Adventists: Sheep or Goats?

Seventh-day Adventism parachuted onto the public square through the presidential campaign of Benjamin Carson. But in connecting with his political constituency, Carson felt it necessary to downplay his denominational identity.

Must Adventists distance themselves from their church and its distinctive doctrines to impact the 21st century? Transcending partisan politics as well as religious prejudice, I believe that genuine Seventh-day Adventism is uniquely capable of connectivity in the public square. This is because our fundamental beliefs are naturally relational, spreading from our hearts and homes into the neighborhood, marketplace and classroom.

Evidence for this is the gregarious nature of the two doctrines that give us our name: the Sabbath and Christ’s coming advent:

1) God’s day of rest brings us all together, no matter who we are or what our circumstances. On the seventh day, nobody is out of work, since everyone is at rest. Whatever their socioeconomic status, all believers worship side by side and fellowship face to face.

2) Christ’s coming will transport us together to heaven in joyous fellowship — we don’t journey there upon death as an isolated, disembodied spirit.

Eternal Life Goes Beyond Longevity

Life in Christ involves more than a heart that never stops beating. It’s also a loving heart that rejoices in relationality. Jesus declared: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” — not just perpetually (John 10:10). Such a life draws us into community with one another as the flock of the Good Shepherd (see verse 16).

Nevertheless, many Christians (Adventists included) focus more on spending time alone with God than sharing life together. Both are essential in balance, like rest blended with exercise. Getting close to Jesus as individuals naturally brings us closer to one another as His body of believers.

And yet, evangelists often call people out of the world to “stand alone” for Jesus, their “personal savior.” Converts naturally become holy loners seeking personal perfection to supposedly survive divine scrutiny in the celestial judgment.

Actually, biblical perfection is a corporate enterprise in which individual believers contribute their part in a symphony of grace-based obedience and heartfelt worship, fellowship and service. We are “being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22, NKJV[1]); thus spiritual maturity requires sharing Christ’s communal righteousness.

Humanity is intrinsically relational, made in the image of a Creator who exists in Trinity. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin-introduced isolation and alienation — hiding from God and strife with each other. The promised death they suffered on the day they sinned expressed itself in the demise of relationality.

To save us from sin, Jesus suffered its fatal isolation on the cross and by His subsequent resurrection created a new human race (Eph. 2:14–16) — the church. As Son of God, Jesus bonded us to His Father; as the Son of humanity, He connects us with each other. Thus the fundamental function of our new creation in Christ is in Spirited community with God and one another.

Can you see that salvation transcends getting one’s own sorry soul pardoned and then sanctified in personal purgatory? Whatever one’s sincerity about sinlessness, whoever neglects the communal core of Christianity is actually living a lie — as if Jesus never came to unite us to one another in His body. “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Thus any doctrine that does not support the spiritual discipline of community with Christ and one another is false teaching. And any scenario of final events that enshrines personal perfectionism is spiritually bankrupt as well as useless in the public square.

Relationality in the Remnant

Early Christians after Pentecost lived in community among themselves and their neighbors. The apostles’ teaching nurtured empathetic outreach (Acts 2:42) as believers shared material goods (verse 44), thus winning “favor with all the people” (verse 47). Dramatic church growth resulted from such caring Christianity.

A renaissance of relationality will flourish among God’s final remnant before Christ returns. Jesus will pass judgment upon the world by separating His community of compassionate sheep from Satan’s selfish, isolationist goats (Matt. 25:31-46.). Often we Adventists overlook those 16 verses with their powerful warning about what really matters to God in the judgment. Evidence of being saved by grace is a life of gracious sharing. True faith blossoms into the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy and peace, primarily) in compassionate ministry to the sick, homeless and imprisoned. Such is God’s purpose for His people.

May we as Northwest Seventh-day Adventists love the Lord with all our hearts and then love one another as He has loved us. Thus will our neighbors recognize Jesus in our message and mission of truth and grace.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all texts are from the English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society, 2001).

January 30, 2016 / Perspective
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