Saturday, January 4, 2014

Adventists, Righteousness by Faith and Unity

As an Seventh-day Adventist, I was taught righteousness by faith growing up. Then when I married and compared my experience with my husband’s, something seemed wrong. His Adventist childhood was dark and scary. When I started
questioning other Adventists, I began to realize that I was the exception, not him. Most kids were raised to believe that they had to fulfill Ellen White’s moral and theological expectations in order to make you right with God and get to heaven. 

Therefore, I began looking into the actual SDA doctrine and discovered it did preach righteousness by sabbath-keeping. 

My parent’s grace-oriented spin on the SDA church had colored even the programming of all my years in the elementary, secondary and university Adventist school system. I knew what the church taught, but I had always seen everything through the eyes of grace and I guess I had just ignored Ellen’s more strident works-
righteousness writings as unenlightened white noise.

So, the subject of righteousness by faith became more important to me as I wrote our book, “It’s Okay Not to be a Seventh-day Adventist” even though works-righteousness hadn’t been my personal SDA experience.

But Adventists are not blatantly teaching works-righteousness now. While EGW’s writings are full of lists of things you don’t do to get to heaven, this new generation of SDA youth are not interested in theological technicalities. They are learning a new, improved Ellen-lite and if they are getting righteousness by faith and, as they insist, the other stuff is non-salvific, then hey, God bless ‘em their on the road to recovery!  

So, even though it is of monumental import, when I speak to Adventists I tend to bring up other issues first rather than righteousness by faith because frankly many of them truly understand it and those that don’t really think they do, so it seems more helpful to take another approach rather than argue that one. That is why I don’t get into the righteousness by faith argument with Adventists, which is often criticized by former SDAs.

For my conversations with Adventists, there are other issues that can break down walls of misunderstanding

between them and other mainstream Christians. Here is one:


The things that got to me personally, that hurt my conscience so badly that I left, had more to do with the SDA position on abortion, it’s distortion of history and it’s unbiblical doctrines.  But one more issue that I often do not discuss online but am making an effort to in the last couple of years is the issue of the SDA church distancing itself from other Christians. This lack of unity with and fear of other Christians was not only ignoring a command of Christ, it was eating us up (when I was SDA) as a people. We were so focused on preaching and teaching sabbath that we were not noticing that our families were falling apart.

Growing up in the 1970’s, my generation was a mess with drugs, sex, rock and roll. The SDA church didn’t speak out clearly on things that were destroying so many people I loved: pornography, drugs, rebelliousness, depression, confusion, divorce, abortion, sexual promiscuity. SDA youth were silently screaming for some adult to notice that they were miserable and even doing harm to themselves to get someone to help. Instead of acting to save their children SDA parents became passive victims with hand-wringing and glazed-over eyes and reverted into some catatonic paralysis assuming their children were the most target by the devil because they were the remnant. Or they would uncomfortably laugh and dismiss it as teenage drama. 

As long as kids were in church on Sabbath, no one was courageously saving them from pre-marital sex, drugs, misery, hopelessness....But even as a kid I knew that a church should do some saving, and what I saw was SDA kids crisis being ignored and their souls being sacrificed on the altar of SDA doctrine and culture.

And I didn’t accept it.  

As I read books by Focus on the Family and other Christian writers, I realized that we could use a huge dose of their wisdom. I wondered why our church couldn’t unify with other denominations on issues where we clearly taught the same doctrines? Yes, we had the sabbath truth, and we would go to martyrdom rather than worship on Sunday, but what about the ills plaguing our culture?

Something was wrong with this because the New Testament taught a “oneness” for Christians. Unity was a commandment of Christ just as other commandments, how did we explain tossing that one out just because we differed on the Sabbath.

Couldn’t we have joined with other Christians to combat the massive drug plague destroying our children? What about all the sexual abuse I knew about among SDA kids? What about divorce? Why didn’t we come together with other churches to have Marriage Encounters with them? When the Promise Keepers movement was popular, why couldn’t our church unify with that group instead of making a different group, calling ourselves Adventist Men (Amen)? 

And hey, while we are learning from them, we would be creating great opportunities for sharing the Sabbath truth!

Yet, we were made to fear them as potential deceivers. I blamed our elitism and fear on our inability to get help from other Christians. Oh, I knew that someday they would turn on us and
persecute us....but until that time, didn’t we want to be witnessing among them? Yet, we stayed aloof. At least the vast majority of us did. I knew the Religious Liberty arm of the SDA church would enter a “friend of the court” brief if a person’s religious liberty was threatened....but nothing to  embrace other Christians that was church-wide and substantial.

Over the years I yearned more and more for unity with my other brothers and sisters in Christ. What were we afraid of? It really puzzled me. Didn’t we trust God enough to go into the “world” of other Christians to love them? 

Then, it was brought up at the 2000 General Conference in Toronto. A person stood and asked if the doctrines of the SDA church could include other sabbatarian or other church groups as part of the “remnant” people spoken about in Revelation. It was debated on the floor and it was voted with a large majority that the SDA church’s doctrines would remain that we are the “sole remnant” people of God.

This shouldn’t have been so surprising to me, but it was a huge blow. I remember throwing myself down upon the ground arms outspread and crying out to God, weeping in repentance for my church. Inside, I knew we were not the sole remnant and the pride of saying such was keeping us from growing spiritually as a church and healing our family wounds. 

The SDA Church could never address the problems of the members, because she alone was the true remnant and that position kept her from seeking help from other churches. I knew that was a thoroughly unbiblical position. 

This wasn’t a new problem, this prideful exclusivity was a wickedness that formed the very basis of Adventism. And to see your church crumble before your eyes is a terrible thing for anyone to go through.

If the world was to know who the Christians were by their love one for another, then Adventism--the doctrines-- couldn’t be truly Christian, for we taught fear of other Christians. And love casts out fear.


Behind a great deal of my ministry to former Adventists is to gently show them the degree of separation they have had from the full Body of Christ and how evil it is that they have slandered and rejected God’s other children. It is truly a grave sin of pride that has crusted Adventists over and made them cynical, paranoid and suspicious of other Christians. 

What is so typical of this mindset is its inability to see themselves the way others see them. When confronted with their problems of pride, elitism and fear (as well as disobedience to God’s command of unity), all they can do is attack the messenger.

Those who expose their historical and biblical inaccuracies, those who remind them that it is they who teach other churches are the whore of Babylon and will come and persecute is they who are staying away and insisting upon disunity.... this reminder creates an even more entrenched victimhood
status in their minds. When a mirror is turned upon them, they cry foul and assume it is a great devil that would show them that they are not the sole remnant.

Yet, I do not give up on them. Adventists are victims, not of other Christians, but of themselves. While they are looking for a Sunday law, they will be ignoring and abandoning the true Christian persecution out there. And their children will continue to suffer and hurt without help.

Adventists we need you in the Christian fold. You need to be in the Christian fold. Do not be afraid. Unity is commanded by Christ, what are you waiting for?