Why are you an Adventist?” I ask my family and friends who are progressive or liberal SDAs.
I give them the “progressive” label because of their undying fidelity to the Sabbath even when they reject the legalisms of their doctrines of diet and sabbath keeping. Also because they have no more attachment to Ellen White than Christian pop vocalist Amy Grant. SDA prophecies about the last days? “Whatever”....they will shrug smugly. “Most Adventists don’t believe that other stuff anymore,” they claim defensively.
“Then become Messianic Jew or Seventh-day Baptist or some other mainstream church you agree with and who offer Sabbath services? Even better, come to Saturday mass with me at my Catholic church?”
They become uneasy at my question.
“No, I’m not going to change churches. I’m okay being SDA because it really doesn’t matter what sabbatarian church you go to as long as you love Jesus.” And that statement really means: It’s not just the Sabbath doctrine that is important to me. Because if it was just about Sabbath, they would easily slide into a different church that aligns more with what they believe.
Liberal Adventists are comfortable with their unique lifestyle and aren’t going to change churches even if other denominations do hold Sabbath services. It simply comes down, for them, to the SDA people. Most Adventists will stay in the pew no matter how much they disagree with some of their church’s teaching because they like their family and friends.
Many of the more liberal Adventists don’t want to be pinned down with doctrinal structure. They don’t think doctrines are as important as people. And frankly I think some confuse doctrines with people. Let me back up and explain:
In a general sense, Christians today perceive doctrines as sterile statements of belief. Okay, they will admit to a few vital essentials--like the progressive SDA who picks the Sabbath issue and sticks with it. But other than the bare essentials, American Christians embrace that deep, philosophical theory of KISS and wear it as a badge of humble, spiritual sincerity. Or they give up, confused, and assume that truth is unknowable.
Therefore, since the importance of doctrine has been minimized, Christians look to people to fill that theological vacuum. Holiness by means of obedience to God’s truth (expressed in doctrines) has been replaced by righteousness via niceness. You discover a nice Christian leader? Well, he’s got to be right. He couldn’t possibly lead you astray.
So Christians rest comfortably in the bosom of “nice” leaders. However, there is a problem with nice people. Affable, unpretentious, enjoyable preachers who satisfy our inspirational and entertainment needs... could be wrong--dangerously wrong. Nice and right aren’t synonymous. So a sweet, affable shepherd is substituted for one who teaches correct doctrine.
When I point out to an Adventist that the Investigative Judgement isn’t biblical nor been taught by historic Christianity, they will look at me like I just hit their warm and compassionate pastor and they respond “... but Adventists are so kind” as if the two are linked in some way. I am constantly being accused of being critical of Adventists when I refute their sabbatarian doctrine!
And this is true for many Christians today. Nice has become our litmus test for truth. Nothing else seems to matter. Good-natured, pleasant, well-meaning and likable people somehow equal good people. Nice is the new righteousness.
The dilemma is that almost ALL people are nice. Bad people don’t know they are bad, they see themselves as humble, kind-hearted understanding and often they ARE! Nobody sees themselves as wearing the black hat and they go about in life acting in a way in which people cannot see their thoroughly evil doctrines that produce a life of sin.
These people didn’t begin with the intent of leading people astray. Their intent was benevolent and sincere. But without true doctrine, we each believe we can create our own doctrine and often that nullifies God’s truths. And the people falling for it are sometimes even more caring and more sincere, more zealous than those who rigidly and even coldly remain within true doctrine. Nice is not rigid like truth. Nice is like a loose gas that expands to fit any space.
People assume true godliness looks, sounds and feels unassuming, neighborly, hospitable, attentive, modest, tolerant or nonjudgemental. The insidious notion that we can trust nice leaders completely ignores scripture and history. Anything, the worst of human atrocities can be spun by clever propaganda to appear big-hearted, benign. And those doing the manipulating the propaganda sincerely believe what they are doing. They think they are being honorable and heroic.
And even if they air their sins openly, they are so personable, mild and meek and sympathetic, so friendly that everyone thinks they must not be such a bad guy. When in reality--a reality based upon the laws of God--they are living in open defiance of God’s commandments and are acting wickedly. They may have the appearance of being good, these people feel lamb-like, think polite thoughts, but they have no business shepherding God’s flock. They are false shepherds.
Reviewing the 2,000 year history of Christianity, I will make a bold statement. All the wolves in sheep clothing, all the arch-heretics of all time were nice. No one follows a jerk. It is the gracious and friendly charismatic charmer that wins hearts and leads people down the wide path to destruction. Spiritual wolves think they are good shepherds. They are as self-deluded as their followers. They are the blind leading the blind and they are utterly unaware that they are blind. False shepherds, very gently and with what they believe to be sincere love, enthusiastically drive their flock off a cliff. They wear a white hat. They project a born-again relationship with Christ, they claim sola scriptura and a deep understanding of the Bible. They often have Ph.Ds in some Biblical studies or theology. They talk the talk. They are agreeable, congenial and people follow and look the other way at their idiosyncrasies that may not match with what our Lord, Jesus Christ as well St. Paul demands of a true shepherd.
I can still see many of your wide-eyed, credulous response:
“But they are pleasant, amiable, soooo nice!”
And to many that is all that counts.
Now let us broaden it to a people group and return to our SDA friends. Because Adventists are so deferential, docile, kind, industrious, helpful--it is assumed that this alone makes them safe to reside within its culture. Progressive Adventists cannot see past people to doctrine. They don’t even know why one would need to do such a thing. Doctrine just isn’t a top priority. Nice people trumps true doctrine.
Did you know that the word “nice” isn’t found in the KJV, ASV, ESV, RSV, NRSV nor the NIV. The only place I could find it in the NAS version is in Jeremiah 12: 6 and it is a warning:
For even your brothers and the household of your father, Even they have dealt treacherously with you, Even they have cried aloud after you. Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you.
We are people who naturally close our eyes and our hearts to difficult truths. But our Lord was very clear that we must worship in both spirit and truth. And truths found in doctrine spoken in love, may make us seem... not nice.