Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christless Adventists?

by Shawn Brace

There are many who would like us to believe that Adventists have doctrine and prophecy, while Evangelicals have Jesus. I had a seminary professor who candidly admitted something along these lines during one of our classes. And inherent in this widely held opinion is that it is the job of these other churches and denominations to introduce people to Christ, and then we, as Adventists, can come along afterwards and “indoctrinate” them. Or, perhaps we should just abandon our “distinctives” altogether and preach the “essential” truths of Christianity, not worrying about the minutia of Adventism.

Is this an accurate idea, though?

Admittedly, some of our preaching and doctrine is Christless (“dry as the hills of Gilboa” Ellen White would say) and even some of our preaching about Christ is Christless. I am, in no way, immune from such unfortunate preaching. But I have always been a little uneasy when people insist that the megachurches and other Evangelical denominations have Christ, and we don’t.[1]

Can a church really have Christ if they don’t have doctrine, or prophecy, for that matter? To begin with, this follows the assumption that doctrine and prophecy are exclusive from Christ.

It’s not an either/or situation, though. While Adventism may get caught up in preaching Christless doctrine at times, what we need to do is find Christ in the doctrines. Indeed, if you preach or teach the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, the Second Coming or any of our other 28 Fundamental beliefs, and Christ is not at the center of them, then it’s not true doctrine.

I would argue, on the other hand, that these other churches aren’t preaching a complete picture of Christ. They’re preaching a version of Christ that is devoid of His fullness. Much of it is medication that doesn’t truly heal the sin-sick soul. We don’t need to go to these other churches to learn about Christ. He is among us.

If people are struggling in their walk with Christ, they don’t need less Sabbath; they need more. They need to understand that Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath who bids them to come to Him and find rest for their souls.

If people are discouraged about their faith experience, they don’t need less sanctuary; they need more. They need to understand that Christ was the Lamb slain for them; that He is standing at the right hand of the Father right now, interceding for them; that He not only promises forgiveness, but cleansing.

If people are tired of their Christian walk, they don’t need less 2300 days; they need more. They need to understand that Jesus is now at the other end of those 2300 days, cleansing the sanctuary in heaven, as well as the one in their hearts, and He is eager to return.

If people are struggling with their faith, they don’t need less Ellen White; they need more. They need to understand that because Christ loves us so much and shed His blood on Calvary, He, because of His mercy, gave us a special message from His heart in these last days, to help us in our times of need and struggle and guide us through the stormy weather and the rocky terrain.

Although someone can certainly accuse me of taking a verse out of context or spiritualizing it, when the disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 14 and said that they were going to send the 5,000 into the villages to get something to eat, Jesus’ response says a lot. He told them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And what did they get for their hungry stomachs? They got Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Do we, as Adventists, have to send people to these other places to give them a taste of Jesus, or can we provide Him for them? Jesus tells us, “You give them something to eat.”[2]

“Here is the patience of the saints: here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev 14:12).

[1] For an excellent recent article on this topic, see Shane Anderson, “It Really Is All About Jesus,” Adventist Review, 15 May 2008, 8-11. Also available online at http://adventistreview.org/issue.php?issue=2008-1514&page=8 (accessed 11 November 2008).

[2] This is not to say that we cannot learn anything from these other churches and leaders. I, myself, do a lot of reading from non-Adventist authors. But there is a difference between gleaning pearls of wisdom from these people, and abandoning all Adventist doctrine and modeling our methods and doctrines after them.

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