Since many aspects of this lesson have already been considered in Lesson #2 (Judgment Must Begin) and Lesson #4 (Daniel 7), it might be helpful here to explore some of the reasons why the question of “judgment” arouses such strong feelings among believers. And the tension is not simply between the careless and confident, on one hand, and the careful and fearful, on the other. Different personalities simply relate to certain biblical motifs differently.
Much of the tension is linked with different understandings of the cross and the doctrine of the atonement. The following outline draws on parallels and contrasts between the view of the cross presented in John’s Gospel, where Jesus presents the Father to us, and the view of the cross which predominates in Romans and Galatians, where Jesus us presents us to the sovereign Judge of the universe.
Two Views of the Cross
- Objective Atonement (substitution, penal satisfaction)
- Primary metaphor: courtroom
- Emphasizes a price paid heavenward (satisfying divine wrath or claims of law)
- The dominant emphasis in Paul’s writings: e.g. 2 Cor. 5:16 – 21
- Not present at all in James; not emphasized in John’s Gospel, but is present in the Johannine epistles (e.g. 1 John 2:2; 4:10)
- Subjective Atonement (moral influence)
How can these two perspectives be seen as complementary instead of contradictory? How does each one relate to the idea of “judgment,” particularly the pre-advent judgment. The following sermon incorporates elements from the above lists, but takes its primary point of departure from the major divisions at Corinth, using these to illustrate different types of Adventist thinking.
“The Adventist Church at Corinth”
Walla Walla College Church, December 9, 1989
By Alden Thompson
Whenever the church desires status in the world, worries about “looking good” before our upscale friends, plans for attractive new buildings that are properly “representative,” then the sporadic scandals, the inevitable antics of human beings who are members of the church cause us acute embarrassment. We cry out to ourselves, if not to each other, O that our church could always look nice so that nice people would want to belong!
That’s when it is particularly helpful to turn to Scripture and remind ourselves that God’s people seldom have had their act together for more than a few minutes at a time. Dip your finger into Scripture anywhere and ask the question: How were God’s people doing? Whether from Old Testament or New the answer has to come back: “Not very well.”
That could be discouraging. But in a strange back-door sort of way, discovering that all God’s people have their troubles, even the ones we thought were perfect, actually is encouraging. I still vividly remember an occasion in the School of Theology when one of our senior colleagues whom we all admired, was not just late for a departmental appointment, he plumb forgot. He was never late. Students were not late to his classes nor did they turn in late papers. On-time was always the word. I think the rest of us were a bit startled at our almost unrestrained glee when he slipped. The proof was in: He was human just like the rest of us! It was not an angry, so-there, I-told-you-so kind of reaction. Rather, a certain sense of relief that swept over us, bonding us even closer to a colleague we had long revered.
When I leaf through the psalms, I discover record of unrelenting trouble. And I wonder why we memorized only the nice things when we were kids: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Ps. 91:11-12). “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (Ps. 34:7).
But just as prominent in the Psalms, if not more so, is the solemn cry: “Thou didst leave me in the lurch, Lord.” Why did we not memorize more words like these: “Have mercy upon me, O LORD for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed” (Ps. 31:9-10). Or from another psalm: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent” (Ps. 22:1-2). That was not just Jesus’ prayer, it was the prayer of a real, live, struggling saint in the Old Testament. To be sure, the Psalmists almost always move on to faith. But they spend most of their time talking about their troubles.
And really, is that not more typical of our lives? Think of the people close to you. Think of the one sitting right beside you. Think of your family, your friends. Think of this past week, this past month, this past year. Do you not see more than enough pain, sorrow, uncertainty, and discouragement?
Given this seething cauldron of a world in which we find ourselves, the church is God’s gift to us, a community where we may find help, healing, and understanding. Yet is it not curious that this healing community is the source of so much strife?
Maybe it is because we see the church as the guarantor of truth. And, of course, we know our view of truth is the one the church must preserve. So, we too cut and slash because others do not see it as we do. Though we are drawn by the presence of the divine, we are driven away by the presence of the human. We are angry with each other because we do not view the world in quite the same way. And we hurt each other in the name of defending truth. Is that not true of Adventism right now?
But if our community is a troubled one, then God has given us the story of another troubled community from which we can learn. One of the most instructive for us, I believe, is the church at Corinth.
Drawing its membership from people with a very checkered background, the Corinthian church was checkered still. Paul reminded the saints that not many of them had been wise, powerful, or of noble birth when God had called them (1 Cor. 1:26). He ticks off a list of violent offenders against God and the human race, adding, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). Yet, he adds, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
Washed and sanctified? Not completely. For, judging by Paul’s correspondence, the Corinthians believers still were struggling with just about every category of sin known to mankind. And perhaps most alarming of all, they were choosing up sides behind their favorite preacher.
And yet, right at that point, Paul and the church at Corinth have something important to tell us. For the three favorite preachers at Corinth, Paul, Peter (Cephas), and Apollos, can serve as convenient types of three different perspectives in Adventism, three different ways of relating to God and world. These same three perspectives can be found in Christianity in general, but they have come to stand out rather vividly in Adventism in recent years because charismatic spokesmen for each tradition have wanted to say, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
Paul, however, wants to argue that each of the three traditions, each of the three preachers has a proper place in the church. The church as the body of Christ or as the temple of God can only be complete when all three parts are there. That is the message I want us to hear this morning.
Now I must caution you that I am taking some liberties with the text of 1 Corinthians, a risky thing to do when there are so many New Testament scholars loose in the Walla Walla woods. But since the New Testament is that part of the Bible that tells us most clearly about the priesthood of all the believers (cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 9), perhaps they will allow an Old Testament student to tread carefully upon their sacred turf.
Let us turn now to Scripture and read what Paul says about the divisions in the church at Corinth. He is deeply concerned and has built up a head of steam to the point where actually doesn’t speak with precision, even though his eager stumbling actually makes his point clearer in the end.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17: “I appeal to you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:10-17, RSV).
Paul names three favorite preachers: Peter (Cephas), Apollos, and himself. He comments some on Apollos, but does not discuss Peter’s position at all. Using the three names as “types” of three views of God and the world requires filling in the picture from elsewhere in the New Testament. Actually, if we were to identify the three positions by means of their favorite New Testament literature, we would use the names of Paul, John, and James. We will return to that point momentarily. But first we must read more carefully 1 Corinthians 3, the chapter where Paul describes the relationship between himself and Apollos and how each serves the larger church in a particular way:
“But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely men?
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are fellow workers for God; you are God’s field, God’s building.
“According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble — each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.
“Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:1-23, RSV).
Note that Paul sees himself as the one who sows, while Apollos waters. In other words, Paul is the front-line evangelist, Apollos is the pastor/nurturer. Of special importance to Paul’s argument is 1 Cor. 3:16-17. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.” Now this verse is not a health reform verse. You need 1 Cor. 6:19 for that where it says that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 3 is talking about the church as a community, not the individual member. This is one of those passages where we preach to our theology majors that learning Greek has great value, in this instance because of a flaw in our English language. In the second person “you,” English does not distinguish between singular and plural. So English Bibles generally do not give the clear thrust of the passage. Every “you” is plural here. Paul is talking about the church as a community of believers. If anyone destroys the temple, God will destroy him. In other words, if you drive out Paul, Peter, or Apollos from the church, and thereby weaken the church, you are in deep trouble with God. The temple of God needs all three to be strong and whole.
But now let’s live dangerously and make the application to the Adventist church. I will mention some names — that presents a certain risk as you will no doubt recognize. In very brief form, the following characterizations of what it means to “obey” can get us started:
Peter & Co. are inclined to say that you must obey and you can obey. Kenneth Wood, Tom Davis, Herb Douglass, Mervyn Maxwell, Robert Brinsmead, early in his experience.
Paul & Co. say you must try to obey, but you never really can. Jesus pays the price for you. LeRoy Froom, Roy Allan Anderson, H. M. S. Richards, Robert Spangler, Richard Fredericks, Desmond Ford, Robert Brinsmead, at an intermediate point in his experience.
Apollos & Co. say that the important thing is to try. Love is what matters. If your heart is in the right place, that will do. Graham Maxwell, Malcolm Maxwell, Jack Provonsha, Dick Winn, and very briefly Robert Brinsmead at a later point in his experience.
We can flesh the picture out a bit more:
Peter is optimistic, practical, tends to think in concrete terms rather than abstract. He likes Proverbs in the Old Testament and James in the new. “Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.” Make a list of what needs to be done and then do it. Peter can claim to be a perfectionist because he has reduced the claims of perfection to a list of things that must be done and a list of things to be avoided. Once the check marks are in place, the job is done.
Paul is much more pessimistic, at least about human nature, and much more introspective and sensitive to that simmering cauldron of emotions that shapes our lives. You give an apple to the teacher. Why? Was it an honest gift, a simple, pure gift? Are grades out yet? Are you taking another class from the same teacher? Life is much more complex for Paul. He tries his best and still cries out: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” – – “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25). Paul can’t do it; he is absolutely dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ. God is the great judge of all; before that Great Judge, Jesus stands in Paul’s place, the substitute.
Apollos is optimistic, inquisitive, philosophically oriented, and is especially attracted to the writings of John. For Apollos, God is gentle and understanding, more of a father than a judge. And Jesus is not so much the sacrifice which satisfies the demands of holiness up there, but God’s message of love to us down here. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus. Apollos likes that.
Another way of characterizing the three positions would be to say that Peter is theocentric — human reason is not so important as obedience to a divine command. Paul is not only theocentric, he is Christocentric. Obedience to a divine command is still terribly important, but it happens in Christ Jesus. Human wisdom, human effort is suspect. God is everything and He gives it all to us in Christ Jesus. Apollos is more anthropocentric. It is important to understand the truth about God. Human beings are not so much wretched worms waiting to be saved as they are jewels just waiting to be polished.
But now let’s cast all this into a teaching model. The goal in each instance is to effect obedience and reunion with God. How would Peter, Paul and Apollos go about the task of teaching?
Let’s imagine each of them as the piano teacher with a ten-year old boy. The task: Play a Mozart Concerto:
Peter: Peter as a teacher is happy if the student gets the notes right and keeps the time and rhythm. “Perfect!” he says. But he can only speak of perfection because the standard is a limited one. He does not expect a ten-year old to reflect all the fine nuances of great music. The danger is that the student may never even attempt to reach the higher standard.
Paul: Paul as a teacher is a very sensitive musician. “This is great music,” he says. “But you can’t possibly master it. Here, I’ll play it for you.” The substitute is key here. Great music is produced by a master and the student is captivated. But the danger is that the student may never seriously attempt to bridge the gulf between his own abilities and those of the master.
Apollos: Apollos as teacher is especially concerned that the student’s efforts be rewarded. “Good job!” he says, when the student tries hard — regardless of how rough the music might sound. The student feels encouraged. But the danger is that he will mistake effort for mastery.
Note the weaknesses of each: With Peter, the student can view as mastery something that actually is less than mastery. With Paul, the student can allow another to attain mastery instead of attempting it himself. With Apollos, the student may be content to allow effort and good intentions to replace mastery.
A master teacher will incorporate the best of all three elements. I well remember sitting in on a music lesson when one of my daughters was just beginning with a new teacher. I was absolutely intrigued as I watched this master teacher blend the best from all three worlds: You can do it! (Peter). There is an awesome standard beyond your reach! (Paul). You did your best, that’s good! (Apollos)
Most Adventists can and do profit from all three perspectives. But our failure to be careful Bible students, distinguishing between the three emphases, makes us very vulnerable if a particular spokesperson for one of the three strands becomes too forthright or too narrow in public statements. One of the best examples is Desmond Ford, who was heavily involved in the Adventist campmeeting circuit, blessing Adventists right and left with his preaching, until his 1979 Forum presentation in which he declared that there was no biblical foundation for the doctrine of the investigative judgment. Immediately the church was polarized. And careless statements appeared on all sides that simply made matters worse. And on the part of some, there was a tendency to paste the “new theology” label on anything that sounded new, different, or vaguely familiar to anything something Ford had written or said. That made teaching or writing very difficult in the church and we are not out of the woods yet on that score.
The differences in people and differences in our relationship with the Lord at different times in our life will often determine which one of the emphases is most helpful at a particular point in our experience.
Let me take just three key aspects from Adventist life and lore and illustrate the differences:
Sin: For Peter sin consists of deeds; a list of things to do and not to do. Paul sees sin more as a twisted nature, a distortion at the very heart of man. Apollos simply sees sin as flawed intention, a lack of love.
Mediator: How does each of the three relate to that troublesome statement from the pen of Ellen White that we “are to stand in the presence of a holy God without a mediator” (GC 425)? Both Peter and Paul would see the absence of a mediator as a threat. For Peter, however, the threat can be overcome by perfect obedience. But Paul would not know how to interpret such a statement, for he sees Christ as the essential mediator between God and man. Apollos (John) sees the absence of a mediator as a promise, not a threat, a promise of a time when we will know God so well that we will come into his presence without fear.
For me, John’s view of the mediator came as a precious insight while I was a ministerial student at Andrews University. I was asking why I needed a mediator if the Father loved me. So I embarked on a study of the biblical concept of mediation and discovered John 14-17. In particular, John 16:26-27 records Jesus’ statement: “In that day you will ask in my name; and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father.”
The reason for the fundamental difference between Paul and John is that the setting in which each views the mediator is quite different. For John, the Mediator represents the Father to mankind. For Paul, the Mediator is mankind’s representative before the Father. John’s view makes more sense in the setting of a family; Paul’s view makes more sense in the setting of a courtroom.
Pride: Each of the three traditions is quite capable of reflecting the essence of sin, namely a wrongful and exclusive pride. The followers of Peter can claim, “We are the historic Adventists, the only true Adventists.” The followers of Paul can claim, “We are the only ones who preach the true Gospel.” And the followers of Apollos can claim, “We are the only ones who really understand the truth about God.” Each of the three positions is equally vulnerable to that sinful exaltation of self.
My own insights in this matter have come by a rather long and circuitous route, and my thinking has been sharpened by the controversy in the church. When Ford made the statement that there was no biblical foundation for the investigative judgment, I was upset with him, for the investigative judgment as I understood it, had become an important part of my theology. I decided to search out the roots of my understanding of the investigative judgment doctrine. To my amazement, I discovered my view was based on the later writings of Ellen White, and was not found at all in her earlier works. Ultimately, my research led to the publication of the Sinai-Golgotha series in 1981-82 in the Adventist Review. In short, I traced how Ellen White’s perspective on God shifted from an emphasis on the power of God and external motivation, to an emphasis on the goodness of God, and internal motivation. In that connection, in the preliminary version of the Review series which I presented at the West Coast Religion Teachers Convention at PUC, I gave the distinct impression that Ellen White was moving away from one perspective of the Atonement (a price paid heavenward) toward the other perspective, a message sent earthward. I would now have to say that she was adding the second perspective (Apollos, John), while refining the first (Paul). But right at the end of that presentation, Jon Dybdahl raised a question that set me to thinking. “What do I say to a student,” asked Jon, “who says that he has a hard time worshipping a God who insists that human beings must stand before the whole universe as a witness to God’s goodness? The student told me that he finds it much easier to worship a God who simply gives me salvation as a gift. What do I say to such a student?”
I sensed that I had come very close to something very important to Jon. I asked him if we could talk. And we did, for two hours. Two very precious hours as I look back on that experience. Jon described how the message of Christ’s death on his behalf had transformed his life when he was overseas. And I described how I had come to appreciate John’s message of the mediator. I had just finished a book by Brinsmead in which he had attempted to impose Paul’s courtroom setting on the Gospel of John. So I blurted out, “It’s just not fair to do to John what Brinsmead does to John.” At which point Brother Dybdahl responded, “And it’s just not fair to do to Romans what Maxwell does to Romans.” Then we agreed that we should let John be John, and Paul be Paul.
That requires a more careful reading of both rather than a homogenizing of both. Don’t you suppose that is why there were three favorite preachers in Corinth instead of just one? There are differences! And Paul tells us they are legitimate ones. Paul emphasizes the gulf between God and humanity. That message reaches the hearts of those who have been oppressed by too much of Peter. It reaches those who are just awakening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, those who sense the great gulf between themselves and God. They don’t need a gentle God. They need a high and powerful One who stands for all that is holy and good — but who sent Jesus Christ to pay the price for human sin. In Christ such a one can find peace and joy.
But multi-generational Adventists who have grown up with good and gentle parents are very much attracted by Apollos. For them God is gentle and kind. Yes, Paul sows the seed, Apollos waters. But there is a significant weakness in many of the preachers of Apollos. Their anger is weak. God smiles a lot. He even ends up smiling when he shouts. But in the world in which we live, Christians must retain the ability to be angry and get angry. When fourteen innocent women are gunned down by an man who hates women– is that not a time for great anger, for being ashamed of this race of beings called human? Apollos has a hard time getting angry enough at sin.
Can the church learn to live with these differences? I believe it can and must. I sense an increasing mood among us to come together, to pray and to share, to help each other in our difficulties and sorrows. To try and understand each other. And the variety in Scripture is God’s way of meeting that very need. To be able to sense the difference between Peter, Paul, and Apollos should not tear down the temple of God, but build it up. And our failure to take Scripture seriously places the church at risk. Of thirty-eight seminars scheduled at the up-coming General Conference pre-session, not one of them is dedicated to the exposition of Scripture. Not one. Yet the study of His word is the source of our strength, the measure of our unity. And it is Scripture that sets the limits to our diversity.
In closing, I would like to cite a passage from the pen of Ellen White. Generally, she is used to defend each of the three traditions. And because she wrote so much over such a wide period of time, she can be used to support any of the three perspectives, and even to pit one against the other. But in Counsels to Parents and Teachers, pp. 432-33, she has a marvelous statement as to why we need a diversity of teachers:
“In our schools the work of teaching the Scriptures to the youth is not to be left wholly with one teacher for a long series of years. The Bible teacher may be well able to present the truth and yet it is not the best experience for the students that their study of the word of God should be directed by one man only, term after term and year after year. Different teachers should have a part in the work, even though they may not all have so full an understanding of the Scriptures. If several in our larger schools unite in the work of teaching the Scriptures, the students may thus have the benefit of the talents of several.
“Why do we need a Matthew, a Mark, a Luke, a John, a Paul, and all the writers who have borne testimony in regard to the life and ministry of the Saviour? Why could not one of the disciples have written a complete record, and thus have given us a connected account of Christ’s earthly life? Why does one writer bring in points that another does not mention? Why, if these points are essential, did not all these writers mention them? It is because the minds of men differ. Not all comprehend things in exactly the same way. Certain Scripture truths appeal much more strongly to the minds of some than of others.
“The same principle applies to speakers. One dwells at considerable length on points that others would pass by quickly or not mention at all. The whole truth is presented more clearly by several than by one. The Gospels differ, but the records of all blend in one harmonious whole.
“So today the Lord does not impress all minds in the same way. Often through unusual experiences, under special circumstances He gives to some Bible students views of truth that others do not grasp. It is possible for the most learned teacher to fall far short of teaching all that should be taught.”
Many of you have had experiences with the Lord that have enriched me. This world is such a complex place that I am convinced that we have only begun to fight when it comes to understanding each other and the needs of those around us. One of the most exciting challenges before us is to learn from Scripture how we can better meet the needs of God’s children. He wants his church to be the place where wounded, hurting people can come together, to find understanding, hope and courage. And to remind each other that a better world lies ahead. Until that better world comes, may God grant us each, may God grant us all, grace to build the temple of God so that we may all worship within.