March 22-23, 2019 God’s Character and the Final Generation Conference, Part 3

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March 22-23, 2019 God’s Character and the Final Generation Conference, Part 3

Editorial Note: Over the past few years there has been an increase in tensions and debate within the NAD regarding “Last Generation Theology” or LGT. This news piece documents the response of some laypeople and ministers to this tension over soteriology and final events. The presentations described below were a part of a two-day conference entitled “God’s Character and the Final Generation” held on March 22-23 at the Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. While the organizations and individuals involved in this event do not necessarily represent the position of The Compass Magazine, or the author of this article, we believe it is important to document the ongoing conversation in the church regarding this issue.

Panel Discussion:

Presenters: Norman McNulty, Denis Priebe, Larry Kirkpatrick, and Gerard Damsteegt, host pastor Fred Dana, and guests Harrison Gomez and Dojcin Zivadinovic. Moderator: Pastor Mike Thompson

 

The following are all the questions (paraphrased) and selected answers from the Q&A.

 

Question 1: Does anything in the context of White’s Statement in COL 69 (the idea that the character of Christ will be perfectly reproduced in his people) suggest it cannot be taken literally?

 

McNulty: The context is connected to Galatians 5:22, 23 and the fruits of the Spirit, which are part of Christ’s character.

 

Priebe: We should “take language as it reads … and let language speak its own.”

 

Gomez: The book “God’s Character and the Last Generation” (edited by Jiri Moskala and John Peckham) ignores White’s statements on the topic. I would like to see one statement from Ellen White that says we cannot overcome sin, but such a statement does not exist. Zivadinovic (reading the context of the quote): If are not to take the idea of hastening Christ’s return literally, then neither can we take literally God’s waiting, His longing desire, and the church.

 

Question 2: If God’s character is already vindicated in Christ’s life and death, why didn’t Jesus return for us right after His ascension, but allowed another 2000 years?

 

Damsteegt: The time between Christ’s ascension and His Second Coming will demonstrate what happens with us if Satan is in control and if God is in control, the latter being exemplified at its best in the 144,000.

 

Priebe: If God won the war at the cross, it should be over, but it is not. Moreover, “[i]f God did accomplish everything He needed to accomplish at that moment, then He is responsible for the horrors and the atrocities that the last 2000 years has brought us, and I consider that an unacceptable solution.”

 

Kirkpatrick: Our view is not based only on some Ellen White quotes, but also on biblical examples of God’s purposes being delayed, such as the history of Israel and Esther’s speeding up the deliverance of the Jews. The slowing down of God’s purposes is caused by our comfort.

 

Gomez: Desire of Ages, p. 761 indicates that even after the cross Satan had sympathizers in heaven, and His existence was allowed to endure so that the universe can more see more fully the contrast of character between God and Satan.

 

Zivadinovic: The investigative judgment involves the judgment of both the dead and the living. That is why there will be a sealing of the living. Based on His foreknowledge, God (alone) knows that additional time would prove those sealed would continue to be sinless. “When He stops His intercession, God comes to destroy sin. That’s why He needs to prepare His people to the point where He does not need to intercede for them anymore. That’s why the cross is not the end.”

 

Question 3: Could you explain the difference between character perfection and perfectionism?

 

Priebe: The idea of perfectionism functions similarly to the concept of legalism. The “ism” turns a concept into a negative. “Perfection is God’s working in the lives of the people to change their character to be like Christ. Perfectionism is ‘grit your teeth and try as hard as you can,’… it is doing it the old covenant way: try harder, fail constantly.”

 

Dana: In God’s Character and the Last Generation the word “absolute” was often added after sinlessness of perfection. But God alone has absolute perfection. “Perfectionism is like to accuse somebody of a level of perfection that goes beyond character perfection.”

 

Zivadinovic: Perfectionism means the flesh can reach perfection. As White, we don’t teach holy flesh, but holy character. “The character holiness is the true character perfection.”

 

Question 4: What are the hallmarks of the true Gospel versus the false Gospel and how will they manifest in the lives of the people?

 

Kirkpatrick: The definition of sin, sanctification, justification, nature of Christ, and whether we can overcome sin. According to the true Gospel, while we are born with human fallen nature, we are condemned based on our choices. Justification is not just forensic, but transformation too.

 

Dana: The thief on the cross is an example of what justification is: he was not justified only in a declarative way; he was also born again, for Jesus told him he would enter heaven, but no one can do so unless they are born again (John 3:3).

 

Zivadinovic: “True justification is true conversion and true repentance of every sin that you know.” White says we need to forsake and confess every known sin through God’s power. We are not judged or saved based on the involuntary sin (sin out of ignorance, such as those Luther did), for Jesus mediates for those. “Jesus wants to stop interceding because He needs to come down here, and He can’t be interceding and coming down at the same time. He also needs to stop interceding for our sins of ignorance. Sanctification brings us to the point where God does not need to intercede anymore.”

 

Question 5: What was the impact of Desmond Ford’s conception of the Gospel and sanctuary on the church’s view of LGT?

 

Priebe: The seeds of evangelicalism planted in 1950 were grown and popularized by Ford, and now we reap the fruit.

 

Dana: Most of the arguments that Ford used in his paper (likely entitled) “The Law and the Gospel in Galatians” are in the book God’s Character and the Last Generation.

 

McNulty: An article in Adventist Review indicates that “nearly all Adventist scholars agree with Desmond Ford’s view of the gospel today in Adventism.”

 

Kirkpatrick: This other Gospel that is so dominant in our church is a Trojan Horse in our midst.

 

Gomez: The greatest danger in Adventism is the influence of evangelical theology on our church, as for example the definition of sin, which is a major distinction between the true and false gospel. We must build our theology on what God has given us (Ellen White and Bible) to be protected against the false gospel.

 

Question 6: How was the evangelical Gospel established in Adventism?

 

Priebe: The influence of evangelical professors on their Adventist students, radio, the dialogue in the 1950s, desire to escape the label of “cult.”

 

Kirkpatrick: We love the evangelicals and have a lot in common with them but cannot agree with the unbiblical theological spin.

 

Question 7: Why is the promise of enmity between the woman and the serpent and their seeds in Genesis 3:16 important?

 

Zivadinovic: Romans 16:20 says that God will crush Satan under our feet. The cross wasn’t the final crushing.

 

Question 8: Should we define the Reformation only based on the teachings of Luther and Calvin?

 

Kirkpatrick: The Reformation occurred under three major branches: Magisterial Reformation (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli), Elizabethan Reformation (Methodism comes out of it), and Radical Reformation (Anabaptism). Much of Adventism came from Methodism and Anabaptism, and few Adventist pioneers were Lutheran.

 

Damsteegt: We focus on Luther partly because the lengthiest section in the Great Controversy is on Luther (4 chapters). His contribution was major because he emphasized the Bible and the Bible alone. We must continue the work of Luther in emphasizing Sola Scriptura while we disagree with some of his other ideas.

 

Zivadinovic (quoting from Luther): “Faith is a divine work in us that changes us and makes us to be born again of God. …It is impossible for the faith to not be doing good works incessantly… It is impossible to separate works from faith quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.”

 

Question 9: What are the similarities between the apostasy of Kellogg and some current books?

 

Gomez: The similarity is the attack at the heart of Adventism.

 

Damsteegt: A hermeneutic that spiritualizes away many things in the Bible.

 

Question 10: What is the essence of Christ’s character that should be reproduced in us?

 

McNulty: The desire to constantly be a blessing for the others, which springs from the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, 23.

 

Question 11: In a booklet published by The One Project, an author/speaker charges LGT with heresy and theological and behavioral narcissism. Any comments?

 

Kirkpatrick: “They are accusing us of that?”

 

Question 12: What are your thoughts on White’s statement? “The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out. The chaff will be separated from the precious wheat.”

 

McNulty: Some people desire to be part of the invisible church, but the statement clearly indicates that there will be a visible body that will remain the church.

 

Dana: If being born again and sanctification are not part of the Gospel and are irrelevant to our salvation, then keeping the commandments are not salvation issues and when the last day’s crisis comes people will expect God to understand their lack of obedience and their failure to keep the Sabbath.

 

Question 13: What is the difference between the seal of the Holy Spirit and the seal of God mentioned in Revelation 7?

 

Damsteegt: The seal of the Spirit can be experienced by anyone right now, but the seal of the living God in Revelation is placed on the 144,000 in response to the question “Who can stand before God?” and involves the Sabbath test.

 

Question 14: How would you comment on the objection to LGT based on the idea that being without a mediator is being without a Savior?

 

McNulty: We still have the enabling from God that enables us to go through the end-time without a mediator. 

Question 15: On the same note, if we don’t have a mediator after the close of probation, does that mean that we don’t have a Savior?

 

Zivadinovic: Christ’s grace is not just justification, but also sanctification. We will not need God for forgiving our sins then, because we will not be sinning, but we will need Him to keep us from sinning.

 

Gomez: White clearly states that we will be without an intercessor during the time of probation. If we don’t believe what is written, that is another issue.

 

Dana: God needs a generation that grasps the need of Him as no other generation has, and the only people who can live without an intercessor are those who understand this.

 

Question 16: How important is evangelism for the experience of the last generation?

 

McNulty: We cannot have the completeness of Christian character if we are not involved in evangelism. This is a natural response to our surrendering to Christ and must be part of our experience if we are to be the last generation.

 

Gomez: As we help others we help ourselves. We need to feed ourselves before feeding others.

 

Question 17: While Jesus did teach, He spent most of his time healing. How should that impact the last generation?

 

McNulty: Medical evangelism is the right arm of the Gospel. Anyone can do some level of legitimate medical work based on instructions from the Bible and Ellen White.

 

Zivadinovic: James 1 says: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” “Medical missionary work is part of the pure and undefiled religion.”

 

Question 18: How do we move forward in support of LGT?

 

Priebe (quoting Ted Wilson): “Satan will not give up his fight to neutralize the distinctive eschatological message entrusted to Seventh-day Adventists to proclaim in these last days. We are to make plain the Bible truth as it is in Jesus, so that no one will be deceived by Satan.” That is why we have been here at the conference. We will all be witnesses either for truth or for error in our everyday lives. The way to move forward is to be the witnesses that God can count on.

 

McNulty: Invite people to speak about this in your church.

 

Kirkpatrick: The message God gave us must live in our churches, and church members need to advocate its presence in the local church.

RELATED ARTICLE: God’s Character and the Last Generation a Book Review by Adelina Alexe

Read the rest of Adelina’s series of reports on the Last Generation Theology Conference.

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About the author

Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.

  • gracetoday

    I get the sense from reading this and from having read the book that both sides are sort of talking past each other. What we need is some face to face debate in the spirit of truth-seeking rather than winning the argument.