Prophecy indicates God's church of the last days will experience the same challenges as the early church. "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:30, NKJV).
The first steps down any slippery slope seldom appear dangerous. In fact, many begin a fatal spiral believing they are strengthening Christ's kingdom and following God's will. However, most independent groups follow virtually the same tragic path.
Good intentions. Even worthy plans need the balance of the entire body. Scripture warns against one body part attempting to be all or do all. Nothing is quite as dangerous as someone with only one good idea. Despite their best attempts to reform the church, such narrow focus rejects a broader picture or varying viewpoints and ends up harming the very body they intended to enhance. "These oneidea men can see nothing except to press the one thing that presents itself to their mind." 1
Reject counsel. Refusing the counsel of leadership demonstrates disregard for the God of heaven who places individuals in positions of responsibility. Although God does not require uniformity of opinion or methodology, an independent spirit which rejects good advice reflects more the sociological attitudes of our culture than spirituality, or even creativity. "These devoted souls consider it a virtue to boast of their freedom to think and act independently. They will not take any man's sayso. They are amenable to no man. I was shown that it is Satan's special work to lead men to feel that it is God's order for them to strike out for themselves and choose their own course independent of their brethren." 2
Harbor resentments. Corrective guidance, perceived insults, slights whether real or imagined too easily form a root of bitterness which poisons the once-tender mind until fruitful ministry is devoured. "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Heb. 12:14, 15, NKJV).
More responsible management. Unchecked, such resentments soon metastasize into expressed opinions that the organized church cannot be trusted to expend the finances through voted, budgeted, and audited processes. Advocacy of independent agendas and personal priorities soon ripens into receiving offerings, soliciting tithe, and attacking others. Fervent solicitations disguise irresponsibility, unvoted priorities, and undocumented utilization.
Narrowed focus. Independents, concentrating on recruiting individuals or resources from the established church, inevitably neglect the wider task of winning the lost. Self-focused interests become so consuming that the very evangelistic mission which may have originally propelled their agenda is neglected.
Subtle distinctions. Independents quickly realize the brevity of their window of opportunity to recruit the attention and money of loyal members. Even while professing adherence to the doctrines and mission of the church, they urge subtle distinctions designed to demonstrate their holier, historical position. Typically, these are minor points blown out of proportion into major issues. "We sought most earnestly that the Scriptures should not be wrested to suit any man's opinions. We tried to make our differences as slight as possible by not dwelling on points that were of minor importance, upon which there were varying opinions. . . . Men will make a world of an atom and an atom of a world." 3
Masked disloyalty. Claims of loyalty to God's prophetic gift, presents an appearance of piety, devotion, and education. Lengthy quotations are selected to substantiate assertions of error. "It will be found that those who bear false messages will not have a high sense of honor and integrity. They will deceive the people, and mix up with their error the Testimonies of Sister White, and use her name to give influence to their work. They make such selections from the Testimonies as they think they can twist to support their positions, and place them in a setting of falsehood, so that their error may have weight and be accepted by the people." 4
Belief abandonment. Down sliding is as spiritually dangerous as backsliding. Remember, slipping and sliding is never skiing or sledding. If it seems easier to continue careening down the slope than to accept heaven's help to change, pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal your spirit of godless independence. If tempted to follow such sophistries, remember: "He [God] is leading, not stray offshoots, not one here and one there, but a people." 5
1. Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 216.
2. , Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1923), 29.
3. Ibid., 25, 165.
4. Ibid., 42.
5. Ibid., 61.
James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.