Corporate Responsibility--The Unrecognized Principle

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Clarence Settle

There is an essential spiritual principle that is generally unrecognized by Seventh-day Adventists both within and without the structure, and some who are made aware of it refuse to acknowledge it. But it is there nonetheless! This is the principle of corporate accountability, the fact that you are accountable before God, not only for your own individual actions but also for the actions and behavior of the group or body you belong to or are a part of.

This principle is amply illustrated for us in the Scriptures, and we will look at some of those examples beginning in the book of Genesis with the account of Lot in Sodom. We read: “And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which am here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” Genesis 19:15. Here Lot is threatened with death if he does not quickly separate from that corrupt city. Was God favoring Lot just because he was Abraham's nephew? Not at all, for we read: “And fuming the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)” 2 Peter 2:6-8.

So even though God acknowledged Lot as just and righteous, if he would have refused to heed the command to separate, all his righteousness would not have saved him from being consumed by the fiery wrath of God's judgments. The point to be made here is that regardless of our standing with God, if we refuse to obey His command for us to separate from sinful associations, we will be destroyed along with them!

Let us go to another example, the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. We read: “And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” Numbers 16:20, 21. What was the reaction of Moses and Aaron to this command? “And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?” Verse 22.

In 3T: 354 we read: “They [the congregation] also were in alarming danger of being destroyed in their sins [the sins of Korah, Dathan & Abiram] by the wrath of God, for they were sharers in the crime of the men to whom they had given their sympathy and with whom they had associated.” So just by sympathizing with them and associating with these sinful men the congregation was just as guilty as they were and thus subject to being destroyed. But let us read on. “So they get up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children,” Numbers 16: 27.

We're all familiar with this story, but what is little known is that not all of the family members were destroyed in this rebellion for we read: “Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.” Numbers 26:11. Why weren't they destroyed too? Simply because as difficult as it must have been for them to tear away from the rest of their family, they chose to follow God's mandate to separate, and in doing so preserved their lives.

Let us now go to another example, that of Achan. God had warned Israel regarding the destruction of Jericho: “And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord.” Joshua 6:18. 19. We are all familiar with the fact that Achan refused to heed this warning and unbeknownst to all the rest decided to take some of the spoils to himself. But was he alone held responsible for his transgression? We read: “But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan...took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel.”

We know in that account, that as a result of Achan's sin thirty-six men lost their lives when the Israelites attacked Ai (Chap.7:4, 5), and what was God's response to Joshua's intercession? Even though Achan acted alone, all of Israel was guilty in the eyes of God as we read: “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which l commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen it, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.” Verse:11

Furthermore, we read from the inspired word: “Shame, defeat, and death were brought upon Israel by one man's sin. 4T: 492. Did these thirty-six men die because of their sinfulness or disobedience? No, they only died because Achan, along with them, were part of the same corporate body, all members of Israel, for we read: “God's command had been disregarded by one of those appointed to execute His judgments. And the nation was held accountable for the guilt of the transgressor...Achan's sin brought disaster upon the whole nation. For one man's sin the displeasure of God will rest upon His church till the transgression is searched out and put away.” PP: 494 & 497. In conclusion of the matter of Achan we read: “As the people had been held responsible for Achan's sin, and had suffered from it's consequence, they were, through their representatives, to take part in its punishment. `All Israel stoned him with stones.' ” Ibid.:495. Again, emphasizing the fact that the sins of the individual members make the entire membership responsible.

Before we see some more of what the Spirit of Prophecy has to say about this principle, let us look at one more example in the Old Testament as well as the New. We will look at the case of Jeremiah who had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon because God's people had sunk deep into idolatry and apostasy. Of course the leadership (as today) did not want to hear this dire prediction against “God's chosen people,” so their reaction was “Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city [against the church], as ye have heard with your ears.” Jeremiah 26:11. But what was Jeremiah's response? We read: “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 thereof. for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.” Verse 15. Again, not only would the church leaders be held accountable for his death, but all the inhabitants of that city as well.

And finally, let us look at a significant but generally overlooked example of this principle in the book of Acts. The occasion was the day of Pentecost when Peter was addressing the crowd of Jews assembled there for the religious festivals then in progress, men who had come from every known part of the world. Under the impression of the Holy Spirit Peter addressed them thus: “Therefor let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2: 36.

Here Peter accused all those present that they were all guilty of crucifying Jesus because all the house of Israel was guilty. Yet some of those devout men had not been present at the crucifixion, but that did not excuse them in the least bit. The mere fact that they were part of the Jewish nation made them guilty before God. So what was their response? We read: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost...And with many other words did he testify arid exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Verses 37. 38. 40. The only solution Peter had to offer to these men was for them to repent and be baptized and thus sever completely their connection with the Jewish faith. In other words, only a clear and marked separation from the apostasy would free them from the corporate guilt under which “all the house of Israel” stood before God.

Looking again to the Spirit of Prophecy we also see this principle illustrated as we read: “He [God] shows us that when His people are found in sin they should at once take decided measures to put that sin from them, that His frown may not rest upon them all. But if the sins of the people are passed over by those in responsible positions, His frown will be upon them, and the people of God, as a body, will be held responsible for those sins. In His dealings with His people in the past the Lord shows the necessity of purifying the church from wrongs. One sinner may diffuse darkness that will exclude the light of God from the entire congregation.” 3T: 65. Many are waiting for God to supernaturally purify and cleanse the church, as if all they have to do is sit there passively and tolerate all the wickedness and apostasy going on around them. But here we have read that it is necessary for the church to “take decided measures to put that sin from them.”

Again we read: “If wrongs are apparent among His people, and if the servants of God pass on indifferent to them, they virtually sustain and justify the sinner, and are alike guilty and will just as surely receive the displeasure of God; for they will be made responsible for the sins of the guilty.” Ibid.: 266.

Again, we read this startling but crystal clear admonition: 'The Lord said to Joshua, “Neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you” (Joshua 7:12). The defects of character in any member of the church, or in the minister, are charged to the church, if the church make light of the defects. If you place Elder Daniels over the church as a minister, you, as a church, assume his defects, you make them your own, and the whole church stands under the rebuke of God, even as ancient Israel was under His rebuke on account of the sin of Achan. But your case will be more grievous than theirs, because you knew the evil, yet hid your eyes from it and walked contrary to the will of God.” - Ms 1a, 1890, pp. 4, 5. (“A Consecrated Ministry,” February 13, 1890.)

And in closing, this admonition: “Christ requires personal faithfulness of His servants, and we are to show that we have no fellowship with the secret, hidden things of darkness. The wheat is not to sow itself among the tare; for although we may not practice the works of some of the members of the secret orders, in joining them we are registered in heaven as partakers of their evil deeds, responsible for their works of evil, and bound up in bundles with them as tares. Thank God, it is not too late for Christians to sever themselves from all unholy connections, and come fully unto the side of Christ... The tares will be bound into bundles to be burred, the wheat gathered into the heavenly garner.” 3RH: 01-10-93.

Oh friends, where are you going to be registered in heaven, as part of the wheat, or as one of the tares? Are you going to heed God's mandate to separate from all sin and apostasy, or are you going to listen to the voice of man telling you to wait for God to act? Is it any wonder that a loving God who would that none should perish warns us: “There was a coming out, a decided separation from the wicked, an escape for life. So it was in the days of Noah; so with Lot; so with the disciples prior to the destruction; [so with the Reformers, and so with the Pioneers of the Advent Movement] and so it will be in the last days...As in the days of Noah and Lot, there must be a marked separation from sin and sinners.” PP: 166, 167.

Unfortunately, as stated before, so many precious but deceived souls within the structure are waiting passively for God to act supernaturally and purify and cleanse the church. But they are acting under a great and fatal delusion, for God has given us His divine instructions as to what our part should be regarding sin and apostasy. Either separate it from you, or if you can't do that, then you must separate from it! It's that simple if you do not want to be among the ALL who perish as stated in Ezekiel 9:5. 6 and 5T: 211.