t was a classically American—and prototypically Adventist—thing to do.
When Millerite preacher S. S. Snow galloped into the Exeter, New Hampshire, camp meeting in August 1844 with the news that his calculations pointed to the second coming of Jesus on October 22, 1844, his electrifying message launched the era hallowed in Adventist history as “The Midnight Cry.” Through the close Bible study and urgent proclamation of one man, a movement stuck in disappointment and self-critique was energized by the news—“Behold the Bridegroom cometh: Go ye out to meet Him!”
Both American culture and Adventist history have repeatedly reminded us of the importance and power of an individual’s convictions. We tell our children stories to underline this point: If it hadn’t been for Paul Revere’s midnight ride . . . or Dolley Madison’s pluck . . . or Abraham Lincoln’s compassion . . . or Martin Luther King, Jr., and his visionary dream, the tale of the American experiment might have been far different.
Adventism also rightly celebrates its towering individuals: Yankee farmer-turned-preacher William Miller; sea captain and Sabbath advocate Joseph Bates; pioneering female physician Kate Lindsay; famed African-American evangelist E. E. Cleveland. And where, we may all ask, would this movement be (would it be at all?) without the inspired guidance of Ellen White, given to us through nearly seven decades of ministry?
The truths of Scripture and the experience of five centuries of Protestantism all yield in a common conclusion: God works through individuals.
But those same two sources—Scripture and experience—remind us of an equally valid conclusion: God works through His faithful church.
The testimonies and counsels given to this people through the ministry of Ellen White also bear witness to both the importance of the individual and the importance—even the authority—of God’s church. God’s ability to accomplish His purposes through courageous and principled individuals is counterpoised by His choice to work through His people as a whole. His church, “enfeebled and defective as it may appear,” is “the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace . . .”*
I mention all of this for fear that the winter now blustering outside and noted on the calendar will be accompanied by a great deal too much Snow.
We seem to be entering another of those periodic seasons in the life of the Adventist Church when strong-minded individuals are asserting their privilege to declare what emerges from their study of prophecy and current events without much concern for the consequences. Perhaps it is the admitted drama of these times that tempts some to say the irresponsible things they are proclaiming in pulpits and newsletters: massive international conspiracies already afoot; the hundreds of thousands of caskets supposedly waiting in an Atlanta suburb; the secret plans they alone have discovered for what follows economic Armageddon.
But the point must be made: a selective, biased reading of the news is apt to be just as wrong as never reading the news at all. It takes no special skill to agitate the “scattered flock” of God with fear-filled speculation. Otherwise-sensible sheep quite naturally run when shepherds cry “Wolf!” to facilitate their own influence, agendas, or economic interests.
What the times require, and what the flock needs, is that those to whom new light is given act responsibly. It’s time for those who believe they have more correctly parsed the times to bring their ideas before godly men and women grounded in God’s Word and skilled in knowing where we are in the flow of divine history. It’s time for everyone to listen more, pray more earnestly, be more patient as we wait for the resonating echo of Spirit-forged agreement. Pentecost itself required 10 days of patient listening, praying, and reconciling. Surely we can afford a similar investment in one another.
As Adventists, we rightly lean forward—toward the Second Coming: May it ever be so! Let’s be sure, however, that we don’t fall backward into a meaningless drift.
* The Acts of the Apostles, p. 12.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.