April 13, 2011

The Remnant, the Truth, and Other Uncomfortable Topics

Kim Justinen, illustrator
As Seventh-day Adventists, do we still consider ourselves as a unique people with a unique message for the world today? Are we still the remnant people of Bible prophecy? Does the idea of “remnancy” smack of exclusivism or sectarianism? What about the three angels’ messages—do these still matter?
I wanted to understand how my Sabbath school class members felt about these rather “embarrassing” questions. The answers that came back were very insightful in terms of understanding how many contemporary Seventh-day Adventists view themselves or, rather, how they want to be viewed by others.
Love and Doctrine: Mutually Exclusive?
 “I think the most important thing is love,” a class member said. “I mean, we Adventists are not doing well in loving our brothers and sisters. Often we act as though a brother (in Christ) is someone to fight with rather than someone to love!”
Fair enough, I thought. But then I realized that it has become an almost rehearsed response from postmodern Adventists: “The most important thing is love.”
Why should a question about our biblical doctrines or the three angels’ messages immediately prompt a counterresponse about love? Are love and the truth of the three angels’ messages mutually exclusive?
2011 1510 page14The speaker continued, commenting on the concept of a remnant church. “When I was brought up in the church in the fifties I knew myself to be an Adventist first and a Christian second. But I now think I am Christian first and an Adventist second.” Again, I thought, Is being an Adventist different from being a Christian? I would be disappointed if the answer is yes.
As I thought about these questions I recalled a conversation with one Adventist minister who said, “I no longer worry about preaching the ‘truth’ [it’s amazing how many Adventists now talk about the “truth” in quotation marks!]—I only preach the gospel, period!” That made me wonder: Since when did the gospel become different from the truths or doctrines we hold?
Christ the Foundation
Christ is the foundation of every doctrine we hold, whether it is the Sabbath, the state of the dead, health practices, or the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.
A doctrine is a window into the heart of God or a way of looking at God. Our challenge then is to know and teach the truth in a Christlike and loving way. As such, when one teaches or preaches any of those truths in a Christ-centered way, they are preaching the gospel. Furthermore, a good Bible student should be able to preach the gospel even from a seemingly dull Bible book such as Leviticus. These types of books may have different approaches, but they all contain the gospel.
The “Cringe Factor”
I have come to realize that the current embarrassment with the truth among Adventists stems from a desire to disassociate ourselves from those who have misrepresented the church and what it teaches—through either a fanatical interpretation or pharisaic practice of the fundamental tenets of our faith.
It would be very embarrassing to bring a friend to church one Sabbath and learn that the main point of the sermon focused on the evils of drinking tea. It would be equally embarrassing if the preacher stated that anyone who takes a shower on Sabbath is breaking God’s law. But could it be that in an effort to make a statement against such fanatical tendencies we overreact? Could it be that we sometimes apologize for or tone down our fundamental beliefs (especially the more distinct doctrines) in such a way that we make it appear as if these truths or doctrines are mutually exclusive from the gospel?
Walking in the Truth
While the “universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, . . . in the last days . . . a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”* (See Rev. 12:17.)
Certainly God has commissioned us as Seventh-day Adventists to fulfill this mission. We should be grateful for this honor and privilege, and not be embarrassed by it.
The teachings that God has revealed through His Word should be a cause for rejoicing, not a source of shame. Jesus expressed His delight when His disciples began to understand the truths He was sharing with them. He prayed, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21, KJV). And the apostle John wrote: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
When we, by God’s grace, walk in the truth, our joy will know no limits. It is this joy that will make our witness effective, because it will make the truth attractive, with no cause for embarrassment.
Being a part of the remnant does not mean that we are better than others. But it does mean that God has given us a special end-time message to share with everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike. We should rejoice in this, as this message is truly filled with good news! Let’s walk in this truth, and let’s share it in love.
* Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), p. 152.
Fred Chileshe completed graduate studies in theology and ministry at Avondale College, and now serves at the Erina church in New South Wales, Australia. This article was published April 14, 2011.