Posts tagged Seventh-day Adventist
How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology (with Mike C. Manea)
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Transforming your church is not simply about changing its structure, methods and leadership mechanisms. If you want to truly transform your church, you have to go deeper into its story. Sadly, in Adventism, many local Adventist churches are plagued by unhealthy theological paradigms that affect its capacity to do mission. Some of these beliefs include perfectionism, how we understand the nature of sin and the law, distorted versions of the gospel and - a shockingly common one - the idea that the battle between good and evil can’t be won until a group of last day believers achieve sinless lives.

This last view is a common idea taught by a theological paradigm within the church known as Last Generation Theology. And until it is addressed and discarded, the vast majority of local Adventist churches will simply never thrive.

 

Want to explore a healthy, gospel centred approach to Adventist theology?

Check out these books!

 

But why? Why are these ideas so dangerous to the mission of the local Adventist church?

This week, I share a new interview with pastor Mike Cyprian Manea as we discuss the root of the problem and how a healthy, Biblical alternative is imperative if we want our churches to thrive.

This episode is fire, so don’t miss out!

Listen below.


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Is Your Adventism Beautiful?
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Jewelry.

It’s a word that ruffles lots of feathers in Adventism. Some Adventists believe you can’t possibly be Adventist if you wear it. Other Adventists believe there is nothing wrong with it. And others still take a functional approach that supports the use of jewelry (like watches, tie clips, wedding bands) while rejecting jewelry that only serves adornment purposes (like ties I guess?). But to be honest, I kind of don’t really care. In fact, the whole debate pretty much bores me. But there is an angle on the whole theme of adornment and jewelry that I never hear during these debates, and its the one that I happen to find really interesting.

In Isaiah 61:10 the Bible says,

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Now notice the imagery here. The text is saying that God adorns us like a bride adorns herself in jewels. Picture that for a moment. A bride getting herself ready for her wedding. She is careful to comb and braid her hair just right. Her skin is brushed to perfection. She hangs a necklace around her neck and earrings that match. The jewels themselves can’t be just any old jewel. They have to be just right - not so strong that they steal the show and not so weak that they look out of place. They have to compliment her eyes, her dress - even the shape of her jaw and the length of her neck. It’s a work of art intended to enhance her beauty and draw attention to her joy.

The Bible says that this is what God does for us. He adorns us. He clothes us in his promise of salvation, in a robe of his perfect life and love. The picture Isaiah is painting is clear. God isn’t interested in dragging us into a religion full of rules and weird standards. The exact opposite is happening. God courts us romantically and then, the day we embrace him, he adorns us in all the beauty heaven has to offer.

In other words, God wants us to be beautiful.

David put it best in Psalm 90:17 when he wrote, “let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us…”

In other words, its not simply that God adorns us with his grace and forgiveness. According to David he adorns us with himself. He is like a jewel that enhances our beauty and draws everyone’s attention to his heart. (Too bad this amazing point is often absent in our silly debates over jewelry.)

But it goes deeper than this. God is not simply an adornment upon you and me that others see when they interact with us. Instead, the Bible paints an even crazier picture. Notice what Isaiah says in chapter 62 verse 3.

You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us!

Did you catch that? Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us! Imagine God placing a crown on his head, or a royal ring upon his finger. That crown and that ring represent you and me. It’s not that God needs us to make himself more beautiful because he is the height of beauty. However, in some weird way I don’t fully understand God still describes his people as jewels he wears upon himself. I would suggest that because the great controversy is a battle over the character of God - is he good or not? - then the biblical picture of God wearing his people as jewelry has theodical significance. In other words, when we live beautiful lives we beautify God in the eyes of people who think he is ugly. Our lives are the jewels that catch their attention and enable them to see the true beauty of his heart.

Zechariah also captured a similar picture when he wrote, “The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” (Zech. 9:16) and speaking through the prophet Haggai, God said to Zerubabbel, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you…” (Haggai 2:23)

So let me ask again. Is your Adventism beautiful? Is your faith like a jewel that God would want to wear? Because buried beneath endless ping pong battles over whether jewelry is cool or not lies a narrative significantly more meaningful and important for us to ponder. I have never met a lost person who rejected church or Christians because they wore too much jewelry. But I’ll tell you what I have met - countless people who have turned away from God because supposed believers live lives that make God look ugly. Judgmental, arrogant, disconnected, sectarian, holier-than-thou, argumentative, critical, fault-finding, condemnatory, negative, obsessed with rules, traditions and mindless customs, tossed around by conspiracy theories and full of hatred toward those different from themselves. That’s the sort of stuff that makes God look ugly. Not your necklace or wedding band but your character.

So my question today is, is your Adventism beautiful? Is your life beautiful? Are you adorned with the character of Jesus? Are you kind, fun to be around, and encouraging? And on the flip-side, if you were a jewel would he put you on? Would your life be filled with care for the poor, the vulnerable and the lonely? Is it the kind of life that would make others say - “wow, God really is beautiful.”

The answer to these simple questions is the difference between a life of missional effectiveness and failure. So today I want to invite you, regardless of what your convictions on jewelry are - stop and think if you are adorned in the beauty of God and if, in turn, God would adorn himself with the beauty of you.


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5 Things I Love About Adventism
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One thing I do often (and by often I mean very often) is challenge the Seventh-day Adventist church - particularly in the West - to… well, to do better.

Whether I am calling our local church structures to be redesigned for mission, provoking our cultural quirks and questioning their utility, or disputing unhealthy theological frameworks that exist among us the message is fundamentally the same: we have to be better.

But this week, I decided I would pause the revolutionary broadcast to share 5 things I love about Adventism. So here goes:

  1. I love our theological trajectory. I could go on and on about this, but in short Adventism is a theological narrative that is not about Adventism and I love that. Instead, Adventism is a story about God, his heart and his love, centred and strung together in Jesus. But the best part about it is that our theological narrative is not set in stone but constantly unfolding and developing. Yes, there are those among us who would prefer a more stringent, creedal kind of Adventism but its just not in our DNA. As a result, we remain committed to scripture rather than a statement of beliefs. And that commitment, I believe, has enabled us to develop an understanding of the love of God no other theological system around can match. No, that’s not a very politically correct thing to say. But hey, I wouldn’t be an Adventist if I didn’t believe there was something eccentric about what we have to say.

  2. I love that we are Historicists. Historicism has been challenged for forever by people outside and inside of our church. Today, there is a whole new gang of voices repeating the century old attacks (with some new developments I must concur). And that’s fine, I mean, everyone is entitled to their own thing right? But for Adventism, Historicism is an apocalyptic interpretive method that has transcendent efficacy. Now, I don’t pretend that it’s a perfect method, that we have it all figured out, or that it can’t be misused (because it can and is). But Historicism provides us with a kind of sociological significance unmatched by alternative methods. For example, Historicism gives us a narrative that manifests the injustice of religio-political empire in a way that is not immediately self evident. This gives us a foundation to diverge from the collective pursuit of utopianism and the ever trending move toward social reform via church-state legislation. Instead, Historicism calls us to a kind of theological and ideological remonstrance on the one hand, and social preparation (as opposed to reformation) on the other. This approach is rooted in our view of human empire, which even when united with God’s kingdom ultimately self destructs as Daniel and Revelation so aptly reveal. It is also rooted in the denial of a coming golden age for humanity. Instead, Adventists see a coming catastrophe that cannot be averted by political manoeuvres. Our mission is therefore, to prepare the world for this climactic zero-hour in which the only righteous Kingdom will abdicate the throne of humanities global res publica. Sadly, other common interpretive methods of Daniel and Revelation point in the opposite direction by envisioning a coming era of righteous human dominion which in turn leads to political power grabbing in the name of righteousness. This, Adventists believe, is the precursor to a manifestation of religious intolerance and injustice of apocalyptic proportions.

    In addition, Historicism is the only prophetic interpretive method that unveils God in action throughout the entirety of human time. Even during the Dark Ages where it appears God took a vacation (as Morgan Freeman put it in the movie “Bruce Almighty”), Adventisms apocalyptic consciousness helps us understand his presence and movement even in the darkest pages of the church’s sordid story, including the chapters yet to unfold. It’s also cool that we are the only Historicist denomination left. Some people see that as a sign that we are the only idiots left in Christendom. I see it as a sign that we are the only anti-conformists left. Of course, at the end of the day my love for Historicism is rooted in the text and not in whether I think its neat or not, but explaining that will take more space than I allotted for this short post, so I’ll move on.

  3. I love our global structure. Despite all the challenges created by having an intercontinental and cross-cultural institution I honestly can’t think of anything better. Now some of my more post-modern, anti-institutionalist friends find this appalling. They wonder how someone as forward thinking as me can be so fond of our global structure. After all, all those super cool non-denom churches are as neat as they are because they keep all the tithe in house. Why can’t we do the same? My answer revolves around the pragmatic idea that while cynical anti-institutionalism has some value it falls flat when it comes to the practical needs of a global mission. The fact is, Adventism has a message that must go to the entire world. If you believe that, then you need an institution to facilitate that mission. Those who reject the institution are often only interested in reaching their immediate, local region. But Adventism doesn’t have a regional message, it has a global one - for every person on earth. So the bottom line is, we need a global structure. Now of course, I applaud the voices that say the institution needs reform. It definitely does! But that doesn’t mean we should abandon it. The fact remains that if we have a global message, we need a global presence and the level of organisation needed for that sort of thing demands an institution. And because I accept the premise that we have a global message, then I embrace our global structure as a needed tool to that end.

  4. I love our health message. Yeah, there’s always the annoying people who are like super gung-ho and fanatical and no one likes them. I get that. Even non-Christian vegan hippies have their weirdos who will chop your head off for daring to eat your sweet potato quinoa salad in a plastic container (HOW DARE YOU??). But despite this wacko-reality, the health message is one of the coolest things about Adventism. It’s rooted in the idea that human beings are holistic creatures whose spiritual, emotional and physical nature is intertwined like the rhythm, melody and harmony of a musical composition. When they flow well together, something beautiful happens both at the individual and collective level. Even other denominations have started to pick up on the value of a holistic approach to the human as opposed to the dualist approach that has governed classical theology and given birth not only to generations of Christians with little care for physical well being, but also to doctrines like eternal torment that have driven scepticism to the heights of influence it enjoys today.

  5. I love our potentiality. Because of Adventisms theological trajectory, its apocalyptic consciousness, global structure and holistic view of man I believe its future potential is beyond anything we have yet imagined. While our beliefs exist outside our church, they do so sporadically - here, there and everywhere. But in Adventism, each of these elements coalesce to form a movement and a story unheard of in the world. And the moment that we lock into that, get excited about it and refuse to allow tradition, fundamentalism and narcissism to get in the way of it that is the moment that we will sweep the world with something grand. Our potential is overwhelmingly exciting and I pray and hope for the day it is unveiled for the world to see.

What are some things you love about Adventism? Share your thoughts below!

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An Open Letter to the Pope: Sorry Dude, but Doctrine Matters

Note: I published this article in 2014 when the media was buzzing with recent protestant steps toward reuniting with the medieval church of Rome and bringing the reformation to an end. Today, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation I decided to re-share this post. It is just as relevant today as it was 3 years ago when I first wrote it. Enjoy!

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The religious world has been buzzing after Pope Francis appealed to the Pentecostal conference for unity among believers. For some, Pope Francis' words are exactly what they have been longing for. And no wonder! Ever since the early days of the reformation the followers of Jesus have been fragmented into ever increasing splinters. Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptist's, Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Adventists and the list goes on and on. As a matter of fact, these denominations represent only some of the larger bodies. But the reality is that Protestantism is broken into thousands of smaller components resulting in a plethora of beliefs all claiming allegiance to the Bible. For many years Christians have been clamoring for unity in Christ and decrying the walls that separate Protestants from Protestants and Protestants from Catholics. It is with no wonder then that Pope Francis' humble appeal for unity is received with enthusiasm and joy by many.

In his video to the Pentecostal Conference Pope Francis' used an illustration to clarify his appeal. He said:

The Holy Scripture speaks of when Joseph's brothers began to starve from hunger, they went to Egypt, to buy, so that they could eat. They went to buy. They had money. But they couldn't eat the money. But there they found something more than food, they found their brother. All of us have currency. The currency of our culture. The currency of our history. We have a lot of cultural riches, and religious riches. And we have diverse traditions. But we have to encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together like Joseph did. These tears will unite us. The tears of love.

I don't actually disagree with Pope Francis on this. I think it is absolutely imperative that Christians treat one another as brothers and sisters, with love, respect, and appreciation regardless of our theological differences. I agree with Pope Francis when he says, "[a]ll of us have currency.... [b]ut we have to encounter one another as brothers." However, here is where I draw the line:

Does Pope Francis define doctrine as currency?

He doesn't actually say so in this video and I refuse to put words in his mouth. However, he does come awfully close when he speaks of all of us having "religious riches." As a Seventh-day Adventist the greatest religious treasure that I have is our doctrine, or (as I prefer to put it, our God-story). While I am all for more unity, respect, compassion, and love among believers of different denominations I cannot sacrifice Adventisms God-story for the sake of unity. It is just way too beautiful to sell out.

Some may be wondering what I mean by that so here are some examples. Am I meant to sacrifice the beautiful message of the Sabbath, which celebrates Gods creation, redemption, and restoration of humanity, in order to be united with those who don't value the Sabbath? Am I to sacrifice the truth about Hell which shows us that God is not a sadist or torturer but is instead a loving and just Judge, for the sake of unity? Am I to surrender my commitment to Sola-Scriptura, and replace it with pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle whose works set the foundation for much of Catholic and Evangelical theology? I am all for unity, but not at such an expense.

But why is the God-story of Adventism so important to me? Two reasons. First of all, suppose you are married and your spouse is accused of committing a crime. Everyone in your family is out to get him/her and only you know the truth about your spouse. But to stand up for your spouse means that your will not be united with your family. What do you do? Do you tell the truth about your spouse? Or do you embrace the lies for the sake of unity? I don't know about you, but I choose the former.

Likewise, much of what is believed and taught about God is a lie. Am I supposed to embrace those lies so I can be united with those who believe them? Or am I supposed to stand up for the truth about God and tell others what he is really like? I don't know about you, but I chose the latter. I believe Adventisms God-story is the most accurate and beautiful picture of God from any other theological system around. And I will tell that story even if it means division.

The second reason why I believe the God-story of Adventism is so important is because your God-story ultimately determines your ability to love. We become what we behold. And if our God-story muddles the love of God you will be constantly beholding a muddled picture of God which will result in a muddled concept of love. While I can appeal to the long history of Christianity for this, allow me instead to give you a few examples from my life and my own denomination that evidence this.

As a Seventh-day Adventist I have encountered many people who get it and many people who think they get it. By "it" I am referring to the truth. Those who get it are always balanced, loving, tender, and compassionate. They care about others and give of themselves unreservedly. But there are others who think they get it. These are often imbalanced, unloving, rigid, and more concerned with the "standards" than they are with souls. This group is often characterized by conspiracy theorizing, criticism, and legalism. But what is the difference between these two groups? Aren't they both Adventist? Yes. But they have a totally different picture of God. The former group is passionate about the gospel. They speak much of the love of Jesus, his tender mercy, his compassion, and his grace. They recognize their own daily need for mercy and forgiveness. They see God as caring, interested, and empathetic. They see him as an intimate friend in whom they can place all of their trust. The find rest in him and their hearts and minds are always filled with Jesus. Though far from perfect they always aim to be more like Jesus and reflect his perfect love for humanity. This is their picture of God and the more they behold it the more like him they become: kind, warmhearted, and merciful.

The latter group is passionate about the rules, the standards, and the law. They speak much of the sins of the church and how bad it is. They criticize church leadership as much as they change their underwear and they are fascinated with the negative, the pessimistic, and the controversial. They see God as strict, unbending, and rigid. They see him as one who demands holiness or else, and one whom is pleased with harsh obedience. They believe they must be sinlessly perfect in order to go to heaven and as such, they strive against sin and are always ready and eager to rebuke another. This is their picture of God and the more they behold it, faulty as it may be, the more like it they become: mean, critical, and unmerciful.

The same is true outside of Adventism. It has been in the past and will be in the future. All those who have the wrong picture of God will, in his name, and as the believers of old, justify all kinds of sin and atrocities in the name of Jesus. It was his picture of God that led Saul of Tarsus to persecute and murder Christians. It was their picture of God that led the medieval Christians to do likewise. It was a wrong picture of God that justified the Crusades and the Inquisition. It was a wrong picture of God that justified the Protestants as they drowned Anabaptists for no other reason than denying infant baptism. And it will be a wrong picture of God, a faulty God-story, a twisted doctrine, that will justify persecution again in the future.

It is because of this that I must say to the Pope:

Sorry dude, but doctrine matters.

It simply is not possible to love like Jesus if you have a broken doctrine. While there may be exceptions such is not the rule. Generally speaking the masses treat each other in a way that is consistent with their view of who God is and what he is like - a view they derive entirely from their doctrine. I know you never actually spoke of doctrine but you came awfully close. I also know that there are doctrines you yourself would never deny for the sake of unity. I cannot see you denying apostolic succession, Sunday sacredness, or transubstantiation for the sake of unity. Neither can I deny my faith as a Seventh-day Adventist for its sake. The Pentecostals may have accepted your call and many others may follow. But I must lovingly and humbly decline for I can never compromise the truth about who God is for the sake of unity.

Truth matters. Doctrine matters. The God-story matters. Not only must I tell the truth about who God is and what he is like, but doctrine is the brush that paints the picture of God. Use a bad brush, you get a bad picture like the one that says God will torture sinners in Hell throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Use a good brush and you will get a good picture like the one that says that while God is just and will punish the wicked he will not needlessly torture them for endless ages. Use a bad brush, you get a bad picture like the one that says that salvation comes by way of works. Use a good brush, you get a good picture like the one that says we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Doctrine is also the brush we use to indirectly paint our characters. Use a bad brush you get a bad character. Use a good brush you get a good character; one that strives to love like Jesus no matter the cost.

In conclusion, the popular concept of "let's just love another and forget about doctrine" may sound good on the surface, but the reality is:

It is a self contradicting mindset.

Doctrine and love cannot be polarized for they are intimately related and for that, dear Pope, I cannot and will not compromise.

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Pope Francis' Message to the Pentecostal Conference:

Note: It needs to be made clear that Pope Francis did not call for either compromise nor uniformity and neither did he call for unity in doctrine but for unity in love. Nevertheless, for Catholics and Protestants to move past their divisions, which are rooted in severe doctrinal variances, some level of doctrinal minimization will be necessary. It is this unavoidable consequence that I protest.

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In honor of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I would like to offer the following two eBooks free. They identify Adventism's place in the protest that Luther started and call us toward a deeper commitment to that protest which, in truth is not about us, but about God.

How the Church Failed Mo


Mo is a pretty cool dude. I don't say super cool because, after all, he is my brother and so pretty cool will have to do. (I'm sure such a "theorem" would be reciprocated by a hearty "my sentiments exactly" on his part.) Anyhow, the point is he's pretty cool.

Now Candice, my special lady, is awesome. This awesome lady of mine was clever enough to plot a secret reunion between my pretty cool brother and my pretty cool self. She said it was a surprise to celebrate my recent liberation from the tyranny of biblical languages (I just recently finished my last ancient Greek class), but I'm sure having my mother in town for a visit had more to do with it. 

Now onto my main point. Mo and I were raised Seventh-day Adventists all of our life. At the age of 17 I decided to follow Jesus. Mo went a different direction and has stuck to it ever since. For many years I have wondered why he walked away from the faith of his youth. Being highly intelligent, scientific, and analytical would have been a challenge for him especially when my father rejected his scientific explanation of where the wind came from and instead insisted, very dogmatically of course, that God had a room in heaven with wind trapped inside. Whenever he wanted the wind to blow he would open the door. Whenever he wanted it to not blow he would shut it. Though I have no proof of this, I wonder if Mo's brilliant mind wrestled with such an irrational concept thus planting the seed for a growing discontent with Christianity. 

Regardless of what reason (or perhaps reasons) led Mo out of the church one thing is certain: his experience was, to be quite generous, bitter. You see, Mo and I share a craving for authenticity that we acquired from our culture. We want answers, not cliches. We want truth, not opinion. We want a faith that is logical and rational - free from fanaticism, phobias, and unreasonable superstitions. We want Bible not dogma and traditions. We want relationship not religion. And most of all, we want honest and open dialogue not absurd, irrelevant, and simpleminded solutions. Authenticity. That is what we crave. And that is what the church failed to give.

You see, Mo grew up in a church culture that told him it was bad to go to the movie theater even though we could go to the elders house and watch mindless killing and gore. It was OK, was the message, so long as it is in a house. But don't go to the theater! Your angel wont follow you in there and if you die there you will go to hell. Irrational anyone? Mo grew up in a church that told his lady friends it was bad to wear pants to church, or anything too revealing for that matter, even though every Saturday night half of the members were glued to the infamous Sabado Gigante game-show with half naked women parading their curves on the TV screen for all the choir singers, elders, and deacons to enjoy. Hypocritical anyone? Mo grew up in a church where the leaders were only concerned with whether or not you were a good church member. Do you cry yourself to sleep at night because you are lonely and depressed? We don't care. Just make sure you don't let your hair grow too long and you have a tie on when you show up on Sabbath. Absurd anyone? Yes, Mo grew up in a church where the leaders spoke to you when you were in trouble and ignored you the rest of the time. A church that wanted to erase him from membership because he joined the Army even though not a single one of those involved in this proposition had ever sent him a letter of encouragement or called him to offer a prayer. A church where lack of biblical knowledge prompted an "Ellen White said" that was supposed to settle the issue once and for all. A church steeped in simple-mindedness, irrationality, and flat out extremism at times. For a mind craving authenticity, I conclude that the phonyness was simply too much to bear and the highways and by ways of the world, complete with their own set of phonyness, somehow seemed more fulfilling than the dictatorial corridors of his childhood faith.

This, I believe, is how the church failed Mo. This, I believe, is how it fails so many of its youth. It is not because it lacks entertainment. It is because it lacks authenticity. It is not because it lacks programs. It is because it lacks relationships. It is not because it lacks answers. It is because it lacks questions and somehow marginalizes those who seem to have many of them. Yet over the years I have come to shed many of the absurd and nonsensical standards of my upbringing and have come to discover a simpler yet infinitely more complex relationship with God. With all of the cultural baggage that my traditional Hispanic culture brought to Christianity gone I can now see Jesus and his love much clearer than ever before. I no longer believe that a true Christian is only the one who fits into my brand of Christianity. I have met wonderful Christians who are covered in tattoos, who enjoy the bouncy feel of dread locks, and who go to church without a tie on. I have experienced Hawaiians who worship God in Hula shirts and flip-flops. I have experienced theologians who enjoy sporting a fro-hawk. I have experienced Jesus among the real, the genuine, and the broken. I have experienced doubts and wrestled with them. I have come to realize that God, the multiplex deity of the cosmos, is paradoxically simple. He invites me to have a relationship with him and to let my life be an outflow of that relationship. As Jesus once said,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22: 37-39.
And as my friend Amir Davis once said, "Do the Ten. Love God. Love Men. Take care of your body. And live your life. That's all God requires of you." It really is that simple.

I wonder where Mo would be today if the church had focused on Jesus' words more than they focused on their own traditional discomforts? What if they had loved the culture instead of demonized it? What if they had shown us a God who cannot be caged, the wild lion of the heavens who cannot be controlled, and taught us to live on the edge with him? What if they had embraced questions? What if they had let go of the pretensions and gone on the journey of doubt, struggle, and pain? What if they stopped misusing Ellen White? What if they had forgotten the opinions of men and taught us to live by the Bible only? What if they had looked past the long haired guys, the braids, the jeans, and the baggy t-shirts and shown us the love of Jesus? And I don't mean shown it to us in a Bible study. I mean shown it to us with a life. I pray I wont have to keep wondering. I pray the era of the Mo's will come to an end. I pray we learn our lesson.

But that is not the only point of this article. I also want to take the opportunity to appeal to the Mo's of today. While the church has failed you, it is still within your reach to recognize that Christianity is extraterrestrial and as such it cannot be defined, contained, or limited by human culture. We may have messed it up, but you can look past our faults in the same way we should have looked past yours. While we may look at the church and find much to criticize we can find neither spot nor wrinkle in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I leave you with a challenge from Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias and it is this: "Look at Jesus and ask yourself the question, Can I find anything wrong with him?" The answer may just revolutionize your life.
Check Out My New Bible Class Series!
Pastor Marcos Torres at Livingston Church
This past year I had the privilege of teaching a series of Bible classes at the Livingston SDA church where I worked as an associate pastor. Now that the year has ended, the entire series of classes is available online for all to enjoy! 

To give the classes a listen go to www.livingstonsda.church/bible-classes

You can also find them on iTunes here or Soundcloud here.

Blessings!
George R. Knight: A Poignant Message to the GC on Women's Ordination Ahead of its Annual Council Meetings


I received a call from George Knight last night. The message was clear: "The time has come." Articles that George had presented in March were now seemingly being ignored. "I want to be clear," George told me, "These papers were not written as a response to what is happening, but as a forethought." 

In case you are unaware of the things that are transpiring in Silver Spring, MD, allow me to catch you up to date. There are currently Annual Council meetings taking place by a committee called GCDO which stands for General Conference and Division Officers. They are discussing something that has been very divisive and emotional recently in the Seventh-day Adventist Church:  Women's Ordination. During these meetings, it was proposed that they take action toward the Unions that have gone forward with ordaining women despite the GC vote against ordaining women in 2015. At one point it was suggested that there should be a takeover of the unions that aren't following the vote of the GC in session, which is held in very high regard. Out of these meetings a document arose called "The Unity Document". This is the basis for which the leaders in this meeting believe they should be making their decisions against the Unions.

It is unclear how far the suggestion to reprimand or take over those Unions has made it, but it is clear that many are concerned enough to start making public statements. One of those concerned is George Knight (Adventist author, historian, and professor emeritus at Andrews University). He was concerned before things progressed this far which is why he wrote these two papers and presented them in March to a select number of people that would be on this committee. Now he believes the time has come to share them with everyone in Adventism. Please take the time to be informed! These articles are extremely powerful although they are lengthy.

The less important of the two is entitled "The Anti-Organizational People"

While I use the term "less," I hesitate to give you that impression. This paper contains my favorite quote from all of my time in college that is in one of George's Adventist History books: 

[John] Loughborough then took the lead in discussing the dangers of a formal creed.

  • “The first step of apostasy,” he noted, “is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe.
  • “The second is, to make that creed a test of fellowship.
  • “The third is to try members by that creed.
  • “The fourth to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed.
  • “And, fifth, to commence persecution against such.”53

The second paper is entitled "The Role of Union Conferences in Relation to Higher Authorities."

Here is a short excerpt of the article to whet your appetite:

  • It is God through the Holy Spirit that calls pastors and equips them with spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:11). The church does not call a pastor.
  • Ordination as we know it is not a biblical concept, but one developed in the history of theearly church and, notes Ellen White, was eventually “greatly abused” and “unwarrantableimportance was attached to the act.”55
  • The laying on of hands, however, is a biblical concept and served in the Bible, we read in Acts of the Apostles, as a “public recognition” that God had already called the recipients. By that ceremony no power or qualification was added to the ordinands.56 Over time, the early church began to call the ceremony of laying on of hands an ordination service. But “the English word ‘ordination,’ to which we have become accustomed, derives not from any Greek word used in the New Testament, but from the Latin ordinare.”57
  • The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes God’s call of both males and females to the pastoral ministry by the laying on of hands. That is biblical. BUT it calls one ordination and the other commissioning. That is not biblical. Rather, it is merely a word game that apparently has medieval concepts of ordination at its root since there is certainly no grounding for it in either the Bible or Ellen White’s writings.

To read the full text of "The Role of Union Conferences in Relation to Higher Authorities" with a foreword added this morning by George click here.

-Keith Bowman, thehaystack,org
My Reaction to "Tell the World"


This past weekend I finally got the chance to see the new film "Tell the World" which tells the story of the Millerite movement and the birth of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Here are 3 quick thoughts about the film.

1) The movie was significantly better than I thought it would be. The cinematography was really well done as was the acting. This was the biggest surprise to me as I expected the acting to be atrocious. But it was actually really good! And the story was beautifully and accurately told. There were a few times in the film where I found myself crying, especially during the scenes of the great disappointment and the death of Ellen Whites sons. All in all, I really enjoyed the professionalism and quality of the entire project.

2) The story line was good, but could have been better. I felt that the first half of the movie was super interesting and the second half started to lose me a little bit. It wasn't bad at all, and still definitely fun to watch. But it felt as though the producers were trying to squeeze as much into the story as possible which kind of weakened the plot. The ending was also abrupt and a bit anti-climactic. I would have loved the film to have gone all the way to Ellen Whites final speech before the GC where she presented the Bible before the delegates and charged them to live by it. That would have been a really climactic and neat way to end the story. However, in order to pull that off the script writers would have had to skip some of the other developments of our history which they clearly wanted to get in there.

3) Overall, the film was fantastic. I ordered two copies so I could have one to own at home and one to lend out to anyone who was interested in our story. However, as a Millennial believer I do struggle to identify exactly what setting I would use this in. It certainly wont work as an evangelistic tool. The best I can see is it being a neat thing to hand out to someone who has just gotten baptized or who is thinking about baptism. But as an evangelistic/ outreach tool this will be, in my estimation, of no use with my postmodern/ millennial peers. For that audience I feel that a series like the Record Keeper, which the GC tanked, would have been much more effective. But I digress.

So there you have it! My thoughts on the film. I give it a 10 out of 10 in terms of quality, a 8 out of 10 in terms of plot, and a 5 out of 10 in evangelistic appeal. So if you haven't seen it, give it a watch and let me know what you think!
Ellen G. White and Conspiracy Narratives

I recently shared an article titled The End Times and Conspiracy Narratives. In it I shared some thoughts regarding the relationship between Christians in general and the ever increasing popularity of conspiracy narratives. In this post, I would like to focus more on Seventh-day Adventists and their relationship to conspiracy narratives/theories by sharing some thoughts from the life of church co-founder and prophetess Ellen G. White.

The first thing to point out is that Ellen White didn’t really deal with the issue of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories, while growing in her day, where not as widespread as they are today. However, she certainly lived in a time when indulgence in conspiracy theories was growing. The Illuminati and Free Masons were already on the scene, and strange narratives regarding their agenda, power, and political control were spreading. In an article in Publiceye.org titled “The Illuminati Freemason Conspiracy” the author states that “[t]he idea of a widespread freemason conspiracy originated in the late 1700's and flourished in the US in the 1800's.”[i] Nevertheless, Ellen White herself never engaged in such activity. 

For example, the Illuminati was founded in 1776, just fifty-one years before Ellen White was born. If knowledge of the Illuminati and their inner workings were necessary then apparently God didn’t see fit to tell Ellen White about it. In all of her writings there is not one syllable devoted to the Illuminati. The Free Masons were also born late in the 16th or early 17th century. During Ellen Whites day, Free Mason conspiracy theories abounded. Yet once again, Ellen Whites writings are void of such conspiracy theories.

Ellen White did talk about the Free Masons. Nevertheless, when dealing with the Free Masons it’s important to note what she said and what she didn’t say. Ellen White counseled, under Gods direction, that Christians stay away from the Free Mason society for practical and obvious reasons. She even worked personally with an Adventist who was involved in the fraternity and God gave her special knowledge of their inner workings in order to impress upon the mind of this man that he was indeed speaking through her. However, not only did Ellen White never go on to share the inside knowledge God gave her in any of her work, but even the reasons she gave in opposition to joining the fraternity were simply practical and void of any promulgation of conspiracy narratives.

So far we have seen that Ellen White, though certainly having had opportunities, never engaged in conspiracy theory talk. This should in and of itself cause those of us who value her prophetic example and are nevertheless fascinated with such things to wonder if perhaps we are wasting our time with pointless investigations. However, I would also like to point out some quotations from Ellen White (with personal comments in brackets) that give us principles to keep in mind when dealing with this issue.

“We need far less controversy [a characteristic of conspiracy theories], and far more presentation of Christ. Our Redeemer is the center of all our faith and hope” (EV, 172).

“Our work is not to make a raid on the Government but to prepare a people to stand in the great day of the Lord. The fewer attacks we make on authorities and powers, the more work will we do for God....[Conspiracy theories do exactly what we are told not to do in this quote] Do all in your power to reflect the light, but do not speak words that will irritate or provoke” (EV, 173).

“You should have a clear apprehension of the gospel. The religious life is not one of gloom and of sadness but of peace and joy coupled with Christlike dignity and holy solemnity [Those fascinated with conspiracy theories often exemplify a doom and gloom version of Christianity and not the peace and joy that should be had]. We are not encouraged by our Saviour to cherish doubts and fears and distressing forebodings; these bring no relief to the soul and should be rebuked rather than praised [Conspiracy theories nourish doubts, fears, and distressing forebodings. Rather than praise these things by our focus on them we should rebuke them by ignoring them]. We may have joy unspeakable and full of glory. Let us put away our indolence and study God’s Word more constantly” (EV, 180).

“I have been shown that it is the device of the enemy to divert men’s minds to some obscure or unimportant point, something that is not fully revealed or is not essential to salvation [a classic description of conspiracy theories]. This is made the absorbing theme, the “present truth,” when all the investigations and suppositions only serve to make matters more obscure and to confuse the minds of some who ought to be seeking for oneness through sanctification of the truth” (EV, 182).

“A noble, devoted, spiritual worker will see in the great testing truths that constitute the solemn message to be given to the world, sufficient reason for keeping all minor differences concealed, rather than to bring them forth to become subjects of contention. Let the mind dwell upon the great work of redemption, the soon coming of Christ, and the commandments of God; and it will be found that there is enough food for thought in these subjects to take up the entire attention [If we spent more time getting to know Jesus we wouldn’t have time for speculations. Conspiracy theorists often have much knowledge of many things but they are lacking in the preciousness of Jesus. Rather than allure they repel those around them]” (EV, 183).

“Satan is pleased when we magnify his power [This is the nature of conspiracy theories]. Why not talk of Jesus? Why not magnify His power and His love” (MHH, 43)?

While these statements may not be directly dealing with the issue of conspiracy theories I don’t see how one can engage in entertaining such things without violating the principles they advocate. With this in mind, it is clear that Ellen White did not see conspiracy theorizing as a necessary element of preparing for last day deceptions.

However, Ellen White is not our example – Jesus Christ is. In Jesus we find our pattern, one that focused on showing mercy, love, and empathy to the suffering and whom wasted no time engaging in such fruitless things as conspiracy narratives. Ellen White wrote,

Millions upon millions of human beings, in sickness and ignorance and sin, have never so much as heard of Christ’s love for them. If our condition and theirs were to be reversed, what would we want them to do for us? All this, so far as lies in our power, we are to do for them. Christ’s rule of life by which every one of us must stand or fall in the judgment is, “‘Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.’” Matthew 7:12[ii]

In conclusion I ask, what would you want a Christian to do for you if you were lost? Would you want him/her to share with you how the shirt you are wearing has masonic symbols, a DVD on how the Bush administration plotted 911, or how the music you like has satanic lyrics recorded backwards? Or would you like her to tell you of Jesus love for you? What would you want him to say? When your heart is bleeding, when your debt is overwhelming, when your marriage is ending, when your guilt is so strong its crushing you, sitting there in your living room with your world falling to pieces around you – what would you want to hear? I don’t know about you, but I would want to hear that there is a Savior who “regards with infinite tenderness the souls whom He has purchased with His own blood. They are the claim of His love. He looks upon them with unutterable longing.”[iii] I would want to know that there is one whose name is Jesus who can save the worst of the worst. When my heart is broken, speak to me of His love! When sin has me bound in iron chains, tell me of His power! When I am lost, nowhere left to go, talk to me of the “One who can calm the raging seas, give sight to the blind, pull the lame up to their feet”.[iv] Tell me “God loves you Marcos," "[w]ith a love so strong he'll never let you go... you [are] not alone”.[v]

Seventh-day Adventist, I appeal to you – speak of Jesus. Tell of His love. Tell of His grace. Tell of His power. Tell of His soon return! Talk of how He longs for us to be with Him. Talk of how He can save the worst of sinners. Let Him be your theme and song. Let Him be your every breath. If you and I would do this, if we would choose daily to lift Him up we would never go wrong. Never.

______________

[i] http://www.publiceye.org/tooclose/masons.html
[ii] White, Ellen G. The Ministry of Health and Healing, p 48.
[iii] ibid, p 20.
[iv] Wickham, Phil. Safe. http://www.elyricsworld.com/safe_lyrics_phil_wickham.html
[v] ibid.
Top 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Sharing Prophecy

Be guarded. In bearing the message, make no personal thrusts at other churches, not even the Roman Catholic Church. Angels of God see in the different denominations many who can be reached only by the greatest caution. Therefore let us be careful of our words. Let not our ministers follow their own impulses in denouncing and exposing the "mysteries of iniquity." Upon these themes silence is eloquence. Many are deceived. Speak the truth in tomes and words of love. Let Christ be exalted. - Ellen G. White, EV 576
The last few weeks have been pretty intense in the religio-political world. The arrival of Pope Francis in America has elicited all kinds of responses. For some, he is a breath of fresh air. For others, he is no different from any other Pope apart from his "terrific PR".[1] 

Regardless of which position you may take, one thing is certain - Pope Francis is a historic Pope. He is the first Latin-american Pope and the first Jesuit Pope. In addition "[h]is tour [in America] marked several firsts for the papacy: Francis was the first pope to address a joint sitting of US Congress. He also [conducted the]... first canonization to occur on US soil."[2] And if that weren't enough, Christianity Today recently published an article titled "From Antichrist to Brother in Christ: How Protestant Pastors View the Pope" which reveals the results of a Life Way Research project which discovered that "[m]ore than half of evangelical pastors say Pope Francis is their brother in Christ."[3] This is a long shot from Luther, the father of Protestantism, who emphatically declared "I am entirely of the opinion that the papacy is the Antichrist."[4]

Those who share the apocalyptic-consciousness that Luther and the reformers proclaimed continue to view the papacy (not necessarily the pope) as the Antichrist.[5] This consciousness - or state of awareness - is arrived at through the historicist reading of apocalyptic literature. In the Bible, this interpretation chronicles an unfolding of end time events in which spiritual fraud forms the overlying strategy of scriptures protagonist - Satan. At the center of this strategy lies the Roman Papal system and the story that this system tells. A philosophy which, taken as a whole, forms a counter-narrative to the story that Jesus came to tell.

As a result, those who share this consciousness feel a responsibility to warn the world. Thus, while the masses may engage in ardent adulation of Romes pontiff, this group finds itself swimming against that stream. As a historicist I find myself in that very position and wonder, how can I effectively share this story with those who do not share my worldview? And while I have yet to arrive at a complete answer, the last few weeks have taught me 3 things I certainly do not want to do.

False Accusations
The first item on my list is false accusations. I cannot tell you how many Facebook posts I have seen that level false accusations against Pope Francis. The worst of all would have to be a recent article accusing the Pope of declaring Jesus' work on the cross a failure. If this were true, it would be very significant. But it turns out, that's not what Francis actually said. His exact words were: 
The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.[6]
The relatively unbiased and careful reader would note that the interpretation of this passage rests on the phrase "humanly speaking". In other words, we are not to measure success by way of human standards because "humanly speaking" Jesus' life ended in failure. To say the Pope was actually saying that Jesus was a failure is clearly a false accusation. While such an accusation may convince the sensational and overtly biased it fails to bear the test of scrutiny.

Antichrist or not, Christians do not have the right to label false accusations against Pope Francis. Exodus 20:16 clearly states "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." And last I checked Pope Francis is my neighbor. While I may not agree with his meta-narrative he is still a child of God. And while I may fully embrace the apocalyptic warning concerning final events that does not give me licence to break the commandments in the name of "I'm just warning people". If we are going to warn people against deception, lets not resort to deception. If we are going to proclaim truth, lets do so in the Spirit of truth and not vindictiveness and hatred. Our words and discourses regarding this matter should stand the test of scrutiny. As Ellen White said,
It is important that in defending the doctrines which we consider fundamental articles of faith, we should never allow ourselves to employ arguments that are not wholly sound. These may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth. We should present sound arguments, that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny. . . .[7]
Hateful Rhetoric
Rhetoric is defined as "the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques."[8] Combine that with "hateful" and you have got yourself one nasty piece of literature. Paul tells us in Colossians 4:6 "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." With such a clear command one would expect Christians to exercise caution when it comes to the kinds of rhetoric that they engage in regarding any topic - including the Pope. And yet, it is from Christians that I have witnessed some of the most hateful rhetoric around. From sarcastic memes to outright insulting statements the internet is crawling with the greatest exhibition of Christian hate that I have seen in a long time. Sadly, most of what I have seen is being promulgated by my Adventist kin. In many ways some (not all, of course) of my own brothers and sisters in faith have become, in the words of Adventist evangelist Roger Hernandez, "the kind of Christian other Christians have to apologize for.”[9]

Examples of hateful rhetoric can include articles and memes insulting the Pope with phrases such as "Marxist", "idolater", "blasphemer", or "man of sin". Now some may argue "but that's what the Bible calls him!" To which I would say, no. That's what we call him while borrowing scriptures language. Truth is, we don't know who the Antichrist is. While I share the conviction that the Antichrist is certainly the papacy, that does not automatically mean that a particular Pope is the Antichrist.* But even if Francis were, what have we accomplished by promulgating this? By calling someone "Antichrist" outside of Revelations narrative does nothing but offend those who do not share our worldview. If we want people to know who the Antichrist is its not about slapping Antichrist on a picture of Francis and sharing it all over social media. Its about inviting people into the story of Daniel and Revelation and lovingly helping them to see the entire tale unfold - a tale which has Jesus, not the pope, as its central theme. If we skip this and instead opt for the shallow meme or the anti-Catholic propaganda, what have we really accomplished? Have we led people to see the beauty of Jesus? Have we drawn people to the truth of the cross? Or have we attempted to simply convince them of the Papacy's evils through our own brand of evil - our hateful words?

The worst part of engaging in hateful rhetoric is that ultimately we are the ones who suffer, not our target. By engaging in hateful rhetoric against the Pope we are sending a message to our friends and neighbors that we are intolerant, unloving, unhealthy, and fanatical. While Pope Francis pours his energy into relieving the suffering of illegal immigrants we raise our hate-speech banners all over Facebook to let everyone know where we stand.[10] In the end, we accomplish nothing of value. Instead, we succeed in making ourselves look like the biggest fools on earth and do damage to the cause of Christ.

Thirst for More
The final point I would like to mention is our seemingly insatiable thirst for more beast and more Antichrist. I recently came across an article which, while rejecting the Catholic worldview, attempted to highlight the areas of Pope Francis' philosophy that all Christians - especially Adventists - can embrace. The author focused exclusively on Francis' appeal to social action, acts of charity, and stewardship of the earth. In the end he concluded that in relation to these positive and necessary pursuits we were in full agreement with Francis. I enjoyed the article and found it to be both balanced and thought provoking. What I found alarming where the comments that followed. Beginning with the very fist comment all the way down the page was one complaint after another on how the author had failed to mention how the Pope is the Antichrist, the beast of Revelation 13, and how he is using social justice as his mask for the Sunday law. 

As soon as I read those comments all I could do was ask, "Haven't you read enough of that already? Do we really need another article on the Antichrist agenda? Do we really need to be told again and again?" 

The article did not deal with the apocalyptic narrative of Revelation 13. Instead, it approached the issue from the angle of "common ground" and called Adventists to recognize the value in social action. In my estimation, this is an angle that is painfully overlooked. Revelation 13 has been extrapolated in countless sermons, articles, documentaries, and books. Do we really need another article repeating the same stuff? And here I discovered one of the greatest dangers to avoid in this whole discussion - the thirst for more. Some, it seems, are constantly and endlessly craving more anti-Catholic and anti-Pope ideologies. It's like we can't get enough of it. Like addicts, we freak out when someone writes an article about the Pope that is not anti-Pope. "I want more anti-Pope!" is the cry of our "itching ears"[11]. And the more we go down this path the more susceptible we are to fanatical conspiracy theories, an imbalanced apocalyptic-consciousness, apocalyptic paranoia, and an unhealthy witness.[12]

So here is my main objective with this article. I wholeheartedly embrace the reformers historicist interpretation of Daniel and Revelation. I am all for giving the warning. I am all for preaching final events. But it can never be done via false accusations, hateful rhetoric, or a continual thirst for more anti-Papacy discourses which leave the avenues of our souls wide open to the dangers of apocalyptic paranoia. When discussing Revelations narrative we must remember that it is the "Revelation of Jesus", that our words should always be seasoned with salt, that we are never to bear false witness,** and that if there is one thing that we should thirst for more and more it is Jesus and Jesus only. Psalm 42:1 says "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God." May this prayer be ours.


___________

* Some have raised significant concern over the statement "We don't know who the antichrist is". I have added this footnote to clarify any misunderstandings. The above statement does not negate Adventisms prophetic understanding concerning antichrist. Adventism has never sought to identify a particular or specific individual as antichrist. It is the system of papacy that we identify as antichrist but that does not mean we know exactly who the climactic antichrist will be. Does the Pope - as the visible leader of Catholicism - fill an antichrist role? Undoubtedly yes. But that does not mean that he is the climactic antichrist. The identify of this individual we simply do not know. According to the Amazing Facts study guide Who is the AntiChrist?:
Antichrist is an organization--the papacy. The words "eyes of man" in Daniel 7:8, however, do point to a leader. Revelation 13:18 speaks of man with a number being involved. In Daniel chapter 8, Greece is represented by a goat and its leader, Alexander the Great, is symbolized by a horn. The same is true of Antichrist. The organization is the papacy. The pope in office is its representative. The prophecy of Daniel chapter 7 is not saying that popes are evil and that Catholics are not Christians. There are many warm, loving Catholic Christians. The system, however, is called Antichrist because it has usurped Jesus' authority and attempted to change His law. (Emphasis added)
The view espoused here is the same view that I and many other SDA pastors, theologians, and scholars hold. The papacy as a system is antichrist. But the personal identify of the climactic antichrist remains unknown.

** One of the main reasons why false information continues to spread is because many have not educated themselves on how to identify it and evaluate it. Here are 3 articles which should be of help with this endeavor:

"Therefore Keep Watch" - Watching the Signs vs. Conspiracy Theorizing
Does LOL Really Stand for "Lucifer Our Lord"?
Bruno Mars’ Masonic Baby Haircut and 5 Ways to STOP Misinformation on the Internet

[1] http://qz.com/511809/pope-francis-is-not-a-progressive-he-just-has-terrific-pr/
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/sep/27/pope-francis-philadelphia-us-visit-live
[3] http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/september/antichrist-brother-christ-protestant-pastors-pope-francis.html
[4] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martin_Luther
[5] http://biblehub.com/revelation/13-3.htm
[6] http://abcnews.go.com/US/read-pope-francis-yorks-st-patricks-cathedral/story?id=34023376
[7] http://www.gilead.net/egw/books/misc/Counsels_to_Writers_and_Editors/index.htm?http&url=www.gilead.net/egw/books/misc/Counsels_to_Writers_and_Editors/6_Attitude_to_New_Light.htm
[8] https://www.google.com.au/search?sourceid=chrome-psyapi2&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8&q=define%20rhetoric&oq=define%20rhetoric&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.2301j0j4
[9] http://leadsu.org/2014/08/31/als-challenge-and-the-age-of-aquarius/
[10] http://www.cssr.org.au/writings/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=632
[11] "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." - 2 Timothy 4:3
[12] See: Christians and Conspiracy Theories - http://www.pomopastor.com/2013/01/christians-conspiracy-theories.html
The Fallacy Behind our Preaching


I don’t know about the rest of the Christian world, but if you are a Seventh-day Adventist chances are you are no stranger to some pretty exciting preaching. I’m not talking about the Henry Wright type of exciting (such passionate preaching is clearly found in every denomination). Instead, I am referring to the kind of preaching that makes you say, wow, I never thought of that before. I call it the wow-sermon. Grant it, this kind of preaching is good. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than hearing a preacher open up a text in a whole new way. It’s as if you walked into the church blind and left with sight. Who wouldn't want that?

Having gone to an SDA church all my life, I was no stranger to wow-preaching. However, it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was introduced to certain preachers who took this to a whole new level. The wow-sermons I was used to certainly shared fresh ideas but somehow those ideas remained simple. It was as if, upon hearing them I would think Oh yeah! How’d I miss that? But these new sermons were way beyond “wow”. These were super deep and breathtaking expositions on the word of God. At times the sermons were on present truth, at other times they dealt with broader topics, but regardless of the theme one thing was guaranteed: I would hear something I had never heard before and see something I would never had thought of in a million years. Far from the simple newness of the wow-sermon, these sermons tended to be more complex in their newness, or dare I say, more sensational. I call this kind of sermon the toy-sermon (you will soon see why).

I was mesmerized. Amazed. Dumbfounded at times and downright intoxicated. Toy-sermons were the stuff of Bible gurus and because most of them were based on present truth I began to believe that Adventist preachers where the greatest preachers on earth. As a preacher, I too began to mimic their fresh and astonishing approach to Bible truth. When preparing sermons I would pray for new insight and pour through the text searching for something different and exciting that had never been seen before. I was no longer satisfied with the simple story of scripture. I wanted something new.

In case you are still confused allow me to give you an example of wow-sermon versus toy-sermon. A wow-sermon would look at the parable of the lost coin and, following Jesus own interpretation, would identify the lost coin as our lost world, or as individual people. One preacher I admire interpreted the lost coin as “those who are lost but don’t know they are lost”. He then proceeded to interpret the lost sheep as “those who know they are lost but don’t know the way home”, the lost (prodigal) son as “those who know they are lost and know the way home” and the elder brother as “those who are lost but think they are saved.” This is a perfect example of simple new. Now a toy-sermon is more like the sermon I heard which interpreted the lost coin as the Sabbath. There were 10 coins and the woman lost one, so she swept the whole house until she found it. There are 10 commandments and one has been lost but the woman (church) has found it. The first time I heard this sermon I was floored. "This guy is amazing!" I said to my wife. "How does he get this stuff?"

I continued to be amazed, that is, until my first day studying biblical exegesis. For those who don't know, Biblical exegesis is the process of studying to determine what the text meant to the original reader and writer before attempting to interpret it for today. The process requires a study of the literary, historical, and cultural context surrounding the text, among other things. Once the Bible student has determined what the text meant to the original audience he is then safe to apply the text to his own context provided none of the original meaning is lost or contradicted in the process. While I had already begun to question the veracity of the toy-sermon prior to this, it was then that the spell was broken. The toy-sermon was exciting, yes. It was fresh and invigorating. But it had one major flaw – it used the Bible as a toy to be played with instead of a holy text to be revered. Literary, historical, and cultural context were often ignored. It wasn’t what the Bible clearly said that was interesting; it was the obscure and mysterious. The goal was to find something new and exciting, something sensational and riveting. As a result textual integrity was sacrificed at the altar of innovation and the end result, while not necessarily heretical, was a sermon that played games with the Biblical text, misused the Hebrew and Greek, “word-smithed” the English translations,* made interpretations that bordered on allegorical drivel, linked verses together that were never meant to be linked, proof-texted flippantly, and drew new and exciting interpretations that impressed the audience but did little else.

I have studied a lot in life. I have learned a lot in life. And I have forgotten a lot in life. But if there is one thing I will never forget, it’s the words of my exegesis professor Dr. Martin Klingbeil. “Don’t preach sensational sermons that get people excited” he said, “preach the simple truth that changes lives.” Whether he knew it or not Dr. Klingbeil hit me hard that day. In fact, he echoed the words of Peter when he said,

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles (2 Pet. 3:1-2).
Peter uses two powerful words in this text: “remember” and “recall”. It wasn’t something new that his readers needed. It wasn’t something fresh or exciting. It was the same old truth. The same old sermon. The same old message. Peter’s goal was to influence their thinking. He wanted to lift their minds up and lead them to think balanced, healthy, and wholesome thoughts. And the tool he used to perform this transformational shift was not a sensational and exciting sermon – it was a simple admonition to remember. Somehow, the act of remembering the old truths that God has shared through the prophets and apostles is all his readers needed to be renewed in their minds.

I am not here to question the sincerity of those who preach or enjoy a good old toy-sermon. When I preached them I was sincere and was simply eager to share something new. But now I know that it’s not new that I need. All I need is to be reminded. Reminded of God’s love. Reminded of God’s grace. Reminded of God’s power. Reminded of his will for my life and of the soon return of Jesus. These simple reminders are all I need to be renewed.

Today I want to appeal to all the young-up-and-coming SDA preachers out there. Though the trend is increasingly fading, there still remain way too many Adventist preachers who use the Bible as a toy. This is the fallacy behind our preaching. People love them. People rave about them. People follow them. But at the end of the day they don't preach what the Bible says; they only preach what they want it to say. Don't fall into that trap. The Bible was not designed to give us paint for oratorical art nor was it written to provide a platform to show off our cleverness. It was designed to tell us a story – one that is meant to be repeated over and over again for with each repetition our hearts are changed. Don’t feel the need to be new and innovative. Don’t go wild trying to be exciting. Don't sacrifice sound Bible exposition just to make people say "wow". Instead, I challenge you to tell the ancient story over and over again. It is then, and only then, that broken lives will find healing and new birth.



photo credit: Bront Nolsen via photopin cc
The Cross & The Dissolution of Present Truth


Last summer I had the opportunity to preach an entire evangelistic series in Macon, Georgia. The series was called "Revelations Hope" and I, along with the other students, was given an entire set of presentations to use as my sermons. The idea was, as it has always been, to present the unique Adventist doctrines (known as "present truth") to those who had never heard them before. Being a lover of present truth one would easily guess I enjoyed the experience. But I didn't.

OK, let me be fair. I didn't hate the experience. However, I found it very difficult to enjoy. There was just too much weird stuff going on. First of all, the series was marketed as "Revelations Hope" and gave the impression that it was going to be a seminar on the book of Revelation to help people understand this often confusing book. However, the series was more about Adventist doctrine than it was about Revelation and sadly enough, it used the book of Revelation sort of like a proof platform to launch into various topics that weren't in Revelation at all. But that isn't the part that really bothered me. What bothered me was that the series as a whole lacked the one thing it was meant to be proclaiming: "present truth."

Night after night I found myself editing the sermons that had been given to us. There was no way I was going to preach that stuff. It was overcomplicated. It was confusing. And worst of all, it lacked truth. Sure, the Sabbath was presented along with Daniel 2, the Investigative Judgment, the State of the Dead, etc. But I learned a long time ago that there is a difference between preaching present-facts and present-truth. As Adventists, we have historically prided ourselves in always having the right answers, but the world doesnt need right answers, it needs truth and there is a difference between the two. 

It wasnt easy. At times I felt like a rebel. At times I felt arrogant. And at times I felt as though I was somehow in the wrong. Maybe the way its always been done is the right way, I thought. Maybe I am diluting the message by making them so simple and Christ-centered. And so on and so forth. But I pressed on because the truth is, I just couldn't preach those sermons. They were full of "answers" and "facts" but they didn't have truth - they didn't have Jesus. And anytime we preach present truth without Jesus we engage in one of Satans master deceptions - the dissolution of present truth.

The deception is powerful for this reason: By preaching doctrine void of Christ many Adventists think they are actually preaching Christ. In other words, none of these Christless sermons are ever even perceived to be Christless. Most Adventists never see anything wrong with them and if asked, many would say that the sermons are indeed Christ-centered. But allow me to set the record straight: Mentioning Jesus at the end of your sermon, quoting his words, or having Power Point slides with his pictures don't actually make a sermon Christ-centered. A sermon is Christ-centered when the entire thesis is drenched in the blood of Jesus. A sermon is Christ-centered when, no matter your topic, Jesus is presented in all of his beauty and majesty. A sermon is Christ-centered when it results in repentance, faith, and a greater love for God. A sermon is Christ-centered when it inspires change as opposed to requiring it. A sermon is Christ-centered when it reveals Jesus' more and not simply some biblical concept that other churches aren't teaching. A sermon is Christ-centered when both preacher and listener leave the church and they know, they just know, that they have been with Jesus.

You can preach doctrine and theology all you want. You can have the right answers and the right facts, but that doesnt make it truth. Truth is discovered only when it is found in Jesus. "The seventh day is the Sabbath" is not truth. It is a biblical fact. Jesus said, "I am the...truth" and any sermon that lifts up doctrine without lifting up Jesus does not deserve to be called present truth. Call it present facts or present answers, or present points or present information, but dont call it present truth


The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.—Gospel Workers, 315 (1915).
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After much editing and praying and struggling I was able to, along with my friend Michelle Doucoumes (whose Christ-centered convictions were an enourmous help!), preach the "Revelations Hope" series in a way that actually fit the Biblical admonition "If I be lifted up..." Though I still feel that there is much more work needed to lift Jesus up more in these presentations I am glad we started down that road. Here is the entire series (except for the last sermon. I dont remember what happened to it). 

10 Things I Am Glad Ellen White Did not Say
Courtesy of the Ellen G. White Esate, Inc.
This year I had the privilege of studying under professor Jud Lake, Adventist historian, Ellen White apologist, and author of Ellen White Under Fire. Part of the class was learning how to respond to criticisms leveled against Ellen White. Although I was already aware of this, I was able to see that nearly every single Ellen White criticism rests on a denial, and or violation, of the literary and historical context of her statements. As I read many of these criticisms I was reminded of the fact that the same arguments and insults can be made agains the Bible writers - and I am not refering to the Old Testament here but to the New. As a result I have created a small list of Bible verses I am glad did not originate with Ellen White, for if she had, the critics would have a hay day. Here is the list along with what the critics would say if Ellen White had been the first to say these things. Enjoy!





10 Things I Am Glad Ellen White Did Not Say


1) Women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. - 1 Tim. 2:15 

What the critics would say: Here Mrs. White clearly shows she has no knowledge of the true gospel. According to Mrs. White a woman can be saved through having children. However, the Bible is clear that we are saved only through Jesus. This "salvation through child-bearing" heresy is just another example of how legalistic this woman was. I feel sorry for all of those Adventist women who havent had children for according to Mrs. White, they will not be saved.

2) For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. - Romans 2:13 

What the critics would say: If you ever had any doubt if Ellen White was a legalist, doubt no more! We are clearly told from her own writings that in order to be declared righteous we must obey the law! However, the Bible says that all of our righteouesness is as filthy rags and that in order to be declared righteous we must be covered by the blood of Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists do not know the freedom of the gospel because they follow the teachings of Ellen White who says in order to be saved they must keep the law. Mrs. White must have never heard of the book of Romans which clearly teaches that we cannot be saved by keeping the law. She contradicts the gospel and is thus a false prophet!

3) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ... - 2 Cor. 5:10 

What the Critics would say: This statement plays perfectly well into the anti-gospel Adventist teaching of the investigative judgment. Ellen White writes to believers that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" This heresy robs the Christian of the assurance of salvation and is the reason why Adventists care so much about the law. They have no assurance! And how can they if they believe that they will be judged? The bible is clear that believers are not judged! How can Ellen White and the entire Adventist church contradict such a plain teaching of holy scripture? It is simple: They don't follow scripture, they follow the false prophet Ellen White.

4) If your hand causes you to sin cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched… - Mark 9:43-47 

What the critics would say: Here we see a perfect example of how fanatical Ellen White was. Adventists try to say she was balanced, but would a balanced person ever tell you to cut off your hand so you wont sin? This is clearly extremism and legalism at its worst! Not only that, but it is clear from this statement that Ellen White does not have an accurate understanding of temptation and victory over sin. We do not cut our hand off so we wont be tempted to steal because the problem is not the hand but the heart. The only solution then is to be born again and receive a new heart. Of course, Ellen White did not teach this because the Adventist church is her own cult and she used fear tactics like this one to keep Adventists under her thumb.

5) A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. - James 2:24

What the critics would say: Blasphemy! Doesnt the bible plainly teach that we are saved by grace through faith? Has this false prophet ever read Ephesians 2:8-10 which plainly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith alone and not of our works so that no man can boast? The teachings of Ellen White are pure legalism. We must pray for those under her bondage!

6) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left... - Hebrews 10:6 

What the critics would say: Adventism is a black hole of hopelessness that fills one with anxiety and fear and makes it impossible for believers to have assurance of salvation. Here Ellen White clearly says that if you are not perfect once you have been saved and you sin again then you are cast out for good and can never return to favor with God. But doesnt the Bible say that we can never be separated from the love of God? This is pure heresy.

7) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling... - Philippians 2:12 

What the critics would say: Here is more evidence that Mrs. White was a legalist. Salvation, rather than the gift of Gods grace, is something we have to workout and figure out on our own. But not only that! It must also be done "in fear and trembling"! What a terrible way to live the Christian life!

8) And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. - Rev. 22:19 

What the critics would say: According to Ellen White a believer can lose his/her salvation. This is a false teaching of Mrs. Whites used to gain control over her naiive followers. So long as she could keep them from having assurance of salvation she could control them into living the ultra-strict life she advocated.

9) Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 1 Corinthians 7:27 NASB 

What the critics would say: Notice the way Mrs. White describes marriage. Rather than a joy she speaks of being "bound" to a wife as though marriage was some sort of prison. She even goes so far as to suggest that single men should not seek a wife! What is this? Some Adventist version of celibacy? Does the SDA church have an order of male nuns? This negative view on marriage clearly reflects her own dysfunctional marriage to James White.

10) So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Luke 14:33 

What the critics would say: Here we see evidence that Ellen White sympathized with the communist/ socialist movement and even advocated a communal type of living arrangement for Adventist believers. This idea of surrendering ones personal property is a clear identifying marker of cults. Beware!

Bonus: As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. - Timothy 5:11-12 

What the critics would say: Ha! Can you believe this statement? According to the Adventist prophet, if a widow remarries she isforfeiting her dedication to Christ and bringing judgment on herself! Adventist wives had better pray their husbands never die on them or they will be forced into a lonely and celibate life lest they enter into judgment!


I suppose I could go on and on but by now I think you get the idea. All of you are reading my criticisms of these Bible texts and thinking "thats such an unfair criticism because it misrepresents what the Bible is actually saying!" That is true, and yet I have done it on purpose to demonstrate how the same exact method is used to attack Ellen White. It is not only unethical and unfair but speaks volumes to the lack of genuine scholarly work done by the critics of Ellen White.

For a great source on Ellen White apologetics visit ellenwhiteanswers.org
The Remnant Church: Denominational Arrogance or Conviction?

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.

Further Reading:

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?

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[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.
10 Bible Promises that Mean Alot to Me

photo credit: Daniel Y. Go via photopin cc

Here is a list of 10 Bible promises that mean a lot to me (apart from the oft cited John 3:16 and Revelation 21 which are, of course, amazing). Feel free to share your own in the comment box below!

"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33

"Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me." - Micah 7:8


"Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; But you will forget the shame of your youth..." - Isaiah 54:4


"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:8-10

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" - 2 Corinthians 5:17

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." - Psalm 51:7

"Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die." - John 11:25

"If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." - 1 John 3:20

"As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." - Psalm 103:12

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned..." - Isaiah 43:1-2
Is it OK for Seventh-day Adventists To Go to the Theater?
photo credit: erin m via photopin cc
Should Seventh-day Adventists, or Christians for that matter, attend a movie theater? Growing up in a conservative Hispanic Adventist church the answer was an emphatic "NO!" You could even be placed on church discipline if it was revealed that you had indeed attended this most vile and ghastly of entertainment centers. Young people, rebellious and inquisitive as they are, began to ask the inevitable "why" question. Here are some of the answers we received (and some I have heard recently):
"The theater is an evil place and your guardian angel wont go in there with you."
"If you die while you are at a theater you will lose your salvation."
"Ellen White said we should not attend movie theaters because the environment is evil."
"It is a waste of money."
As you can imagine, many of us were disappointed with these answers and those of us who were not (myself included) did not give them enough thought to realize how silly they were. For example, what is it that made the movie theater evil? Why would going to the movies to watch Pocahontas place my salvation in jeopardy? Why would the angels watch a movie with me at home and yet refuse to go into a theater with a similar movie? How is renting a movie for 3 dollars, or buying one for 20 dollars not a waste of money but going to the 1 dollar theater is? As you can imagine, the mental motors of logic where burning the oil of rationality faster than an old run down Buick. The youth were stumped.

So what is the answer? Allow me to share two reasons why I have struggled with this whole "no theater" concept. First of all, the standard cannot be found in scripture. Are there principles there that assist us in proper movie selection? Yes. But there is no principle for avoiding the building itself.

Second of all, theaters in Ellen Whites day were immoral places where drinking, smoking, and prostitution were allowed. Today theaters are family friendly and it is very common to see parents with their children there. Smoking, drinking, and prostitution are definitely not allowed. So while the environment was evil in Ellen Whites day it is certainly not evil today.

But those are not the reasons why I dislike this standard. The main reason why I don't like it is because the standard is too weak. Notice, I didn't say it is too strong, legalistic, or rigid. I said it is too weak. The weakness lies in the fact that when you tell someone "don't go to the theater" you automatically make the building an evil place, not the content. Theaters today are not evil places. However, they are certainly filled with their share of evil movies. But when you tell a young person that the theater is evil and that he should just rent a movie the young person goes to Red Box and picks up a copy of the latest Zombie movie replete with mindless killing and filth. This is exactly what happened to us growing up. Stay away from the theater! We were told. And the same people who told us this would let us come over to enjoy all of the carnal garbage that Holy-Wood had to offer. We got in trouble for going to the theater to watch The Passion of the Christ, but it was OK to go to the elders house to take in the disturbing scenes in SAW and Resident Evil.

The problem will soon become worse if Netflix gets its wish. A recent article in the Huffinton Post reported Netflix's intent "to replace the movie theater."[1] If Netflix gets its way we will soon be able to stream brand new movies right away instead of having to go to a theater. Give it a few years and theaters will become a thing of the past much like the drive in theaters so popular in the 50's. A new generation of Adventists will grow up with no regard to the content they are seeing because, after all, theaters no longer exist.

So is it OK for a Christian to go to the movie theater? I believe so. But it is not OK for a Christian to watch movies that are contrary to Biblical principles. That holds true whether you are at home, at a theater, or anywhere else. If we as adults would, instead of telling our young people that theaters are bad, teach them how to select good, uplifting, and positive movies then they would be able to make those choices no matter where they go or where the movie is shown.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. - Philippians 4:8

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[1] Kelinman, Alexis. The Huffington Post, "Netflix Wants To Replace The Movie Theater" Web: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/28/netflix-movies_n_4169752.html
Why Do People Leave the SDA Church? (Revisited)
photo credit: greekadman via photopin cc
The following paragraphs are from an article featured in the latest edition of GLEANER. The article is a response to the article "Beyond Belief"  which deals with why people leave the SDA church. I am quoting the start of the article here and share some thoughts below.

Its Beyond Belief Revisited 
...His article, first published in the Adventist Review (March 21, 2013) and reprinted in the North Pacific Union Conference GLEANER(June 2013), is in large part predicated on a study conducted by Southern Adventist University’s School of Business and directed by Lisa Goolsby.
While the responses of those surveyed in their study are forthright and heartfelt about how they relate to Adventist theology, based on how this study was conducted,* it does not establish a new leading reason for why people leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Relational and personal issues are still the primary reasons why people leave the church according to every other North American Division (NAD) retention study conducted across Bermuda, Canada, Guam/Micronesia and the United States.
Through the years, leaving because of doctrinal reasons has hovered around 9 percent. Recent data shows an uptick to 14 percent. This is data we can rely on that represents the trends over more than three decades collected from stratified random samples of people identified by third parties (pastors, church clerks, etc.) as former or nonattending members. Read More
14 GLEANER • September 2013
*The “Former Seventh-day Adventist Perceptions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” study used a nonprobability sampling method, which means one cannot scientifically make generalizations about the total NAD population from this sample because it would not be representative enough.
So here's the deal. Good article. Thought provoking. Balanced. Healing-based. Charitable. The whole schmear. However, the article does unintentionally present yet another thing to argue about - retention studies. This one is valid that one isn't. This one is scientifically sound, the other isn't. The one saying "A" is false, but the study that says "B" is true. Pretty soon someone will print an article about how this article got it all wrong and the first one was the one that had it right. Then some new guy or gal will pitch in with a "they are both wrong" article that presents yet another study which supposedly reveals the "truth." And so on and so forth. As far as I am concerned, we have enough things to debate. We don't need another.

Lets keep it simple. Do people leave church because they are changing beliefs or because they have had a bad experience? My answer is: Who cares? The point is they are leaving and those are the reasons why. Regardless of which is more prevalent people leave for one of three primary reasons: Bad experience, change of beliefs, or both and we need to respond appropriately especially when the issues are doctrinal. Richardson stated it well when he said that we should "not ignore their legitimate questions but accelerate our responses to them in reasoned and redemptive ways." 

Unfortunately, ignoring questions, giving cliche answers, quoting Ellen White, and proof texting has been the way in which we have historically approached honest questions. Perhaps the real problem is most Adventists don't really know their Bibles. What they know is the Bible according to Amazing Facts. Or they have purchased one of our wonderful Ellen White study Bibles and have built their faith on that.* Then when someone comes with a real question that requires real answers we're bankrupt. Feeling threatened we respond with a cultish "don't question the truth" and walk away with a renewed sense of self-righteousness (or with a nagging feeling of hopelessness that we choose to ignore). 

The solution? We need to get into our Bibles and dig deep. We need to get rid of the proof texts and build our faith on the rock Jesus Christ not on the ministry of a modern prophet. We need real answers that satisfy modern minds, not stuff from the 50's. We need to realize that no amount of "niceness" or "friendliness" is going to make up for unanswered questions. While we may never be able to convince and satisfy everyone we need to be intentional in being truthful and biblical. And ultimately we need to exercise charity toward everyone regardless of whether they agree with us or not. It is this conviction that has enabled me to form good relationships with many former Adventists. And by relationships I don't mean an inauthentic gimmick to get them back into our church but a relationship that embraces their spiritual journey and honors it even where it differs from our own.

One of the greatest experiences I have had on this blog is the opportunity to connect with and talk to former Adventists. Many are not apostates. They are not "rejecters of the Spirit" And no, they are not heretics who are lost unless they return to the "true remnant." Instead, I have found many of them to be honest, brilliant people who are wrestling with faith and truth. They love Jesus. They love the gospel. And we have failed them. Some have been hurt by our attitudes, yes. But many others have had real questions that we failed to answer or, as in the case of Eliana Matthews, have been raised with such a distorted and perverted version of Adventism that the only way to heal would be to start over from scratch.

But there is no need to despair. The reality is that people leaving a church because of bad experiences or changes in belief system is not unique to Adventism. Ask anyone who left the Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian church and 9 out of 10 will most likely tell you they left because of a bad experience of a change in belief system. Books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley reveal that Adventism is far from alone in its legalism and lukewarmness. In addition, lost in this debate is the amazing work that Adventism is doing all over the world and gained is the misconception that all of Adventism is beset by these issues. The issues are real and need attention but the church, while in need of a spiritual reboot, is daily moving in the right direction. Of that I am truly happy.

___________

* Adventists should not be ashamed of Ellen White study Bibles. After all, there are C.S Lewis study Bibles so why not Ellen White? The problem is when we think Ellen White was an inspired commentary of scripture and that if we read her comments we have no further need of study. This is a misuse of the prophetic gift and breeds less, not more, biblical knowledge and spiritual growth. We must always remember Ellen Whites own words, quoted in the above article, which state:
“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error... 
“[A]s real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men [and women] rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion. 
“When God’s people are at ease, and satisfied with their present enlightenment, we may be sure that God will not favor them. It is God’s will that they should be ever moving forward, to receive the increased and ever-increasing light which is shining for them” (Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 35, 38–41).
Why Am I A Seventh-day Adventist?
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A friend of mine recently told me that a preacher came to his church and asked the youth why they were Adventists. One of the youth replied, "Because I love Jesus," to which the preacher replied "Yeah, well the Pentecostals love Jesus too. Next!" Some where undoubtedly impressed by the preachers candid approach. Frankly, I was disappointed. However, this experience was certainly good for one thing: It encouraged me to ask myself the question, "Why am I an Adventist?" 

I know why I am a Christian. It is because I love Jesus. And I "love him because he fist loved [me]" (1 John 4:19). But all sincere Christians, regardless of denomination, love Jesus - so is this a good enough reason to also be an Adventist? Or am I supposed to have a more profound and eloquent response? Is the cross not good enough grounds to be an Adventist? As I thought about this I was reminded that the only element that separates one denomination from another is their understanding of the story of scripture which I call their God-story. So if I am an Adventist it must be because I find our understanding of the God-story to be the most logical and rational of any other denomination. However, the problem I have with that statement are the following nouns: understanding, logical, and rational. All of these nouns describe an intellectual and factual reason for being Adventist. And while I believe in the intellectual aspect of spirituality I also believe in the emotional and experiential. So why am I an Adventist?

First, allow me to say why I am not an Adventist. My journey has led me to one very simple conclusion. This conclusion will be a blessing to some and an offence to others. I cant help it. That's just the way it is. As Winston Churchill once said, "“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.” So why am I an Adventist? Well, its certainly not the people. From time to time I find myself having to get away from Adventists because more often than not they get on my nerves. Is it the church structure? Not at all. I have never been much for politics. Is it our church culture? If there's one thing that erks my nerves more than anything its Adventist culture. I have tried to divorce myself from it as much as possible though some elements linger on. What about our history as a denomination? Its interesting for sure, but full of chapters I wish weren't there (1888 anyone?). And speaking of 1888 I find the Adventist church's adulterous affair with mistress legalisma to be one of the most appalling attributes of our history and culture. While I am personally witnessing the Adventist battleship making a U-turn back to the true gospel we have a long ways to go and the journey there is not always a pleasant experience. 

So why am I an Adventist? One reason and one reason only: Our God-story. This conclusion will be likewise offensive to some and exhilarating to others. Once again, I can't help it. I began by stating that I am a Christian because I love Jesus. But is that a good enough reason to be an Adventist? Yes. It is. I am an Adventist because I love Jesus as well. I love Jesus for one reason only: He loved me first. It is that love for me that prompts me to tell others about Jesus. I want the whole world to know how loving God is and have not found a God-story that shows me the love of God quite like the Adventist church understands it. Not only that but I have not found a God-story that is more emotional than this one. Though the theological lens of Adventists theology I have come to see God in such a loving way that it never ceases to amaze me. Time and time again I have found myself weeping at the revelation of his love and mesmerized at deeper revelations of his grace. To this day I continue to experience newer and richer insights into the love of God I never thought were there. I have tried to look at God through the lens of other theological glasses but all of them fall short of lifting up Jesus in the same way that true Adventism does. 

So why am I an Adventist? I'm an Adventist because I am a Christian. I am a Christian because I love Jesus and I am an Adventist because I love Jesus. His love has so captured my heart that I want to tell others about it, and the God-story of Adventism captures that love closer than any other theological system I have found. 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.
Troubling Statements of Ellen White



I have had some comments recently about contradictory statements that Ellen White makes concerning salvation. In order to shed more light on the issue I am re-posting an old blog-post that deals with that topic. This blog is really an excerpt from my paper on the Investigative Judgment doctrine taught by the SDA church. I am also adding some other quotes at the very bottom that help shed more light on the issue of salvation as Ellen White and SDA's understand it. Those same quotes along with official SDA statements concerning our understanding of salvation can be found in the post The SDA Gospel is Legalistic - Isn't It? Blessings!



Troubling Statements of Ellen White 

Even though Ellen White is not necessary for an understanding of the investigative judgment, a review of some of her statements is necessary. At first glance, it appears that many of Ellen Whites statements are inherently legalistic.

In her book, Christ Object Lessons, White says, “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.”[1] Again she writes in Our High Calling, “Are we striving with all our power to attain to the stature of men and women in Christ? Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us—the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads.”[2] In her highly esteemed book The Great Controversy, White once again deals a “devastating blow” to righteousness by faith when she says, “Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.”[3] A similar thought can be found in Early Writings when White writes, “I also saw that many do not realize what they must be in order to live in the sight of the Lord without a high priest in the sanctuary through the time of trouble. Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully.”[4] These statements appear to be the epitome of legalism, and rightly so. To summarize everything just quoted would be to say that in order to enter heaven we must be perfect. Teresa Beem points out the legalistic language in some of Whites statements with reference to the pre-Advent judgment when she says, “The time of Atonement is especially scary for the believer. It is a time to reach perfection.”[5] And indeed White says, “Though all nations are to pass in judgment before God, yet he will examine the case of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Every one must be tested, and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.”[6] With this in mind, it appears that Ellen White has completely undone everything said in the above section on righteousness by faith. However, what critics and Adventists who point out these statements fail to see is that any statement taken out of its context can be made to say anything.

Before concluding on Ellen White and the pre-Advent judgment let us turn to the Bible. Matthew records a story in which Jesus was approached by a young man and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” It is interesting to note that Jesus did not tell him, “accept me as your personal savior and you will be saved” but instead told him, “‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”[7] Jesus also said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”[8] Later on He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[9] The apostle James writes, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?”[10] And the apostle John wrote, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”[11] Each of these statements can be taken out of context to say that the Bible teaches righteousness by works. However, when we balance these statements with those on righteousness by faith we discover what these verses truly mean and that none of them advocate a performance based salvation.

The same is true of Ellen White. While the quoted statements may seem legalistic when viewed in light of other statements and her ministry as a whole it becomes apparent that Ellen White never promoted a works based salvation. In Selected Messages, White says, “We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute. Ye are accepted in the Beloved.”[12] Again White wrote: “The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner’s account.”[13] With quotes such as these in mind, it is clear that the same tension that exists in the Bible with regards to faith and works exist in Ellen Whites writings as well. The perfection that White says the sinner needs is not a self-fabricated perfection but the perfection of Christ’s sinless life covering our sinful lives. White spoke for herself when she said, “[W]hile we should realize our sinful condition, we are to rely upon Christ as our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. We cannot answer the charges of Satan against us. Christ alone can make an effectual plea in our behalf. He is able to silence the accuser with arguments founded not upon our merits, but on His own.”[14]
Further Reading: Facing Life's Record: An Analysis of the Great Controversies Scariest Chapter




[1] Ellen G White, Christ Object Lessons, EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 69.
[2] ibid., Our High Calling, EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 150.
[3] ibid., The Great Controversy, EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 623.
[4] ibid., Early Writings, EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 71.
[5] Teresa and Arthur Beem. It’s Okay NOT To Be A Seventh-Day Adventist: The Untold History and the Doctrine that Attempts to Repair the Temple Veil [North Charleston: BookSurge Publishing, 2008], 112.
[6] Ellen G White, The Great Controversy, EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 489.
[7] Matt. 19:16, 21.
[8] Matt. 5:29.
[9] Matt. 5:48.
[10] Jam. 2:21.
[11] Rev. 22:14.
[12] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 2,  EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 32.
[13] ibid., Selected Messages, book 1,  EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 32
[14] Ellen G White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, EGW Writings, https://egwwritings.org [accessed Apr. 1, 2012], 472.



A Few More Quotes

A legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. Fasting or prayer that is actuated by a self-justifying spirit is an abomination in the sight of God. The solemn assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the imposing sacrifice, proclaim that the doer of these things regards himself as righteous, and as entitled to heaven; but it is all a deception. Our own works can never purchase salvation.  {DA 280.2}


The fountain of the heart must be purified before the streams can become pure. He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law is attempting an impossibility. There is no safety for one who has merely a legal religion, a form of godliness. The Christian's life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit.  {DA 172.1} 


A legal religion has been thought quite the correct religion for this time. But it is a mistake. The rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees is applicable to those who have lost from the heart their first love. A cold, legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion… Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven. The one great Offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe. The love of Christ will animate the believer with new life. {1SM 388.1}


The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength. There is hope for us only as we come under the Abrahamic covenant, which is the covenant of grace by faith in Christ Jesus. The gospel preached to Abraham, through which he had hope, was the same gospel that is preached to us today, through which we have hope. Abraham looked unto Jesus, who is also the Author and the Finisher of our faith (YI Sept. 22, 1892).  {6BC 1077.7}


Legal religion will not answer for this age. We may perform all the outward acts of service and yet be as destitute of the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit as the hills of Gilboa were destitute of dew and rain. We all need spiritual moisture, and we need also the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness to soften and subdue our hearts. {6T 417.3} 


If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason.{FW 24.1}


Christ for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. And any works that man can render to God will be far less than nothingness. My requests are made acceptable only because they are laid upon Christ’s righteousness. The idea of doing anything to merit the grace of pardon is fallacy from beginning to end. “Lord, in my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” {FW 24.2}


When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity. {FW 25.3}


The cross of Calvary is a pledge to us of everlasting life. {EV 186.3}


We stand in favor before God, not because of any merit in ourselves, but because of our faith in "the Lord our righteousness" {ST 2:497} 
Penances, mortifications of the flesh, constant confession of sin, without sincere repentance; fasts, festivals, and outward observances, unaccompanied by true devotion—all these are of no value whatever. The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient; He made a whole, efficacious offering to God; and human effort without the merit of Christ, is worthless.... {EV 192.1}
You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.” As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth. {1888M 560.5}


Perfection through our own good works we can never attain. The soul who sees Jesus by faith, repudiates his own righteousness. He sees himself as incomplete, his repentance insufficient, his strongest faith but feebleness, his most costly sacrifice as meager, and he sinks in humility at the foot of the cross. But a voice speaks to him from the oracles of God's word. In amazement he hears the message, "Ye are complete in him." Now all is at rest in the soul. No longer must he strive to find some worthiness in himself, some meritorious deed by which to gain the favor of God {ST, 2:497; 7/04/92}. 
The SDA Gospel Is Legalistic - Isn't it?
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I receive a lot of comments and personal messages about Adventism’s so called false gospel. I am not offended by these comments because I fully understand the reason why people would feel that way. I am the first to admit that for a long time Adventism has resided in the swamps of legalism. For many, Sabbath keeping has become salvific, health reform has become a test of fellowship, and petty arguments have been raged over wearing wedding bands. This was true even in Ellen Whites day, thus she could say,


As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. – 1888 Materials, p. 560 
The message of the gospel of His grace was to be given to the church in clear and distinct lines, that the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, the law, but do not teach or believe Christ. – Evangelism, p. 191
Many of our ministers have merely sermonized, presenting subjects in an argumentative way, and scarcely mentioning the saving power of the Redeemer. Their testimony was destitute of the saving blood of Christ. - Evangelism, p. 188 


However, when talking about what Adventism believes it is important to distinguish between what the church officially teaches and what members, ministers, and authors within the denomination believe. Because of this I have decided to share quotations about the doctrine of salvation from the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This book is basically an exposition of all of our fundamental doctrines. Afterward, I will share some quotes from co-founder and SDA pioneer/prophetess Ellen G. White.

Seventh-day Adventism and the Gospel


Jesus lived a pure, holy, and loving life, relying completely on God. This precious life He shares with repentant sinners as a gift. His perfect character is portrayed as a wedding garment (Matt. 22:11) or a robe of righteousness (Isa. 61:10) that He gives to replace the filthy rags of human attempts to achieve righteousness (Isa. 64:6). – 129


“Those who accept by faith that God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ and who submit to Him will receive from God the invaluable gift of justification with its immediate fruit of peace with God (Romans 5:1). No longer the objects of God’s wrath, justified believers have become the objects of God’s favor.” – 131


God’s ministry of reconciliation reveals the futility of human endeavors to obtain salvation through works of the law. Insight into divine grace leads to the acceptance of the justifying righteousness available through faith in Christ. The gratitude of those who have experienced forgiveness makes obedience a joy; works, then, are not the ground of salvation but its fruitage. – 131


The more we understands God’s grace in light of the cross, the less self-righteous we will feel, and the more we will realize how blessed we are. – 131


Trying, part from Christ, to develop the good in oneself is counterproductive. The experience of salvation that reaches deep into the soul comes from God alone. – 134


Only through Jesus Christ can one experience salvation, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – 134


Many wrongly believe that their standing before God depends on their good or bad deeds. – 136


Through justification by faith in Christ, His righteousness is imputed to us. We are right with God because of Christ our substitute…. As repentant sinners, we experience full and complete pardon. We are reconciled with God! – 137


Justification also brings the assurance of the believer’s acceptance. It brings the joy of being reunited with God now. – 138


How may we become perfect? The Holy Spirit brings us to the perfection of Christ. By faith, Christ’s perfect character becomes ours. People can never claim that perfection independently, as if it were their innate possession of theirs by right. Perfection is a gift of God. – 143


Apart from Christ human beings cannot obtain righteousness. – 143


In Christ these qualities constitute our perfection. He completed, once and for all, our sanctification and redemption. No one can add to what He has done. Our wedding garment, or robe of righteousness, was wrought out by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. – 143


Neither Christlike character traits nor faultless behavior is the ground of our acceptance with God. Saving righteousness comes from the one righteous Man, Jesus, and is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit.  We can contribute nothing to Christ’s gift of righteousness – we can only receive it. No one other than Christ is righteous (Rom. 3:10); independent human righteousness is only filthy rags. – 146


Even what we do in response to Christ’s saving love cannot form the basis of our acceptance with God. That acceptance is identified with the work of Christ. In bringing Christ to us, the Holy Spirit brings that acceptance. – 146


Ellen G. White and the Gospel


A legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. Fasting or prayer that is actuated by a self-justifying spirit is an abomination in the sight of God. The solemn assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the imposing sacrifice, proclaim that the doer of these things regards himself as righteous, and as entitled to heaven; but it is all a deception. Our own works can never purchase salvation.  {DA 280.2}


The fountain of the heart must be purified before the streams can become pure. He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law is attempting an impossibility. There is no safety for one who has merely a legal religion, a form of godliness. The Christian's life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit.  {DA 172.1} 


A legal religion has been thought quite the correct religion for this time. But it is a mistake. The rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees is applicable to those who have lost from the heart their first love. A cold, legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion… Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven. The one great Offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe. The love of Christ will animate the believer with new life. {1SM 388.1}


The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength. There is hope for us only as we come under the Abrahamic covenant, which is the covenant of grace by faith in Christ Jesus. The gospel preached to Abraham, through which he had hope, was the same gospel that is preached to us today, through which we have hope. Abraham looked unto Jesus, who is also the Author and the Finisher of our faith (YI Sept. 22, 1892).  {6BC 1077.7}


Legal religion will not answer for this age. We may perform all the outward acts of service and yet be as destitute of the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit as the hills of Gilboa were destitute of dew and rain. We all need spiritual moisture, and we need also the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness to soften and subdue our hearts. {6T 417.3} 


Brother M, you have not taken a judicious course with your family. Your children do not love you. They have more hatred than love. Your wife does not love you. You do not take a course to be loved. You are an extremist. You are severe, exacting, arbitrary, to your children. You talk the truth to them, but do not carry its principles into your everyday life. You are not patient, forbearing, and forgiving. You have so long indulged your own spirit, you are so ready to fly into a passion if provoked, that it looks exceedingly doubtful whether you will make efforts sufficient to meet the mind of Christ. You do not possess the power of endurance, forbearance, gentleness, and love. These Christian graces must be possessed by you before you can be truly a Christian. You cannot in your own strength put away your errors and wrongs; they have been increasing upon you for years, because you have not seen them in their hideousness and in the strength of God resolutely put them away. By living faith you must lay hold on an arm that is mighty to save. Humble your poor, proud, self-righteous heart before God; get low, very low, all broken in your sinfulness at His feet. Devote yourself to the work of preparation. Rest not until you can truly say: My Redeemer liveth, and, because He lives, I shall live also. {2T 88.1}


If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason.{FW 24.1}


Christ for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. And any works that man can render to God will be far less than nothingness. My requests are made acceptable only because they are laid upon Christ’s righteousness. The idea of doing anything to merit the grace of pardon is fallacy from beginning to end. “Lord, in my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” {FW 24.2}


When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity. {FW 25.3}

The cross of Calvary is a pledge to us of everlasting life. {EV 186.3}


We stand in favor before God, not because of any merit in ourselves, but because of our faith in "the Lord our righteousness" {ST 2:497} 
Penances, mortifications of the flesh, constant confession of sin, without sincere repentance; fasts, festivals, and outward observances, unaccompanied by true devotion—all these are of no value whatever. The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient; He made a whole, efficacious offering to God; and human effort without the merit of Christ, is worthless.... {EV 192.1}
You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.” As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth. {1888M 560.5}


Perfection through our own good works we can never attain. The soul who sees Jesus by faith, repudiates his own righteousness. He sees himself as incomplete, his repentance insufficient, his strongest faith but feebleness, his most costly sacrifice as meager, and he sinks in humility at the foot of the cross. But a voice speaks to him from the oracles of God's word. In amazement he hears the message, "Ye are complete in him." Now all is at rest in the soul. No longer must he strive to find some worthiness in himself, some meritorious deed by which to gain the favor of God {ST, 2:497; 7/04/92}. 


Conclusion


One thing is clear. SDA soteriology is not some weird SDA invention. It is an Armenian-Wesleyan understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ. With this understanding in mind how is it possible that the SDA church could have ever become so legalistic? Once again, the message of the church has always been grace but somehow the people lost sight of that precious truth. Many factors can be blamed for this and it would take an entire book to trace the history of our errors as a denomination so I won’t do it here (though I do plan on writing an exhaustive book on the history of grace in the SDA church from its start until the current time). May it suffice to say that the SDA church is not perfect, we – like all Protestant churches – have much in our history to be ashamed of. However, Gods message of grace and salvation has made it through the fire and is now being proclaimed within Adventism with renewed enthusiasm. For those within the SDA church who understand the gospel and are often burdened with the legalism that still lurks our church corridors I make an appeal. Don’t walk away. The church is on solid ground and we need men and women like you to restore to so many Adventists what has been lost through error, deception, and false teachers. It’s easy to run away. But don’t do it. Stay in the boat and help us get rid of the filth. I have committed my life to doing so but I can’t do it alone. With Gods grace, the cross will reclaim its original place at the center of the lives of many Seventh-day Adventists who have been led astray and is in fact already so close.