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|LESSON 8||*February 14 - 20|
|The Authority of the Prophets|
Read for This Week's Study:
Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21, NKJV).
|All through the Bible, a theme recurs:
God talks to people through His prophets, and the people either accept or
reject whats being said. Of course, by rejecting the words of the prophets,
theyre not rejecting the prophets; theyre rejecting the One who
Its a very serious thing, then, to claim to speak in the name of God. If you claim it, and are, then you are a mouthpiece for the Creator of the universe, no small responsibility. People have been delegated authority to speak for the boss of the company, or the president or prime ministerbut to speak for the Lord? Thats heavy. Unfortunately, much of biblical history is a story of God speaking through His prophets and of people rejecting what was said. How careful we need be not to make the same mistake today.
The Week at a Glance:
Why was Moses so reluctant to become Gods prophet? What authority did the prophets have in Israel, even those who never wrote a book of the Bible? Is there a difference between the authority of the canonical and extracanonical prophet?
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 21.
The Prophet as God's Mouthpiece
Read Exodus 4:1016, the dialogue between God and Moses. What happened here, and what can we learn from this exchange about how prophets are called and how they operate?
According to the arrangement God put in place, Moses was literally to become God to Aaron (see Exod. 4:16) and Aaron was to become Moses' mouthpiece or prophet (Exod. 7:1). This defines accurately the intimate relationship between God and all His prophets; they were His mouthpieces, His spokespersons. Furthermore, as in the case of Moses and AaronGod taught all His prophets what they were to do in regard to being a mouthpiece. Moses was, however, somewhat of a reluctant prophet.
According to her own testimony, Ellen White was reluctant when first called by the Lord, as well. In my second vision, about a week after the first, the Lord gave me a view of the trials through which I must pass, and told me that I must go and relate to others what He had revealed to me. It was shown me that my labors would meet with great opposition, and that my heart would be rent with anguish; but that the grace of God would be sufficient to sustain me through all. After I came out of this vision I was exceedingly troubled, for it pointed out my duty to go out among the people and present the truth. My health was so poor that I was in constant bodily suffering, and to all appearance had but a short time to live. I was only seventeen years of age, small and frail, unused to society, and naturally so timid and retiring that it was painful for me to meet strangers.
For several days, and far into the night, I prayed that this burden might be removed from me, and laid upon some one more capable of bearing it. But the light of duty did not change, and the words of the angel sounded continually in my ears, Make known to others what I have revealed to you. Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 69.
|In what way are we called, regardless of our position in the church, to make known to others what I have revealed to you? What has God revealed to you? How can you better share that with others?|
The Authority of the Incarnate Word
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18).
In Matthew 21:23, while Jesus was teaching, the chief priests and the elders asked Him, By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority? (NKJV). Jesus responded to the question in good rabbinic fashion, and that waswith a counter question: The baptism of Johnwhere was it from? From heaven or from men? (vs. 25, NKJV; see vss. 2427). In rabbinic debates the counter question was meant to point the way to the answer of the original question. When they refused to answer, He refused to give a clear answer in return, because if they refused to acknowledge Gods power in Johns ministry, there was little point in discussing His ownwhich was also from God.
What do the following texts tell us about Jesus authority? Matt. 7:28, 29; Mark 1:21-27; Luke 8:2225; 9:1; John 5:2527.
Ultimate authority belongs to Christ as our Creator (John 1:3) and Redeemer (Rom. 3:24). He is at once the final court of appeal and the absolute norm by which each life is to be judged. Divine authority finds its focus and finality in Him. The Gospels, therefore, declare that His teaching caused astonishment because He taught as One having authority (Matt. 7:29).
Throughout the Gospels we find Christs more-than-human authority. He forgave sins (Mark 2:10), drove out devils (Mark 3:15), and claimed the right to judge mens hearts (John 2:24, 25) and give eternal life (John 10:28). Yet, the authority that Christ exercised within His earthly commission was granted to Him by the Father (John 17:2). Whatever He did, including all the miracles He performed, always was done in dependence on and in cooperation with His Father (John 5:19). At the same time, He had absolute authority (Matt. 28:18). Therefore, He could delegate authority to His disciples (Mark 6:7) and will in the end judge all people (John 5:27).
|We live in a day and age when its fashionable to question authority. How are we to relate to authority? What factors should determine our answer?|
The Authority of the Written Word
Compare these two responses to Gods written Word: 2 Kings 22:10-13; Jer. 36:2231. Though we might not act quite as dramatically as the folk did here, how do these incidents represent the basic responses to Gods written Word?
One can reject Gods Word today without openly burning it, as did this one king. Instead, it can be ridiculed, ignored, denounced as out-of-date, or interpreted in such a way that it is deprived of any historical value or authority.
Yet, no one can disregard the authority of Scripture with impunity. Sooner or later he or she will suffer the consequences of that rejection. In the written Word, the character and will of God, the meaning of human existence, and the purposes of God for humanity in all ages are stated in propositional form that all can understand. To reject it may not have immediate consequences, but it will certainly result in eternal loss.
He [Christ] pointed to the Scriptures as of unquestionable authority, and we should do the same. The Bible is to be presented as the word of the infinite God, as the end of all controversy and the foundation of all faith.Ellen G. White, Christs Object Lessons, pp. 39, 40.
All through her life Mrs. White exalted the Word of God. In regard to the controversy between science and Scripture she wrote: There should be a settled belief in the divine authority of God's Holy Word. The Bible is not to be tested by men's ideas of science. Human knowledge is an unreliable guide.Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 114.
In 1909 she attended her last General Conference session. At the close of her last sermon she picked up the Bible, opened it, and held it out on extended hands. Brethren and Sisters, she said, I commend unto you this Book. Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years, p. 197.
|Examine your own attitude toward the Scriptures. Ask yourself the following questions: How much time do I spend in them? How seriously do I try to follow the teachings? When I read, am I trying to find fault with it? Whats my attitude toward passages that I find disturbing, or that express ideas that I dont like? What can I learn from my answers?|
The Authority of the Spoken Word
In ancient times, when writing material was scarce and most people could not read, the spoken word was very important. What effect did the spoken Word of God have on people in the following passages? Jer. 38:14, John 3:110, 6:5166, Acts 16:2534.
The Word of God, whether spoken or written, has a double function. It is like a two-edged sword, says Paul, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12, NKJV). In the context of what Paul is saying, the word refers to the messages that were preached both to ancient Israel and to Christians (Heb. 4:2).
Like a surgeons scalpel, the spoken Word of God can penetrate to heal and restore, or it can furnish the evidence of a deadly disease that will result in eternal condemnation. Unless the word preached meets with faith on the part of the hearers, it cannot benefit them.
While not everyone in the church was willing to accept Ellen G. Whites prophetic authority, the church by and large listened to her counsel and benefited by it. The following story reveals the good things the church experienced by following Ellen G. Whites advice. For example, church organization between 1863 (when the General Conference was organized) and 1901 remained basically unchanged. As work in different lines developed, various associations (Medical Missionary, Sabbath School, Religious Liberty, Tract Society, etc.) were formed to foster these ministries. Because these associations were all autonomous organizations represented by independent corporations but not integral parts of the General Conference organization, they were sometimes in competition with one another. On the other hand, all major decisions in regard to the worldwide work were made by a few people at the General Conference in Battle Creek.
The day before the General Conference session in 1901, Ellen G. White met with the church leaders and urged them to make drastic changes in the running of the church. Accordingly, when the conference opened, the usual order of business was set aside and a large committee (about 75 people) was appointed to work on the reorganization of the church structure. The result was that the General Conference committee was enlarged considerably, the various associations became departments of the General Conference, and union conferences were organized to enable leaders in the field to make decisions on the spot without having to wait for decisions from Battle Creek.
The reorganization of the church structure, directed by Divine counsel, was accepted unanimously and has stood the test of time. With some modifications and enlargements, it is still the structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today.
The Authority of Noncanonical Prophets
Apart from the canonical prophets, such as Isaiah and Amos, we find in Scripture a number of prophets whose books did not become part of the canon. What do the following texts tell us about these prophets and their writings? 1 Chron. 29:29, 2 Chron. 9:29, 12:15.
Among its sources, the books of Chronicles refer to at least six different prophetic books written by extracanonical prophets: Gad, Nathan, Ahijah, Shemaiah, and Iddo.
What authority did extracanonical prophets have? 2 Sam. 12:14, 1 Kings 11:2939, 14:218, Luke 7:28.
In Davids time, Scripture was the books of Moses, but not for one moment did David question the authority of Nathan. He knew that Nathan was a prophet, and that his word was authoritative, even though Nathan had no books that ever made it into the Bible.
Let us suppose that archaeologists found a book of Nathans today. Would it be added to the Bible? No; it would remain an inspired book outside of the canon. And if a theological statement were found in the book, it would remain an inspired and authoritative statement outside of the canon.
The canon is simply the collection of books that under Gods guidance was put together as the rule of life and faith for Gods people and by which everything else has to be measured. It contains everything a person needs to know to be saved. However, not everything the prophets wrote under inspiration is in the Bible. We know, for example, that Paul wrote more inspired letters than we have in the New Testament today (1 Cor. 5:9, Col 4:16). Now, if we found one of these letters today, it would not become part of the Bible. It would remain an authoritative, inspired letter outside of the canon.
Ellen Whites authority can be compared to the authority of the extracanonical prophets. The inspired messages she received for the church are not an addition to the canon. Her writings are not another Bible, nor do they carry the kind of authority found in the Bible. In the end, the Bible and the Bible alone is our ultimate authority.
|In 1982, an ad hoc committee of the General Conference prepared a statement
on the relationship between the Bible and Ellen G. White. It reads in part:
Affirmations: (1) We believe that Scripture is the divinely revealed
Word of God and is inspired by the Holy Spirit. (2) We believe that the canon
of Scripture is composed only of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.
(3) We believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and the final authority
in all matters of doctrine and practice. (4) We believe that Scripture is
the Word of God in human language. (5) We believe that Scripture teaches
that the gift of prophecy will be manifest in the Christian church after
New Testament times. (6) We believe that the ministry and writings of Ellen
White were a manifestation of the gift of prophecy. (7) We believe that Ellen
White was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that her writings, the product
of that inspiration, are applicable and authoritative especially to Seventh-day
Adventists. (8) We believe that the purposes of the Ellen White writings
include guidance in understanding the teaching of Scripture and application
of these teachings, with prophetic urgency, to the spiritual and moral life.
(9) We believe that the acceptance of the prophetic gift of Ellen White is
important to the nurture and unity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. (10)
We believe that Ellen White's use of literary sources and assistants finds
parallels in some of the writings of the Bible. Denials: (1) We do not believe
that the quality or degree of inspiration in the writings of Ellen White
is different from that of Scripture. (2) We do not believe that the writings
of Ellen White are an addition to the canon of Sacred Scripture. (3) We do
not believe that the writings of Ellen White function as the foundation and
final authority of Christian faith as does Scripture. (4) We do not believe
that the writings of Ellen White may be used as the basis of doctrine. (5)
We do not believe that the study of the writings of Ellen White may be used
to replace the study of Scripture. (6) We do not believe that Scripture can
be understood only through the writings of Ellen White. (7) We do not believe
that the writings of Ellen White exhaust the meaning of Scripture. (8) We
do not believe that the writings of Ellen White are essential for the
proclamation of the truths of Scripture to society at large. (9) We do not
believe that the writings of Ellen White are the product of mere Christian
piety. (10) We do not believe that Ellen White's use of literary sources
and assistants negates the inspiration of her writings.
The conclusion then was drawn that a correct understanding of the inspiration and authority of the writings of Ellen White will avoid two extremes: 1. regarding these writings as functioning on a canonical level identical with Scripture; 2. considering them as ordinary Christian literature.
|Go through the lists above. How does this help clarify some issues regarding Ellen G. White? What questions does it raise?|
|I N S I D E Story|
|Man With the Black Book
by SATURNINO SABALLA JR.
I am a SULAD, a student missionary, teaching in a newly opened village in Mindanao, Philippines. These villagers found God through a dream.
One night the datu (chief) dreamed that a Man dressed in white and carrying a big black book came to him. "Whoever obeys the commands written in this book will be my people," the Man said. Then he explained the importance of the Sabbath.
The datu called the villagers together and shared his dream. The people agreed that they would worship the creator God on His sacred day. On Saturday they gathered to worship in the only way they knew-chewing betel nut and talking to an unseen spirit.
Then a villager met an Adventist tailor while visiting town. The villager told the tailor about their new religion, which required them to worship on Saturday and related the chief's dream about the Man with a black book.
"I also am a Sabbath keeper!" the tailor said. "May I visit your village and worship with you?" The villager eagerly agreed.
The tailor and a lay worker set out on Friday for the six-hour hike to the village. They carried a large Bible. When they reached the village, they met the datu, who stared at the Bible. "This is the book I saw in my dream!" he said. "You must be Sabbath keepers too!"
The next morning the villagers gathered for worship followed by a feast of roasted pig and vegetables. Then the datu invited the visitors to speak at the afternoon meeting.
The lay worker read the Sabbath commandment from the Bible and explained how God wanted them to worship. The chief and villagers cheered in agreement. Then the lay worker explained God's other laws, laws of good health. He explained that the pig is a scavenger and is not fit for food, and that betel nut is a drug that God does not want His followers to use.
The datu again responded. "My dear people," he said. "This black book tells us many important things. We shall eat pig flesh no more. We shall use betel nut no more." The datu turned to the two men and invited them to teach them more. "We will gladly obey," he said.
In time every villager was baptized. Today SULAD missionaries are teaching the villagers to read the black book for themselves.
Our mission offerings help plant new churches in remote areas of God's vineyard. Thank you for sharing in this work.
SATURNINO SABALLA JR. is teaching in Bantolinao Mission School in Mindanao, Philippines
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