathema to a people who know that only God can make such ultimate decisions, for His decisions are righteous and unerring. They follow the statements of Jesus.

"Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is My kingdom not from hence." John 18:36.

Whenever churches engage in discipline and persecution against those who seek to warn and enlighten the people who have left their first love, it is indisputable evidence that they have wandered away from truth and have increasingly engaged in worldliness. It can be assured that the leaders who are responsible for these actions have lost the Spirit of Christ. They have forsaken the warning and example of Jesus in dealing with those over whom they have assumed leadership. The counsel of Christ is binding on all faithful leaders.

"But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." Matthew 20:25–28.

Once earnest Christians are disciplined for their faithful testimony and their earnest burden for the souls steeped in ignorance and sin, inevitably persecution will follow. When the opportunity arises that church leaders can utilize the arm of civil government, persecution—even to the point of imprisonment and death—will ultimately result. This is true whether we review the history of paganism, or of the Jewish church or of the Roman Catholic Church.

The True Basis of Unity

When the church has proceeded far enough in doctrinal apostasy and worldliness, then no longer can it call for the only basis of unity, that is, sanctification, which is established upon truth:

"Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. . . . And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." John 17:17–19.

"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; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." Ephesians 4:14–15.

"Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." 1 Peter 1:22–23.

"There is no sanctification aside from the truth—the Word." Fundamentals of Christian Education, 432.

"Unity is the sure result of Christian perfection." The Sanctified Life, 85.

When Truth Stands Against Error

The leaders of the church today, as in every generation, have a God-given responsibility to be guardians of the truth and of the salvation principles of justification and sanctification. When in the course of time there is devaluation of truth and righteousness, then division is inevitable. The division comes not because righteous people are pointing out the error, worldliness, and wickedness in the church, but it comes because of the angered response of those who are determined to remain content in their carnal activities. They desire to love the world and the things of the world while professing to be faithful to God’s church. They will suffer no one whom they see as upsetting their comfort zone. Inevitably, in all generations this has led to the following consequences:

(1) Those who love Christ, who have a burden for the honor of God and for the souls who are being led astray by false teachers are blamed for the divisions that arise in the church when, indeed, the division lays at the feet of those who have forsaken the commandments of God and the counsel of the Lord.

(2) Soon the Word is no longer held to be the foundation of unity. Unfaithful leaders do not recourse to Scripture to reestablish unity on the platform of truth and sanctification because they themselves have rejected the only foundation, which will result in authentic unity. Rather the cry is for loyalty to the church, which translates into "loyalty to the leaders of the church." In a marked way we are seeing this today in our beloved church—a sure sign of spiritual decay.

As a lad and youth, I frequently heard the earnest entreaties of public evangelists as they urged the claims of the Seventh-day Adventist faith upon their listeners declaring that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has "no creed but the Bible" and that "the Bible and the Bible alone is our foundation of faith and practice." Just as the Roman Church declared that "loyalty to the church automatically makes one loyal to Christ," so we are by precept and example today urging that the most important principle of salvation is faithfulness and loyalty to God’s church with the inference that any form of dissent, reproof, or rebuke is a violation of God-given principles. That the faithful sentinels are to go to the world to prepare a people for the Second Coming is of no consequence to unfaithful leaders and indeed the sentinels are treated with disdain. Gone are the days when Seventh-day Adventist leaders for the most part urged the Protestant principle of the Reformation that "loyalty to God automatically makes one loyal to the church." This is a devastating change in thinking—one that is beset by fearful and tragic consequences.

3) Decreasingly are those who openly and persistently violate God’s law brought under reproof and discipline. Sin is excused on the false basis of love, and fornication, adultery, theft, and many other sins, are treated with less concern. Thus, the power of God is withdrawn from the church, which becomes increasingly impotent.

"We profess to be governed by the same principles, to be influenced by the same spirit. But instead of giving all for Christ many have taken the golden wedge and a goodly Babylonish garment and hid them in the camp. If the presence of one Achan was sufficient to weaken the whole camp of Israel, can we be surprised at the little success which attends our efforts when every church and almost every family has its Achan." Testimonies, vol. 5, 157.

(4) While increasingly overlooking the sins of the professed people of God in the church, discipline becomes heavy-handed upon those who point out sin and who call for revival and reformation. James Cardinal Gibbons in his book The Faith of Our Fathers, a book designed to attract Protestants to Roman Catholicism, defends this practice in the Roman Catholic Church in a most appealing but fallacious set of arguments:

"The Church, walking in the footsteps of her Divine Spouse, never repudiates sinners nor cuts them off from her fold, no matter how grievous or notorious may be their moral delinquencies; not because she connives at their sin, but because she wishes to reclaim them. She bids them never to despair, and tries, at least, to weaken their passions, if she cannot altogether reform their lives. . . . We know, on the other hand, that sinners who are guilty of gross crimes which shock public decency are virtually excommunicated from Protestant Communions." The Faith of Our Fathers, 24. (However, in the same book Cardinal Gibbons strongly defends excommunication of heretics.)

(5) The perpetrators of doctrinal apostasy, worldliness, and unholy practices are often exalted, while the humble, earnest and faithful are disfellowshipped and vilified by leaders who no longer know and preach the transcendent truths of the Three Angels’ Messages and the everlasting gospel. These pastors are no longer raising their voices to warn the wicked of the peril of their course and to call them back to the principles of righteousness. God greatly condemns such leaders and pastors and specifically details their ultimate fate along with the innocent souls they have led away from the kingdom of heaven.

"But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand." Ezekiel 33:6.

"It is with reluctance that the Lord withdraws His presence from those [ministers] who have been blessed with great light and who have felt the power of the Word in ministering to others. They were once His faithful servants, favored with His presence and guidance; but they departed from Him and led others into error, and therefore are brought under the divine displeasure." Testimonies, vol. 5, 212.

Today we have moved deeply into apostasy, and thus we see a repressive, heavy-handed leadership in many parts of the world who are repeating the same errors of the Jewish leaders who ultimately crucified the Son of God. Like the Jews of old who declared that they would not have persecuted the prophets, so modern leaders claim the same. However, in the persecution of Christ’s faithful ones of this present generation, some modern leaders are proving the hollowness of their claims.

I have witnessed faithful, dedicated Christians in countries such as Great Britain, Germany, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Chili, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Australia who have been cast out for righteousness sake. The brothers and sisters to whom I am referring, are not wild-eyed fanatics or revolutionaries. They are earnest, faithful people who love the Lord and love their fellow men. They love to witness for God’s truth and to call men out of darkness into the light of His glory. They seek to work for the "purifying of the church and the warning of the world." Testimonies, vol. 5, 187.

It is heartbreaking and, if it were not for the sustaining power of Christ, it would be wholly discouraging to see God’s beloved church, His precious end-time truth, the holiness to which He calls and empowers His people, all trampled in the dust. Sin, worldliness and error are condoned, and in many cases promoted, by leadership in God’s remnant church. I am not casting all leaders or pastors into the one mold, for I know there are faithful leaders and pastors who are the modern-day Nicodemus’ and Josephs of Arimathaea. But the actions of many and the silence of many more bear testimony to leaders who have betrayed their trust. These are the "ancient men" spoken of in Ezekiel, chapter 9. Note what Sister White says concerning them:

"Here we see that the church—the Lord’s sanctuary—was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God. The ancient men, those to whom God had given great light and who had stood as guardians of the spiritual interests of the people, had betrayed their trust. They had taken the position that we need not look for miracles and the marked manifestation of God’s power as in former days. Times have changed. These words strengthen their unbelief, and they say: The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil. He is too merciful to visit His people in judgment. Thus ‘Peace and safety’ is the cry from men who will never again lift up their voice like a trumpet to show God’s people their transgressions and the house of Jacob their sins. These dumb dogs that would not bark are the ones who feel the just vengeance of an offended God. Men, maidens, and little children all perish together." Testimonies, vol. 5, 211.

I have a tremendous burden for leaders, pastors and teachers who are leading the precious flock astray, because I know that unfaithful men and women who are in leadership roles will face a fearful punishment in the judgment.

"The people turned upon their ministers with bitter hate and reproached them, saying, ‘You have not warned us. You told us that all the world was to be converted, and cried, Peace, peace, to quiet every fear that was aroused. You have not told us of this hour; and those who warned us of it you declared to be fanatics and evil men, who would ruin us.’ But I saw that the ministers did not escape the wrath of God. Their suffering was tenfold greater than that of their people. Early Writings, 282.

This article is not presented with personal anger although I am outraged when unfaithful men and women lead youth and older members alike, not to the kingdom of heaven, but rather to the kingdom of eternal destruction. I pray earnestly that each of our leaders and pastors will regain their moral fortitude, that they will rather suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy popularity and the praise of men for a season while dishonoring our God. Too much is at stake. No other church in history has had the light that has been entrusted to this people. No other people have been given such a sacred mission to take the pure, everlasting gospel to every inhabitant of the planet.

Dear leaders, pastors and laity, may we all regain our moral and spiritual rectitude and lead God’s people heavenward and homeward.



Colin Standish is

President of Hartland Institute

In our next e-magazine we will consider, "The Organization of the Early Christian Church."

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