Let’s begin with two basic affirmations: First, as committed Christians we take seriously our Savior’s prayer for unity among His followers: “that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22). Second, we have personally chosen to be members of this divinely-directed movement—the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since these facts are true, then why do we encounter evermore dissonance and disparity of both belief and practice among us? Allow me to illustrate, from recent personal experience. In the fall of 2009, while attending a communication workshop in another state, I decided to visit a local “emerging” church which had been positively promoted as a model of “how to do church.” Up on the platform was a contemporary band of about ten performers—and they were just that! Besides the sensually overpowering cacophony (notice, I did not call it “music”), these individuals looked as though they’d been brought in from a rock concert—some men even had caps pulled low down over their eyes, while the woman lead singer had a golf ball-size pendant in front of a low-cut revealing dress. “An Adventist church?” you wonder. Yes, at least that’s what they claim, even though their Sabbath “worship” time was a blatant betrayal of a biblically-based, Christ-centered, sacred service. Seeking to be “relevant,” they’re morphing into becoming just like the world.
Contrast that experience with one I had just a few months earlier, in the same state, where I spent a long weekend at an Adventist feast-keeping “camp meeting,” in order to attempt to understand why some are insisting on observing festivals that have already met their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. They held a so-called Passover seder, complete with ancient Jewish traditions and rituals, with a growing focus on referring to God as “Yahweh,” and Jesus as “Yahshua.” Many of the men sported long, full beards; and a couple of them even wore tassels. Interestingly, while they publicly professed allegiance to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they also underhandedly undermined this Remnant Church and its leaders. Wanting to be more “biblical,” are they retrogressing into becoming Judaizers, as described in Galatians?
I share these experiences merely to illustrate that, as one looks around, it becomes obvious that there are some individuals who, while claiming to be genuine Seventh-day Adventists, are practicing and promoting views and values that are not only “outside the mainstream,” but clearly contrary to the fundamentals of our faith.
After that sermon by Elder Ted Wilson on July 3 at the 59th General Conference Session, in which he made a prophetic call for “revival and reformation” among us so as to share the good news of the imminent return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I paused to ponder on the challenge the church is confronting from within. Quickly I jotted down more than a dozen different “discussions” that are distracting us from our mission. For example, some impose the historical-critical method upon Scripture, thereby denying its divine inspiration and neutralizing its spiritually-transformative impact. Others engage in highly imaginative allegorizations and subjective symbolic suppositions, thereby distorting and destroying any definitive and defensible biblical basis for our basic beliefs. Some lean toward pushing the apocalyptic prophecies into the past, while others find futuristic fulfillments for that which has already happened in history.
Incidentally, regarding both the above issues, most laity and leadership are well aware that the Seventh-day Adventist Church promotes and practices a careful searching of Scripture, in which the inspired Word of God is its own interpreter (i.e., the historical-grammatical method); also, we believe in the appropriate manner of interpreting apocalyptic prophecies—the method used by Jesus Himself (i.e., the historicist approach, in which the prophecies of the pivotal books of Daniel and the Revelation cover the span of history, culminating in the second advent of Jesus Christ). Sadly, this fragmentation of foundational aspects of our faith has begun to affect not just some of our core beliefs, but it is also starting to impact our interaction with the world around us. This erosion has become increasingly evident in the variety of aberrant lifestyle choices, whether it be in private or in public, in dress or in demeanor, at work or at worship.
Some of those causing fragmentation want the church to become a “larger tent” so as to include “tolerance” of secularism within the family of God, mistakenly thinking that accommodating worldliness will cause church growth. Others reason that we must return to a rigid ritualism, to find and follow “new light” from the Scriptures, so as to bring about the latter rain.
Ellen White, who warns of the “ice of indifference” and the “fire of fanaticism,” gives some timely counsel on this matter: “God is leading a people out from the world upon the exalted platform of eternal truth, the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus…. They will not be at variance, one believing one thing, and another having faith and views entirely opposite, each moving independently of the body. Through the diversity of the gifts and governments that He has placed in the church, they will all come to the unity of the faith. If one man takes his views of Bible truth without regard to the opinions of his brethren, and justifies his course, alleging that he has a right to his own peculiar views, and then presses them upon others, how can he be fulfilling the prayer of Christ? And if another and still another arises, each asserting his right to believe and talk what he pleases without reference to the faith of the body, where will be that harmony which existed between Christ and His Father, and which Christ prayed might exist among His brethren?” (Testimonies, 3:446). True, the preamble to our “Fundamental Beliefs” rightly maintains that “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed.” The preamble also continues to state that we as a church “hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture.” In brief, those 28 fundamental beliefs are the warp and woof of who we are—they indicate our interpretation of key theological concepts; they identify how to lovingly live for our Lord; and they inspire us to the undertaking of our worldwide work.
So, in view of the danger of either minimizing so-called “inconvenient” truths that our church stands for, or of adding to our denominational doctrines, each one of us needs to ask ourselves: “Am I an Adventist or a Fragmentist?” Isn’t it time to participate in practicing that prayer of Jesus: “that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21)? I concur with a friend of mine, when he recently wrote: “For Seventh-day Adventists, our facts and our faith are found in the Bible. I invite all in our church family to embrace and support its teachings.” (Adventist Review, 5/27/10, p. 7).
Recognizing our constant need of spiritual revival and reformation, let’s live as Bible-based, Christ-centered, kingdom-directed, lovingly-loyal and active members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, raised up by God “for such a time as this.” Be, an Adventist!
Originally published in the Michigan Memo September 2010.