I had just parked my car at a local shopping mall. Moments before hopping on the travelator I spotted my friend Jim. He was with someone I had not met.
“G’day, Jim,” I said cheerily.
“Hello, Steve. Great to see you!” he replied warmly. “This is my friend Barry. He’s with the Pentecostals,” Jim volunteered, putting his hand on Barry’s shoulder.
Now it seemed my turn to disclose my denominational affiliation. What should I say?
In the past, as a brand-new Christian, when asked what church I attended I used to say I was a Seventh-day Adventist. Before I completed the sentence I often recognized a look of unease on the face of individuals. Not that I was not proud of what I believed—it was just that the long title seemed to have the effect of downsizing the smile that had been there a moment before.
Later in my Christian journey I began to understand that Seventh-day Adventists are generally not well known. And what was understood, or misunderstood, about us was that we don’t believe in blood transfusions.
Then I modified my response by saying that I was Christian Seventh-day Adventist, only to realize that perhaps I was intimating that some Seventh-day Adventists are not Christians.
The next step in my attempt to get it right came when I presented myself as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, identifying the fact that my church belonged to the greater Christian community. For a time I became quite comfortable with that approach.
Then some years ago I had changed tactics, and when I saw Jim at the mall I was ready with a warm handshake, saying, “Hi, James, I’m a born-again Adventist.”
James’ broad smile widened even more, and the way he shook my hand told me that he enthusiastically accepted me as a fellow Christian.
As I have continued to brand myself as a born-again Christian I have discovered that doors of acceptance and understanding have opened, leading to some insightful and productive experiences during which I had the opportunity to share the gospel with others.
My wife, Judy, and I printed about 100 copies of a letter to our neighbors that we placed in their mailboxes during our morning walk with our border collie, Bug. The letter was an invitation to study the Bible together. We waited expectantly, praying that the Lord would move the hearts of the people on our street.
Judy took the first call, and the caller was a woman who asked one question: “What religion are you?”
When she learned we are Seventh-day Adventists, she hung up rather abruptly.
I answered the second inquiry and immediately began to engage the caller by asking if she was a Christian, and how long ago she became a follower of Jesus. We had quite a lengthy conversation, but I purposely stayed away from mentioning any religious affiliation.
Some say that not mentioning the name of our church means that we are embarrassed about who we are. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Some people see such a move as almost denying the faith, or at least not being honest with others. Some say that not mentioning the name of our church means that we are embarrassed about who we are. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ellen White gave some wise counsel in this area: “Do not wise generals keep their movements strictly secret, lest the enemy shall learn their plans, and work to counteract them?”1
“You need not feel that all the truth is to be spoken to unbelievers on any and every occasion. You should plan carefully what to say and what to leave unsaid. This is not practicing deception; it is to work as Paul worked. He says, ‘Being crafty, I caught you with guile [2 Cor. 12:16].’ You must vary your labor, and not have one way which you think must be followed at all times and in all places.”2
The “wise as serpents” approach may help open doors shut by the hand of prejudice. Working under the power and influence of the Spirit, God will help us to reach those who are open to genuine friendship.
The week following her call we met for the first time in our home. We got acquainted with each other, shared our journey about how we came to know Christ, and from that day on we have been exploring common truths that serve to strengthen our faith in God and in the Scriptures.
Our weekly group has now been going for four months, and during that time I felt impressed to take the “discovery” approach to the Bible. I shared with her how the Lord called me through an industrial accident that almost killed me more than 40 years ago. I told how I was in a hospital in a prone position for two months with a crush fracture in the lower lumbar region.
I told her that it was in the hospital that I felt the need for spiritual direction and that while I was there the Lord had spoken to me.
I related how I had been visited by two young Mormons, and how after six months of study I told them I couldn’t believe some of their teachings. I mentioned that I also studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses, only to find that many of their beliefs were unbiblical. I told her that I had also had studies with the Roman Catholic Church via a correspondence course. This method allowed her to accompany me on my search for Bible truth, illustrating the importance allowing the Scriptures to speak to us.
I stayed away from telling her that I was a member of the Adventist Church. If she had asked me, I would have told her; emphasizing that the idea of meeting together was not to share the teaching of my church per se, but rather our intention to search out truth from the Bible and compare these teachings with what was being taught in a range of Christian churches.
I didn’t want to dominate our time together, so I invited her to share from the Bible things she had learned from her personal study. I did not want her to think I was the “fount of all knowledge,” and I encouraged her to share what she had learned with us.
After about two months she mentioned in passing that she knew we were Seventh-day Adventists. She seemed to be learning that Adventists were good people, and she was happy to fellowship and learn from us and with us.
Imagine our joy when during our study together she made a comment that warmed our hearts. She told us that she trusted us. Then I knew that with God’s help she had gained confidence in us and that confidence had, over time, developed into trust.
About two weeks after our first meeting she brought her boarder with her, and this young man has been with us ever since. Then another two people joined us. What a joy it is to be together week to week with an open Bible teaching us God’s message of truth.
May the Lord help us to be vigilant and keenly aware of the opportunities the Spirit opens to us, and may He help us learn and develop the skills we need in our approach to help others along the road to the kingdom. n