The answer to this threefold question will depend quite largely on the
definition given to the word "remnant." If, as is implied in the
second part, "remnant" is taken to mean the church invisible, our
answer to the first part is an unqualified No. Seventh-day Adventists have
never sought to equate their church with the church invisible—"those in
every denomination who remain faithful to the Scriptures." If the word
"remnant" is used in terms of its definition in Revelation 12:17, a
proper answer will call for the presentation of certain background material.
We believe that the prophecy of Revelation 12:17 points to the experience and
work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but we do not believe that we alone
constitute the true children of God—that we are the only true Christians—on
earth today. We believe that God has a multitude of earnest, faithful, sincere
followers in all Christian communions, who are, in the words of the question,
"true witnesses of the living God in our age." Ellen G. White has
expressed our view plainly: "In what religious bodies are the greater part
of the followers of Christ now to be found? Without doubt, in the various
churches professing the Protestant faith."—The Great Controversy, p.
There is a historical background for our understanding of Revelation 12:17.
All through the centuries there have been neglected or forgotten truths that
needed reemphasizing, departures and apostasies that needed protesting, reforms that needed to be effected. And God has laid the burden on the hearts of
some to proclaim these truths.
The Protestant Reformation broke away from the papal church proclaiming the
abandoned or forgotten fundamentals of the gospel, and repudiating the gross
Apostasies of that time. Separation became inevitable because of the attitude
of the established church. But before long, serious differences arose among the
Reformed bodies as conscientious men in the various communions emphasized
different aspects of truth. And various national and state churches soon came
into being. These held varying degrees of truth.
Thus, out of the Reformed group in England, the Anglican Church developed. But
because so much of Catholic ritual, form, and ceremony were retained, various Separatist and
Independent groups came into being. Because of opposition and rejection of
their spiritual contributions, the Baptists and other Independents arose in
England and the Continent, not only stressing the purer gospel, but emphasizing
baptism by immersion, soul liberty, and separation of church and state. Theirs
was another step away from certain aspects of medieval theology retained in the
John Wesley and his associates also, seeking holiness of life and stressing
free grace, were ridiculed and ostracized, and in time were forced to form a
separate body. In the next century, in America, Alexander Campbell and his
followers, believing that reform was needed, organized their own group. Many
denominations were thus founded.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when rationalism and higher
criticism had honeycombed many of the churches—with denial of the full
inspiration of the Word; the deity of Christ; His virgin birth, sinless life,
and vicarious atoning death; His literal resurrection. and ascension; the
heavenly ministry of Christ; and His second, personal, premillennial
advent—God raised up many courageous leaders to proclaim the faith once
delivered to the saints. In time this upsurge called for a break, and a
separation took place in the ranks of Protestantism. This is reflected in such
Antithetical groups as the National Council of Churches and the National
Association of Evangelicals.
Seventh-day Adventists believe there are special truths for today that we have
been called of God to give. We definitely feel that we must emphasize certain neglected truths, must
restore others that most Protestant bodies no longer stress, and must continue
the work of the Reformation. We hold the basic evangelical truths in common
with conservative Christians generally. Baptism by immersion and soul freedom,
or separation of church and state, we share with the Baptists, and some others;
emphasis on godliness of life and free grace we share with the Methodists; the
seventh-day Sabbath we share with the Seventh Day Baptists; and so on. The
particular emphasis on the nearness of the return of Christ was stressed during
the worldwide Advent awakening within the Christian churches in the early
decades of the nineteenth century. This we have continued to proclaim.
We recognize that God has been leading in all these revivals and reformations,
but Seventh-day Adventists have the profound conviction that not only must the
world now be warned concerning the imminence of earth's transcendent
event—the second coming of Christ—but a people must be prepared to meet
their Lord. Therefore we feel that an emphasis on certain special truths is due
the world at this time. We believe we are living in the hour of God's judgment
(Rev. 14:6, 7), and that time is running out. We believe (in common with most
historic creeds) that the Ten Commandments are the standard of all Christian
living, and by that same law God will judge the world (James 2:12). Moreover,
it is our belief that the seventh-day sabbath is enjoined by the fourth precept
of the Decalogue.
But on this point we would re-emphasize what we have already stated on Question 11, that one's effort to obey the law of God,
however strict, can never be a ground of salvation. We are saved through the
righteousness of Jesus Christ received as a gift of grace, and grace alone. Our
Lord's sacrifice on Calvary is mankind's only hope. But having been saved, we
rejoice that the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled in the
experience of the Christian "who walks not after the flesh but after the
spirit," and who by the grace of God lives in harmony with the revealed
will of God.
Following as we do the principles of the historical school of prophetic
interpretation, it is our conviction that the events portrayed in Revelation 14
to 17 are in process of fulfillment, or are about to meet their fulfillment.
And to prepare men everywhere for what is coming on the earth, God is sending a
special message couched in the terms of the "everlasting gospel . . . to
every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6). That
message urges men to turn from every false way of life and to worship the true
God who created the heavens and the earth. Furthermore, we believe that God has
brought the Seventh-day Adventist movement into being to carry His special
message to the world at this time.
Consistent with our understanding of prophetic interpretation, we believe the
book of Revelation pictures the final scenes in the great drama of redemption.
John, looking down through the centuries, beheld the warfare of the dragon
against the church. This contest between the forces of good and of evil is
graphically portrayed in the twelfth chapter. A "woe" is pronounced
on "the inhabiters of the earth and of the
sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth
that he hath but a short "time" (verse 12).
Through the centuries the Lord protected His church, often opening areas of
refuge where the persecuted peoples could be "nourished . . . from the face
of the serpent" (verse 14). Coming to the end of the chapter the prophet
describes the final struggle, saying: "And the dragon was wroth with the
woman [the Christian church], and went to make war with the remnant [the last
segment] of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the
testimony of Jesus Christ" (verse 17). God will have His loyal and
faithful children down to the end of earth's history. In harmony with our
understanding of prophecy, we see in verse 17 a graphic description of the
final warfare between Satan and those who keep the commandments of God, and
have the testimony of Jesus Christ." Those who will feel the full fury of
the dragon's wrath are spoken of as the remnant of her seed," or in
Adventist language, the remnant church."
It is in a spirit of deep humility that we apply this scripture to the Advent
Movement and its work, for we recognize the tremendous implications of such an
interpretation. While we believe that Revelation 12:17 points to us as a people
of prophecy, it is in no spirit of pride that we thus apply the scripture. To
us it is the logical conclusion of our system of prophetic interpretation.
But the fact that we thus apply this scripture does not imply in any way that
we believe we are the only true Christians in the world, or that we are the
ones who will be saved. While we believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church
is the visible organization through which God is proclaiming this last special
message to the world, we remember the principle that Christ enunciated when He
said, "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold" (John 10:16).
Seventh-day Adventists firmly believe that God has a precious remnant, a
multitude of earnest, sincere believers, in every church, not excepting the
Roman Catholic communion, who are living up to all the light God has given
them. The great Shepherd of the sheep recognizes them as His own, and He is
calling them into one great fold and one great fellowship in preparation for
His return. Our position on this point is clearly stated by Ellen G. White:
Among earth's inhabitants, scattered in every land, there are those who have
not bowed the knee to Baal. Like the stars of heaven, which appear only at
night, these faithful ones will shine forth when darkness covers the earth and
gross darkness the people. In heathen Africa, in the Catholic lands of Europe
and of South America, in China, in India, in the islands of the sea, and in all
the dark corners of the earth, God has in reserve a firmament of chosen ones
that will yet shine forth amidst the darkness, revealing clearly to an apostate
world the transforming power of obedience to His law.— Prophets and
Every jewel will be brought out and gathered, for the hand of the Lord is set
to recover the remnant of His people.—Early Writings, p. 70.
We believe the majority of God's children are still scattered in this way
throughout the world. And of course, the majority of those in Christian
churches still conscientiously observe Sunday. We ourselves cannot do so, for
we believe that God is calling for a reformation in this matter. But we respect
and love those of our fellow Christians who do not interpret God's Word just as
Our study of prophecy, according to the historical school of interpretation,
convinces us that just before the appearing of our Lord and Saviour, great
issues will challenge both the church and the world. Circumstances will so
shape themselves that every soul on earth will be tested as to his loyalty to
God. In accordance with the teaching of Christ we believe that many who today
profess His name and claim to be followers of His truth will at that time
compromise their faith and actually deny their Lord.
That which leads up to this crisis is outlined, we believe, in Revelation 13.
In this prophecy two great powers appear under the symbols of a ten-horned
beast from the sea, and a two-horned beast from the earth. These dominating
powers are seen to unite in a single purpose, that of opposing God and
persecuting His people. Their combined opposition will be universal, and so
influential that they will succeed in getting a decree passed, possibly through
some world court legislature, that those who withstand their edict will be
prohibited from doing any business whatsoever; even food will be denied them.
The effect of this decree will be upon all, "both small and great, rich
and poor, free and bond." No one will escape. It will result in worldwide
boycott of those who serve God. In that crisis many will compromise their
principles and deny their faith.
And it is our belief that God wants the whole world, especially those who love
and serve Him, to be prepared for that tremendous issue. Therefore, He is
sending a special message to all the peoples of earth. This message first calls
men to accept salvation through His grace, and then it sets the issues clearly
before them by unmasking the man of sin and revealing the subtlety of his
attacks, so that when the test comes, each individual will be able to make
intelligent choice. In harmony with that interpretation of prophecy we feel
that God is giving tests of loyalty today, so that when the final issue comes
and the whole world will divide itself on the matter of loyalty to God or
compliance with the satanic edict of the world, men will be ready for the test.
In every great crisis God has had loyal, faithful ones whose allegiance to Him
has been more precious than life itself. And in this coming hour of test we
believe that He will have a loyal "remnant." We believe that finally
the "remnant" people will include every true and faithful follower of
Christ. We believe God has given us a solemn responsibility to carry His final
message of entreaty to the. world—"the everlasting gospel" (Rev.
Our understanding of our place in preparation for these events is outlined in
the following statement from Ellen G. White:
In the time of the end, every divine institution is to be restored. The breach
made in the law at the time the Sabbath was changed by man, is to be repaired.
God's remnant people, standing before the world as reformers, are to show that
the law of God is the foundation of all enduring reform, and that the Sabbath
of the fourth commandment is to stand as a memorial of creation, a constant
reminder of the power of God. In clear, distinct lines they are to present the
necessity of obedience to all the precepts of the Decalogue. Constrained by the
love of Christ, they are to cooperate with Him in building up the waste places.
They are to be repairers of the breach, restorers of paths to dwell in.—Prophets and
Kings, p. 678.
To sum up the matter: We believe that through all the ages God has had His
elect, distinguished by their sincere obedience to Him in terms of all the
light revealed to them. These constitute what may be described as the church
invisible. We also believe that at various periods of earth's history God has
called out a company of people, making them uniquely the depositories and
exponents of His truth. This is strikingly illustrated by the history of
Israel, and as already mentioned, by certain reformatory movements in the
history of the Christian church.
We believe that in earth's last hour God has a special message for the world,
to prepare all who will heed it to withstand the deceptions of the last days
and to make ready for the second advent of Christ. We believe that He has
raised up a movement—known as the Seventh-day Adventist church—for the
express purpose of making it, in a special way, the depository and exponent of
this message. While this company of God's children may be described as a
church, we believe the term "movement" more accurately conveys the
essential nature and purpose of this distinctive group with its distinctive
We conceive our task to be that of persuading men to make ready for the day of
God, by calling on them to accept Heaven's special message and thus to join
with us in proclaiming God's great truth for these days. Holding, as we do,
that God raised up this movement and gave to it its message, we believe that
before the final hour of crisis and testing all God's true children—now
so widely scattered—will join with us in giving obedience to this message, of
which the seventh-day Sabbath is a basic part.
Finally, we would say with all the earnestness and directness we can command,
that we repudiate any implication that we alone are beloved of God and have a
claim upon heaven. We believe that all who serve God in full sincerity, in
terms of all the revealed will of God that they now understand, are presently
potential members of that final "remnant" company as defined in
Revelation 12:17. We believe it to be the solemn task and joyous privilege of
the advent movement to make God's last testing truths so clear and so
persuasive as to draw all of God's children into that prophetically foretold
company making ready for the day of God.