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Did the Church of God Get the Message?
which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, And
there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Church has pondered the meaning of the Book of Revelation throughout its
history. At first the Book of Revelation was considered not worthy to be part of
the New Testament. When it was admitted into the New Testament cannon, many
church leaders were skeptical of the Book. Yet, some of the early Church Fathers
quoted from it and made practical applications of passages from the Revelation.
was almost universally held by the Church during the first few centuries that
the 1000 years mentioned in the Revelation meant that Christ would return in the
year 1000 a.d. Some enthusiasts came up with strange explanations and
interpretations of some of the things in the Revelation, most of which served to
discredit them with the Church at large.
the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther preached loud and long that Papalism
was the anti-christ and the worker of much of the evil shown in the Revelation.
Even men, such as John Wesley, saw the same and this view of Papalism followed
the theological development of Protestantism. However, it was not until the
writings of Uriah Smith in the 1870s that the Revelation was actually analyzed
and placed into the context of the history of the Christian Church.
much as the Church of God may want to believe that its explanation of the
Revelation originated with D. S. Warner and such notables as F. G. Smith, that
is simply not the truth. John E. Stanley wrote a paper titled “Unity Amid
Diversity: Interpreting the Book of Revelation in the Church of God
(Anderson)”. This paper was written for the Wesleyan-Holiness Study Project
sponsored by Asbury Theological Seminary. This paper explores the facts that
influenced Warner and the early Church of God expounders of the Revelation. It
also goes into the eventual differences that arose within the Anderson movement
concerning the interpretation of the Revelation. It does not explore any of the
divergent interpretations of any of the groups that separated from Anderson. It
is a good read for persons who seriously study the Revelation, especially those
associated with the church of God. The paper draws no conclusions as to what a
correct interpretation of the Revelation should be. (This paper is available to
read in this web site.)
church-historic interpretation of the Revelation evolved over time. It was Uriah
Smith, the Adventist writer, who first published a critical analysis of the Book
of Revelation, which established the template for his interpretation of the
Revelation. This book is essentially a verse by verse analysis of the
Revelation. Those familiar with the Church of God presentation of the Revelation
will see a great deal of similarity in Smith’s writing and the traditional
teaching of the church of God. For example, the letters to the seven churches in
Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are said to represent seven church ages. “Like the
seven stars, the seven candlesticks must denote the whole of the things which
they represent. The whole gospel church in seven divisions or periods must be
symbolized by them.”
Smith wrote many books and articles, but the following are the most significant to his explanation of the Revelation:
Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation,
Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Daniel,
The Sanctuary and The Twenty-Three Hundred Days of Daniel 8:14 (The Sanctuary
and its Cleansing),
Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Daniel and the Revelation,
1897, Daniel and Revelation.
can be seen clearly that Uriah Smith predated Warner and the Church of God
Reformation Movement on this type of interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
Smith developed three interpretive principles which he applied to his
interpretations of the books of Daniel and Revelation. The first principle was
that in prophecy a day equals a year. The second principle was that the baseline
year for interpreting Daniel and the Revelation is 457 b.c., the year in which
the Jews began rebuilding the temple under the leadership of Ezra. Combining
these two principles with the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 and the 490 sabbath years
of Daniel 9:24–27, Smith arrived at the year 1844 a.d. This was the year of
the Great Disappointment; however, Smith understood that this year was not the
year for the return of Christ; this was the year in which the work of cleansing
the sanctuary began. Smith defined the sanctuary as the heavenly temple or
sanctuary in which are recorded all human deeds.
third principle of Smith’s interpretive method divides church history into
Rome from a.d. 31 to 538,
Rome from a.d. 538 to 798, and
from 798 a.d. onward.
principles for interpretation were not necessarily original but they were
influential and among those who were influenced by them was D. S. Warner.
Warner’s personal journal shows that he was aware of Adventist teachings as
early as 1874. Warner owned a copy of Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on
the Book of Daniel and the Revelation which he heavily annotated, especially
with points on which he did not agree. The strongest point of his disagreement
concerned Smith’s interpretation of the sanctuary as the heavenly temple. On
the contrary, D. S. Warner was adamant that the sanctuary of Daniel 8 is the
passed away on December 12, 1895. At that time he had written about 400 pages in
reply to what he called Smith’s disgusting theory. Herbert Riggle picked up
where Warner left off and completed the book The Cleansing of the Sanctuary
refuting the errors of Adventism and exploring what he called the “Church of
God in type and antitype, and in Prophecy and Revelation”, which was the
original subtitle of the book.
But Different Conclusions
there are marked similarities between Adventist thought and the Church of God
teachings, they take different doctrinal paths leading to much different
conclusions. Warner adopted the day for a year system of Uriah Smith in
explaining prophecy. He also believed strongly in applying this method to the
2300 days of Daniel chapter 8, but instead of arriving at 1844 as did the
Adventists, he arrived at the year 1880 in which he saw the re-establishment of
the true church of God.
also accepted Smith’s division of history into pagan, papal, and Protestant
periods and added a fourth period in which the church was re-established. Based
on his understanding of Zechariah 14:7, Warner called this fourth period the
strongest point of disagreement Warner had with Smith was the meaning of the
two-horned lamb-like beast of Revelation 13. Earlier Adventists held that this
represented their Saturday Sabbath. Smith rejected that interpretation and saw
it as a symbolic representation of the United States. Warner believed it
key element church of God writers built into their understanding that made it
different from the Adventists, and in our time from all other interpretations,
is their insistence on the exclusivity of the church. Stanley writes in his
Church of God understood the prophecy of the “cleansing of the sanctuary” to
refer to God’s work in purifying and reforming the church from
understanding was that the church had gone into bondage in Babylon and became
confused and contaminated, and now in 1880, God began to call and gather
believers out from the bondage of Babylon into holiness and unity in the
emerging Church of God.
disposition put the Church of God movement at odds with the Holiness Movement.
They applauded its emphasis on holiness but criticized its failure to call
people out of established denominations, which were corrupted by Babylonian
captivity. On page 265 of The Cleansing of the Sanctuary, Warner starts a 4 page
section on EXCLUSIVENESS. On page 267 he writes quite plainly, “God’s church
is exclusive, like himself.”
view of the Revelation, and that of subsequent Revelation teachers in the church
of God, gave the Movement a sense of divine destiny with its characteristic
exclusivism. E. E. Byrum, the editor of The
Gospel Trumpet following Warner, wrote the following in the June 1, 1889
edition of the Trumpet:
think they belong to the best denomination on earth and perhaps they do belong
to as good as any, but it is far from being the genuine true Church of God.
Praise the Lord the evening light is now shining forth in the glorious splendor
of God’s true church.
people of the church of God movement were convinced “that they were
participants in the fulfillment of a segment of divine destiny for humanity,”
quoting Byrum again. To them, this was a true reformation movement within
Christianity, not just a religious novelty. Their understanding of what they
believed to be the truth of prophecy led to an inevitable dichotomy: Their
reforming ideal was holiness and the unity of all believers; but their
implementation of this ideal actually sowed seeds of separation and
exclusiveness. Their interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel and the
Revelation projected the date for a new and final reform of the church. Here
they formed their self-understanding as God’s called out people in the final
era of church history.
the Church of God get its message on prophecy from Uriah Smith and the
Adventists? The answer is “yes” and “definitely not!”
Criticism of the Church Historic Method
criticism of the church-historic interpretation of Revelation is that each group
that follows it sees itself as the object and fulfillment of the prophecy. It
may be that D. S. Warner initially did not have this viewpoint. I think it is
clearly seen that as he studied the works of Uriah Smith and argued against the
exclusiveness of the Adventists, he fell into the same trap. Warner set the
ground rules for the church of God understanding of prophecy, but it was F. G.
Smith that picked up the baton and effectively made it part of the theology of
the church of God.
we pursue the historic interpretation of the Revelation, we certainly do see the
presence of the Church of God as built by the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, that
same church has a presence in our time—the end time—and while we can see
ourselves as being part of that church, we must be honest enough to accept the
fact that, while the biblical church does exclude those without salvation, it
does include all that are saved from sin.
Smith, Thoughts, Critical and
Practical, on the Book of Revelation,
Steam Press: Battle Creek, MI, 1875,