Dunedin, New Zealand
The First Church in Dunedin is a gorgeous and imposing building. It resembles a Norman cathedral. When Tammy and I saw it we felt compelled to enter and explore it. In the back of the church is an historical room. In that room, I discovered an amazing story of faith.
The Church of Scotland was the establishment church, established and supported by the Crown and by Acts of Parliament. By 1843, many Scots people had become unhappy with the way in which the Crown was interfering with religious affairs. Their complaint was that the local gentry were imposing ministers on their congregations that the congregations did not want, and the Crown supported their right to do this. Many people felt that this was an unacceptable intrusion on the affairs of the church. So, in 1834 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland introduced a Veto Act, allowing local congregations to reject the patrons’ selected minister.
The first time a minister was rejected under the Veto Act, he took the church to the Court of Session, which ruled in his favour. The Court not only ruled that the Church of Scotland was subject to the will of parliament, but that it was solely a creation of parliament, and thus completely subject to its laws. The Church appealed this decision to the House of Lords and was rejected. The Church then appealed to parliament to establish its own independence, and was rejected.
So, in 1843, there was a showdown in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The Evangelical party desired independence of the faith, and the Moderates did not want conflict with the state. The Evangelicals decided that they could not live with the Church’s independence being compromised, and decided to separate from the Church of Scotland.
Four hundred and seventy four ministers walked away from the Church of Scotland. They walked away from their incomes. They walked away from their homes in the church manse. They walked away from their pulpits. And they brought around 1/3 of the members of the Church of Scotland with them. This event become known as the Disruption of the Church of Scotland.
The members of the newly formed Free Church of Scotland rallied behind their now-homeless ministers. They established a sustentation fund, where everyone belonging to the Free Church of Scotland contributed free-will offerings, and the sustentation fund paid out to all members of the clergy equally. In the first year of operation, it supported 500 ministers. Members of the Free Church of Scotland contributed to the building of churches. Within a year, 500 churches had been built. Within two years, 700 churches had been built, the sustentation fund had grown to support 800 ministers, a school had been built beside every church, and a ministerial training college in Edinburgh had been built and staffed.
But to me, the greatest testimony to the faith of these people of God was that in all the melee of this Disruption, they did not lose sight of the greater picture of their mission for the Kingdom of God. For in 1844, right in the middle of the recovery from the Disruption, John Burns brought a proposal to the Free Church of Scotland to establish a missionary society in the south island of New Zealand. His reasoning included these statements:
“Let us lay before persons the proposed Colony and its eminently religious aspect as a great lay mission, which, under God may soon assume the character of a powerful evangelising influence, overspreading the countless isles of the Pacific, and extending to India and China” — John Burns, 1845.
“If it shall be GODs will that we shall succeed in establishing this colony I persuade myself with HIS blessing attending us we may be instrumental in planting downing these favoured islands a well ordered GOD fearing community that may stand in these remote regions a sample of the kingdom of CHRIST which like a light burning in a dark place shall bear no indistinct testimony to the truth” — John Burns, 1844.
This radical plan, for the newly-formed Free Church of Scotland to sponsor the establishment of the province of Otago in New Zealand—to send settlers and establish an entire civic community, to build a society from the ground up—for the glory of the Kingdom of God, right in the middle of the Disruption, is an amazing testimony of faith.
New England, USA
1843 and 1844 are fascinating years in the history of Christendom. For on another continent, those years also saw huge disruptions. In the early 1830s, Baptist minister William Miller began teaching that Jesus Christ would return on or about 1843. He presented what he called 15 proofs, which, he argued, all supported the idea that Christ’s return would occur sometime in 1843.
Around 1840, this message began receiving significant media traction. In that year, a man named Joshua Himes established a periodical named Signs of the Times to publicise Miller’s ideas. Many other periodicals opened; in all, 48 Millerite publications were established. These publications output huge quantities of literature. In New York state, in five months of 1843 alone, 600,000 pieces of literature were published. This literature reached far and wide, influencing many states in the United States and Canada. Millerite preachers also traveled to Great Britain to bring this message there. The Millerite message played to a global audience.
Some estimate around 100,000 people in New England were expecting the soon return of Jesus Christ. Many of these people were rejected by their own churches, and were forced to leave them. Their faith in this message spurred them on, enabling them to leave their churches, to give up their possessions, to set aside their agricultural work, and put all their energy into testifying to the soon return of Jesus Christ. This also, is an amazing testimony of faith.
Persia, Middle East
Simultaneous with the Millerite message sweeping the globe, other awakenings occurred simultaneously. In ancient Persia, a man named as Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, proclaimed that he was the Báb—the gate.
The Báb declared that he was the fore-runner of a Messianic figure he called: “He whom God shall make manifest.” His followers, who became known as Babis, flocked to hear his teachings. The Iranian religious order felt threatened by this teaching, and used the power of the state to attempt to crush the Báb's religious movement. The conflict escalated until the Shah’s army laid siege to the city in which the Báb was located. The Báb was captured and imprisoned, but his message and testimony caught like wildfire and spread.
Mírzá Husayn `Alí Núrí was one of the early followers of the Báb. He was arrested and imprisoned for this involvement in 1852. Bahá'u'lláh relates that in 1853, while incarcerated in the darkness of the dungeon of the Síyáh-Chál in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the one anticipated by the Báb. Bahá’u'lláh was expelled from Iran, and eventually declared to his followers that he was the predicted manifestation of God. He soon gained the confidence of the majority of Babis, and thus was born the Bahá'í Faith.
The Bahá'í Faith gave rise to the Báb who essentially claimed the role of John the Baptist, and the Bahá’u'lláh, who claimed the role of God’s Messiah.
The Bahá'í faced great persecution in Iran, and also exercised amazing faith in following their belief.
But in addition to being an exercise of faith, I think you will also agree that the Bahá'í faith is a delusion sent to deceive people. For the Bahá’u'lláh is but one of 33 people who have claimed, or were claimed by their followers, to be the incarnation or reincarnation of Jesus Christ in the last three centuries.
From Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers, to the Bahá’u’lláh to Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, to Sun Myung Moon, to David Koresh, many people have been acclaimed as the incarnation or reincarnation of Jesus Christ. And all these claims are deceptions sent to confuse and destroy their adherents’ destinies.
The Millerite message led to people to either claim to be, or to be addressed as, variously, the Imitation of Christ, Elijah or John the Baptist.
Samuel S. Snow, was the man in the Millerite movement who promoted the idea that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. Later in life, he declared himself to be Elijah, and wrote letters to the President of the United States of America to lay down his temporal power, and allow Samuel S. Snow to govern in order to usher in the coming of Jesus Christ.
So too, Ellen G. White was referred to as the "Imitation of Christ." Later in her career, when asked whether she was a prophet, said:
“I do not claim to be a prophetess.” “My work includes much more than this name signifies. I regard myself as a messenger, entrusted by the Lord with messages for His people.” “My commission embraces the work of a prophet, but it does not end there. It embraces much more than the minds of those who have been sowing the seeds of unbelief can comprehend” — Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 32, 34, 35.
In so defining her role as "messenger," she defines her role identically to that of John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1; Matthew 11:10).
In Ellen G. White’s book, the Great Controversy, she describes the Millerite movement as a global “Great Awakening.” In actual fact, it was simply just another in a long line of failed predictions of Christ’s return. Each of these movements have excited Christendom, and each have resulted in disappointment. These movements have been established repeatedly over the centuries.
- In the year 500, Ireneus, Hippolytus of Rome and Sextus Julius Africanus predicted that Christ would return in the year 500, based on the dimensions of the ark of Noah.
- Pope Sylvester II claimed Christ would return in the year 1,000, as that would be the end of the millennium.
- John Wesley predicted that Christ should return in 1836.
- Isaac Newton predicted Christ would return in the year 2000.
- And there have been many claims since Millerism, by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, by the Mormons, by Herbert W. Armstrong, Harold Camping, Jerry Falwell, Ed Dobson.
- You might have seen advertising on bill-boards a couple of years ago predicting May 27, 2012 as being the date of Christ’s return. Ronald Weinland was behind these advertisements, and he was recently imprisoned for tax evasion.
Why, you may ask—why so many movements—why so much excitement—why so much fervour behind predicting a coming that Christ said no man will know? What is the ultimate end of any such movement? And why do they rise with such rapidity?
Would it surprise you if I mentioned that for the thirteen years leading up to William Miller’s commencement of preaching, that he was a Freemason? The fact that William Miller was a Mason is matter of public record. He resigned from his lodge only after he began preaching the soon return of Jesus Christ, and only then because some Christians were calling into question his religious affiliation with the masonic lodge.
Would it surprise you if I mentioned that money from individuals with Masonic ties enabled the Millerite literature to be produced with such volume from 1840 onwards?
And, turning back to the establishment of Otago province in New Zealand, would it surprise you if I told you that the Masonic order hitched a ride from Scotland to New Zealand, establishing itself as a powerhouse in New Zealand’s south? For Scotland is a bastion of Masonry; and Masonry used the Christian desire to build for the kingdom of God in the South Pacific as a way to transport their influence into New Zealand.
The battle for your mind
So far this morning, I’ve related three stories from 1843 and 1844. Each of these stories is a story of faithful people following their faith. But each story is also a story of deception. In all these movements, there have been people of good conscience. In all these movements, there have been people who believe they are doing the right thing. But in all these movements, there have also been people who know exactly what they are doing, and are manipulating others for their own ends.
This story of manipulation, deceit and deception is millennia old. After all, the Apostle John writes that, “many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). Deceit and deceptions were in the air in the first century. And they have continued ever since.
There is a war raging right now.
There is a war raging, battling for control of your mind. This war is a spiritual war, conducted by rulers and authorities and powers in the heavenly places. Fortunately, God has already provided defences and armaments for your protection.
“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:11–18).
These rulers and authorities and cosmic powers want to influence you. They want to influence your mind, to sever your connection with Christ, and to deceive you. It is a battle being waged for your mind. Yet God has given you spiritual gifts and spiritual tools for you to withstand the attack.
It is not enough to be a person of faith. It is essential that the object of our faith is true. May the Spirit of God be among you.