The Advent hope is that the Lord is our Rock, a trustworthy and dependable sovereign who will establish His kingdom in His own time by His own hand without any human help. Yet there have always been Christians who imagined that God required their help to establish His kingdom in the here and now. So also today in the United States there is a powerful movement afoot steeped in the ethos that America is a Christian nation and must become even more overtly Christian through the exercise of political and spiritual power and authority. It borders on the blasphemous to think that religious and political leaders will establish something like the kingdom of God on earth. The movement was once referred to simply as “the Christian right.” More recently it has come to be known as Christian nationalism, as scholars have understood the goal to be a more overtly Christian America, in ways that marginalize those of other faiths.
A Biblical Perspective
Seventh-day Adventists know what it is like to be marginalized. We face systemic Sabbath discrimination both in the workplace and academia, with workers and students alike excluded because of Sabbath observance. Yet, because we share so many biblical values in common with other Christian believers, we are uniquely at risk of buying into the Christian nationalist agenda. After all, why shouldn’t the state preserve “traditional” marriage as between a man and a woman, or seek to prevent the slaughter of innocent preborn human life? Many see these as perfectly reasonable social goals deserving of political support and allegiance. Let’s take a step back and put our political and social values in a biblical perspective, shall we?
In Daniel’s vision of a great statue of chapter 2 with a head of gold representing the kingdom of Babylon and other metals representing subsequent kingdoms, a stone cut out without human hands destroyed all these human kingdoms, became a great mountain, and filled the earth. For Seventh-day Adventists the imagery of the rock takes on apocalyptic significance in the midst of political and social turmoil. This is the Advent hope itself—a different kind of kingdom, unlike the oppressive, violent institutions of human origin; a kingdom of God, where God’s people dwell securely with God.
This kingdom is elaborated in Jesus’ ministry, when the mother of “the sons of thunder,” the Jewish mother that she was, asked Jesus to favor her two sons to sit on either side of His throne. This mother wanted what many mothers want: an advantage for her sons. She expected Jesus as the Messiah to take His throne and rule all nations with a rod of iron. She wanted the kingdom of God. Jesus kindly rebuked her: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:25).
Lordship and authority—these are asserted by the Gentiles, and in all the human kingdoms to be destroyed by the stone cut out without human hands. These are not to be asserted by the church; they properly belong to God alone.
In Acts 1 a similar scene is played out, except this time the disciples ask for themselves, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (verse 6). What were they really asking? Do we finally get to sit at Your right and left hand and rule with You in Your kingdom? They were so steeped in the messianic imagining of a son of David who would expel the Romans the way the Maccabees expelled the Greeks that even after the cross, they didn’t really understand.
The Wrong Woman
“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (verse 7), Jesus answered. Determining the fate of empires and kingdoms and establishing the kingdom of God—these were matters for God’s authority. Jesus said, “But you shall receive” a different kind of power; not the authority to rule, but the power of the Holy Spirit. “And you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (verse 8). The only power God has ever delegated to the church is the power of the Holy Spirit. The authority to rule in His name? Nope, not a chance.
In fact, the Bible has a very profound symbol for what the church becomes when it obtains political power to sit astride the beast and hold the reins of government: “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5).
The symbol of a woman represents the church. In Revelation 12 the woman is portrayed as clothed in white, a symbol of purity and righteousness. But in Revelation 17 she is arrayed in royal colors, scarlet and purple, and she is “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (verse 6). She has become an intolerant, persecuting power because she now wields the power of the sword, and she’s not afraid to use it against dissenters.
Seventh-day Adventists have always been at our best when we are dissenters, countercultural. In our infancy we opposed slavery and aided the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape bondage. As we grew up, we advocated for temperance and supported the prohibition of alcohol, because we saw how men treated their wives and children when they were drunk. Later we were at the forefront of teaching people how to quit smoking. At our best we can never conform to the culture. The church must always call the community to a much higher moral and spiritual standard than government or law can achieve.
Yet today American Christianity has lost its way. It has come to indulge what Ellen White calls “this accusing spirit,” “the cold, critical, unforgiving spirit that characterizes Pharisaism.” She observed that this spirit leads the church to “resort to compulsion. Just as far as lies in their power they will force men to comply with their ideas of what is right. This is what . . . the church has done . . . whenever she has lost the grace of Christ. Finding herself destitute of the power of love, she has reached out for the strong arm of the state to enforce her dogmas and execute her decrees. . . . When the church begins to seek for the support of secular power, it is evident that she is devoid of the power of Christ—the constraint of divine love.”*
Seventh-day Adventists cannot afford to get bamboozled by the political aspirations of our Christian brothers and sisters. As a religious minority, we have never sought for power in this world. Instead, we “desire a better country, that is, an heavenly,” and we know that God has prepared for us a city (Heb. 11:16, KJV). We await the Advent of the stone cut out without human hands, which will smash to smithereens all of these human empires and create a kingdom that will never be destroyed, a place where the lion shall lie down with the lamb, and eat straw like the ox, and they will not hurt or destroy in all of God’s holy mountain. We will no longer be fighting over gun control, abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, prayer in school, cutting Social Security, or control over the Supreme Court.
Babylon is fallen because she made all nations . . . do something. She imposed her will upon the nations. The church becomes a harlot as she seeks and obtains political clout. She makes the nations drink the wine of the wrath of her fornication. Fornication describes an immoral, intimate relationship. Babylon becomes intimate with whom? With the nations; with the political establishment. Church and state have become intimate—symbolically, that is. And the fruit of this intimacy? All nations drink Babylon’s wine. Babylon’s intoxicating wine leads to the persecution of the saints until she becomes drunk with the blood of the saints. This is the warning of the second angel—that the mixture of church and state is deadly.
Ellen White observed that the spirit that leads the church to persecute follows the log/speck formula, accusing others of one’s own sins. For many years Adventists have been accused of being legalists. In fairness, no church is exempt from experiencing legalism. Yes, we have our own struggles with it, but not for the reason we stand accused of. We are accused of legalism because of our commitment to the Sabbath. But in the end, our accusers will seek to enforce their version of the Sabbath, and prove themselves to be the true legalists. For us Sabbath remains “a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), a rest in the grace and righteousness of Christ. Of all people, Adventists ought to know that law will neither save individuals or a nation. The gospel of Babylon is a gospel of law. It is an attempt to save the nation. Our task is to proclaim the grace of Christ, and to call all to return to the worship of the Creator in the hour of His judgment. Our hope is not in establishing the millennial kingdom of God as an earthly dominion, but in the Rock, a stone cut out without human hand that will grow into a mountain and fill the earth. Our hope is in the Rock.