Major Texts: Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:1-17; Isa. 14:4-21; Ezek. 28:12-19; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 1:20-28.
This week we begin a new set of lessons under the title “Growing In Christ.” This is an intriguing title as it implies progress in the Christian life, moving from one place or stage, to another, growing from immaturity toward maturity. The clear indication is that a believer should not stagnate, but should make progress as time goes by.
Another implication of the title is that the central dynamic of being a Christian is to become more and more like the Savior. Certainly, what that means is tied to ideas called doctrines, but doctrines should never been seen as entities entire of themselves. They should be seen, rather, as descriptors of ideas that emerge from and describe what we know about Jesus and what He holds dear. They should be links by way of which believers learn more and become more attached to Jesus.
The point should be made that everyone has a belief system. This belief system is in the form of what might be called a “belief grid,” an assembly of ideas and truths that is actually quite complex containing within it both the mundane and the sublime, the nearly inconsequential as well as life-and-death issues.
In every believing community, there is some kind of articulated listing of beliefs commonly held by that particular community. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, there are now 28 such formulated belief statements. This list is not seen to be a creed as much as it is a confession, a statement of beliefs commonly held. This list was first formulated in order to explain to the “outside world” what the Adventist community subscribed to. The list has had many developments along the way, a major one being the establishment of an officially voted list of “27 Fundamental Beliefs” at a General Conference in 1980. Since that time, the function of the list has been slowly changing, more and more being used to measure commitments and loyalties within the Adventist Church. Interestingly, this list is not set but, as noted in its pre-amble, is open for revision and adjustment as new ideas or understandings emerge from the study of Scripture, something that actually took place more recently when a 28th item was added.
In the Seventh-day Adventist community, the list of fundamental beliefs is built around one of the grand motifs of the Bible, the idea of a great controversy between good and its forces, and evil and its forces. This idea of a great conflict is very well established in the Bible and it is seen to be enacted on a cosmic stage. In other words, there is a cosmic dimension to the conflict and the elements that affect us are only those that play out on planet earth. We are caught up in a much grander conflict the full scope of which we can but dimly comprehend.
Undergirding this idea of a great conflict are a number of background issues that need to be discussed and understood:
- A great controversy of a cosmic sort presumes the existence of a natural AND a supernatural world. As the world drifts more and more toward secularization, the idea of a supernatural realm is coming under criticism. We live in a time when the scientific way of knowing is king, and a supernatural realm cannot be proved or even tested by scientific means, so the idea is rejected as something anachronistic. Is this dualistic structure of the universe a viable notion? And what happens to the idea of a comic conflict is the supernatural realm is dismissed? And if there is no supernatural realm, what is to be made of the various players spoken of in the Bible – God, the devil, various types of angels, demons, evil spirits, etc. How would the loss of a supernatural realm affect the prospect of such beings? If such beings are not real, how would the idea of a great conflict be affected?
- What is there to be said about the origins of evil? Are there any indications as to how and where and when that happened?
- Traditionally, Christians have pointed to Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 as places where the story of the origin of evil is told. But the question arises as to how one can use the stories of two ancient kings – the King of Babylon and the King of Tyre – to inform of the origins of evil? Can you answer this question? (You might consider the fact that the language of these passages clearly goes cosmic in places, and also the idea of agency, some agent on earth representing cosmic issues).
- Notice that key elements in the rebellion of Satan – a bid for autonomy, and element of personal pride, jealousy, and an attempt to be entirely self-governed. Discuss what might be good about these capacities in humans. When are they good, and what are their dangers. What dangers to leaders especially face when dealing with these human sentiments? What are the dangers of the opposites of these things – loyalty, obedience, no sense of self-worthiness?
- Spend some time contemplating the solution God used to resolve the conflict between good and evil. Of course, it is not yet totally resolved, but the Bible speaks of a mechanism or process that has been so effective that the final out come of the conflict of the ages is not in doubt. What are the central events in God’s plan? Would you use sacrifice and a humbling of yourself as instruments by which to gain a great victory? (Isa. 53:6 might be consulted here).
- What does the Bible say about Satan’s reaction to the plans and working’s of God? Is Satan someone to be really feared, or is he more like a defeated foe? have you noticed that some believers have a lot more to say about what Satan is doing than they do about Jesus or God? What do you think of that?
- In particular, what has been Satan’s reaction to the church Christ established and cherishes here on earth?
- How would you describe the most fundamental issue in the great controversy? Is it the same on the human side as on the heavenly side?
- Revelation 14 is a chapter that depicts some of the issues that must unfold prior to the closing up of the great controversy. What are the characteristics you see there used to describe those who follow God?
- Do you think it is possible for someone to be neutral in the controversy between good and evil? Is there some middle ground?
- How do you think the issues of the great conflict between good and evil affect you on a day-to-day basis? Do you think you are doing well in this conflict, or not? What might you change to improve your circumstances?