QUESTION 1 OF 12:
Can the Remnant Church be Part Virgin, Part Street-Walker?
There are two basic meanings for the word "church": (1) A GROUP OF ORGANIZED BELIEVERS (from home churches to world-wide denominations); and (2) THE BODY OF CHRIST (which even includes all of the unfallen beings, see TESTIMONIES FOR THE CHURCH Volume 6 [6T] p 366; ACTS OF THE APOSTLES p 11). It is this second definition of church which Christ will present to Himself, not having spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27,30); which "may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall" (SELECTED MESSAGES, Book 2 [2SM], p 380); and which will become the church triumphant at the second advent (EVANGELISM p 707; REVIEW & HEARLD Articles [RH] 07-26-98): for no organized group is going to be saved, we are saved on an individual basis. The first definition of church is sometimes called a "visible church"; while the terms "invisible church", and "mystical church" have been applied to the second. No mere human has the ability to determine exactly who belongs to this mystical church, for only God can read the hearts. Visible churches may be broken further into two categories; true and false: the invisible church exists within both of these (GREAT CONTROVERSY [GC] p 383,390,464).
Some people have gone against the idea of there being both a visible and an invisible church. However, Mrs. White used the term "visible church" (GC 204; 4T 16; 5T 619; UPWARD LOOK [UL] p 63; etc); although she did not use the term "invisible church", or "mystical church", she did use "mystical body" (DESIRE OF AGES [DA] p 417; 5T 731; THOUGHTS FROM THE MOUNT OF BLESSING p 64, THAT I MAY KNOW HIM p 19; etc). Nevertheless, there is no point in getting hung up over semantics: what name-tag you care to use for definition #1 and #2 listed above is not the problem; the problem comes when people say that God's visible true church is the organized denominational structure--no matter how bad it gets. If this was actually the case, then Rome is still the true church! Another problem, which often comes with the concept of a visible and an invisible church, is the idea that a human being can be the head of the visible church: "It is one of the leading doctrines of Romanism that the pope is the visible head of the universal church of Christ..." (GC 50). There is only one Head of the true church--both visible and mystical--and it is Christ. Now God's visible church may well include several different visible groups, which all meet the necessary qualifications. It was not a single, man-made organization which fled into the wilderness during the dark ages (Rev 12:6,14); rather, it was several different groups (Waldenses, Huguenots, etc) that were all under one Head--even Christ Jesus.
What about the remnant church, must it rely upon the General Conference for its existence? Well, the remnant church began in 1844; yet the Conference didn't begin until 1862--for eighteen years the remnant church existed without being organized into a single denominational structure. What about after the General Conference was set up? Did it then have exclusive rights--or could there still be groups outside of the Conference, which were part of God's last-day true church? Madison was "independent" of the Conference, and yet undoubtedly considered part of the remnant church by Ellen White: "When the work for the new school was organized, Ellen White accepted an invitation to serve on the board of directors--the only time she ever served in such a capacity. She watched the developments at Madison with deep interest." (White, Arthur L., THE ELLEN G. WHITE BIOGRAPHY, Volume 5, page 347).
For those who like to apply the term "independent atoms" to the various independent ministries: STUDY the context, and you will find that it applies to religious groups which are operating independent of "God's supervision" ("Special Testimony to the Brethren in Battle Creek" Pamphlet 156, p 12), "Christ's army" (Spalding and Magan Collection p 121), "the soldiers of Christ" (The Signs of the Times, 09-07-91), etc--it is not a term for groups that are independent of the conference.
So, just what exactly are the qualifications necessary for a group to be part of God's visible remnant church? Are they the remnant of her seed, in which some of them keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ; while the rest of them live in open sin, and trample on the Spirit of Prophecy? You won't find it translated that way in the King James Version! The visible remnant church includes any group that visibly (outwardly) keeps the Ten Commandments and follows the Spirit of Prophecy--pretty simple, isn't it? It is correct that there are those within God's visible true church who outwardly appear to keep the commandments; but who break them in their thoughts--or perhaps even in their actions, when other church members aren't around. However, we are not to attempt weeding these "tares" out of the church; for we are unable to accurately determine who they are, and may end up weeding the wrong ones out (Matt 13:29; CHRIST OBJECT LESSONS [COL] p 71; TESTIMONIES TO MINISTERS [TM] p 45-47, etc).
God's church is made up of wheat and tares, and they appear very similar on the outside; but it is not made up of wheat and tumbleweeds, which are very easily distinguishable by outward appearance. It is also true that there are sins and sinners within God's visible true church (TM 45-49; LAKE UNION HERALD Articles 12-09-08; etc); but she is not talking about open sinners. The Bible and E.G.W. are very clear that the true church is to be separate from persistent, open sinners (1 Cor 5:9-13; 2 Cor 6:14-17; Eph 5:11; COL 71; 3T 239,265,266; SDA BIBLE COMMENTARY Vol 2 [2BC], p 996; 5BC 1096; etc). Not only will open sinners be separate from the true church (by definition), but; "Even the tares have a lesson. They are of Satan's sowing, and, if left unchecked, spoil the wheat by their rank growth." (8T 326).
The visible, remnant church includes wise and foolish virgins; but not virgins and prostitutes! The foolish virgins are comparable to the tares, and cannot be positively identified by mortal man: "When the foolish virgins reached the banqueting hall, they received an unexpected denial. They were left outside in the blackness of night. This parable is not a representation of open sinners" (RH 10-31-99). The message to the Laodiceans applies to these foolish virgins and tares who are "neither cold nor hot" (Rev 3:15; RH 08-19-90); but not to the stone-cold streetwalkers who are living in open violation of God's law. "Come out of her, my people" (Rev 18:4) is the message to leave the open sinners.
Some have thought that an organization can be a harlot and still not be in Babylon, because Israel played the harlot many times before it was ever rejected by God as a chosen nation. However, this is not a fair comparison. In the Old Testament times there was no such thing as spiritual Babylon; people couldn't have been "called out" of Israel when it was in apostasy, because there would have been nowhere else to be "called into". The visible church of God at that time was defined by ancestral heritage--not by the messages which are practiced and taught, as is the case in the New Testament times. As of A.D. 34, religious organizations have been able to remain in God's true church or join Babylon; and their own decisions and actions would make such a transition occur. Once a transition occurs there is a period of time before their actions have closed their probation as was the case with Israel. The literal Israelite nation can never again return to being the chosen nation, no matter what it does, its probation has closed; but organizations which have been in Babylon and whose probation has not closed can come out of it and be part of God's true church, if they choose to take the necessary actions. The opposite is also true: organizations which have been part of God's true church can become part of spiritual Babylon, through their own course of action. If there had been such a thing as spiritual Babylon in the days of Israel, they would have qualified with flying colors many times over! They were into Sabbath-breaking, sun worship, idolatry, human sacrifices, murdering God's prophets, spiritualism and even had the wine of false doctrines (exalting human traditions above the fifth commandment, no resurrection of the dead, salvation by works, etc). Yes, literal Israel became part of literal Babylon because of playing the harlot; and spiritual Israel will just as surely become part of spiritual Babylon, any time it plays the harlot!
Bob La Torre