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The Essence of Adventism

What is the Seventh-day Adventist Church mostly about? Is it prophecy? Church policy? The Sabbath? The Second Coming? Missions? Education? When you think about your church–the one you attend—how would you answer this question? What are they (you) mostly about? If you have a hard time answering this, imagine how difficult it is for someone who isn’t on the inside—our neighbors and fellow citizens. Perhaps they’re wondering, “What are those people about?”

Let me rephrase the question a bit. As you look around and observe, listen and interact with others, what is the essence of Adventism today? This is important because what if the essence of who we are isn’t in sync with scripture? What if the essence of Adventism is focused on the wrong thing.

One time I had a conference president tell me about a church that had to be disbanded because their identity became so unbalanced. The local leadership of the church focused almost exclusively on diet. In their view, following a strict diet was the pathway to holiness. As a member of that church, if you were not a vegetarian, you were definitely in the lower tier of spiritual wellness and someone who needed help. Those who aspired to serve as church leaders needed to be vegan. However, elders, because of their elevated status, were expected to take it a notch higher and go raw. Members who ate uncooked food had supposedly reached the highest level of spiritual attainment.

Imagine the damage this may have done to the Adventist reputation in that community.

What Are We Defined By?

In my view, the essence of Adventism should not be our doctrines or lifestyle—these are beliefs and outcomes, contributing factors to who we are—but not intended to be the essence. Some churches are defined by their adherence to the writings of Ellen White.

Years ago I attended a church as a visitor, where at the potluck a man sat down across from me with several Ellen White books and said, “Let’s talk about Ellen White quotes.” He didn’t know me, yet these were his first few words. I am a fan of Ellen White and regularly read from her writings, which make it clear that her writings are to be viewed as a lesser light that points to the greater light of scripture. In that particular worship service and church, Ellen White’s writings were a prominent feature. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for them to put Ellen White’s name on their church sign.

Some churches are defined by their unique interpretations of certain doctrines—either conservative or liberal. The question always comes down to finding balance and being focused on the right thing.

Th following passage describes what our essence should be.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NLT).

If the essence of scripture is focused on treating others with compassion, then the essence of Adventism should be compassion. We pride ourselves on being “the people of the book (Bible).” So, it stands to reason that if the essence of the “book” is to treat others with compassion, then the essence of Adventism should be compassion

We should be known as the church that seriously loves people and treats them with mercy and grace, especially the difficult ones. It’s easy to be nice to people when they are agreeable and kind, but what about the difficult and hard-nosed ones?

Speaking of Ellen White, she said, “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tender-hearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one” (Testimonies to the Church, vol. 9 p. 189).

Our culture today is defined by division, partisan politics, and many other ideologies that bear the devil’s fingerprints. If we as Adventists allow any of these to define us, we have failed our mission.

Our Calling and Mission

Treating others with compassion when they have acted poorly is a tall order that can only be realized through discipline and grace. It is much easier to respond in ways that we think they deserve. When someone suffers the consequences of  ill-informed or “stupid” decisions, do we gloat and say, “It serves them right,” or do we empathize with and pray for them?

The bar is set high and is clearly defined:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).

“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

A Cherished Dream

The word essence is pivotal. It is defined as “the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person.” * Jesus said the most significant aspect of everything taught in the law and the prophets (which was all of scripture when He said it) is to treat others as we want to be treated.

Matthew 25 underscores this by stating that the final judgment is determined, not by our adherence to church rules, doctrines, or lifestyle habits, but by how we have treated “the least of these.” It is determined by how we have treated each other and strangers.

Think about it. God wants to inhabit eternity with people who are safe to save! He’s not looking for squeaky clean behaviorists who are theoretically perfect but relationally brittle. He’s looking for people who have, by grace, translated their theology into biography and who know how to get along with others—especially with those who have different opinions, ideas, and attitudes.

I long for the day when the essence of Adventism is the essence of scripture—which is the good news that God isn’t going to treat us as we deserve! Actually, that’s just the first part. The second part of the good news is manifested when we will pay it forward by treating others—including our enemies, not as we think they deserve to be treated, but as we wish to be treated.

Then and only then can we present a message to the world that is congruent and believable.

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About Rich DuBose

Rich DuBose

writes from Northern California

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