When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden and blessed them with the words “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). That garden was “a representation of what God desired the whole earth to become.”¹
After the Fall, the population of the earth grew significantly, and cities began to flourish. Under God’s guidance, Joshua distributed the settlements of Canaan among the Israelite tribes (Joshua 13–21). Jerusalem eventually became the religious center of Israel and the city in which the Lord placed His own name (2 Sam. 7:13; 2 Kings 21:4). God Himself is the “builder and maker” of the New Jerusalem (Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2, 10), which will be “our place of rest.”²
What about the cities of our end-time world? How should we relate to them? Searching the Bible and the writings of Ellen White, one notices an intriguing tension between living in the cities and leaving the cities. Let’s reflect briefly on this tension.
LIVING IN CITIES
The Bible mentions faithful people who lived in cities. Joseph, for example, was prime minister in the court of Pharaoh, and must have lived in the capital city (Gen. 41:44; 44:4). Daniel and his associates served in the court of Babylon (Dan. 2:49; 6:1-3). As an itinerant missionary, Paul went from city to city (Acts 20:18-24), and finally dwelt two whole years in his own rented house in Rome (cf. Acts 28:16, 30).
Jesus told His disciples that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and they would eventually have to flee (Luke 21:20, 21). They didn’t leave the city for the sake of their own spirituality. Rather, they remained there and preached the gospel so convincingly that even the high priest recognized, “You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine!” (Acts 5:28). Only severe persecution expelled many of them from the city, leaving them to preach the gospel elsewhere (Acts 8:1, 4).
In light of final events, there is no excuse for us to be less courageous and less intentional today. Ellen White declared in 1888: “The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening. . . . Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given.”³
Ellen White even appealed for families to work in cities. In 1892, she wrote: “Many in America who can might move their families into different towns and cities and there lift the standard of truth.”⁴ In 1908, she encouraged people to move away from the cities, while recognizing that “some must remain in the cities to give the last note of warning.”⁵ In 1910, she added, “This is no time to colonize. From city to city the work is to be carried quickly.”⁶
LEAVING THE CITIES
The Bible also mentions families who moved from cities into more remote areas. Abraham and his family, for example, went from Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:31; 12:1-4). Lot and his two daughters left Sodom and dwelt in the mountains near Zoar (Gen. 19:15-17, 30). Following Christ’s warning (Luke 21:20, 21), Christians living in Jerusalem left the city when a Roman siege was providentially interrupted. None of them perished as a result.⁷
Over the years, Ellen White encouraged church members to move from cities to rural areas.⁸ In 1906, she stated, “More and more, as time advances, our people will have to leave the cities. For years we have been instructed that our brethren and sisters, and especially families with children, should plan to leave the cities as the way opens before them to do so.”⁹
In addition to its health and spiritual benefits, a country environment keeps families away from the corrupting influence of large cities. Ellen White explained: “The enemy of righteousness has every kind of pleasure prepared for youth in all conditions of life; and they are not presented alone in crowded cities, but in every spot inhabited by human beings.”¹⁰ “But in the large cities his power over minds is greater, and his nets for the entanglement of unwary feet are more numerous.”¹¹
The decision to move out of the cities is an individual (and family) matter, not one that should be forced on others. It should be prayerfully considered, taking into account overall conditions and implications, counseling with others, and faithfully following the leading of conscience.
The time will come when such a move is imperative. “As the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman armies was the signal for flight to the Judean Christians,” wrote Ellen White, “so the assumption of power on the part of our nation [the United States] in the decree enforcing the papal sabbath will be a warning to us. It will then be time to leave the large cities, preparatory to leaving the smaller ones for retired homes in secluded places among the mountains.”¹²
A well-planned move from the city into a rural area can bring us closer to God’s original plan for humanity. But it should never weaken our missionary endeavors and lead us to a self-centered form of religion. Our mission to the cities is not finished, and we cannot become modern Jonahs (cf. Jonah 1:1-3).
Indeed, we should be driven by Paul’s unconditional commitment: “But none of these things [chains and tribulations] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
¹ Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 22. ² Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 9, p. 287. ³ Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), pp. 611, 612. ⁴ Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1993), vol. 12, p. 331. ⁵ Ellen G. White, Ministry to the Cities (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2012), p. 112. ⁶ Ibid., p. 146. ⁷ E. G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 30, 31. ⁸ See Ellen G. White, Country Living (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946). ⁹ Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 2, p. 360. ¹⁰ Ellen G. White, Messages to Young People (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1930), pp. 407, 408. ¹¹ Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 423. ¹² E. G. White, Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 464, 465.