The Apology I Never Gave

December 27, 2019 | Missions and Outreach | Kevin McGill

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." — John 8:32

My first attempt at evangelism came while I was getting my Master of Social Work at Eastern Washington University. I had nearly left the Adventist Church, but now I was back with evangelistic fervor. My social work supervisor, a Christian man himself, was one of my first victims. I tried to convince him of the Sabbath truth, what happens when you die and that people really don’t burn in hell forever. My arguments for these Adventist truth claims were not winning him over, so I purchased a book to cover everything at once.[1] And I did all of this the week before I graduated. While he was gone, I placed the book on his desk and left a note inside that said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set your free.”

I never talked to him again. After graduation I left that office mission field, but I remembered him one day and sent him a Dwight Nelson video on hell. I never heard from him about the book or the video, and then I lost all of his contact information. So, Jon, if you are reading this I am sorry for my passive aggressive evangelism. I am sorry for my arrogant projection of the truth. Let me start over and tell you what I believe about truth now.

I am a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. Seventh-day Adventists love biblical truth. But I have heard Adventism referred to by other Adventists as "The TRUTH!" The question has been asked of me, "How long have you been in The TRUTH?" Hear me carefully. Adventism is not The TRUTH. Adventism seeks to proclaim The TRUTH as it is in Jesus. We can try to proclaim truth; we cannot be truth.

To be truth is to be infallible; it is to never err. The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not make this claim. God alone is infallible.

Any person or institution that thinks they have a copyright on truth is dangerous. Truth that is weaponized actually becomes a curse. The book Desire of Ages puts it like this:[2]

"The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ's day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience, a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul. It does not bring forth the fruits of righteousness. A jealous regard for what is termed theological truth often accompanies a hatred of genuine truth as made manifest in life. The darkest chapters of history are burdened with the record of crimes committed by bigoted religionists. ...

"The same danger still exists. Many take it for granted that they are Christians, simply because they subscribe to certain theological tenets. But they have not brought the truth into practical life. They have not believed and loved it, therefore they have not received the power and grace that come through sanctification of the truth. Men may profess faith in the truth; but if it does not make them sincere, kind, patient, forbearing, heavenly-minded, it is a curse to its possessors, and through their influence, it is a curse to the world."

Recognizing the potential for truth to become a curse, the Adventist Church was initially wary of making any sort of creed. John Loughborough said in 1861, "The first step of apostasy is to set up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And fifth, to commence persecution against such."[3]

The Adventist Church now has 28 Fundamental Beliefs. If someone wants to know what Adventists believe, it's helpful to have official beliefs to refer them to. These beliefs are adaptive, subject to reinterpretation and clarification. These are not definitive TRUTH statements. They are progressive beliefs. Sometimes, however, these beliefs have been presented as 28 statements of unchangeable dogma. This results in legalism and in losing sight of the main tenet of truth Jesus wanted us to follow: "They will know you are Christians by your love."[4]

Absolute truth is grounded in the principle of absolute love. This sort of love can be misunderstood. But true love never conflicts with true truth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it like this: “Love for a sinner, if misunderstood, is frightfully close to love for the sin. But Christ's love for the sinner is itself the condemnation of sin; it is the sharpest expression of hatred against sin.”[5]

True truth is communicated with love, and authentic connection comes before correction. There is a place for evangelistic DVDs, tracts and books. But passive aggressive evangelism by itself is rarely transformative.

If I could speak to my supervisor again, I would apologize for my note and let him know I was the one who needed to be set free. I was wielding “truth" like a weapon and had not yet let the truth, as it is in Jesus, penetrate my own heart. Thankfully, “love covers a multitude of sins.”[6]

 

[1] The book I got him was Samuele Bacchiocchi’s book called Popular Beliefs: Are They Biblical?

[2] Desire of Ages, p. 309–310

[3] “Doings of the Battle Creek Conference, Oct. 5 & 6, 1861,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 18 (8 Oct. 1861): 148.

[4] John 13:35

[5] Discipleship, p. 142

[6] 1 Peter 4:8