Relational Adventism

Seventh-day Adventism parachuted onto the public square through the presidential campaign of Benjamin Carson. Suddenly we find ourselves talking about our faith with people who weren’t interested before. What do we say?

Many Adventists are unaccustomed and perhaps uncomfortable in discussing doctrinal beliefs, preferring to bring on an evangelist to preach at people. Actually, Seventh-day Adventism is uniquely capable of connecting in the neighborhood, marketplace and classroom.

Let’s consider the gregarious nature of Adventist beliefs, beginning with the Sabbath itself. It brings us together on the seventh day, professionals and working-class people interacting on the same level. Whatever one’s socio-economic status, all believers worship side by side and fellowship face to face. For those suffering unemployment, on the Sabbath nobody is out of work since everyone is resting in Christ.

Adventism’s belief in Christ’s Second Coming is inclusive as well. We all go together to heaven in one grand reunion — not upon death as isolated, disembodied spirits. And our prophetic scenario offers God’s plan for an eternally populated planet. While people around us talk wistfully about saving the earth, we can join them in its stewardship but also point to God’s promise of an earth made new — humanity’s long-sought utopia with the New Jerusalem, eternal city of peace.

The Adventist doctrine of heaven’s sanctuary, as revealed in Scripture, is also relational. It’s a friendly place where sinners flee for refuge to Jesus — not just our long-ago Savior but our real-time 24/7 Advocate with the Father (Heb. 7:25). Moreover, Christ in heaven brings us together for ministry on Earth. Heaven’s sanctuary is the human resource center of the universe. From the time it opened for business on the Day of Pentecost, our High Priest has been incorporating us into His royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We become servants of His sanctuary — empowered for collaborative ministry through the symphony of everyone’s spiritual giftedness in reaching out to an alienated world. 

Even Heaven’s Judgment Is Relational

The Adventist doctrine of investigative judgment involves relationality between God and His creation. Closure from the reign of evil cannot be complete without disclosure, so our doctrine of pre-Advent judgment reveals a God willing to address the questions of His celestial universe. During the millennium that follows Christ’s coming, we humans receive insight about how God has allowed His people to suffer only what He can work for good. God will even involve us collaboratively as His jurists regarding the termination of sin and sinners (see Rev. 20:4 and 1 Cor. 6:2). This will call for much discussion and processing among ourselves as we stroll along the River of Life and sit under the Tree of Life.

Unfortunately, some church members promote the “judgment hour message” by condemning neighbors rather than reaching out to them. Despite their denominational patriotism, they don’t realize that Adventism’s doctrine of judgment is relational not only in its process but also in what matters. Jesus foretold a judicial division between His community of compassionate sheep versus Satan’s selfish goats (Matt. 25:31–46.).

Amid their zeal regarding the timing of the pre-Advent judgment, early Adventists often overlooked those 16 verses with their powerful warning about what really counts in that judgment. Even today we tend to overlook that what matters to God in the celestial judgment is faith that bears the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy and peace, primarily) in compassionate ministry to the sick, poor and imprisoned. Jesus emphasized this in warning that the goats of self-confident religiosity are on the high road to hell.

“Lord,” they will protest in vain, “when did we disobey You — did we not love You and keep your commandments?”

Jesus sadly responds, "But you did not care to love the least of these My brothers and sisters, so you do not care to love Me" (see verse 45). These religionists will wake up 1,000 years too late, finding themselves shut out from the community of grace-based, compassionate sheep.

Ellen White set us a good example by transcending the initial isolationism of Sabbatarian Millerites to become an example of how Adventists today may minister within the public square without forfeiting our unique message and mission. She mingled with fellow Christians who cared about moral and social issues. She even did God’s work with them, entrusting initial publication of her legacy book, Steps to Christ, to Dwight Moody’s brother-in-law, Fleming Revell. In other writings, she often copied the language of non-Adventist authors, effectively collaborating with their teaching. (Both friends and foes of Ellen White usually overlook this.)

Sister White interacted whenever possible with non-Seventh-day Adventists, and we who claim her heritage can do no less. We can transcend isolationism and interact in the public square, without denying or diluting our divine mission. Our relational/incarnational doctrine both invites and requires it.

January 09, 2016 / Perspective
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