We have come to the final lesson for this quarter, and there are a few closing issues we still need to address.
In Romans 14, Paul introduces an important principle: the idea that the strong should bear the infirmities of the weak. This means, in practice, that we should tolerate the quirks and hangups of those who are immature in the faith, and be careful to not do anything that will cause them spiritual harm, even if we ourselves know that there is nothing wrong with what we are doing. This is certainly a difficult calling, but it clearly comes from the heart of Christ. It’s how He treated everyone while He was on earth.
While the first part of chapter 14 teaches an important lesson, it also often creates problems for Adventists, because Paul applies this lesson to issues such as diet and the Sabbath.
To make sense of this, it helps to understand a little of the religious life of the Jews. The Jewish religion revolved around the yearly calendar, which was a continual sequence of rituals and ceremonies. They had multiple feast days with specialized diets, they had fast days, and they brought offerings that they would eat certain portions of. All these things were an integral part of their religious life, and were often difficult to leave behind when they became Christians.
On the other hand, the Gentiles also had pagan ceremonies that they were accustomed to, and the meat they ate was offered to idols. These things often created conflict between those younger in the faith and those more mature.
Christians today point to the fact that Adventists don’t eat unclean foods, and claim that Paul is here speaking against this. Adventists, however, have an entirely different rationale for our view on diet. We differ from most of the Christian world in that we place the canon of Scripture above tradition, and reject the Greek philosophical foundations that Christian theology was developed on.
We’ve discussed repeatedly how the Greek view of God and reality as being timeless created a frame of reference that misinterpreted the Scriptures. Under this view, man was understood as being primarily an immaterial being or soul that had a physical body. The Biblical view of man, however, is that he is primarily a physical being.
This difference in anthropology has caused Adventists to place much more importance on physical health than other Christians. Additionally, our anthropology became a hermeneutical lens that informed our reading of Old Testament passages, such as Leviticus 11 which discuss unclean foods.
We recognize that this portion of the writings of Moses was not given by God purely as a set of ceremonial rules. Rather, it was designed to be taken as health and sanitation instruction, and therefore is still applicable today. As Adventists, however, we’ve encouraged people to go beyond unclean foods and drop meat altogether from the diet, for the sake of health. Thus, there is no issue here with people being weak or strong in the faith. Rather, it is merely an encouragement to live the most healthy and vibrant life possible.
That said, these passages in Romans do apply to some in Adventism who have turned our health message into rules to judge people by. Not only is this contrary to the gospel; it also ends up harming people’s health, and even pushing people into addictive behavior.
Another issue that comes up in these chapters is, of course, the Sabbath:
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)
Here again Adventists interpret these passages in light of the Scripture as a whole. The religion of the Bible is a communal religion. While each converted believer has a personal relationship with God, they are also called to come together regularly and worship God in community.
They cannot, of course, do this every day, as they must work to sustain their families. However, once a week, the time is set aside for communal worship. If we look at the Bible, we see that the day when this was always done was on the Sabbath.
If the the day of worship was changed in the New Testament, this would have been a major disturbance for the early church, which we would expect to have seen recorded in Scripture. The evidence, however, just isn’t there. The burden of proof is not on us, but on those who claim there was a change, and the New Testament does not provide sufficient evidence to meet that burden.
Most Christians today recognize that an adequate case cannot be made for the shift from Sabbath to Sunday, and thus they argue instead that the day doesn’t matter. This then requires them to downplay the role of the 10 commandments when dealing with Adventists, while lifting up the 10 commandments when trying to press for civil/judicial change. However, if the day doesn’t matter, then we cannot be accused for choosing the Sabbath either, nor do we want to be in their position of having to lift up and downplay the 10 commandments at the same time.
Other Christians do sometimes have a point, however, when it comes to us making the Sabbath a test of salvation. When the early Adventists put together the full prophetic picture of Daniel and Revelation, we realized that our teaching about the mark of the beast could be an effective tool to scare people into the church. After all, who wants to keep going to church on Sunday and risk receiving the mark? I would argue, however, that this is not a good approach to bring people into the church, and often brings in people who don’t actually benefit the church by being members.
I would propose two concepts about the topic of the mark:
Firstly, the wrath of God being poured out without mercy on those who have the mark is not poured out to punish them for Sunday worship. It is not even for their refusal to keep the Sabbath. Rather, it is for a complete rejection of God, after the catalyst mentioned in the previous lesson had done its part, of which the Sabbath/Sunday issue is only an external sign.
They have chosen to reject God, have chosen to surrender to the power of the beast, in spite of all the martyr blood shed to deliver them from that power back in the 1500’s, and are now following him in persecuting the faithful. It is for all this that they are guilty—not for worshiping on the wrong day.
Secondly, I mentioned in the previous lesson that the church has a part to play in God’s last-day catalyst. A major component of this is the spreading of the 3rd Angel’s Message as a testable prediction. As a church, we have gone out on a limb for 150 years promoting a particular approach to Scriptural interpretation that brought us to a very specific and implausible-sounding conclusions: that the last day conflict will revolve around the passing of a Sunday law.
It is because this claim sounds so implausible to the modern mind that, when it happens, it will become a strong confirmation that we were on the right track in our approach to the Bible.
It is in this context that the latter rain begins to fall, and the fact that current events are validating our message of Christ’s imminent return will cause anyone still open to the gospel to make their decision.
Therefore, I recommend that we stop thinking of the 3rd angel’s message as a “prong” to push people into the church, and instead view it instead as a powerful testable prediction that will provide the modern generation with sufficient evidence to make an informed decision.
What then is keeping these events from finally taking place? God needs a church which is united and working together to accomplish the mission it was called to fulfill almost two centuries ago.
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 15:5-6)