“Our class will have three purposes — what I call ‘The Three Ds,’ ” Mark Finley, international evangelist and assistant to the General Conference president, said as he started his seminar on August 5, 2021, the second day of the Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi) International Convention in Orlando, Florida, United States.
The three “Ds” are, “first, to deepen our spiritual experience; then discern what is coming; and finally, discover the legitimate role of government in society,” Finley said. For him, the first purpose — to deepen our spiritual experience — is essential. “You can know about the future, but the knowledge about future events is not enough if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus,” he emphasized.
At the same time, he acknowledged as he addressed his third purpose of the seminar — to discover the legitimate role of government in society — that the days ahead will be difficult. “We’ll have to make decisions about governments,” Finley said. “So, what are the biblical principles that can guide us as we make those decisions? Let me tell you that we are not left in the dark,” he noted.
Preparation Is Key
Finley reminded his audience that while the future may be very cloudy for people of this world, as children of God we have divine insight about the future. However, he added, because we know what is coming, preparation is key. “You don’t prepare for a marathon on the day of the marathon,” he said, using a common analogy. “You don’t prepare for the final events when they start happening. Facing the trials of today prepares us for the challenges of tomorrow.”
The best way to prepare for the coming crisis as the history of this world comes to an end is to follow Jesus’ advice — watch and pray. He explained that to “watch” means “to be saturated” in the Word of God. “As we study Scripture, the Spirit that inspired Scriptures transforms our lives,” he said.
We must take that preparation very seriously, Finley said, because every believer will have to make tough decisions. He quoted Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White’s book The Great Controversy, where she wrote when discussing the end of times, “To every soul will come the searching test: Shall I obey God rather than men? The decisive hour is even now at hand. Are our feet planted on the rock of God’s immutable word? Are we prepared to stand firm in defense of the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus?” (p. 593).
Against this backdrop, we should never allow things to distract us from our mission, Finley said. “Some people are more interested in political parties and the governments of this world instead of the government of God,” he acknowledged. “But to divide the church over government decisions is a tragedy.”
Distractions are easier to avoid if we develop a rich devotional life that assigns a preeminent place to prayer. It is that “quiet hour,” he said, using a term coined by White. “We need a personal experience and the knowledge of God’s will.”
Finley said he is convinced that the time we have right now is the time God has given us so we can be prepared. But unlike Jesus’ disciples who fell asleep instead of watching and praying, we should be alert. Why? “Because without Jesus,” Finley emphasized, “without a living relationship with Him, no one of us will make it through the crisis.”
The Role of the Government
Government has a legitimate sphere in the life of its citizens, Finley reminded his audience. “Were the Pharaohs of Egypt godly leaders?” he asked. “No, they were not, but Joseph had a concern for Egypt.” He added, “Did Joseph act in rebellion against Egyptian society? No, he didn’t!”
The same applies to the prophet Daniel. He witnessed to Babylonian society even though Babylon was not a righteous nation, Finley emphasized.
It is the reason the apostle Paul suggests that if we manifest love and kindness to the society we live in, we will attract that society, Finley noted. “Rather than rebelling against a government that is oppressive, let us reveal Christ in the marketplace,” he said. “Are you praying for your government?”
Finley reminded ASi members that the Roman government oppressed people. It was cruel and corrupt. But Jesus related to that society, Ellen White wrote in her book The Desire of Ages, “by implanting God’s nature in humanity,” Finley shared. “Jesus wanted to teach the principles of God’s kingdom.”
This does not mean that the Christian church should be indifferent or not speak against injustice, Finley emphasized. But according to him, our role is not to attempt changing society by merely changing laws. “Christ was not concerned as much about the laws of society as with changing hearts, which is the ultimate solution,” he said.
Limits in Government Power
Against that backdrop, the power of government is very limited, Finley explained. “One of the roles of government is to provide a safe, secure environment so citizens can exercise their free exercise of religion,” he said. “It is to provide an environment of opportunity, with equal access to housing, education, health care, and work.”
Finley stressed that according to the Bible, the government authority is always subject to the Word of God. “When the government steps over the line and infringes conscience, we must obey God and not men,” he said. Once again, he quoted Ellen White. In the compilation of her writings titled Last Day Events, she wrote, “The people of God will recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment and will by precept and example teach obedience to it as a sacred duty so long as its authority is exercised within its legitimate sphere.” He kept on reading: “But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, we must choose to obey God rather than men. The Word of God must be recognized and obeyed as an authority above that of all human legislation” (p. 142).
When the laws of the land also go against God’s principles, Ellen White advised church members to disregard those laws. For example, Finley pointed out, in Testimonies for the Church volume 1, she mentioned that the law of her time required every free person to deliver escaped slaves to their master. “We are not to obey,” she wrote, “and we must abide the consequences of violating this law” (p. 201).
What Are Seventh-day Adventists to Do?
In the last part of his presentation, Finley suggested four principles to keep in mind. He reminded his listeners, “We have a greater mission than getting involved in a political party.”
Finley suggested praying for government leaders, and where possible, obey the government as much as it is advisable. Once more, he emphasized that in any conflict between the government and the Word of God, we must obey God.
Finally, he said, some things are a matter of personal choice; we shouldn’t allow those issues to divide us. “Can two faithful Seventh-day Adventists think differently about political issues?” Finley asked. “Can two faithful Seventh-day Adventists think differently about a pandemic? Yes, they can!” he answered. But accord
ing to Finley, there is a more significant issue at play: “The proclamation of the three angels’ messages to all the world to prepare a people to meet Jesus.” It is something, he emphasized, that should be above any other personal consideration. Why? Because Jesus, he said, “will have a church that will stand up till the end.”