In his sermon during the recent Annual Council, our General Conference president commented on the ‘shaking’. In our Adventist jargon this term refers to a specific phase during the climax of end-time events, just before the ‘close of probation.’ Large numbers of believers will give up on the ‘truth’, turn their back on the ‘remnant’ church—and as a result will be eternally lost.
The concept of the ‘remnant’, and the conviction that ‘probation’ will close, as well as the expectation of an imminent ‘shaking’, raise all sorts of questions. Specifically: When I look at all Bible passages in which the word ‘shaking’ (or a synonym) occurs, I do not find biblical support for the notion of an end-time sifting process in which the body of believers will be starkly reduced. Even many of the traditional Adventist books about the time of the end say very little, if anything, about a shaking. To mention just two examples: in his very detailed 500-page book about the Adventist end-time scenario, Professor Norman Gulley, does not once mention the term ‘shaking’. Neither could I find it in the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology.
The shaking fits seamlessly in ‘last-generation theology,’ but it can only be defended through a combination of some Ellen G. White statements. The popular (and conservative) author Marvin Moore wrote proliferously about the last days. In his book The Crisis of the End Time he devoted an entire chapter to the shaking. It has just one or two indirect references to the Scriptures and relies almost totally on a series of quotations from Ellen White. For Ted Wilson this is hardly a problem, as he is an uncritical promotor of the writings of Ellen White and takes everything she wrote as just as fully inspired as the Bible, and totally applicable to our life today.
It would, however, seem that Wilson has overlooked some statements of Ellen White regarding the time of the ‘shaking’. In his sermon he was adamant that the ‘shaking’ is currently taking place. And he seems determined to do all he can to help this shaking process further along. He urges leaders at all administrative levels of the church, who do not agree with his theological views, to resign from their positions. And all who have doubts about any of the Fundamental Beliefs and/or do not accept the authority of the denominational structure, are no longer welcome in the Adventist Church. They are currently being shaken from their spiritual home. Wilson should, however, review some of the statements of Ellen White about the time of the shaking. In 1882 she wrote that the time for the shaking (or sifting) is ‘not far distant.’ In 1895 she said: ‘We are in the shaking time, the time that everything that can be shaken will be shaken.’
Wilson’s statement about the shaking is—to say the least—biased and opinionated. As I listened to Wilson’s long diatribe, my memory went back to a much shorter sermon I heard a few years ago. Dr. Laurence Turner, emeritus-professor of Newbold College, spoke at a conference of theology teachers. The conference had been negatively impacted by the judgmental attitude of some who strongly disagreed with a colleague about a particular aspect of his sanctuary theology. Some openly wondered: How could this man remain part of the Adventist community when he no longer subscribed to the traditional view? At the close of the conference, during the Sabbath service, Turner preached a great sermon about Matthew 13:47-50—the passage about the parable of the net. His sermon sublimely fitted the occasion.
Christ, we were told, compared his kingdom with the kind of dragnet that catches all kinds of fish: good and bad. The fishermen would pull the net on the shore and then separate the good fish from all that was unfit for human consumption. When comparing the dragnet to the kingdom, Christ emphasized that the kingdom-net inevitably contains all sorts of people, and must therefore be sorted. But that sorting would not happen until ‘the end of the age.’ Then the angels will come to separate those who will enter the kingdom from those who will not!
Wilson may not be happy with all those who have been caught in the Adventist dragnet, and he appears eager to keep some and to get rid of others. To be honest, I at times share in that same kind of feeling. There are many nice people in our church, but there are also men and women I sometimes wished were not there. There are legalistic, extremist, fundamentalist persons who often spoil the community spirit and bring discord, or worse. Sometimes I am glad when some members decide to transfer their membership to another congregation. But I must constantly remind myself that I am not called to do the sorting. That job is reserved for the angels at the end of time.
I have serious doubts that the traditional concept of the shaking is biblically defensible. I am totally sure that, if there is something like a shaking, none of us—Wilson included—is responsible for it. The parable of the net makes this abundantly clear. Earlier in chapter 13 of Matthew the parable of the good seed and the weeds underlines the same principle: There will, inevitably, be a mix of ‘good seed’ and ‘weeds’ (vs. 24-30). Not until the harvest time will the weeds be separated from the good harvest. Actually, most of us would make serious mistakes if we tried to do this. While the plants are still growing, we would often have a hard time to distinguish the good from the bad.
I can understand that, given his rigid ideas and considering the way he reads his Bible and adulates Ellen White, Wilson sees those who differ from him as a serious threat to the church. He must, however, come to realize that even his ‘plain reading’ of the words of Jesus forbids him to push for the separation (the ‘shaking’) of those who are welcome to remain in the church from those who should leave. That is simply not the work of him and his colleagues. God has assigned that task, when the time has come, to the heavenly angels and not to the General Conference!