It does not take a historian to explain why America has experienced such a long and unprecedented history of religious freedom since the inception of our nation. Born out of the ideas of men who wanted to experiment with a different kind of democracy, the republic in which we live separated the religious from the political within the governmental sphere they were building. Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist, my parents, church, Sabbath School teachers, and pastors instilled within me an understanding that what we have in America is special. While no one knows the mind of God, we like to believe the birth of this nation, with its constitutional measures to separate church from state, was more than mere chance; it was part of God’s great design plan for salvation. Some might even suggest that America is key to the cosmic war being fought here on Earth. As Seventh-day Adventists, we have long celebrated and defended the divide of religion from government.
Revelation 13 lays down a key element in our understanding of America in prophecy. It explains why religious liberty has been important to the Seventh-day Adventist Church for more than 175 years. And, finally, it makes our work to preserve the separation of church and state a moral imperative when coupled with our understanding that the United States government should never become an agency of religious redemption.
“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed,” Revelation 13:11,12 NKJV.
It is interesting how often I hear church members refer to this beast as a “lamb-like beast with horns.” John is not seeing a lamb. John sees a “beast” with horns like a lamb. The lamb-like qualities that John sees are two-fold; the horns of this beast are small (there are only two horns), and therefore do not initially pose a threat, especially as the beast appears to be young as having just sprung forth from the Earth. Traditionally, we also associated the lamb-like character of the beast’s horns with the Lamb of God, Jesus. Ellen White, without question, sees this beast to be a government power, arising from the Earth (not the sea-like beast in Revelation 12), and giving the initial impression of Christ (the Lamb). Ellen White understands the beast of Revelation 13 to be a new governmental power who will work with the beast of the sea (the dragon). “One nation, and only one, meets the specifications of this prophecy; it points unmistakably to the United States of America,” Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 440. There are traditionally two ways we interpret those horns; one interpretation is that they represent Protestantism and republicanism. The other interpretation, which is generally more accepted, is that they represent the separation of church and state. No matter which interpretation you choose to accept, they both point to the beast representing America.
It is a heavy responsibility to safeguard liberty of conscience. If you believe in the prophecies of Revelation 12 and 13, then simply by being American or living in the United States, Adventists bear a much higher level of responsibility for understanding this portion of prophecy, and being the watchmen for the rest of the World Church. As Adventists, we have believed this task to be as important as serving the poor and needy or caring for the sick and dying. We also believe that the defense of religious freedom is directly tied to our sharing the Gospel with others.
If you follow current news and associated trends, you will find that over the last few decades there has been a growing wave pushing evangelicals toward the shores of the ideas found in Nationalism. To be clear, Nationalism and Patriotism are not the same thing. You may be patriotic because you love this country, and believe it to be the best in the world, and you wish to defend its principles. Patriotism does not mean that you force those values or ideas upon other people. Nationalism is quite a different idea. It seeks to control and move its power to govern in order to promote its own interests, even to the exclusion (and very often the persecution) of others’ interests. Nationalism seeks to gain power over the government in order to move its own interests. The most egregious case of Nationalism in the 20th century was the Nazi Party’s rise to power.
As watchmen for religious freedom here in America, we have a growing concern that current trends among evangelicals to take control of the government in order to bring about a more Judeo-Christian-friendly state would lead to Christian Nationalism. We have seen the birth of a program called Project Blitz, whose main goal is to protect the free exercise of traditional Christian beliefs. On the front end, this seems like good news; after all, it is what the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department does. The difference is that the Religious Liberty Department does not try to promote Christianity through the aid of the state. We believe that people of different beliefs should be able to practice their faith according to the dictates of their conscience, just as Christians do. That growing movement in this nation would work to combine religio-political powers, that prophecy seems to regard as dangerous, in helping to form the image of the beast. To anoint one political party or a nation’s government with the nomenclature of being “godly,” and the other as being “wicked,” plays into these prophecies’ warnings. It also demeans God and Christianity in a way that is not only sacrilegious, but possibly idolatrous as well. Well documented Church archives reveal to us that the Adventist Church in Germany was just as susceptible to the Nationalist movement going on in the 1930s as all other churches in that nation at the time. Oh, that the watchmen would have sounded a call back then! I believe that, today, we are also in danger of falling under the spell of Christian Nationalism in an attempt to make sure Christ is King within our nation.
The beast that comes out of the Earth in Revelation 13 shows its wickedness in verse 11 as it grows into something far less “lamb-like” and much more beastly, as it “causes the Earth and all those who dwell in it to worship the first beast…” There is compulsion against the will in what the beast does. It is why Public Affairs and Religious Liberty is always on guard for issues that would create a scenario where compulsion in religious matters against conscience are in play.
There is danger in trying to pinpoint when prophecy will be fulfilled. Sometimes it is also just as difficult to try to predict how prophecy will be fulfilled. You have probably heard this tag line before, “If you see something, say something.” We see a growing and worrying trend with Christians pushing Nationalism because of our understanding of prophecy. It does not mean that we predict Nationalism to bring about persecution in the end. We simply know that God does not need government to grow His Kingdom. In the coming year, we want to point out what we see, and ask if you are seeing the same thing too.
Need a devotional idea for this month? I encourage you to read Revelation 12 and 13. Also, read The Great Controversy, chapter 25, “God’s Law Immutable.”
Want up-to-date religious liberty news? Subscribe to Waymarks, free newsletter of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department. Email ReligiousLiberty@southernunion.com.
is the director of public affairs and religious liberty for the Southern Union Conference. She encourages people who are experiencing religious liberty problems to contact the department, Monday-Thursday, at ReligiousLiberty@southernunion.com or 770-408-1800.
Southern Union | January 2020