I have this pinned to the top of my Twitter page to remind myself of how I ought to (or rather, not) relate with others when it comes to outreach. The truth is, our church historically hasn’t been very good at living up to this ideal. As a case in point, I got a message recently from someone close to me who is a Baptist. It is being shared with permission:
I wanted to ask you an honest and legit question about Seventh-day Adventists. A coworker of mine is also Adventist. She is one of the nicer ones I’ve talked to. A few years back, I met another one when we went door knocking to promote our VBS. We knocked on the door of this lady who started off nice until she heard our name. Then she flipped out and in other words said, that her religion was the only true religion and that if she ever allowed her kid to go to another church denomination, the last one would be Baptist. I didn’t think much of it then.
Well fast forward to this co-worker, whom I would never have even thought was a believer AT ALL. The way she speaks, I legit thought she was an Atheist until recently when I was talking about our church’s missionary conference and how awesome it was. She mentioned she was Adventist.
Since working with her, I’ve known she was a vegetarian; she eats super healthy and is very passionate about health. Which is why I began talking to her in the first place because I enjoy taking care of my body and want to improve my health as much as possible. However, I would never have guessed she was a believer of any kind because a lot of the stuff she says and doesn’t speak like someone that believes in God or anything.
Ever since she said that, I’ve been reading up on Adventists and why the religion feels like it stands up above the rest (and yes, I know the same can be said about any religion) but I have been following your blogs and I guess I don’t get it, and sometimes the things I see posted, sound almost anti-Christian (not posted by you directly). So, I was trying to figure out a way of asking you without sounding offensive or puffed up, but, what exactly it is that Adventist believe?
If you’re an Adventist, the image she’s gotten from our church should break your heart. The main reason for this, as I told her, is because we have developed and cultivated an unhealthy and exclusive view of the remnant.
My friend, Rodlie Ortiz calls it an “isolationist perspective. Where we keep the law and hunker down till the end. Officially, this is not said, but many local churches behave like this.”
Over the years, we’ve created a culture that essentially says correct knowledge/doctrine is the true identifying mark of the remnant. Full disclosure, I surprisingly came to find out recently that this is exactly what our pioneers believed and what we basically teach. It’s explicitly stated in our Wikipedia page under the three angels’ messages:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has traditionally believed that it is the remnant church of Bible prophecy, and that its mission is to proclaim the three angels’ messages which it used in its signs and logos.
If Wikipedia isn’t considered legit, this is what our church manual says:
“In accordance with God’s uniform dealing with mankind, warning them of coming events that will vitally affect their destiny, He has sent forth a proclamation of the approaching return of Christ. This preparatory message is symbolized by the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, and meets its fulfillment in the great Second Advent Movement today. This has brought forth the remnant, or Seventh-day Adventist Church, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual
I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that the identity of the remnant is invariably tied to the mission of the remnant. However, if these quotes are saying that being baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church itself exclusively grants members the title of the remnant, I fully disagree. If this idea is really the case, I’m aware that my perspective might place me at odds with our beliefs.
Yet, I’ve publicly disputed the idea that institutional righteousness is granted to any denomination, including Adventism:
After posting this, a friend of mine challenged me on my assumptions and suggested I study on this quote to make sure that I, as a Millennial, wasn’t just speaking out of a common Millennial tendency to be skeptical of institutions (which is true).
Ellen White on the Remnant
You may be surprised to hear that Ellen White repeatedly mentions that church membership doesn’t equal salvation. Therefore, it would make even less sense to believe that having your name on the membership roster at your local church equals belonging to the remnant.
It is a solemn statement that I make to the church, that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history, and would be as verily without God and without hope in the world as the common sinner.–ChS 41
Let church members bear in mind that the fact that their names are registered on the church books will not save them.– CCh 67.4
The original quote from my tweet was first found in her book Selected Messages, Volume 2, pg 380. Here is the immediate context leading up to what she says about the church in the last days:
God never forsakes people or individuals until they forsake Him. Outward opposition will not cause the faith of God’s people, who are keeping His commandments, to become dim. The neglect to bring purity and truth into practice will grieve the Spirit of God and weaken them because God is not in their midst to bless. Internal corruption will bring the denunciations of God upon this people as it did upon Jerusalem. Oh, let pleading voices, let earnest prayer be heard, that those who preach to others shall not themselves be castaways. My brethren, we know not what is before us, and our only safety is in following the Light of the world. God will work with us and for us if the sins which brought His wrath upon the old world, upon Sodom and Gomorrah and upon ancient Jerusalem, do not become our crime. 2SM 378.3
In other words, the lack of practical faith lived out in the lives of believers will be what leads to corruption, not necessarily “apostasy.” So, where we find the quote about the church not falling, she actually is referring to God’s global, invisible church:
Satan will work his miracles to deceive; he will set up his power as supreme. The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place. None but those who have been overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony will be found with the loyal and true, without spot or stain of sin, without guile in their mouths. We must be divested of our self-righteousness and arrayed in the righteousness of Christ. 2SM 380.2
Ellen White pulled no punches. If we think for a second that we can teach the idea that the future of our church institution is secured based on a misunderstanding of the remnant and a few misquoted Ellen White quotes, we’re in for a rude awakening.
Today a large part of those who compose our congregations are dead in trespasses and sins. They come and go like the door upon its hinges. For years they have complacently listened to the most solemn, soul-stirring truths, but they have not put them in practice. Therefore they are less and less sensible of the preciousness of truth. The stirring testimonies of reproof and warning do not arouse them to repentance. The sweetest melodies that come from God through human lips—justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ—do not call forth from them a response of love and gratitude. CCh 67.3
If this quote was written in her day, what would be the case for our churches today?
The three angels messages in Revelation 14, is a passage all about the mission and message of God’s remnant people against a system of belief identified as Babylon. As mentioned earlier, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that the identity of the remnant is invariably tied to the mission of the remnant. Yet, as is God’s dealing with his remnants in history past, this relationship is conditional.
Therefore, the remnant is the remnant only as it functions as the remnant.
If at any point, we individually and/or collectively stop living as the remnant church who have the faith founded on the “Everlasting Gospel,” we stop being the remnant. Plain and simple.
This remnant message extends beyond denominational lines. Think about it. If Babylon is a system of belief, it’s a mindset and can be found anywhere. The same is true of the remnant. Meaning that elements of Babylon and the remnant can, and do coexist within any church/denomination, even Adventism. Or as Jesus called it, the “wheat and the tares.”
Rodlie Ortiz and Shawn Brace, each quoting Ellen White, say that the purpose of the remnant is for the sake of others; their obedience serves a missiological purpose.
“God called Israel, and blessed and exalted them, not that by obedience to His law they alone might receive His favor and become the exclusive recipients of His blessings, but in order to reveal himself through them to all the inhabitants of the earth.” (PP 369)
“The Jewish people had been made the depositaries of sacred truth; but Pharisaism had made them the most exclusive, the most bigoted, of all the human race. Everything about the priests and rulers—their dress, customs, ceremonies, traditions—made them unfit to be the light of the world. They looked upon themselves, the Jewish nation, as the world. But Christ commissioned His disciples to proclaim a faith and worship that would have in it nothing of caste or country, a faith that would be adapted to all peoples, all nations, all classes of men” (DA 819).
British theologian Lesslie Newbigin noted that the remnant people are to be “bearers, not exclusive beneficiaries” of the blessing of God.
So, what then are some of the characteristics of God’s remnant church? Here are some general ideas summarized from a great article written a few years ago:
- Has Jesus and His atoning work as the primary focus of its faith.
- Encourages fellowship through baptism.
- Demonstrates transparency and true unity among its community of believers.
- Maintains an adaptable, mission-driven organizational structure.
- Lives out of the Priesthood of All Believers.
- Grounded in the totality of Scripture.
- Driven by liberty of conscience.
- Visible and active in its community.
In conclusion, I ask the question: has Adventism lost its remnant identity? It depends. We can’t lose something that wasn’t inherently ours to begin with. We must all be faithful and serve Jesus as best we can, knowing that in the end, God will hold us as accountable as the Jews in Jesus’ day for how our faith is lived out. May our institutional attachment to the claim of God’s exclusive remnant not turn into an idol too difficult to give up.
— PS- I know that this post might generate questions about my views on the remnant, Prophecy, Daniel and Revelation, etc. This Fall, Miami Temple is doing a series on Daniel and Revelation. We’ll be producing some material which I’m pretty excited about. Stay tuned!