Seventh-day Adventist® Attitudes toward Other Christians
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
So that what I write below is not misunderstood by my fellow Seventh-day Adventists, let me begin this blog post by saying that I whole-heartedly believe that Seventh-day Adventists have been given the mission of the end-time remnant (Rev 12:17), which is to proclaim the everlasting gospel uniquely packaged in the context of the three angels’ messages throughout the world in order to prepare a people for the second coming of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ (Rev 14:6–12). I am passionate about this mission and grateful to be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian.
Now I would like to point out an observation of mine regarding Seventh-day Adventist attitudes regarding this belief, which, I hope the reader will understand, is not intended to undermine it in any way. I only hope that making this observation known will help to keep in check my attitudes and those of my fellow Seventh-day Adventists that concern our Christian brothers and sisters who belong to other denominations.
I think many Seventh-day Adventists (admittedly I must also include myself) have become overly prideful in a claimed “uniqueness” and "distinctiveness" that starkly differentiates us from other Christians. Unfortunately, this has led some to take on a kind of superiority complex that has prevented effective fellowship and mission among us. The truth is that Seventh-day Adventists are, in fact, deeply indebted to other Christians for the twenty-eight fundamental beliefs that we hold so dear. While, yes, Seventh-day Adventists do have made unique theological contributions to Christian theology, we are not as drastically distinct from other Christians as we often depict ourselves. In reality, we have a rich historical-theological heritage that runs all they way back in time to the early apostolic fathers and beyond. There are important contributions that Christian thinkers throughout time have made from which we have greatly benefited theologically. I think this would be more apparent if we read more widely.
Now, I do not write this in order to deny the fact that we do have theological differences (after all, we are a different denomination within Protestant Christianity), but to raise to our awareness that the doctrinal journey that has led us to where we are at now theologically entailed gathering the teachings of other denominations and comparing them with Scripture. We did our best to throw out what we have discovered to be unbiblical (like sacramentalism, Platonic dualism and timelessness, determinism, etc.), and we are not yet finished with this work. We adopted and further developed what we have found to be in harmony with Scripture. This task we have not completed as of yet either. Finally, we made these doctrines are own by binding them together and packaging them in a great controversy eschatological framework, although this framework is not entirely unique either.1 Nevertheless, this doctrinal packaging and its framework together make a unique contribution to Christian theology.
But we must be careful not to claim too much for ourselves. In reality, Seventh-day Adventists only have unique nuances of doctrines that, by and large, are not new at all (especially if we believe they come from the Bible). As it is written, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). Instead, the concept of progressive revelation that Ellen G. White illustrates in her book, The Great Controversy, should be understood. White said that the teaching that "truth is progressive, that Christians should stand ready to accept all the light which may shine from God’s holy word" is a "great principle" that should not be "lost sight of."2 In this remarkable book, she both warned of false doctrine AND highly appreciated and valued the richness of our theological heritage and tradition from the past (especially that from the Protestant Reformers). God has uncovered golden nuggets of truth down through the corridors of time and entrusted them to various Christian groups by which all are to be blessed. She encouraged Seventh-day Adventists to continue carrying the torch of growing and reforming our understanding of theology and our life application of it. But she did not want our pursuit of truth to prevent us from engaging in fellowship with and missions among our Christian brothers and sisters.
"We are to be sanctified through the truth. The word of God presents special truths for every age. The dealings of God with his people in the past should receive our careful attention. We should learn the lessons which they are designed to teach us. But we are not to rest content with them. God is leading out his people step by step. Truth is progressive. The earnest seeker will be constantly receiving light from Heaven. What is truth? should ever be our inquiry" (Ellen G. White, "The Stone of Witness," The Signs of the Times 7.20 [26 May 1881]: 229).
So, all this is to say that Seventh-day Adventists need to be careful of how we view our “uniqueness” and how that affects our attitudes toward fellow Christians in other denominations. We need to evaluate carefully those attitudes and feelings and check them with Scripture and with our purposes of mission and fellowship. How can we faithfully carry out our remnant mission to reach the world and have fellowship with others, if we separate ourselves so distinctly and do not appreciate our common ground? Or if we portray ourselves so arrogantly? Or if we have such prideful separatist attitudes toward others that lack love? In place of all this, we should work to establish common theological ground with others (showing appreciation for other faith traditions and their biblical contributions). Only then should we humbly and lovingly share with them what we believe to be a fuller understanding of biblical truth, all the while remembering that this understanding is not perfect or complete. After all, Seventh-day Adventists are depraved sinful humans beings too, who also are prone to error—no matter how sanctified we may think we are. So who knows? Maybe we might learn from others some new insights from the Bible that we have never seen before. Or maybe, just maybe, dialoguing with other Christians could help us to see our own spots of doctrinal blindness, where we have not been as faithful to the Bible as we could be.
Again, I do not want the reader to think that I am minimizing the important contributions that Seventh-day Adventists have made and continue to make toward developing a more biblical Christian theology. I am not suggesting that Seventh-day Adventists should join some ecumenical agenda and abandon all the gems of biblical truth that we have gathered in our theological treasure chest. However, I do desire that in our sharing of these truths with others, we be humble, always remembering that, as finite erring human beings, we will never have a final and complete understanding of truth until the second coming of Jesus when we are all made new. And even then, we will be ever-growing and progressing in our knowledge of God and His Word and will, as we are now. As Ellen G. White said, "And the years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. ... knowledge is progressive."3
At the same time, I long for Seventh-day Adventists to be more conscious of our theological indebtedness to other Christian denominations and show forth attitudes and behaviors that reflect this consciousness in our interactions with our fellow Christians. We simply cannot anymore arrogantly ignore the enormous contributions that other faith traditions (especially those of the Protestant Reformation) have made to Christian theology as if God just dropped the whole package of biblical truth out of heaven into our Seventh-day Adventist laps. We should always bear in mind that we stand upon the solid foundations laid by “spiritual giants” from other denominations (such as Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchthon, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Jacobus Arminius, John Wesley, William Miller, etc.) in our development of a Seventh-day Adventist system of Christian theology. Scripture is our textbook (sola, tota, prima, and analogia scriptura), the Holy Spirit is our teacher (1 Cor 2:14), and other Christians are our dialogue partners on this life-long journey of seeking after truth and the God who possesses it in full.
1 See Nicholas Miller, The Reformation and the Remnant (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2016).
2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 297.
3 Ibid., 678.