Trojan Horse within the Church
Keynote Sermon by Enoch de Oliveira, Former Vice President of the
General Conference. This man of God brought a message of great
importance to this denomination. It is a message you need to read.
In one of his famous
epics, Homer describes the clever device the Greeks employed to conquer
the city of Troy during the Trojan war.
To enable the Greeks to
enter the legendary city by stealth, the master carpenter, Epeius, built
a huge hollow wooden horse. According to Homer, 100,000 soldiers
besieged Troy. The ten-year siege ended when the Greeks concealed some
soldiers in the horse and then left it behind as they pretended to
Despite the warning of
Laocoon, Sinon persuaded the Trojans to move the horse inside the city
walls. At night the Greek army returned and the soldiers who had hidden
inside the horse opened the city gates to their comrades. In this way,
Troy was invaded successfully and destroyed.
Although the war between
the Greeks and the city of Troy is generally considered a historical
fact, the episode dealing with the Trojan horse has been considered a
mythological tale. Nonetheless, from this epic we can derive some timely
illustrations that are applicable to the situation our church finds
itself in today.
For many years, the
Seventh-day Adventist Church succeeded in bravely and tenaciously
resisting the fearful assaults of the enemy. The walls of the "holy
city" remained impregnable. But, in his determination to conquer
and destroy Gods church, the prince of this world has undertaken to
employ clever and deadly secret weapons.
"There is nothing
that the great deceiver fears so much," wrote Ellen G. White,
"as that we shall become acquainted with his devices." (Great
After many attempts to
conquer the "city of God" by applying the same kind of
deceitful action employed by the Greeks, the great adversary has been
able to obtain his ends by surreptitiously introducing the Trojan horse
of liberalism within the walls of Zion.
Now that liberalism has
become operative within our church, we perceive how vulnerable we can be
to the assaults of Satan. As a church we have been inclined to believe
that our greatest danger of being defeated by the powers of evil would
come from without. While we may be able to perceive clearly, from the
walls of Zion, what Satan is doing to conquer and destroy the church, we
do not seem able to do much about standing firmly against the evils that
are developing insidiously within our midst. Ellen White warns: "We
have more to fear from within than from without." (1 Selected
NOT BAD PEOPLE
are promoting liberalism in our ranks are not "bad" people.
They are committed believers. Many of them exhibit the beauty of
Christian virtues in their lives. Most of them love the church. They
would like to share the faith and certainties of our forefathers; but,
in the honesty of their hearts, they do not have them. They are unable
to see the uniqueness of our message, the distinctiveness of our
identity, the eschatological dimension of our hope, or the urgency of
our message. Representing a wide spectrum of religious thought, they
attempt to reinterpret traditional theological Seventh-day Adventist
thinking by dressing some of our old doctrines in what appear to them to
be new and attractive semantic garments.
Why are these people
advocating liberal views among us? Why are they so enthusiastically
playing the role of apostles of change in our theological system?
First of all, it seems
to me, they are eager to discard the "cult" label that has
been used so widely to characterize Seventh-day Adventism. They long to
see our religious movement become a part of what they consider
mainstream Christianity. In their endeavor to attain religious
"respectability," they suggest the reinterpretation of some
historical views of our theology that they believe are Biblically
Although accepting some
aspects of our distinctiveness, such as the Sabbath and our health
principles, they believe that the time has come for a revision in our
theological system. In fostering such a revision, some feel
uncomfortable with the "remnant" concept as understood by the
founder of our message. They believe that all "sectarian
mentality" should be rejected as presumptuous and arrogant.
Other liberals, in their
endeavor to make our theology more "relevant," question the
integrity of the sanctuary doctrine and unite their voices with those of
our opponents in this matter. They explain the two-phase ministry of
Christ in the heavenly sanctuary as a face-saving device created by
Edson, Crosier, and others to bail our pioneers out of the Millerite
There are those who are
alarmed about what seems to them to be excessive borrowing by Ellen
White of material from a variety of sources. Misguided by distorted
ideas about the way inspiration works, they are willing to challenge the
validity of her claims, rejecting her prophetic authority.
Some liberals define our
eschatology as a by-product of the nineteenth-century North American
culture and, as such, as deserving of substantial reformulation. They
insist that, after 145 years of proclamation, we can no longer preserve
the fervent expectation that permeated the church in its formative
Liberal scientists in
the church insist that the creation doctrine should be re-evaluated in
the context of current scientific information and hypotheses.
According to the
February 5, 1990, issue of Christianity Today, the obsession for
change in Seventh-day Adventist ranks had its beginnings in the 1950s
and 1960s, when our students, in much larger numbers than before, began
to attend non-Adventist seminaries and universities seeking advanced
degrees. Some of these students, in spite of unfavorable circumstances,
were able to preserve their religious experience and came forth
strengthened in their convictions. Others, influenced by modern Biblical
criticism and liberal theology, reshaped their beliefs.
WHAT IS BEING
GAINED BY THESE
ATTEMPTS AT CHANGE?
we gaining from the liberal attempts to make our message more
"palatable" to the world? When so many seeds of doubt,
uncertainty, and strife are sown, what else can be expected? Liberalism
is reaping what it has sown. It sowed unbelief, and it is harvesting
During the early 1980s,
an unprecedented number of ministers and lay people left the church in
Australia and New Zealand. During the 1970s, our church in those two
countries lost one believer for every three who came in. In 1981, after
a particularly notable attempt to effect a liberal change, the
percentage of loss rose to 46 percent. It peaked at 63 percenta loss
of one member for every two believers (See Australasian Record,
October 28, 1989).
We must not remain
indifferent to such staggering losses. We must not minimize the tragic
consequences of our internal confrontations caused by new theologies.
The casualties are thousands of perplexed souls who, spiritually
confused, are departing from us, throwing away their confidence in the
validity of our message. They have lost the landmarks of our faith and
no longer have a clear understanding of what we stand for.
The following set of
North American Division statistics reflect the consequences of ongoing
theological and other attempts to change our beliefs in the United
States and Canada:
Years Annual Growth
What is the message in
these numbers? Oscar Wilde, famous dramatist of the past century, with
inimitable irony affirmed that "there are three kinds of lies in
the world: common lies, small lies, and statistics." Thus Wilde
underlined the fact that statistics may deceive and lead us to wrong
conclusions. But even though statistics are susceptible of incorrect
interpretation, we dare not minimize their importance in an analysis of
the crisis that we face. They can help us understand the gravity of our
It is true that we can
be deceived by numbers and conclude that, in spite of what seems
apparent, the North American Division is still growing. But it is not
growing. According to reliable sources, 30 to 35 percent of our
believers no longer attend church. With this decrease in attendance has
come a decrease in offerings. Sharp cutbacks in church budgets have been
approved. Enrollment in our schools is declining. Institutions have been
closed. We are in the process of trimming down our church's operations
and reducing our task forces. The market for our books is shrinking.
Denominational periodicals have been merged and yet their circulation
has still dropped. We have come to a time of financial restraints, with
most conferences cutting back on their ministerial forces. These are
inevitable consequences of what has happened in theological areas.
After so many seeds of
doubt and uncertainty have been sown within the church by those who are
obsessed with the desire to reinterpret our theology, after so many
years of theological disputation, what else should we expect? We are
witnessing the inevitable harvest of liberalism. When unbelief is sown,
the harvest is bound to be apostasy.
After its insidious
penetration within the walls of Gods city, liberalism in its various
shapes and forms has succeeded in opening the gates of the church to the
invasion of such other evils as pluralism, secularism, humanism,
materialism, futurism, and preterism.
diffuse the polarization we are facing, some articulate scholars suggest
the official adoption of theological pluralism, the acceptance of
peaceful coexistence of conflicting, even opposing, views among us.
beliefs, unity on non-essentials and liberty in everything, love"
is the popular dictum that inspires pluralistic scholars in their appeal
for flexibility and openness. But who is going to determine what is
essential and what is negotiable? Individuals, independent ministries,
theological societies, the annual council, or the church as a whole
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Would we be able to retain our
self-understanding as Gods last prophetic movement, if we were to
fragment our beliefs by including in them divergent schools of thought?
We need theological
unity in our preaching and in our publications, but above all, we need
unity in the theological departments of our colleges and universities. I
submit that no school of theology, under pluralistic influences, shaken
by the confrontation of ideas, is able to produce preachers with strong
convictions. Without preachers having certainty, there is no power in
The successful spread of
the gospel over the Mediterranean world in the days of the apostles
threatened Christian unity. People of widely divergent backgrounds were
baptized, bringing into the church some of the popular religious
concepts of the age. Thus, there was a real danger that the teachings of
the church would be affected by syncretism. Aware of this danger, Paul
exhorted the Ephesians to maintain unity (see Ephesians 4:4-6).
churches of Galatia," the apostle expressed his regret for the way
the Galatians, under pluralistic influences, changed their minds and
turned away from the grace of Christ to a "different" gospel (Galatians
1:6). Was Paul being narrow-minded in his appeal for unity? After
all, those Jewish-Christians certainly preached salvation through
Christ. They never denied, as far as we know, that it was necessary to
believe in Jesus as Messiah and Saviour. Why then was Paul so vehement
in his opposition to this Jewish-Christian preaching? Because the
Judaizers insidiously distorted the gospel of Christ, throwing the
believers into a state of mental and spiritual confusion. At the real
risk of being labeled intransigent, Paul exhorted the Galatians to pay
no attention to those messengers who, claiming ecclesiastical authority,
were disrupting the peace and unity that had existed among the saints.
FROM THE METHODISTS
in our day is known for its wide latitude of beliefs. Its clergy have
freedom to subscribe to different schools of Bible interpretation.
Attempts to define basic Methodist doctrine have met much opposition,
and Methodist theology has become surprisingly divorced from its own
tradition. Persons who want to be accepted as church members are no
longer required to endorse any specific creed. To the question,
"What do Methodists believe?" ministers and laity respond by
saying that they believe in Jesus.
Today the Methodist
Church is in a steep numerical decline. "In the 1965-1975 period,
the United Methodist Church lost over one million members," says C.
Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, 32. And who is
responsible for this sharp defection? The exodus that the Methodists are
facing is not to be blamed on outside forces. The real blame lies within
their church. If the Methodist Church were attacked by enemies from the
outside, if it were suffering persecution as a result of its endeavors
to evangelize the world, there would be hope. But the world does not
persecute a church that seems to stand for nothing. The Methodist Church
is declining as a result of its failure to preserve its own religious
Can we learn some
profitable lessons from its perplexing experience?
HISTORICAL CRITICISM, AND FUTURISM
of the Seventh-day Adventist scholarly community no longer accepts the
principles of prophetic interpretation that made our church what it is.
In the books of Daniel
and Revelation, our pioneers found our time and our mission. Applying
the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, which had been used
by the majority of Christians over the centuries and which earned the
subsequent endorsement of Ellen G. White, our forefathers were able to
unfold the history of the long conflict between Christ and Satan. They
were able to look upon themselves as an integral part of the cosmic
Today, however, we sense
a gradual rejection of the historicist approach and a growing acceptance
of the Counter-Reformation schools of prophetic interpretation.
Furthermore, historical criticism does not allow for true long-range
prediction. As a result, in some quarters our message has been changed
and has lost its distinctiveness and power.
Moving the fulfillment
of the long-term prophecies to the end of the age (the futuristic view),
relegating their significance to the distant past (the preterist view),
or denying true long-term prophecy (the historical critical view) makes
the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation irrelevant and transforms the
Adventist movement into just another denomination without power and
special prophetic message.
intruder that is expanding its presence within the walls of Gods city
is the trend known as "secularism," often defined as the
organization of life as if God did not exist. Its growing influence is
producing a decline in attendance, reduced commitment to Christian
ideals, and an increasing tendency to view the church,
any church, as
obsolete and irrelevant. Professional growth and prestige, business and
profits, economic status, and academic attainments are overestimated
while Christian virtues are neglected or relegated to second place.
According to Norman
Blaike, American Christians today can be divided into two groups, the
"supernatualists" and the "secularists." The "supernatualists,"
Blaike observes, are generally to the right theologically while the
"secularists" are to the left. The "supernatualists,"
he states, prize Christian virtues such as devotion, piety, and church
commitments while the "secularists" admire tolerance, success,
efficiency, and academic achievements (see N.W.H. Blaike,
"Altruism in the Professions: The Case of the Clergy,"
Australia and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, 10 :87).
The process of
secularization is affecting not only believers but also institutions.
According to George Marsden, Duke University historian, the religious
character of many erstwhile Christian institutions has been eclipsed
with "nobody noticing and nobody seeming to mind." (see Time,
May 22, 1989).
In the past two decades,
we have seen Seventh-day Adventist institutions affected by substantial
changes that have not all been on the plus side. Surreptitiously,
secularism makes inroads that tend to eclipse the religious character of
these institutions. Religious services are still held in their chapels,
but they are more a form than a spiritual force.
makes an immense contribution to this insidious secularism of believers
and institutions by its rejection of an authoritative church, an
authoritative Bible, and an authoritative body of truth. It is more than
willing to accommodate religion to the spirit of the times.
evils, such as exaggerated academic freedom, the historical approach to
Scripture, and theistic evolution (with its very long chronology) are
making their contribution to the undermining of confidence in basic
beliefs and leading congregations to spiritual disaster.
It is impossible to
prevent the teaching of aberrant views within the church, when the
concept of academic freedom without sound confessional responsibility is
accepted. Defenders of academic freedom in our midst state that we are
not a creedal denomination and so every believer should be free to
endorse different theological views. But we understand that if an
individual is to be a Seventh-day Adventist, he or she should subscribe
to our fundamental beliefs in their entirety. Otherwise, he or she
ceases to be a Seventh-day Adventist.
I still remember the
strong opposition manifested by some Adventist scholars when the
historical critical methodology was condemned officially by the General
Conference on the basis that this method, by definition, excludes our
belief in the transcendence of the Scriptures.
I believe, however, that
the church has the unquestionable right to decide which approach should
be used by our scholars and preachers. This is our only safeguard to
protect our religious heritage, which subscribes to the Reformation
principle that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and its own
Theistic evolution (or
progressive creationism) is a concept accepted by a growing number of
scientists in our ranks. It involves the subordination and accommodation
of the Scriptures to the Darwinian view of gradual evolution. Those who
endorse this school of thought no l longer regard key portions of the
Bible as reliable sources of historical information. In taking this
position, they place scientific hypotheses above Scripture, making
science a judge of the Word of God.
Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) left a million dead. When the conflict
seemed to be reaching its climax, General Emilio Mola commanded four
columns moving toward the capital of the country. But, in addition to
his four columns, he was counting on a fifth column, one that had
entered Madrid behind its defenses, to deliver the city to him when the
decisive moment arrived.
Among the lessons that
history teaches us, we find the fall of empires and institutions that
succumbed to eternal forces. The historian, Gibbon (1737-1796), ascribes
the fall of Rome to internal, not external, causes. He mentions the
fourteenth-century Italian poet, Petrarch, who described the fall of
Rome as follows: "Behold the remains of Rome, the shadow of its
early greatness! Neither time nor the barbarians can glory in having
brought about this stupendous destruction: It was accomplished by its
own citizens, the most illustrious of her children."
Many civilizations have
been defeated by the internal sabotage of fifth columnists. History
warns us what can take place in the church. External opposition is not
our worst enemy. Instead, the insidious deteriorating influences
introduced by Satan, our great adversary, do the most harm.
What has been the
greatest defeat suffered by the Christian church? Was it the loss of
life as a result of violence, martyrdom, and torture? No. The church's
greatest defeat took place when it accepted the favor of the Roman
Empire and lost its purity and fervor. When the church left the
catacombs, it adjusted to the splendor of the world. Satan's fifth
columnists, his Trojan horse,
weakened the church internally, paving
the way for dilution of faith and establishment of pseudo-Christianity.
picture I have presented of the Seventh-day Adventist Church can be
considered bleak and dark. But, in my closing remarks, I would like to
present a brighter side. In spite of the problems we face today, we have
many reasons to believe in the triumph of our message as long as we stay
faithful to the Bible. A revival will come, and our eyes will see
powerful miracles of evangelism.
Our message and movement
deserve to be characterized by a triumphant spirit. They are not based
on "cunningly devised fables" but on the unshakable foundation
of "the sure word of prophecy."
"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 separated from the
precious wheat." (2 Selected Messages, 380).
The conviction that God
guides this movement allows us to declare, without a shadow of doubt
that the fire on Seventh-day Adventist altars will never go out. The
determination to win the world to Christ will motivate us in our united
evangelistic program. The world will be lighted with the glory of our
proclamation of the Advent hope.