. . . ran the title of a web page I found today. I was innocently surfing looking for Seventh-day Adventist media outlets to publicize a book written by an SDA author (Thompson, Alden. Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? Pensacola, FL: Pacesetters Bible School, Inc., 2003).
And there were all the standard links. Cult watching groups that thought SDAs were a dangerous cult. Others that thought they were marginally Christian, though they had some regrettably heterodox views. There were the former SDA ministers who had left the church so that they could now be free to preach the gospel in whatever denomination had apparently caught their attention.
Now I don’t know how fair each and every presentation was. I’ve read many such presentations, and as far as I can tell, they all appear to be a bit one sided, and not merely in that they’re opposed to the SDA position. They seem also to ignore the fact that the SDA church, like all other churches, is composed of human beings who have faults and failings, but also have gifts. They may make mistakes, but they also provide great insights.
They criticize Ellen White for her heterodox views. But the same Ellen White who wrote about various health topics, criticized the Catholic church with some vigor, and taught the investigative judgment (which many Christians think denies the atonement), also wrote the following:
“God is love,” is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass. The lovely birds making the air vocal with their happy songs, the delicately tinted flowers in their perfection perfuming the air, the lofty trees of the forest with their rich foliage of living green,–all testify to the tender, fatherly care of our God, and to His desire to make His children happy. -Steps to Christ, p. 10.
But she claimed to be a prophet! I’d suggest that if you applied the same standard to the Bible, you would have similar problems. Now I know people do claim the Bible is without error, but in order to substantiate that claim one is required to accept many very strained arguments. I’d suggest there is a worse problem. All we have of Ezekiel’s output is his one book. Supposing we had records of every conversation and meeting he held, every letter he wrote, every thought he expressed. Would we find it just as easy to explain all of his views? The charismatic community in particular needs to consider its understanding of prophetic inspiration before throwing any stones.
I grew up and was educated in the Seventh-day Adventist church. I left because I had problems with Christianity in general. When I returned, I joined a congregation of another denomination because I have doctrinal disagreements which make be feel that I could not carry out ministry from within the SDA church. But it has never really occurred to me to declare that my Adventist friends, relatives and colleagues aren’t really Christians. They think they are. It seems a bit rude to declare otherwise. Most of us have boundaries somewhere. But is this compartmentalizing of people as groups the way to go? Does it really add up to a Christ-like attitude?
I don’t want to criticize the groups who are making the charges too strongly. As I looked at their names (which I won’t cite) I could think of very positive things that each had done for the Christian community. I’m sure that they think they are doing everyone a favor by opposing false doctrine and keeping people from being deceived by an organization that has, in their view, gone astray.
I would simply like to suggest a more positive approach. Why not simply argue support for a positive viewpoint? You don’t like the SDA view of the investigative judgment? Teach what you think is a true view of the atonement and the gospel. Criticize the points of error that you see, but do so without trying to arrogate to yourself God’s task of final judgment. After all, God is going to have to forgive you and me for many mistakes as well.
“So, Henry,” you ask, “What do you believe about Seventh-day Adventists? You’re dodging the issue by not judging the group. Would you refer a new believer to an SDA pastor?”
I think Seventh-day Adventists can be Christians, just like Methodists (which includes me), Presbyterians, Baptists and any other variety of Christian. I don’t think God recognizes our denominational boundaries. God isn’t even going to judge you on your relationship to an organization. He’s going to judge your relationship to Him. So yes, I would refer a new believer to an SDA pastor, on the same basis as I would refer someone to any other pastor. Will this person nurture and disciple that person? Will they show them the love of God? And before someone asks me, yes, I do know Seventh-day Adventist pastors who meet those criteria. I also know many pastors of other denominations, who are never accused of being “cultish” to whom I would not refer anyone.
As an organization, I also believe that the SDA church has contributed to the Christian community as a whole. I disagree, for example, on the doctrine of the Sabbath. I believe that under the rule of the Spirit, all time belongs to God and we are allowed the use of some of it. But one of those uses that God allows is rest, and I sometimes envy the boundary of written law that says one must not work from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night. It takes more will-power and planning to take that time of rest that God wants me to take when I don’t have the letter of the law behind me in quite the same way. I envy SDAs the boundaries of the Sabbath rest.
But even more importantly, the SDA church has helped to keep alive the positive understanding of law, that while law out of place can destroy, in place it is a blessing. Recently visiting with my parents and worshipping on Friday evening, I was again touched by the words of many Adventist songs celebrating the arrival of the Sabbath rest. To my parents, the Sabbath is not a duty, it’s a joy.
And that leads me to my real point in this essay. Compartmentalizing people by judging them as whole organizations and denominations robs us of the opportunity to see the value in either the individuals or the organizations. Once they have crossed some line-a line we can’t even agree on-they’re out. But the loss is ours in the greater Christian community.
Why don’t we try to present our approach positively, and to criticize specifically and carefully? Let’s discern, but let’s not group and condemn.