Adventism has lots in common with the evangelical world. We stand on the shoulders of the apostles and the great protestant reformers. We trace our doctrines and lifestyle practices to many of these champions of the faith. As a denomination we are indebted to the Seventh Day Baptists for teaching us the truth about the Sabbath. We owe our belief in sola scriptura to the Catholic theologian Wycliffe. We owe our understanding of justification by faith to the Catholic professor Martin Luther who became the founder of the Lutheran church. Sanctification by faith comes to us from the great reformer John Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterians and Congregationalists. We thank the Anabaptist's for leading the way in the doctrine of the believers baptism. We thank the Baptists for reclaiming the biblical concept of immersion as Gods only true method of baptism. We are indebted to the doctrine of perfection in love as taught by John Wesley, the father of the Methodists.* And the list goes on and on. Adventists certainly have lots in common with the denominations that surround them.
However, there is a growing tendency among Adventists to act as though being an Adventist is really no different to being a Baptist, Presbyterian, or non-denominational Christian. Perhaps this tendency is a response to the narcissistic attitude of many of our Adventist forefathers who treated all other denominations as inferior to their own and in extreme cases even demonized them. In that sense, I am glad that the pendulum is swinging to the other side. However, could it be that the pendulum is swinging too far? In other words, are we going from being an arrogant "we alone have the truth" church to an insignificant movement with no unique reason for its existence.
While I gladly reject the pride and narcissism that many Adventists embrace regarding their denomination, neither do I believe the Adventist church to be simply another church. We are unique. We are different. If that troubles you, allow me to give you a different perspective that may be of help. This church, united as it may be with the whole of Protestantism, is indisputably distinct. Not weird, but certainly different. Here are a few examples of how I, as a Seventh-day Adventist, consider myself to be different from all other denominations:
1. As a Seventh-day Adventist I do not believe that God will torture sinners in hell fire for all eternity. I believe God will bring justice and closure to the perpetrators of his law and that each person lost will receive a just punishment. God is not a sadist, a torture artists, or a pyromaniac. He is a loving and just God who will give eternal life to those who love him and eternal death to those who would rather die than be around him.
2. As a Seventh-day Adventist I do not believe that God created some people to be lost and burn in hell for ever and others to be saved and go to heaven. I believe everyone has a choice in where they want to spend eternity. God is not some arbitrary dictator who controls the universe like a psychopathic control freak. He gives us the freedom to chose and desires that all will come to repentance.
3. As a Seventh-day Adventist I do not believe that the dead go straight to heaven or hell. Instead, I believe that they cease to exist until the resurrection when everyone receives their just reward either for eternal life or death. While some would say this belief removes hope and comfort from many I do not apologize for it because that hope and comfort for some comes at the expense of sorrow and heart break for many others. In order for me to believe my grandmother is in heaven to comfort myself I must be willing to accept that my neighbors atheist teenage son who died of a drug overdose is currently in hell writhing in agony with no possibility of escape. Would it be nice to think my grandmother is in heaven? Sure. But not a the expense of my neighbors comfort. Thankfully, I don't have to make that choice because the Bible teaches that the dead are asleep and will be judged at the last day. No one is dancing in heaven right now and no one is suffering in hell either. As a Seventh-day Adventist I believe that.
4. As a Seventh-day Adventist I do not believe in human dualism which divides the body from the spirit and claims one is important and the other is not. Because we reject this common evangelical view Seventh-day Adventists tend to care for their physical health as much as their spiritual health. As a result we live an average of ten years more than our American counterparts. That's ten more years to tell people about Jesus and share our wisdom with our grandchildren.
5. As a Seventh-day Adventist I do not believe that every day is created equal but that God blessed, sanctified, and made holy the seventh day of the week Saturday which the Bible calls the Sabbath. It is a day of rest and recovery from the wild craziness of everyday life. While I am an every day Christian the Sabbath is a special day of rest that reminds me that I cannot create myself for God is my creator and I cannot redeem myself for God is my redeemer. I believe this day matters for God never blessed any other day besides the seventh day and those who keep it experience a wonderful blessing.
6. As a Seventh-day Adventist I can answer questions other denominations struggle to answer. For example, "You Christians have been saying that Jesus is coming back for over 2,000 years, why isn't he back yet?" No problem my friend! Allow me to give you a bible study on the 2300 day prophecy which culminated in 1844 marking the beginning of Christs final work on behalf of man. When he finishes that final work he will come. Or what about "You Christians are always talking about what Jesus did 2,000 years ago but that was forever ago. Is he doing anything relevant to my life today?" Sure! Allow me to give you a Bible study on the sanctuary system beginning with the Old Testament and moving on into the new. How about "I hate organized religion. Christianity has done nothing but cause pain and suffering. Just look at the crusades!" I agree entirely! Would you like a Bible study on the little horn power of Daniel and the Beast of Revelation? I think you will be surprised! "Why didn't God destroy the devil?" Great question! Allow me to give you a Bible study on the great controversy. "Church is full of hypocrites and that's why I don't go!" Really? Would you like a Bible study on the Investigative Judgment which teaches that God began his work of judgment on the church and will not judge the wicked until he is done judging his church? And so on and so forth.
7. The Seventh-day Adventist church is the only united church body that upholds the historicist method of interpreting Bible prophecy as taught by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Isaac Newton and many other protestant reformers. As such our prophetic narrative is unique and distinct from any other denomination. Therefore, while we are thankful for the teachings that we have learned and embraced from other denominations our eschatological uniqueness places a more urgent value on each of those teachings. One example is the rapture. Adventists do not believe that the church will be raptured just before the days of tribulation but that we will go through the tribulation. Many denominations teach that the church will be delivered from the final crisis through a "secret rapture." Such a teaching, found nowhere in scripture, is preparing myriads of believers for a great disappointment much like what the early Adventists (Millerites) experienced in 1844 when they thought Jesus was coming. After the disappointment many gave up their faith in Christ. Likewise, I believe that many who expect to be delivered from the final crisis will be so disappointed when they find themselves in the midst of it they will give up on their faith in order to escape the persecution. With such a terrible scenario ahead I have, as a Seventh-day Adventist, the unique mission to sound the alarm and help prepare as many as possible for what is coming. Some call this doom-and-gloom preaching but if it is, it is no different than Noah's warning of a flood, Jeremiah's warning of and invasion, and Jesus' warning of Jerusalem's destruction.
I could go on and on but I think I have made my point. Being an Adventist means something. We are not simply another denomination in the mix of all denominations. We are unique and we bear a powerful and distinct message to the world. I fear many Adventists are, as a backlash to the narcissism of their forefathers, attempting to erase any and all distinction between Adventism and other denominations. We want to be considered evangelical. We want to be part of the club. We want to be accepted. Please don't call us a cult any more, don't you see? We are just like you! No difference! And while we certainly are evangelical, while we certainly are a Bible believing, Jesus uplifting church we are indisputably different. To be an Adventist is to stand for an offensive, foolish, and unpopular message. But do you know what I have discovered? There are only four groups of people that generally hate Adventisms message: disgruntled Adventists, former Adventists, ultra-conservative evangelicals, and other Christians who simply misunderstand our message. But go out and share this message with the lost, the post-moderns, the "church haters" and sinners and you will find that our message carries healing in its wings. It is the story of Jesus as told by scripture. And I said before, "Is our God-story perfect? Do we have a flawless theology with no room for improvement? Not at all. We have much to discover. But I do believe, in the most politically incorrect way, that Adventism approximates the biblical story of Gods love, grace, and work for mankind in a much finer way than any other theological system around."**
Fellow Adventist, don't be ashamed of your message. Stand up and be proud. We don't have to apologize to anyone for our beliefs. They are awesome. They are satisfying. They are Bible. While we are not greater than any other church, no holier, no smarter, and certainly no better looking we have a message to preach that no one else is preaching. True, all of our doctrines (even the investigative judgment) can be found outside of our church in one form or another, but there is not a single united body of believers, not a single denomination or movement, that is preaching this message besides the Seventh-day Adventist church. The uniqueness of Adventism is nothing to be ashamed of. It is who we are. Being an Adventist is an invitation to be a part of something epic. I am a Seventh-day Adventist and I am proud of it. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. Embrace it or reject it. That's your choice. As for me, I'm all in.
How Adventists are Blessed by other Christians
Are Seventh-day Adventist's Christians?
Adventism and Narcissism
Why Am I Adventist?
Why do People Leave the SDA Church?
Another Look at Babylon
REclaiming Adventism (A Response to the Testimony of former Adventist Eliana Matthews)
The SDA Gospel is Legalistic - Isn't It?
* Adapted from: Maxwell, Mervin C. Tell it to the World, chapter 15, "What Adventists Owe Other Christians"
** From the blog Why Am I Adventist? by Torres, Marcos D.