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On Being Remnant Or A Remnant within a Remnant?

It was 8:00 AM on a Sabbath morning and I was kneelling on a prayer riser at the Episcopal Cathedral. Normally at this time I would be getting ready for services at my home church. I felt somewhat strange and out of place. Then the Deacon began to pray…

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures; Grant that we, putting away all earthy anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (1)

As the service continued, the pastor took for his homily a text from Joel 2 that had been the Old Testament reading for the day.

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosesoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered… the remnant whom the Lord shall call. (Joel 2:31,32)

“The Lord is coming soon, the signs are all around us,” the pastor proclaimed. “The Lord is calling out a remnant people who will be his final witnesses.” He went on to explain the meaning of the word remnant as being the last piece of material on a bolt of cloth. Thus, he deduced, the last group of believers on this planet, the people who will look up and see the Lord coming in the clouds are the remnant. “That makes us, my brothers and sisters, God’s remnant people!”

No, no, no, I wanted to say. This is all wrong. This is the wrong church. You are the wrong people. What am I doing here?

I had signed up to begin course work at the Institute for Christian Studies, a program designed to prepare deacons for lay ministry in the Episcopal Church. For those seeking holy orders it was an intensive four year course of study, however the first two years of the program were open to any college graduate in the Christian Community. Year one consisted of a book by book study of the Bible and year two was devoted to religious studies covering church history, doctrinal development, spiritual exercises and the beliefs of the church.

The classes met all day every other Saturday and attendance at Holy Eucharist was mandatory.

Following worship, I entered a class room with 25 other students, most of whom had already been together for several months. I had read the required text book, completed my reports and assignments and was prepared to discuss the topic at hand. My first class would be on Apocalyptic literature.

Dr. Fred Mann opened class that morning by saying, “One cannot understand the book of Revelation unless one is first familiar with the book of Daniel. “ He then proceeded to give a lecture on the image in Daniel two that any SDA evangelist would have been hard pressed to equal.

This was indeed becoming perplexing.

At lunchtime my anxiety increased. Attendance at the noon meal was also mandatory for all students and faculty. They ate together in the social hall sitting at round tables that encouraged conversation. The tables had lovely seasonal decorations and the buffet luncheon that day and on all subsequent Saturdays was completely vegetarian.

Vegetarian food, Daniel’s prophecies, Episcopal people preparing for the second coming, this was not the paradigm I had been taught within Adventism. WE are the remnant; WE are God’s true church; WE are his special people. As my mentor expressed so well in his book, A Remnant in Crisis, “It’s hard to feel ‘special’ when one discovers that ‘unspecial’ people are stealing his or her best lines!” (2)

In a recent article on this site, Matthew Burdette rejected the notion that the Seventh-day Adventist church is “the only faithful Christian church and that all others must join our church to be a part to the remnant.” (3) Nevertheless, he maintained, there is something “truly Biblical and truly Adventist” about the understanding of an eschatological remnant people.

Dr. Jack Provonsha also saw God’s true church as “being bigger than anything human beings could turn into an exclusive institution.” (4) In the final polarization on this planet Provonsha believed there would be insufficient time – or need – to gather people into an organized megachurch. (5,) The final remnant as both Burdette and Provonsha would agree will be comprised of people who exhibit a quality of life and faith rather than those who are members of an established church.

Jesus, himself, indicated that relationship would be the determining factor when he asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

So what then is the purpose of an eschatological remnant? How are we to understand the biblical concept of a select group who are singled out in the last days? Is there a need for a smaller group, symbolized by the 144,000, among the larger multitude from every nation, kindred, tongue and people? Could there be a remnant within the remnant?

Burdette refers to the remnant as “a group within God’s people” whose purpose is to call God’s people back to faithfulness. Provonsha agrees, seeing a prophetic movement functioning in today’s world much as the prophets functioned within Israel.

According to Provonsha, “the anticipatory role of the prophetic movement in the final polarization may be illustrated by a fact of elementary physics.” He describes the effect of placing a small piece (a nidus) of ice into super-cooled water. Ice crystals begin to form immediately and within a very short period of time the entire volume of water is solid ice. (6)

This nidus, this prolepsis, this catalyst, he sees as a small group of believers who are in the right places at the right time. These are people who have an understanding of the issues that separate the two kingdoms – the kingdom of this world (Babylon) and the peaceable kingdom of the Lamb. They understand and deliver an unmistakable picture of the truth about God and His ways. Their message is “more than a set of abstract theological formulas about Him.” God is revealed in them as well as by them. (7)

This nidus enables the final movements to be rapid ones. In quick succession events occur that draw earth’s history to its close. As God’s people come out of Babylon they find identity, support and fellowship among like minded believers. Then, Provonsha suggests, this proleptic remnant may be absorbed in to the final remnant which no man can count. (8)

My two year course of study at the Diocese of Central Florida Institute for Christian Studies ended all too soon. During my tenure there, my classmates loved to tease me about being their “closet Episcopal”. I, in turn, grew to experience a oneness with faithful Christians that transcended labels.

1 A Collect for Saturdays found on page 99 in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 edition.
2 Jack W. Provonsha, A Remnant in Crisis. Review and Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, MD., 1993. 34
3 Matthew Burdette, Ecumenical Unity as Adventist Mission. Published on Spectrum ( 08/05/2010
4 Provonsha, A Remnant in Crisis. 167
5 Ibid ., 163
6 Ibid., 164
7 Ibid., 164
8 Ibid.,165
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