Although I grew up attending a Seventh Day Adventist church, I never considered myself to be saturated with the culture. My parents were new to the church having joined through an evangelistic crusade around the year I was born and almost all of my education was received in public schools. There is no question our environment and upbringing shape our perspective and I am no exception. My degree of connection and separation with the church made me feel somewhat like both an insider and outsider resulting in a curiosity which lead to a good deal of study on my own. In the course of my study, experience and observation in the church, I have come to a certain conclusion and that is this:
For all the high ideals and Biblical orthodoxy the church represents, we continually come face to face with the weaknesses and failings of the church. Unfortunately the origin of these issues is not understood and without properly understanding the real problem, we are unlikely to find the solution.
The root of the problem is a failure to clearly understand and apply the most important teaching of the Bible which is Justification by Faith in Jesus Christ. I have discovered there is a war going on inside and outside of the Seventh Day Adventist Church over what is essential to salvation and most members are largely unaware of it. As incredible as that may sound; to dismiss this is to be sidetracked into focusing on the symptoms rather than addressing the real problem. It is precisely because we have been so proud as to assume we already clearly comprehend what the Bible says about salvation that we have come to neglect, distort or misunderstand this teaching much to our own detriment and the evidence is abundant.
Undeniably, controversies exist in the church over issues ranging from regional conferences to dress and adornment to the investigative judgment and subjects in between. But if there is one thing I am convinced of it is this; the central issue is not women's ordination; the central issue is not worship styles, the central issue is not even the nature or inspiration of the "Spirit of Prophecy". The central issue is our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This leads to the core question, “What must I do to be saved?”. It becomes increasingly clear that there is nothing more important than our comprehending the meaning and purpose of the cross. Everything else is a side issue designed by the enemy to distract and divide. This is evidenced by the mixed feelings of bitterness and confusion among many youth and adults toward the message.
Our historical understanding of the gospel was largely shaped by a reaction to the teaching of "cheap grace". In the 1800's many churches were proclaiming that God's law had been done away with. While correctly and necessarily combating such false ideas, we overcompensated to such a point that a pioneer expressed, "We have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain." An overemphasis on sanctification led to the de-emphasis of the Bible truth that we are saved entirely by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. Fortunately, God sent the message of Christ and His Righteousness in the late 1800's to correct the problem. Unfortunately, we have yet to fully grasp or appropriate the blessing.
In 1924, former General Conference President Arthur G. Daniels published a book entitled Christ Our Righteousness clearly asserting that this message “had not been received, proclaimed or given free course as it should have been to convey measureless blessing to the church”.
In 1978 an Anglican theologian and clergyman named Geoffrey Paxton published a book entitled "The Shaking of Adventism" - a documented account of the struggle over the teaching of justification by faith. As a non-Adventist, the author demonstrates a credible understanding of the history and issues involved. He accurately concludes that it is a good thing that there should be a stirring among Adventists regarding the subject of righteousness by faith and that it would be a blessing for every church to be equally concerned with this most important subject.
A faithful proclamation of the all sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, the necessity of grace and the righteousness of faith would have protected us from the accusations of legalism, fanaticism, perfectionism, cultism and other ills that plague us. I can say this from experience. Through an unbalanced or incomplete teaching of the gospel we become mired in a self-preoccupied religious experience characterized by guilt, frustration and fear and consistently lack the assurance of salvation. Thankfully all of this is replaced by a sense of God’s love, abundant joy and peace of mind as we come to understand the truth of forgiveness and acceptance in Christ.
Every truth entrusted to the Seventh Day Adventist church including the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the second coming, the mark of the beast, the pre-advent judgment and the sanctuary are only understood clearly when we see them as connected to and an expansion of the central truth of the atonement of Christ in His plan of salvation.
Only when we understand the truth for ourselves are we transformed into effective dispensers of God’s grace to others. I have found the book of Romans and Galatians to most systematically unfold the gospel. These two books were expounded in their entirety by the two young ministers God used to bring the message of Christ and His Righteousness to the church in General Conference session more than a century ago (Jones and Waggoner). I have found no more exciting or more important study in all the Bible. I trust you will be richly blessed as I have in seeking to understand the cross. May we all grow in grace and in the knowledge of our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I’d like to share a few thoughts below. Additional references, including scripture and supporting material are attached. I think you will find illuminating and refreshing. Reflect upon the following:
· The law of God was never given as a means to salvation but to show us our need of Christ.
· The justification effected at the cross is the basis of our salvation and not sanctification.
· The sacrifice of Christ which justifies us covers all of our sins past, present and future.
· Sanctification, though important, does not add anything to our Justification.
· Sanctification is actually the evidence or result of accepting justification by faith.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Eph 2:8-9
In His Love,