As an important factor in the spiritual growth of the new converts the apostles were careful to surround them with the safeguards of gospel order. Churches were duly organized in all places in Lycaonia and Pisidia where there were believers. Officers were appointed in each church, and proper order and system were established for the conduct of all the affairs pertaining to the spiritual welfare of the believers.
This was in harmony with the gospel plan of uniting in one body all believers in [the Messiah], and this plan Paul was careful to follow throughout his ministry. Those who in any place were by his labor led to accept [the Messiah] as the Saviour were at the proper time organized into a church. Even when the believers were but few in number, this was done. The Christians were thus taught to help one another, remembering the promise, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20.
— E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 185-186
Ten Principles of Gospel Order
1. The Bible Our Only Creed
One man blunders in his interpretation of some portion of the Scripture, but shall this cause diversity and disunion? God forbid. We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same shade of light.
The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish a perfect agreement.
Nothing can perfect a perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance. Satan can sow discord; [the Messiah] alone can harmonize the disagreeing elements.
—E.G. White, Letter 29, 1889
The following form of a Church Covenant has been adopted by the Seventh-day Adventists:— “We, the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together as a church, taking the name Seventh-day Adventists, and covenanting to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Many have sought to improve this by specifying favorite points of faith; but they have always failed. It is possible to weaken the faith in general by an effort to strengthen it in some particulars; for when some particular point is strengthened by being mentioned, others are proportionally weakened by omission.
It is for this reason that “Articles of Faith” are always inefficient, dwarfing both the faith and the life of those who accept them. In the holy Scriptures the man of God is “thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17), and by these alone is faith developed and perfected. Rom. 10:17.
— J.H. Waggoner, “The Church,” No. 2
If men revered the word of God properly, they would not be giving their support to Confessions of faith, Articles of faith, Books of discipline, and other mere human traditions; they would be content with God’s discipline, if they had confidence in the sufficiency of the blessed volume; they would give the inquiring sinner the instructions of the Bible, instead of the instructions of their church; they would not, contemptuously say of the commandment of the Lord, “That is only a command of God.”
— Anonymous, Review and Herald, 10/27/1859
Some suppose that if we should organize to hold our meeting-houses, we have got to get up a creed. I think that Bro. Loughborough is right. There is no necessity of the formation of articles of faith. But if a society is to be formed to hold meeting-houses, etc., why of course there would have to be some articles of association; but these would be nothing like articles of our religious faith as a body.
— James White, Review and Herald, 10/16/1860
In setting up of this “abomination that maketh desolate” (Dan.12:11), we see that five distinct steps were taken:-
1. Forming a creed, expressing their faith in man-made phrases instead of adhering to the word of the Lord.
2. Making that man-made creed a test of fellowship, and denouncing all as heretics who would not assent to the exact wording of their creeds.
3. Making the creed a rule by which all heretics must be tried. Many were thus declared sinners whose faith was more in harmony with the direct statements of the Bible than that of those who decreed against them.
4. Constituting themselves a tribunal for the trial of heretics, and excluding from their fellowship all who would not assent to their creeds. Not content to debar 77 such from church privileges in this world, they declared them subjects for the lake of fire.
5. Having thus kindled a hatred in their own hearts against all who did not conform to their creeds, they next invoked and obtained the aid of the civil power to torture, and kill with sword, with hunger, with flame, and with beasts of the earth, those whom they had declared unfit to remain in the world. […]
Instead of forming a creed in which is expressed every item of our faith, those entering into church fellowship attach their names to a church covenant which reads as follows: ‘We, the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together as a church, taking the name Seventh-day Adventists, covenanting to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ.’ In a covenant of this character we endorse the entire Bible as a rule of faith, and leave room for the Spirit of God to enlighten us in regard to the truths of his Word, not being bound down by any creed.
— J.N. Loughborough, The Church: Its Organization, Order, and Discipline, pp. 76-77, 174
The only way we can avoid making a creed is by having no public declaration of our faith other than quoting Scripture—our only creed. Baptismal candidates should still be thoroughly questioned, as it says under the ‘Baptism’ section of 6 Testimonies, but this is a private matter. It needs to be ascertained that all of the candidates have died to the world and no longer live a worldly lifestyle, such as in partaking in worldly entertainment, conversation, or dress, following the dress principles laid out in the Testimonies. They should not be expected to know all of the Scriptures and know all of the commandments of GOD and of His SON, but they need to have died to the world. The world must not be allowed to come into the Assembly.
Organization and Baptismal Questions in 1907 by J.N. Loughborough
2. Conferences to Send Out Ministers As Evangelists
As we look over the cities of America, where are the monuments for God? Where are the churches to glorify His name? I thank God for the medical missionary work. God will call for every soul who is educated to work in this line into connection with the gospel ministry. He has places for them. Let not one stone be placed in the way of those who are striving to teach our youth how to do this work. The Lord will show that He will work with those who will work. He says, “Ye are laborers together with God.”
My heart ached when I was in California. There are young men there laboring among the churches, but where is the power to open new fields? Where are those who will say, “We are not to stay with those who know the truth, but are to go to new fields”? There is a world to be saved, as far as men and women will yield to the claims of truth. The seeds of truth must be sown. “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields,” Christ said; “for they are white already to harvest.” He wants us to see the condition of the field. And then are you to feel at ease and travel from place to place visiting the churches? No, no! God help you by giving you the spirit of the message, that you may yearn after souls and not let go until they are converted. This is the work God desires to see done; and till this spirit takes hold of every man and every conference, the work cannot go forward in power. The Lord desires His people to adopt the light on health reform, leading out in paths of self-denial and self-sacrifice.
— E.G. White, Manuscript 43, 1901
What Sister White described above was a new trend that was happening in California. But before that time and in other places, ministers were traveling evangelists, raising up assemblies in new areas. George Butler gives the following account of the conditions in 1895 CE:
Seventh-day Adventist churches maintain their regular worship without the assistance of any located pastors, leaving our entire ministry free to act as evangelists in new fields. As a consequence, many of our churches pass long periods without any preaching, and consequently Conference committees aim to arrange the labor in the State so that ministers will occasionally be at liberty to visit the churches, to help and encourage them in the Christian life by a few meetings. At a general meeting for the State of Michigan, held at Ithaca during the closing days of 1886, Eld. C. was present, and it was there arranged that the ministers of the State should spend a little time not favorable for other work in making brief visits to the churches, each one being requested to take a certain district, so that the whole State might be covered.
— G.I. Butler, Replies to Elder Canright’s Attacks on Seventh-day Adventists, p. 24
Pastors that are not evangelists received no tithe, and those who are evangelists are to spend only little of their time ministering to existing assemblies. And the work of raising up assemblies and institutions in every place is to continue until the Spirit of Prophecy bids us no longer.
When the Lord shall bid us make no further effort to build meetinghouses and establish schools, sanitariums, and publishing institutions, it will be time for us to fold our hands and let the Lord close up the work; but now is our opportunity to show our zeal for God and our love for humanity.
— E.G. White, 6 Testimonies, p. 440
For more information read Chapters 14 and 24 of The Church by J.N. Loughborough.
3. The Proper Roles of Elders and Deacons
Unlike ministers/evangelists, which are voted in by the conference, elders and deacons are voted in and ordained by the local congregation. Elders are pastors over the local assembly, not paid by tithe, unless they are also Bible workers. They are to make sure the members are spiritually well by visiting the members. They are also to make sure that members are active in service, both within and without the Assembly, and are to lead out in the service. Sermons should generally be short and not necessarily every Sabbath. He should instruct the church on how to hold social meetings instead of expecting a sermon each Sabbath; then the members will stay active and he will have time freed up to do his main duty: visit members to minister to their spiritual welfare and hold order among them by lovingly correcting them where necessary.
Deacons are to minister to the physical welfare of the congregation by visiting them to inquire of their needs and distributing funds to help provide where necessary. In other words, they are not money collectors and janitors.
For more information read Chapters 14 and 24 of The Church by J.N. Loughborough.
4. The Missionary Meeting—Every Member Working Together
This important subject is covered in the following article:
5. Order of Rules and Discipline
An assembly is not truly organized if there is no discipline. All members are expected to live according to the commandments of God and be workers for Him. Those who fail to live up to Christian standards are to receive corrective discipline, and if that fails, disfellowship. If there is no order, organization has no purpose and is vain.
Without delay, renounce the cause of your backsliding, because it is sin against your own soul and against God. Be not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Fashion is deteriorating the intellect and eating out the spirituality of our people. Obedience to fashion is pervading our Seventh-day Adventist churches and is doing more than any other power to separate our people from God. I have been shown that our church rules are very deficient. All exhibitions of pride in dress, which is forbidden in the word of God, should be sufficient reason for church discipline. If there is a continuance, in face of warnings and appeals and entreaties, to still follow the perverse will, it may be regarded as proof that the heart is in no way assimilated to Christ. Self, and only self, is the object of adoration, and one such professed Christian will lead many away from God.
— E.G. White, 4 Testimonies, p. 647
A series by James White
An article by Ellen White
A series by J.H. Waggoner.
6. Closed Communion
See Part 9 from above.
7. Male Headship and Teaching
All leadership and teaching positions in the Assembly are to be held by men, yet women can still be paid by tithe given they do the work of evangelism. The following articles address this unpopular, but biblical, truth:
The Symbol of Authority (Parts 1 & 2)
8. One-Year Offices
According to the Spirit of Prophecy, conference presidents are only to serve one-year terms before reelection; also, it was a pioneer practice for ministers to be reevaluated and renewed each year. The following article addresses this:
9. No Money Collection On Sabbath
Let our people avoid the passing of the contribution boxes, even if it become a much more difficult matter than it now is to raise money for foreign missionary work.
It would be well if our brethren and sisters would consider the advisability of laying by during the week their offerings for foreign missionary work. As they call to mind the blessings and mercies that God is affording them, let them put a thank offering in an envelope. These envelopes could be presented on the Sabbath, when it could be stated for what purpose they are intended. If perplexed to know how the offering should be applied, they can leave it to the judgment of the church officers, and these officers in turn should state just how every dollar has been applied.
The sacredness of the Sabbath could be in no way violated by such gifts, and the results would be for good. There would be no occasion for distrust. The Lord would be honored, and the blessings to giver and receiver would be increased. The possession of a willing heart would make the giving a joy to the receiver, and the gift would bring to the receiver the assurance that the Lord was mindful of his necessities. My brethren and sisters, try this method. Let there be no collections taken on the Sabbath, but let praise and thank offerings be made.
— E.G. White, Manuscript 176, 1907
Here is some more information:
The plan the Foreign Mission Board has designed is such that all the children can have a part in it. The envelopes are distributed each Sabbath at the close of the service; every one who has a disposition to help along this line of work is provided with an envelope, which is to receive his Firstday offering. The next Sabbath this is brought to the church, and placed in the hands of the church librarian, or in some convenient box to receive it. What a beautiful sight it is to see the entire family going to church every Sabbath, bringing their offerings for the Lord’s cause, and putting them into the offering-box.
The churches that have adopted this plan have contributed more to the Foreign Mission Board than they did under the old plan of using the boxes. We have reason to believe that if it is adopted, and studied by our brethren throughout the field, we shall see that there will be no lack of means to carry forward this work.
— L.A. Hoopes, General Conference Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 6 (4/1898), p. 206
Committee on Plans and Resolutions has submitted the following partial report: […]
4. That the Foreign Mission Board, through the State Corresponding Secretaries and local librarians, supply all our people, – churches, companies, and isolated members, – with special envelopes in which to place a weekly offering for foreign mission work; that these envelopes be distributed and collected at the regular Sabbath meeting; and that these offerings be forwarded monthly, through the Tract Society officers, to the Foreign Mission Board.
— General Conference Daily Bulletin, 2/22/1899
J. M. Rees: I understand that this does not increase the number of offerings, but that the envelope plan takes the place of the First-day offering boxes that we have had heretofore. Instead of setting the First-day offering boxes on the shelf somewhere, to be forgotten during the week, the envelopes are placed by the door of the church, so that as the brethren leave the meeting-house on the Sabbath, they take an envelope with them, bringing it back the next Sabbath with their First-day offering in it. In Colorado we find that our foreign mission offering has increased about half since we have adopted the envelope plan.
— General Conference Daily Bulletin, 2/28/1899
10. Local Assemblies Occupying Fields
This last one was not done historically by Seventh-day Adventists as with the former ones, but it is nonetheless biblical, apostolic, and very special, as well as essential for rapidly expanding and finishing the gospel work with the least expense and most efficiency and spiritual blessing. PLEASE DO NOT MISS THIS ONE; IT IS LAST BUT NOT LEAST.
The word “church” fails to convey ‘ecclesia’, which literally means ‘called out ones’, implying an ‘assembly’. “Church” has come to usually mean that place down the road where people gather for worship, or a denominational sect, but this is not very biblical. We prefer using “Assembly” (uppercase) as it conveys to the mind ideas of order and unity and is etymologically more true to the original meaning of ‘Ecclesia’.
The biblical Ecclesia, or Assembly, is simply the collection of all believers who assemble themselves together as part of governed societies covering local areas, which can also be called ‘assemblies’ (lowercase). It especially refers to believers of the Messiah that are commandment-keepers organized for service. But it includes all in the world, regardless of organizational names they are a part of, who assemble themselves together for fellowship and are part of the body of the Messiah; both definitions are used in the Spirit of Prophecy, according to context. Whatever organization we belong to, we should not be bigoted to claim that we are the true church and that others who do not believe as we do are not part of God’s Assembly.
As far as local assemblies are concerned, again, they are not buildings. They are not even believers that meet in the same building or location every week. Throughout the New Testament Scriptures, it is evident that believers of the Messiah met in homes, and those who lived within the vicinity of a certain city were called by that city—such as “the Assembly of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2)—and they were considered an assembly, or organized society, collectively, regardless of the house they frequently worshiped in.
This understanding of how the apostolic Assembly was structured is important, because assemblies should not form large weekly gatherings. They should spread out and have more influence by representing themselves in various locations, also being more personal so that everyone knows each other and they are closely-knit. The best way of insuring this is to have “meeting-houses,” as Sister White called them—houses, not buildings.
There is no need for anything other than a residential-sized house, which could be a manufactured house (perhaps even custom-built by an Adventist home-building industry that can be raised up in one day). For existing residential homes, the living room can be converted into the chapel, the basement can be converted into a school, the master bedroom could be a treatment room for the sick and library books related to physical and spiritual health, and other bedrooms could be for housing a guest, such as a traveling minister and his wife who visit, and a multi-purpose office for administrative and evangelistic purposes.
The need for a meeting-house where there is a newly formed company of believers, has been presented before me in a panoramic view. I saw workmen building humble houses of worship. Those newly come to the faith were helping with willing hands, and those who had means were assisting with their means. In the basement of the church, above ground, a schoolroom was prepared for the children, and a teacher was sent there to take charge. The numbers in the school were not large, but it was a happy beginning. I heard the songs of children and of parents: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that built it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” “Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul. While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.” [Psalm 127:1; 146:1, 2.]
The establishment of churches, the erection of meeting-houses and school-buildings, was extended from city to city, and the tithe was increasing to carry forward the work. Plants were made not only in one place, but in many places, and the Lord was working to increase His forces.
— E.G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 435
There is no need for the standard audience-seating arrangement for the chapel, and it would be far better to sit in a square (with three sides for seating and the fourth side for a leader, speaker, or musicians) so that everyone can see each other and connect. After all, the meetings are supposed to largely be social anyways, whether for the Sabbath School, the social testimony meeting, Bible studies, or the Supper of the LORD. Short and occasional sermons will work as well, as long as the fourth side of the square is free for the preacher. Tables can be lined up along the other three sides, so that people are encouraged to take notes and have their Bible open at the same time. The same tables can be used for the communion supper. If more people join the Assembly and space runs out, there can be multiple Sabbath services until another house can be prepared in a different town or suburb, so that memorials are established in many places in the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God.
The elders are those that rule over the local assembly as a whole, but that assembly, if more than about 20 people (the maximum comfortable capacity of a typical living room), should not be meeting in the same house. They are to eventually be scattered into many different meeting houses (or temporarily in residential homes until a designated assembly home can be prepared).
There can be a single assembly for every decent-sized city (big enough to have a hospital or a Walmart) and the district can be spread out to the surrounding area to border with other districts surrounding such cities, with the goal of having a meeting-house for each of the many townships in the district. This will allow for many elders, with preferably at least one or two for each meeting house, creating balance and unity, for the many elders can council together. It also allows members to freely visit different meeting houses to get to know more people. A member would be of the assembly rather than a group that meets at a particular house.
The areas covered by a local assembly can be considered ‘fields’ (as was done in the Seventh-day Adventist pioneer days). These fields can be worked each year in an organized way through missionary meetings, which could perhaps be held each New Moon, with all members in the field attending, making for a large meeting, which will be a special blessing. There can also be time for music, prayer, and sharing testimonies, especially missionary ones. Such meetings could be held outdoors (weather permitting), in a large tent, or a rented hall or even Sunday church building, with longer sessions during the Christian feasts of Pesach and Pentecost. Smaller missionary meetings covering just a part of the field may be held more frequently if necessary.
Existing church buildings where scores of people meet may best be sold, so that smaller houses be prepared spread out in different areas and those who meet can feel like they are families and very close to each other with no schisms or separations. It is better to not even have a special meeting place than to have one too large. As long as is necessary, it is fine for believers to meet in existing residential homes on Sabbath, or perhaps better, when weather permitting, outdoors in nature, truly celebrating the Creation.
Here, Sister White recounts families meeting in an existing residential home:
On the Sabbath the few friends here assembled in Edson’s parlor for a Sabbath-school. There are four families—twelve persons in all—who usually meet for worship. Edson conducts the Sabbath-school when he is at home. After Sabbath-school they either have a Bible-reading or a prayer and social meeting. This is as it should be. The family altar should be established in every home; and if in any locality there are no more than two or three of like precious faith, they should meet together. “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
In every place where there are two or three that love God, and keep his commandments, they should speak often one to another of the blessed hope, and should unite their prayers at the throne of grace. God will listen to their humble petitions. He will register their names in his book, and will preserve them in the hour of trial and temptation. Frequently these little meetings are precious occasions. Jesus has promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And if they “shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”
— E.G. White, Review and Herald, 10/14/1884
Many of the meeting-houses can be in rural areas where agriculture can be done to feed the poor members and elders so that the elders can work less hours, if not even working the farm for at least some of their employment, so that they have time, especially in the winter, for visiting members and training them for service, as well as leading out in meetings, which together may take many hours per week.
It is up to the elders to manage the gospel work in their area, so that more meeting-houses can be established in surrounding townships, and to keep the Assembly completely free from worldliness. Some elders might do part-time canvassing work. Some might work at an Adventist industry, such as a health food store or sanitarium. But they should not be working as many hours as the regular members.
Elders should be fully dedicated to their work. They should not be involved with social media and other unnecessary hobbies. They have a very important work and should be well-cared for by the Assembly so that they need not spend much time with home maintenance and repair work. They also need time for their own training by ministers and conference teachers. We must develop system so that elders can properly lead out in an evangelistic work to reach all areas with the gospel. We have online resources and should make good use of them.
If these principles are followed, we will see amazing things take place, beyond anything that can be described in words. The gospel work will be completed!
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