Lesson 12

March 16 - 22

The Great Controversy and the Church

Lesson graphic

Sabbath Afternoon   March 16

READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Matt. 18:19, 20; Acts 4:1-3; 12:5; 15; 20:29-31; Rom. 1:16, 17; 2 Tim. 2:15.

MEMORY TEXT:" 'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you' " (Matthew 28:19, 20, NKJV).

KEY QUESTIONS: What role does the church play in the great controversy? How does Satan attempt to thwart that role, and what weapons must the church use in her own defense?

THE CHURCH IN AN ALIEN WORLD. Though the Cross sealed Satan's doom, the great controversy will not be over until the church takes the good news of salvation to the entire world and Christ returns. "'And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come' "(Matt. 24:14, NIV). From the inception of the church, however, the forces of evil, under numerous guises, both within and without the church, have plagued the church's attempts to spread the joy of salvation. Persecution, false doctrines, and internal divisions are some of what the enemy uses to thwart the church in its mission. But Christ does not leave His church without help. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the preservation of the Word, its faithful members continue to carry the banner of truth to a perishing world.

This week's lesson provides an outline of the church's role in this battle through the ages. As you study, ask yourself what role you now play and what role you desire to play, as a member of the church destined to fulfill God's divine commission.  

*(Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 23.)

Sunday  March 17


"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Matt. 28:19, 20; see also Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).  

Christ's commission to His church is perpetual. Its charge includes every generation. Its duty motivates everyone who has taken the name of Jesus. The purpose of delivering the good news to all nations is the salvation of souls and the creation of a community in which individuals can strengthen one another and continue to canvas the world with the gospel.

That purpose, however, is contrary to Satan's goal. He despises God's people and the unity that exists among them. His intention has always been to scatter the sheep and keep them far away from their Shepherd. He seeks to accomplish this through various means, such as using divisive cultural differences to divide the church; by introducing doctrines that have no biblical basis in order to confuse the church; by promoting views that are soothing but not demanding in order to anesthetize the church; and by giving it emotional cushions that eliminate personal crosses in order to weaken the church. We cannot fight this enemy alone. Thus, we have only two choices:  Christ or failure.

How does Christ empower His disciples to complete the gospel commission? Matt. 28:20; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4.  

In Acts 1:8, the Greek word translated "power" is dunamis. The word dynamite originates from this Greek word.

Other religions have had great leaders and lofty agendas. But none has had so daring an objective as Christianity, and no disciples have been given such powerful promises as Christ's disciples were given. Jesus is our eternal contemporary, the Holy Spirit our eternal empowerment. Together, they enable us to spread the gospel despite Satan's best efforts.

No one is neutral in the great controversy; even if you're a member of the church, you are either aiding in the church's work or diminishing it.  Take a good hard look at yourself, your attitudes, your words, your actions, and ask, Am I helping or hindering?  And rememberit has to be one or the other.  

Monday  March 18


Read the passages listed below and after each one write down one word that describes the struggles Satan inflicted on Christ's infant church as its members began to fulfill the divine commission.

Acts 4:1-3  _________________________________________________________________________

Acts 5:1-11  ________________________________________________________________________

Acts 7:54-60  _______________________________________________________________________

Acts 8:3, 4  _________________________________________________________________  

Satan's anger against God's people as predicted in Revelation 12 was already taking shape in several forms. Dismayed by the phenomenal growth of the church in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, he used everything in his power to halt its progress. If he could stop it early, how easy the rest of his work would be!

One of his first attempts backfired. Stephen's martyrdom, far from destroying the church, proved to be a watershed in its early history. Stephen's sermon (Acts 7) clearly showed the transition from the old to the new, from Jesus whom they crucified to the Christ who fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, from the temple on earth to the temple in heaven where the risen Jesus is seated next to the Father. Both Stephen's sermon and his death opened wide the doors of opportunity for the early church. "The martyrdom of Stephen made a deep impression upon all who witnessed it. The memory of the signet [mark] of God upon his face; his words, which touched the very souls of those who heard them, remained in the minds of the beholders, and testified to the truth of that which he had proclaimed. His death was a sore trial to the church, but it resulted in the conviction of Saul, who could not efface [erase] from his memory the faith and constancy of the martyr, and the glory that had rested on his countenance."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 101.

Satan is just as determined today to keep us from spreading the gospel now as then.  What tactics is he attempting to use against us that he used against the infant church?  What other tactics is he using, as well?  

Tuesday  March 19

EARLY VICTORIES (Acts 2:36-38).

Yesterday we studied some of the struggles the infant church faced because of Satan's attempts to discourage its members from fulfilling their divine commission. But because of Jesus' promise to be with them always through the Holy Spirit, the story of Acts is really a story about victories.

Some of these victories include the fact that the early church was faithful to Christian truths and principles despite Satan's attacks.  The verses below show how this is so.  Read each text and then decide to which truth or principle the church was being loyal.  The first two are done for you.  

Text Principle/Truth
  Acts 1:14; 2:46     Unity is vital to Christian life and fulfilling our commission.
  Acts 2:36     Christ is both divine and human.
  Acts 2:4; 4:8  
  Acts 4:32-37  
  Acts 5:29  
  Acts 6:1-4; 15  
  Acts 10  
  Acts 12:5  

Today it is popular among some Christians to claim that doctrines are not so important.  The important things, they say, are to love Jesus and believe in Him.  And though certainly those factors are important, why is doctrine indeed important for the church?  How could we fulfill the commission to spread the gospel if we aren't even preaching the same gospel?  And though some differences will, of course, exist among members, on what teaching must there be harmony?  

Wednesday  March 20


Yesterday's lesson dealt with the victory the early church had in adhering to basic Christian truths and principles, despite Satan's attacks. But as time passed, this would not always be the case.

Based on each of the passages below, how has, and how will, Satan try to corrupt the church with false teachings?

Acts 20:29-31 ________________________________________________________________________

2 Pet. 2:1  ___________________________________________________________________________

1 John 2:18, 19 _______________________________________________________________  

Between the close of the Apostolic Age and the beginning of the Reformation (1517), some of the most basic Christian truths and principles yielded to falsehoods, grounded in Roman and Greek philosophy, and the desire for power and self-exaltation on the part of various church centers in the Roman Empire. Some of these falsehoods included: (1) the immortality of the soul (Job 14:2; 1 Tim. 1:17; James 4:14); (2) infant baptism (Acts 8:12, 13, 29-38; 9:17, 18; 1 Cor. 1:14); (3) mediation through saints (Heb. 8:1-6; 9:11-15); (4) Sunday observance (Exod. 20:8-11); (5) righteousness by works (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 2:17); (6) church traditions viewed to be more important than biblical truths (Matt. 15:1-3, 6; Mark 7:8).

The nominal conversion of Constantine in the early part of the fourth century caused Christianity to lose even more of its purity. This event caused great rejoicing, but the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror; its doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions become incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ.

Heresies and error don't arise overnight.  Satan is patient.  He introduces error slowly, through one "small" compromise, which leads to another "small" compromise to another and another and so forth.  All these errors begin inside the human heart.  People have to accept them in order for them to eventually make their way into the church as a whole.  How can we, as individuals, protect ourselves (and thus the church) from this deadly trap?  

Thursday  March 21

BACK TO THE BIBLE (Rom. 1:16, 17; 2 Tim. 2:15).

During the Middle (or Dark) Ages, Bible study was confined to monks in monasteries. In fact, it was unlawful for ordinary church members even to have Bibles. However, with the help of Englishman John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into the language of his people, the stage was set for a powerful reformation. "In giving the Bible to his countrymen, he had done more to break the fetters of ignorance and vice, more to liberate and elevate his country, than was ever achieved by the most brilliant victories on fields of battle."—The Great Controversy, p. 88.

In Germany, Martin Luther struck a deadly blow to apostasy by proclaiming two great biblical truths, long neglected by the Roman church: (1) the Bible and the Bible only, and (2) the just shall live by faith.

Why are these two truths so important?  What role do they play in the great controversy?  

Until Luther made known his thoughts regarding righteousness by faith based on his studies primarily in Romans and Galatians, the church in Rome taught that a person could earn salvation through various works. Risking his life, as did the apostles before him, Luther condemned the purchase of indulgences and false teachings; he urged people to taste the joy of salvation by exercising faith in Jesus' righteousness and that alone. Reformers such as Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, and Wesley joined in the restoration of other biblical truths so that the emerging Protestant church repudiated such falsehoods as purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation (the belief that when taken by the believer, the Communion bread and wine actually become Christ's body and blood), and prayers for the dead.

The Reformation, however, did not restore such truths as the Sabbath (Exod. 20:8-11), the state of the dead (Ps. 115:7; Eccles. 9:5, 6, 10) and Jesus' high-priestly ministry (Heb. 8:1-6; 9:11-15). The reestablishment of these truths would be the work of another group who would grow out of the Millerite movement (1839-1844) to become the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

How do you understand the role of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the great controversy?  Why did the Lord raise up this church?  What specific truths are we teaching that no one else is, and how do these truths fit in with God's plan to end the great controversy, with His own character vindicated before the entire universe?  

Friday  March 22

FURTHER STUDY:  Revelation 12:17 gives us a description of God's people in the last days. Revelation 14:6-12 is the message they are to proclaim. How is this message part of the commission Jesus gave His disciples in Matthew 28:19, 20?

"To prepare a people to stand in the day of God, a great work of reform was to be accomplished. God saw that many of His professed people were not building for eternity, and in His mercy He was about to send a message of warning to arouse them from their stupor and lead them to make ready for the coming of the Lord.

"This warning is brought to view in Revelation 14. Here is a threefold message represented as proclaimed by heavenly beings and immediately followed by the coming of the Son of man to reap 'the harvest of the earth.' The first of these warnings announces the approaching judgment. . . . This message is declared to be a part of 'the everlasting gospel.' The work of preaching the gospel has not been committed to angels, but has been entrusted to men. Holy angels have been employed in directing this work. . . but the actual proclamation of the gospel is performed by the servants of Christ upon the earth."—The Great Controversy, pp. 311, 312. (We will study more about these messages as they relate to the last great battle of the great controversy in next week's lesson.)

For more information on this week's topics, read any or all of the following:  The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 3, 4, 9, 10, 16, 17, 18.  

1. One of the victories of the apostolic church was breaking down the walls of prejudice (Acts 10; 11; 15).  Yet Paul suggests that commitment to one family under God is always under attack from Satan (Gal. 2:11-13).  How does Satan use prejudice today to prevent the church from doing its work?  What prejudices might you be harboring that exclude you from full participation in spreading the gospel?  
2. "I have met Jesus, and I cannot keep quiet," said Sadhu Sunder Singh, an Indian convert from Sikhism.  He took the gospel to Tibet, where he was martyred.  Why is a personal relationship with Christ (as opposed to simply knowledge about Him) so important for witnessing to others?  

SUMMARY:  The church is to spread the gospel to the entire world. Satan, however, prevents it from doing so through persecution, infighting, prejudices, false doctrines, and lack of Bible study. As we seek to fulfill the gospel commission, we must always focus on Christ and invite His Holy Spirit to transform our lives.  

InSide Story

The Little Missionaries

Daryl Famisaran

Around the mission schools established by students from Mountain View College, the children are the most active members. The children are always on time for evening and morning worships with their teachers. Their voices ring through the forests as they heartily sing songs of heaven. Whenever they hear new truths from their teachers, they can't wait to tell their parents or anybody in the village whom they think may not have heard it yet.

Arnold Lucero, who teaches at the Taucucon Mission School, shared the story of Jerlie, the daughter of the village chief. Jerlie was the first in her village to receive Jesus as her Savior, and during a mission jamboree at Mountain View College in 1999, she asked to be baptized. The student missionaries were surprised by her decision. "The chief might be unhappy with us if you are baptized," they told Jerlie.

"Don't you worry about my father, sir," she told the student missionaries. "I'm sure he will be happy." At her insistence, she was baptized.

When the teachers and students returned to the village, the student missionaries went directly to the chief's home to tell him about Jerlie's baptism. Just as she had predicted, her father responded, "I am happy for my daughter to follow the religion of our teachers. I know that you are sent by the most powerful God to teach our children."

Somewhat surprised by the chief's response, the student missionaries asked, "What made you say that, chief?"

"When you first came, my people and I had some reservations," the chief answered. "We thought that you would try to force religion into the minds of our children. So we watched everything you did. Then one night I could not sleep. I got up and walked to your cottage. It was bright with light. I peeked into your room through a crack in the wall. You two were sound asleep, but I saw two figures floating in the air above your heads. The light seemed to come from the two beings in white robes. The two beings appeared to me to be angels, which my daughter had told me about when she repeated her Bible stories. I concluded that God had sent you to be our teachers. So you understand that I am happy to have my daughter follow your teachings."

Daryl Famisaran is director of the student missionary program at Mountain View College in southern Philippines.

Join the SSNET moderated email discussion group.  You are also warmly invited to join a group discussion of this lesson Sabbath morning with your local Seventh-day Adventist congregation.

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