The SDA claim to be the remnant church is not as unique as some people would like to make it out to be. Anyone who has studied the reformation knows that every denomination that popped up did so because its adherents believed they had discovered truth the other churches were rejecting. One of the goals of the reformers was to return to New Testament Christianity and get as far from the traditions of Catholicism as possible. However, not everyone agreed on how far they were meant to go. After a time, some protestants began attacking other protestants for not going far enough in their journey out of the Catholic church. Some changes had been made, but the journey from tradition and back to the New Testament was far from over. As such, many of these protestants who longed to go back to New Testament Christianity separated from the established churches and attempted to win the members of those churches to their cause. The result was intense persecution.
The Anabaptist's were persecuted severely for believing infant baptism was unbiblical. Protestants and Catholics alike persecuted them and the favorite method for killing an Anabaptist was by drowning them. Martin Luther, the father of the reformation, practically hated a fellow reformer named Ulrich Zwingli all because Zwingli believed the Lords Supper was symbolic (a view Luther rejected). After a debate on the issue, Luther refused to shake Zwinglis hand and has even been quoted saying he would rather drink blood with a papist than wine with a Zwinglian. The Puritans thought it was their calling to purify the church of England. When some became disillusioned with this they separated from the church altogether. The Baptist church itself has its beginning as a separatist movement. Why did they separate? Because the established churches were teaching falsehood. They had separated from Rome, but not enough. These later reformers felt that the journey out of the Catholic church was far from over, and as they took the next step in the direction toward New Testament Christianity they found it necessary to separate from those who had no interest in going forward. Does this make them arrogant? And what about the Arminian/Calvinist wars? John Wesley's own Methodist movement was divided by this controversy and he was at constant odds with the Calvinists. Why? Because he believed their teachings were false and even considered Calvinism to be a despicable doctrine. John Whitfield on the other hand stood for Calvinism and vehemently opposed Wesley. The Lutheran church was, at one point, even engaged in a controversy over whether non-Lutherans could be considered fellow Christians due to their theological differences and one theologian even taught that non-Lutherans could not be saved.
In contrast, the SDA church does not claim to be the only church in which Gods spirit dwells. It does not claim that non-SDA’s are false Christians or that they will not be saved. Neither does it claim that non-SDA's don't know anything. The SDA church affirms that God's people are everywhere and in every denomination. By "remnant church" the SDA church teaches that it carries God's last day message to this world and that it is his visible remnant church. Some would respond saying that this is nothing but denominational arrogance, however, if that were the case then every denomination would be guilty of arrogance. While the controversies among protestants are not as strong as they used to be they are certainly still around. I have seen Calvinists attacking John Wesley and accusing him of being a heathen to his dying day. I have seen Methodists "exposing" the heresies of John Calvin. I have seen arguments against the Baptist concept of "once saved always saved" that border on insulting and even a website "exposing" the Baptist church. While none of these denominations have an official doctrine of being Gods true church none of them claim to be a false church. Because theological pluralism is un-biblical every denomination then, whether actively or passively, claims to be the true church. For the SDA church to claim actively what every other church claims passively is not arrogance, it is conviction.
In addition, SDA's affirm, support, and embrace all denominations. We read, quote, share and even sell books written by a variety of non-Adventist authors. As an SDA many of my favorite preachers are not even Adventist but evangelical (Billy Graham, Francis Chan, Greg Laurie, Kyle Idleman, Ravi Zacharias, and Louie Gigglio). While I do not agree with everything they say, I still value their authentic spirituality and wisdom. Were the SDA church a narcissistic elitist organization that viewed itself as superior to other denominations any outside influence, especially from theologians, would be rejected. However, the opposite is true. As a student of theology at Southern Adventist University I can attest to the large amount of non-SDA materials we use in our studies.
So then, why does the SDA church consider itself the remnant? First of all, the purpose of the remnant is not to be an exclusivistic organization of elite Christians that alone comprise Gods church but to be the church which proclaims Gods special message to His people and the world in the last days. Like the reformers of every age, the SDA church believes that it has, by the grace of God, gone further in the journey out of tradition and back toward New Testament Christianity than have the other established churches. We uphold these differences, not from a unique Bible as do the Jehovahs Witnesses, or from a modern prophet as do the Mormons, but from sola-scriptura. If believing we have gone further in the journey out of Rome and toward the New Testament, or that we have truth that other churches do not have, makes us arrogant then I suppose we belong to a long line of other narcissists known as Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, Calvin, Arminus, Wesley and countless others who felt the same exact way about their movements. Second, it is important to remember that being Adventist does not make you remnant. The true and final remnant will not be seen until the very end of time when decisions for or against Christ have been finalized, but the SDA church affirms that in a time of widespread apostasy within Christendom it has, as a movement and visible organization, been entrusted with the remnant message. It is the visible remnant.[i]
So is the SDA church arrogant for considering itself the remnant? Not at all. We are, as an organization, the visible remnant whom God has lead further out of Rome than other denominations have been willing to go and he has therefore entrusted us with inviting everyone out of the falsehoods of medieval tradition and back to the Bible. However, even then "[w]e 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."[ii] And yet, we boldly and humbly maintain that the Lord has given us treasure that had been buried under the layers of the first century Gnostics, the theologians who mixed Plato and Aristotle with theology, and the many years of papal supremacy. Our story is New Testament. Our heart beat is Jesus. And our message is faithfulness to God before man.
At the end of the day, whether visible or invisible remnant, being part of a remnant is really nothing to boast about. Do you know what a remnant is? Its a left over. Its the pizza crust that's left over after I stuffed my face with the pie. Its the toothpaste that remains in the tube after you have used as much as you could. It's the crumbs that are left behind after the cookie has been swallowed. That's what a remnant is. Its the forgotten stuff that is left over. And while it is a privilege to be a part of that, it certainly is nothing to gloat about.
The Uniqueness of Adventism and Why We Should be Proud of It
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?
[i] Ellen White used the terms "church militant" to describe the visible remnant, and "church triumphant" to describe the invisible remnant. The concept of visible versus invisible church were not unique to Ellen or the SDA movement. They were originally proposed by Luther, Zwingli and Calvin as well.
[ii] Torres, Marcos. http://www.jesusadventismandi.com/2013/11/the-uniqueness-of-adventism-and-why-we.html
* Adapted from: Maxwell, Mervin C. Tell it to the World, chapter 15, "What Adventists Owe Other Christians"
Note: This post contains unquoted excerpts from the article REclaiming Adventism. To see the original article click here.