December 16, 2009

Simply Another Church?

Editor’s Note: The following piece was included as additional material for the 2008 Week of Prayer readings in Germany and appeared in German in AdventEcho, November 2008. 

2009 1535 26 capany members within the Seventh-day Adventist Church are searching for a truly Adventist identity. Are we just another church denomination? If this is the case, then is another denomination really necessary? If we are not simply another denomination, then what makes us unique? Is it the lifestyle we promote or our doctrines, or both?
A look at three important theses could help us answer these identity questions.
Thesis 1
It is not our lifestyle that makes us unique—although lifestyle does play an important role in our church!
A Christian’s lifestyle is important. In fact, it is so important that Jesus highlighted the features His followers would be recognized by. He said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Could the casual observer of a church member, a reader of our publications, or a visitor in our church service be able to identify us as Jesus’ disciples by observing the way in which we relate to each other? Although loving others is the most important identification mark of the followers of Jesus, this has always been an important marker for Christ’s church throughout the ages and may not be a unique feature of the end-time church.
Others have felt that lifestyle, such as diet, may make ?the end-time church unique. However, orthodox Jews and Muslims abstain from eating pork, being a vegetarian is becoming popular among many health-conscious people, and there are various groups that promote an alcohol-free lifestyle. There are other Christians who pay tithe, and some Christian groups dress even more conservatively than we do. Many Christians are more actively involved in promoting creationism and in fighting to protect unborn children from the threat of abortion.
In short, I do not think that our lifestyle makes us a unique church at this moment in world history, although it does have an important place.
Thesis 2
It is not our theological contribution that makes us a unique church!
2009 1535 26Really? On close examination, as a church we have not contributed much in the way of new biblical truth or knowledge. We have rather rediscovered forgotten truths and brought together fragmented biblical knowledge within the framework of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. I cannot think of a better framework for this “puzzle” of biblical knowledge. But no honest Adventist could claim that all of the puzzle pieces of truth have already been discovered or that each piece of the puzzle is in the correct place.

I would not want to belong to a church that did not ?base its teachings firmly upon the Bible or whose teachings contradicted biblical truth. I am a Seventh-day Adventist because I am convinced that at this moment in history no other church comes closer to the plain teaching of the Bible. I am a Seventh-day Adventist because our church matches the description of God’s end-time church (Rev. 14:12; 12:17; 19:10). This church has faith in Jesus Christ as its central focal point, recognizes the importance of God’s law, demon-?strates the working of the Holy Spirit, and profits by the gifts of the Spirit, which include the gift of prophecy.
However, possessing all this Bible knowledge does not make us unique or special. All this knowledge could even lead us to become spiritually proud. Remember Paul’s admonition: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. . . . We see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:9, 12).
This brings me to my next question: what is the purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
Thesis 3
We are here to spread the knowledge we have received. This is what gives us as Seventh-day Adventists our raison d’être (reason to exist)!
What made the prophet Elijah unique in his time period? It was not a knowledge of Yahweh. Elijah was not the only one who knew the true God; there were at least 7,000 others who knew God and were faithful to Him. It was also not his courage to stand for God. It was rather ?his mission, which he had received from God, to announce God’s judgment, point to the way of escape, and call people to make a decision.
What made John the Baptist unique? Was it his lifestyle? It was certainly not unimportant, or else such a detailed description of his clothing and diet would not have been given. But, it is very probable that he was not the only one living like this at that time. He was also not the only one expecting the Messiah. His parents, Zachariah and Elizabeth, and other righteous people such as Simeon and Anna were also waiting for the Redeemer. And his knowledge? It was incomplete! For example, he baptized “only” to signify the forgiveness of sins and did not seem to know much about the role of the Holy Spirit.
So in which way was he unique? It was his assignment, which is very similar to ours: “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
Not Only Called to Salvation . . .
Our lifestyle is important because it underlines our proclamation and shows how seriously we take what we are teaching. But human piety and devotion are not and never were conditional to God choosing a group of people or an individual. Our lifestyle as Seventh-day Adventists has its meaning, but when we are not fulfilling the commission that was entrusted to us, our special lifestyle does not help us or others.
Despite our difficulty in grasping some biblical truths, God does not reject us. Neither prophets nor people in biblical times, church history, or even our Adventist history understood everything that God revealed to them, yet God did not reject them because of this.
. . . But Called to Service
If we do not fulfill the commission entrusted to us, God will be “forced” to look for other instruments. He will not permit that people be lost because those He has commissioned are asleep or too self-involved. Here is a good summary: we are Seventh-day Adventists, not because we have been chosen exclusively for salvation—rather, we have been called for service! This is why our church does not claim to be “the sole means of salvation” or that other Christians will be lost because they are not Adventists.
“Adventist” Is Not a Title
From this some may conclude that we are just another church like all the others. Hang on! We are nothing special as a church, but our commission is special! In other words, if we are silent and not fulfilling our commission, then we have no reason to exist.
The label “Adventist” is not a title but rather a job description. If someone has a degree in medicine, they can be called a medical doctor for the rest of their life, regardless of whether or not they actually practice medicine. “Adventist” is not a title that one earns, rather a job description of Christians who know they have been called to prepare the way for the coming Lord. I can see three important areas.
Translator of the Eternal Gospel: We need to so formulate the truth, explain and live it that others will understand it. Here I believe is where we are lacking. We often do not make the “eternal gospel” understandable for today’s people. We cannot simply repeat verbatim the three angels’ messages in old King James English and then complain that people today seem uninterested in the gospel. Translators look carefully at their language use and do not speak “Adventese” that may be unintelligible to others. Translators also speak relevantly to questions that people living in the twenty-first century ask.
Preparing the Way for the Coming Lord: It is important to keep our soon coming Lord clearly in the center of our message. We should, like John the Baptist, prepare the way for Him. Everything we believe and preach should be seen in the light of Jesus’ second coming. Can we show the world around us the big picture of biblical teachings, linking the Sabbath, the Second Coming, the state of the dead, the sanctuary to the great cosmic battle that is raging around us?
“Pilots” in the Confusion of the End-time: We should be warning our fellow Christians of the great deceptions that will take place before the coming of Jesus. Jesus emphasizes the intensity of the last deception, stating that “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). Syncretism in Christianity, the mixing of truth and error, is one of the great deceptions that Jesus was talking about.
Who Is Equal to the Task?
What a responsibility! Will we be able to fulfill these roles of being translators, preparing the way, and being “pilots” in the end-time? Pride in this special commission would be ill-advised. We do not need arrogance, but rather should be trembling at the enormity and challenge of the task.
We will be able to fulfill God’s commission only when we as a world church and a local congregation get our priorities straight. We need to act like Nehemiah, who refused to be enticed away from his place on the wall. Let’s not waste our energies being sidetracked, but rather use the gifts that God has “loaned us” to “build on the wall” of His kingdom!
We are challenged to truly internalize what we believe and teach. In the introduction to the three angels’ messages it says “to proclaim to those who live on the earth” (Rev. 14:6). In the Greek it literally reads here “those who made their home on earth.” We cannot present the three angels’ messages in a believable way if we are “glued” to our homes, belongings, careers, or hobbies. If we really are to prepare the way for the Lord, then people should notice that we are “packing our suitcases”! 
Eli Diez-Prida, a native of Spain, lives in Lunenberg, Germany, where he ministers as director of the German Publishing House Adventverlag. This article was printed December 17, 2009.