What other church has a term like this one? Have you ever heard of non-Lutherans, non-Methodists, non-Presbyterians? Perhaps the only term comparable to non-Adventist is Gentile. Why do we cling so tightly to our Adventist name? Because we enjoy the sense of “us versus them”? Because we’re arrogant? Because we’re insecure?
Perhaps there’s a better reason. We take our name seriously because we take our calling seriously. One part of our name centers on the second advent of Jesus Christ; His visible, imminent return on the clouds of heaven. The other centers on the rediscovered truth of Sabbath rest; whose roots in creation, commandment, and Christ were stunningly severed by anti-Semitism in the early church.
Yet even as we celebrate the light God has given us, we also celebrate the light He’s given those before us. “Our responsibility,” wrote Ellen White in The Great Controversy, “is greater than was that of our ancestors. We are accountable for the light which they received, and which was handed down as an inheritance for us, and we are accountable also for the additional light which is now shining upon us from the Word of God.”1
Did you notice the attitude of one of the cofounders of our church toward other Christians (non-Adventists)? It isn’t us versus them; it’s us plus them. Thank God for those who journeyed before us in the light of His Word.
We should thank God for Luther, who rediscovered the single greatest truth of our faith: righteousness by faith in Christ alone. We should thank God for the German princes who protested (that’s where we get the term Protestant) the enforced religion of the Papacy, arguing that “in matters of conscience the majority has no power.”
We should thank God for John Calvin, who had the courage to give up everything—including his Roman Catholic faith and his career aspirations—to be a champion of the gospel at a time the Reformation most needed him. (During this period Jesuits infiltrated the Protestant faith to hinder its growth. On the surface Jesuits appeared humble and poor, but their aim was to advance papal supremacy. That Pope Francis is a Jesuit raises an intriguing question: Is he simply a humble, loving old man? Or does he have a deeper agenda?)
But wasn’t Calvin the one who preached predestination, the dizzying doctrine that our fate is predetermined by God? Yes, and we reject Calvin’s explanation of God’s sovereignty. But we can still honor Calvin for the good he did. Ellen White wrote: “His course as a public leader was not faultless, nor were his doctrines free from error. But he was instrumental in promulgating truths that were of special importance in his time.”2
We Adventists should thank God for every Christian who has brought the light of God’s Word to His children: the Waldenses, Huldrych Zwingli, John Wycliffe, Charles Wesley, John Huss, Roger Williams. Ellen White wrote: “The grand principle maintained by these Reformers . . . was the infallible authority of the Holy Scriptures as a rule of faith and practice.”3
In the 1800s a group of believers called Adventists stayed up at night studying God’s Word. They had come from other denominations; it wasn’t easy when Scripture contradicted the accepted teachings of the day: the immortality of the soul, eternal torment, Sunday sacredness, and a troubling new doctrine, the secret rapture.
These believers, too, were humbled by a misunderstanding of Scripture. Standing out on a rock, their faces turned toward the sky, they waited and waited for the return of Jesus. Devastated, most of the group gave up. But a small number returned to the rock of Scripture, determined to crack open its riches.
The most fundamental beliefs of our church—of every true believer—is, was, and always will be the Word of God and the Word made flesh, which “gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).