I wasn't always a stickler for Adventist distinctives. There
have been some points in my life when I viewed certain aspects as disturbing
and wanted to disassociate myself with some foundational beliefs, but over the
years this has changed. Deep theological and historical studies led me even further
into a firm belief in the foundational pillars of Adventism. The Great
Controversy appeared to me as an inspired world view that dissected historical
and religious events and attributed them to a greater conflict, one that the
Apostle Paul writes as the struggle against “principalities, against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness
in high places.” The Biblical evidence was clear. But I had to ask myself, does
the great controversy theme allow for remedies to the temporal human condition?
It was a valid question. Mere spiritual conservatism cannot be enough. Knowledge does not always equate to positive action, and Scripture was rife with admonitions for the Christian to attend to social needs. As I grew into a firmer belief in the validity of the Adventist worldview I had to confront these questions. I had been educated in the world, I took geology and archaeology credit courses that didn’t acknowledge the remote possibility of the earth being young or there being a Creator at all but I knew how to take data with a grain of salt.
Does the fact that we are embroiled in a spiritual conflict mean we are exempted from caring for the physical and social needs of others? I know many liberal theologians and laypersons who would like to paint conservative believers as such. And to be honest, more than a few who believe in foundational doctrines can be quite indifferent to the sufferings of others around them and prove these detractors correct. But in my studies I discovered that this is not the rule.
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 provides the blueprint for the Christian life. All too often it is tempting to get doctrine right and not understand what to do after that and results in the much loathed pharisaical attitude and approach to theology. In an article published here a year ago I argued for the possibility of sinless perfection on this side of heaven. Now I am contending for the practical way to achieve this perfection; a perfect reflection of Christ in our lives.
It is here that right doctrine meets right doing; how Sabbath keeping and understanding the plan of salvation illustrated by the sanctuary service actually results not in pharisaical attitudes to life and others, but in a life of service and submission. Of course we have to know something to act upon it, but knowledge without practical application is essentially a mere acknowledgement without a working faith. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out…obeyed." Saving faith is a trust in God that results in obedience. God commands us to love others as we love ourselves.
Wasn’t it too difficult for that wealthy young man to follow the command, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me”? Jesus didn’t retort to the man that perfection was impossible. In fact He revealed that the reality was the opposite; yet a condition had to be followed that, for humans, was impossible to meet. The disciples marveled and wondered, “who then can be saved”? Christ’s succinct answer was “with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."
It is somewhat fascinating to me that many have for the most part separated the two systems of compassion and doctrinal correctness and made them out to be mutually exclusive. Whether it is the liberal minded who believes doctrinal fluidity is the key to brotherly love or the conservative minded who believes doctrinal precision is the key to personal salvation, we have largely excluded the possibility that God values both a high regard for His Word and a high regard for others.
It's not that complicated.
The God of the universe has revealed to us His plan for the redemption of humanity both through His written Word and the Living Word, His Son, who is conducting the plan in action through His Person. Therefore, theological accuracy is crucial because our understanding of what the Scriptures say regarding the law and government of God, salvation, prophecy or anything else has a bearing on the choices we make. Compassion is crucial because Jesus came not only to save me, but others around me as well and I should do my part to attend to both their spiritual and physical needs so He can work through me to help save them.
Why is it that many mistake a passion for biblical truth as hubris and pharisaical? It is true that many who hold to distinct doctrines can be quite abrasive and hard to get along with. But this is a case where a messenger can really be misrepresenting the message. The doctrine of the investigative judgment does not require me to be unpleasant and uncompassionate, in fact, it teaches the opposite, that I am to reflect the character of the Savior. The doctrine of the Sabbath observance does not teach one to neglect the poor and hungry. In fact our local church has set up a ministry to hand out food and water to the homeless of our city on Sabbath afternoons. Believing the Bible as it is read does not require me to be hateful towards homosexuals; in fact it requires me to love them, while rebuking the sin as would someone who tries to keep a loved one from the harmful effects of cigarette smoking.
The very example of our Redeemer should put to rest all controversy regarding the subject. He who kept the law to perfection and knew all the Law and the Prophets was compassionate and merciful. Christ is the epitome of all prophecy and our final union with Him in His Kingdom and the elimination of sin is the culmination of the Plan of Salvation. Therefore when one sees a conflict between his desire to be compassionate and doctrinal precision he only needs to look to Christ.
After all, do not the Scriptures say, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world”? Compassion and spiritual purity is pure and undefiled religion. You keep one from the other and the religion is not pure. The equation is still missing something. It is not a far-reaching thought to argue that perhaps this is what Satan desires to do, separate the two concepts to keep the truth unattractive to others and making unbelief seem like a “virtue."
So how do Adventists preach our distinct message of warning of a coming storm? It is simple. We share our message with compassion. More importantly, we preach a living sermon. We live it. Our health reform message has been sending the message to others that we care about their physical health and well being. We are called to also attend to those of lesser privileges. We are told, “When you succor the poor, sympathize with the afflicted and oppressed, and befriend the orphan, you bring yourselves into a closer relationship to Jesus" (Testimonies for the Church Vol. 2 25)
How do Adventists remain compassionate to others? We remain spiritually pure. This entails far more than just the mere avoidance of alcohol or flashy dress; it entails a living knowledge of why we live the way we do. It is to put down selfishness and encourage the love of service for God and others. Just as God’s health principles were given to the children of Israel to keep them from major disease, God’s other commandments are far more than just do’s and don’ts, they are a set of principles that define what true love really is. Spiritual purity will keep us compassionate. We are told, “He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart" (Counsels for the Church 314).
The cure to human suffering is the regeneration of the human heart, not political lobbying and activism. Reach men with the gospel and you will see compassion abound. To teach men compassion one must also be compassionate. Sometimes this means to share truth to others that may seem inconvenient. But in all things have love. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”