Beyond the One project: The War Over the Local Church (5a)

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Beyond the One project: The War Over the Local Church (5a)


If you have ever made a call for tithes and offerings to support Adventist education at a local church and had a parent come up to you after the service and tearfully describe how they sacrificed to send their precious God-fearing child to an Adventist institution of higher learning and their child came back home to visit at thanksgiving believing in evolution, or visited a former member who stopped coming to church simply because “no one cared,” or talked to a highly qualified seminary graduate who cannot get a job in their preferred conference because of the color of their skin, or watched an independent minister raise thousands of dollars from your congregants for their own ministry while your local church is on the brink of defaulting on the mortgage payments, or observed a contentious constituency session where delegates of your own church berate the president of the General Conference, or sat in a Sabbath School class and heard mutually exclusive views on creation, the three angels’ messages, the investigative judgment, and the reliability of Scripture and wondered how we will ever unite to finish the work of God on earth, you are not alone.


There is a war raging in the local churches across the North American Division (NAD) for the very soul of Adventism. For the church at large, the casualties run into the millions.[1] From the early 1960s till the year 2000, 43 out of every 100 members brought into the church have left it within three years.[2] Currently, 49 out of every 100 members leave the church within three years. The reasons behind this war of attrition are multi-faceted and complex. But the source of the theological conflict is easy to detect: differences at the hermeneutical level. The four NAD theological factions exert diametrically opposed influences at all levels in the Division. This has led to disunity at the local church level with repercussions felt at all administrative levels, institutions of higher education, and most visibly in declining growth and membership at the local church.


Over the course of this series, I took an in-depth look at the One project ministry and placed it within Evangelical faction of Adventism. I traced from the beginnings of Christianity and Adventism the foundational issues and showed how presuppositions shape hermeneutics and hermeneutics in turn shape theology, theology gives rise to eschatology, eschatology affects soteriology, and soteriology effects mission, and mission gives rise to ecclesiology. I also showed how the NAD currently has four theological factions: Historical, Evangelical, Progressive, and Biblical Adventism(s) and how the dynamics between these factions give rise to once in a generation ministries like the One project.[3] We also heard directly from two of the founders of the One project via personal interviews, and from four of the founders through the talks at the Create Conference.[4], [5]


Often when the topic of theological disunity comes up in conversation some are quick to deny its existence by chalking up the discord as essential “diversity” while others see it as a symptom of the Laodicean church or the “emergent church.” Solutions to the problems in the North American Division range from “fasting and united prayer,” “the need for the Latter Rain,” “kicking out liberals,” “understanding the message of 1888,” “interpreting Scripture in a non-literal way,” “loving more,” “perfectly reproducing the character of Christ in His people” “administrative discipline” and until recently “Jesus. All.”


The One project ministry represented a serious attempt to fix these problems in the North American Division. Given the current situation, any serious attempt to fix problems within the NAD must be welcomed and carefully examined for its hermeneutical, theological, missional, soteriological, and ecclesiological compatibility with the Seventh-day Adventist standard and rule of faith, the Bible.[6]


Unpacking the One Project’s Ecclesiology & Christology

In a paper on Adventist Ecclesiology, Adventist Ecclesiology and the One Project, Pastor Alex Bryan suggested that Christology must precede ecclesiology.[7] He suggested that the One project makes two contributions to the church: “The first contribution to the church is through what the One project has claimed and the second through what it has modeled.”[8] Let us briefly analyze these contributions here.


Contribution #1: “THE ONE PROJECT has claimed, in numerous ways and through many voices, that the Adventist Church, in order to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, must be consumed with the life, the lessons, and the language of Jesus.”


We agree with the fact that our church must be consumed with the life, the lessons, and the language of Jesus. However, when we heard from Bryan in the Create Conference, he seemed to question the very teachings of Jesus regarding the Three Angels’ Messages and the need to call people out of Babylon, which includes the Protestant churches. Some have also noted the One project’s lack of an emphasis on sin, something that Jesus came to save us from and restore us to a new nature through the new birth, a lack of emphasis on the investigative judgment, something that Jesus is currently participating in, the lack of mention of a literal creation, something Jesus did in the past, and a lack of emphasis in doctrinal teaching, public evangelism and discipleship which are included in His Great Commission.[9] We wonder what is left of the life, lessons, and the language of Jesus. All. that the Seventh-day Adventist church is missing after all these and other theological omissions?


Contribution #2: “If the first contribution THE ONE PROJECT offers to the ecclesiological conversation is a clear and redundant statement about the essential role of Jesus in the Church, the second is what the very nature of the gatherings indicates about how the Adventist Church (particularly in the global west) might survive and thrive.” Here he offers four aspects or sub-points:


  1. Ecclesiastic activity is not dependent upon the instigation or investment of denominational administration. In fact, ecclesiastic vitality can be decidedly local.
  2. The twin reality of ecclesiastic innovation fueled by financial investment is something the larger church should carefully consider.
  3. Ecclesiastic conversation engenders theological ownership and promotes corporate loyalty.
  4. The group’s leadership believes Adventism gains strength through dialogue with other Christians. The tribe of Judah needed the tribe of Dan and the tribe of Dan needed the tribe of Levi. Each tribe maintaining its uniqueness – all the while supporting and enjoying support from sibling tribes. Ecclesiastic health includes Christological conversation beyond the borders of Adventism.


Adventist ecclesiology is not dependent on the instigation or investment of denominational administration. It actually works the other way around. We contribute through our participation, and the collection of our financial resources to fund the global work, which includes education (as he noted), healthcare, evangelism, and administration that includes the Gospel ministry. It was this participation and allocation of funding that came under attack in Bryan’s talk in what he called “the denomination Inc.” I would agree that ecclesiastic conversation engenders theological ownership, however his own remnant theology does not engender any kind of loyalty, corporate or otherwise. And while I believe that God has sincere sheep in other churches that will heed His call one day and join the remnant church, I fail to see how the uncritical adoption of protestant Greek presupposition-based theology and Christology, is beneficial to the ecclesiastical health of Adventism.


Affinity with the Adventist Church?

The One project has marketed itself as being a “part of the church” without demonstrating affinity to the church’s doctrines. In my analysis of their published books, sermons, and interviews here and elsewhere, they do not qualify as a ministry that official church can endorse. It is probably a moot point in view of their notice of imminent closure now, but the One project needs to be reclassified as an independent ministry. Reclassifying the ministry as independent allows for them to maintain their views and gives the church the freedom to choose whether or not those views are compatible with the global mission, remnant identity, and biblical/theological beliefs of the world church.


The Relationship between Adventist Mission & Eschatology[10]

In the book, Toward a Theology of the Remnant, published by the Biblical Research Institute (BRI), the editor, Dr. Angel Manuel Rodriguez, writes,


“It has been correctly said that Adventism is an apocalyptic movement and that as such it will play a particular role within the closing chapters of the cosmic conflict. This means that our self-perception is strongly related to our eschatological expectations. Any attempt to free our ecclesiology from its eschatological moorings will have to redefine the first or ignore the second. Such displacement will not be able to produce an ecclesiology that is Adventist in thinking, orientation, and worldview.”


Rodriguez’s articulation of how remnant theology manifests itself within Adventism shows the consequences of substituting Adventism’s (traditional) apocalyptic view with Pastor Bryan’s view of our remnant identity and understanding of the Three Angels’ messages. The two are in direct conflict. If you recall, in his Create Conference talk, Bryan suggested that it is our ‘escapist dreams’, that ‘this world is not our home’ that keep us from connecting to those around us.[11]


Rodriguez goes on to tie the mission and the message to unity and the worldwide organization of the church,


“It took some time for our pioneers to realize that the Adventist movement had a mission to the whole world. This had a significant impact on the understanding of the nature of the Adventist church. A clear message was to be proclaimed by a unified community of believers to every people, nation, and tongue. That message transcends ethnicity, gender, race, and national distinctions. This missiological outlook has contributed in a direct way to the unity of the church and to the development of an ecclesiastical organization of world proportions.”


Burrill’s research also shows that early Adventists anchored their sense of mission from the ground of the Great Commission and the Three Angels’ messages. Their rationale for fulfilling the Great Commission, as well as its motivation, has been the fulfillment of Mathew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (NIV).[12] In this context, the coming of Christ is important, but the saving of souls is even more paramount. Jesus is concerned about those who may be lost if they are not reached and that should be the concern of His church as well. The second text that anchored for early Adventists their sense of mission is Revelation 14:6-12.


This is why Adventist mission cannot be understood apart from the Three Angels’ messages and the Great Commission. They are inseparable. If Adventists focus exclusively on Mathew 24:14, it leads them to an understanding of mission that is primarily proclamational. In this sense, as long as the gospel is proclaimed, regardless of whether it is accepted or rejected, mission is accomplished. Yet, Burrill correctly asserts here that “Mathew 24: 14 cannot be isolated from the goal of the Great Commission in Mathew 28:19, that of making disciples. The beauty of Revelation 14 is that it brings all the elements of the two Mathean texts together in one composite whole. Here is the preaching of the everlasting gospel. This proclamation is worldwide. It is not just proclaimed, there are results. The preaching of this message produces patient endurance in saints who keep the commandments of God. Like Mathew’s Great Commission, the object of the three angels’ messages is to produce a people who keep the commandments of God.”[13]


The Cost of Discipleship: Belonging & then believing?

The cost of discipleship in the end time is no different from that of any other period in human history. God expects His disciples to produce true, genuine, fully committed disciples in every age of the church.[14] Russell Burrill asserts conclusively here,


“If the goal of the Adventist mission is to produce the people described in Revelation 14:1-5, then their evangelistic strategy must follow the pattern of Revelation 14:6-12. Adventists much preach this unique message in the context of the eschaton. The evangelistic mandate, originating out of the Great Commission and elaborated by the distinctive message of Revelation 14, must be the guideline for the accomplishment of Adventist mission. Hence, Adventists can never be content with merely bringing people to initial faith in Christ and not into full discipleship. The Adventist mission can be understood only against the backdrop of Revelation 14 and the disciple-making mandate of the Great Commission.”[15]


During my interviews with the One Project founders, suggestions were made to separate the initial coming to Christ and the discipleship that was hoped would follow. Burrill too, finds in his research, the same suggestion put forth by others that “…baptism would then follow the initial coming to Christ and be disconnected from church membership. After the people have been taught the message of Adventism, they can then be brought into membership if they desire.” Burrill continues stating, “a baptism separated from entrance into the church is both foreign and contrary to the New Testament, which links baptism as the initiating rite into church membership. The focus on separating coming to Christ from discipleship is also causing Adventists to lose the focus of Revelation 14:1-12 as the goal and message of Adventism. Such an evangelistic methodology would be contrary to both the Great Commission and the Three Angels’ messages.”[16]


“We are listening but we don’t like what we hear”

Borrowing a phrase from Pastor Bryan’s talk, “I’m listening but I don’t like what I hear,” I listened intently to the One project, and I came to realize the reasons why I and many others have not liked what we heard.


The founders stated that their theology was formed within Adventism several decades prior to their inter-denominational studies. I believe that they see the NAD’s theological factional divisions as a failure of Adventism’s experiment. They seek to restore Adventism to a pristine version of Protestantism espoused by the magisterial reformers. While some of them have differing emphasis from strongly supporting to something less than regarding the Sanctuary doctrine, the impression one gets from attending their Gatherings is, that the Gospel and its story of the Cross takes precedence.


The One project’s central thesis is that the Adventist church has drifted from its focus on Christ and perhaps other than a brief period in 1888 has never really made Jesus. All. in its history. It’s evangelical Adventist, hermeneutical, articulating, principle requires an exclusive focus on the sacrificial work of Christ at the expense of His expiatory work in Heaven. This celebration of the supremacy of Jesus requires a revision of the Three Angels’ Messages and accordingly, a redefinition of the church’s understanding regarding what constitutes Babylon. Consequently, in this view, the Adventist church needs to find its identity within “tribal” Christianity by shedding its remnant identity: a going into rather than a coming out of Protestantism.[17]


Whether this ministry represents the future of Adventism or holds up a mirror to it’s supposed Christ-less past, is entirely up to those who support it and paradoxically those who oppose it. Each of the three theological factions: Historical, Progressive and Evangelical, in the NAD, have within themselves the ability to shape Adventism in their own image. Members in all these factions are actively making choices as to what kind of Adventism will be prominent in North America for the coming decades. Among these, some members want to see a change in the North American Division but do not know where to begin. It is to these members that I offer a view of an alternative Adventism, one that is based on biblical principles, and is tentatively named Biblical or Canonical Adventism.


In this final article of the series,[18] we will assess the legacy of the One project ministry and its proposed ecclesiological contributions to the problems in the NAD. We will then go beyond the One project to look at how each of the theological factions exert their influence in what has become a ‘war’ to determine the future of Adventism in the NAD at the local church level. This two-part article has three sections each. Each section sequentially builds on theological concepts related to ecclesiology to provide both a wide-angle view of the NAD as a whole and deconstruct the theological factions to understand the root causes behind the fragmentation. Only after building this understanding, using Scripture and past history as our guide, will we be in position to understand the scale of the effort required to fix the North American Division and return it to sustainable growth and biblical discipleship and retention of its membership.[19]


Section 1: New Testament Era Ecclesiology


The Theological Source of Authority in the Great Commission

The Bible records the last words of Jesus before He ascended to heaven in Mathew 28:16-20. We know those verses collectively as the “Great Commission.” In his dissertation, Andrews University Professor for Church Growth & Evangelism, Dr. Russell Burrill, develops the concept of mission and ties it to the church, “the Great Commission is the ‘Magna Carta’ of the Christian church.” This is the most authoritative statement Jesus has made in His entire ministry on earth. New Testament ecclesiology finds its theological foundation in the Great Commission.[20]


“Mission” Defined

Burrill derives the mission of the church from the Great Commission. “According to the commission, it is the making of disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them all that Jesus commanded. The mission described in this commission centers around these three works: disciple making, baptizing, and teaching.[21] The mission is not complete until all three works have been accomplished.


Thus, if a church baptizes people without discipling, or teaching them, it is disobedient to Christ. If a church disciples people and fails to baptize them, it is likewise disobedient. If a church teaches people the commands of Christ, but does not disciple and baptize them, it too fails Jesus. Even if a church disciples people and baptizes them into the church, but fails to continue to teach them the commands of Jesus, they are disobedient to Christ.”[22]


Burrill asserts that the “church has failed miserably to fulfill the Great Commission, not because it has not faithfully proclaimed and baptized, but because it has not seen the absolute necessity of ensuring all three actions.”[23]


The Church’s Origin: The Great Commission or Pentecost?

The church’s origin is inherent in the commission of Jesus; the source of the power for the fulfillment of the commission resides in the Pentecost event. However, Pentecost used by itself, unlinked to the Great Commission can lead to theological errors that result in methodological errors at the practical level. Pentecost’s purpose was to empower the church for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. The church is founded by Christ’s Great Commission, not by the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost. To place Pentecost above the Great Commission according to Burrill is “to place the Holy Spirit above Christ.”[24] If we place Pentecost over the Great Commission as the origin of the church, then the authenticating Holy Spirit becomes the decider of teaching rather than Christ or the Word; for the witness of the Spirit becomes superior to the Word. Thus, it is the Great Commission that is primary for the origin of the Christian Church rather than Pentecost. Burrill writes,


It is in this sense that the Seventh-day Adventist Church can never be Pentecostal. The Holy Spirit is given for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. The Holy Spirit is not an end in Himself. He serves the risen Christ, enabling His body to fulfill the Great Commission…


One of the dangers confronting Adventism today is the attempt to allow the Spirit to be the authenticating decider of what is right in mission and practice. The danger here is that a false spirit could also be at work. Adventism must evaluate the ongoing Spirit by the eternal Word. Only as theology and practice is subjected to the acid test of the revealed Word can Adventism be safe. As the Spirit is authenticated by the Word of God, He can empower the church of today to indeed accomplish the mission of Christ as portrayed in the Great Commission.


The true church of Jesus today, then, must be a Great Commission church. It must be a church that is serious about fulfilling the Great Commission. If the origin of the church is the Great Commission, then its life and practice must revolve around the fulfillment of that commission as the reason for its existence.”[25]


Biblical Definition of “Disciple”

The product of the Great Commission is a disciple. In this relationship, one is to be constantly learning more about that person, while at the same time living in subjection to that person. The word itself does not suggest a rapid conversion to the person, but a slow process by which one is made into a disciple.[26]


It appears that discipleship is both an initial work and a continuing work in the life of the person being discipled. The question that concerns us now is: What is the initial work of discipling before a person is baptized into faith? Burrill shows that according to the Great Commission, people are made disciples, then baptized, and then are taught more. There is little disagreement among Christians on the fact that people need continual teaching after baptism. The area of disagreement lies in what must be taught before baptism.[27]


Included in the endnotes are four passages where Jesus Himself was very clear what it meant to be a disciple. First, He expected the disciple to be like Him. Second, He expected His disciples to be converted before they followed Him. Third, they had to obey His commandments. Fourth, they had to bear fruit which also meant creating more disciples or engaging in evangelism.[28], [29], [30]


The Timing of Baptism & The Difference between a Believer & a Disciple

According to Jesus’ commission, people are first made disciples, and then they are baptized into the body of Christ, which the New Testament clearly defines as the church of Jesus. In this sense, it is impossible to be baptized without becoming a member of the church. The prerequisite for membership is initial discipleship, as defined by Jesus, which provides a clear theological basis for the believer’s baptism. To hold off baptism until the clear evidences of discipleship are apparent in the life is contrary to most plans for growth today. Burrill believes that it would be better to have the solid growth that making disciples entails than the cheap growth that other plans would allow. [31]


Burrill argues that “Baptism may need to be understood as more than a symbol of forgiveness of sins and that there is strong New Testament evidence that baptism also carries the symbol of ordination to the ministry of all believers.[32] If baptism does symbolize, as Jesus’ baptism did, one’s initiation into ministry, then the disciple making occurring before baptism must prepare people to enter the ministry of Christ. That in itself precludes a quick baptism after an acknowledgement of Christ as Savior.” He goes on to say that most churches neglect the fact that these disciples need to be continually taught after baptism. “The “acid test” of those who are discipled and baptized is seen in their continual obedience to the teachings of Jesus. Changed lives will be evidenced in those who have entered into baptized discipleship. They will be different.”[33]


Through the process of thorough discipleship before baptism and continued training after baptism, the church ensured that its newest members would be those who actually wanted to be disciples of Christ and clearly understood their responsibility: to create more disciples. They were trained in the basic elements of Christianity and were then encouraged to deepen their faith through further study of the word and by being living witnesses to the teachings of Jesus. There is solid faith development in the people who are made disciples. Such faith development does not happen overnight. It requires a “process of time,” which is the thought that is suggested by the very use of the term “disciple” to describe what Jesus wished His church to accomplish. This definition of a disciple has implications not only for when someone can be baptized, but how long it may take before they can be considered to be disciples of Christ.


Combining all the Elements Together: The NT “Non-Dependency” Model of the Local Church

The New Testament era Christians had a non-dependency model of local church, its chief feature being the absence of settled pastors, because all Christians were disciples of Christ. Theirs was a church that grew primarily through member-led movements and within a generation it spread to all parts of the then known world. A local church that is non-dependent on a pastor does not imply that it is ‘congregational’ in nature. Congregationalism is a form of church governance that operates under the auspices of total independence from other entities. Several protestant denominations use that model. Congregational models are not compatible with the Seventh-day Adventist church because our message implies a unified work in all areas of the world, simultaneously, in an orderly fashion.


To properly understand what ‘member-care’ (discipling) implies according to Scripture, we need to understand what the Bible meant by various roles listed in the New Testament. It is important to not read into biblical terms, our modern day understanding of the roles, but rather understand how the Christians of the New Testament understood them to be. The New Testament Model of member care includes and brings together all the elements of New Testament ecclesiology into a cohesive whole: The goal of the early Christian church was to be faithful to the Great Commission’s threefold mission which culminated in creating disciples.


These disciples were not clergy dependent, but were individuals who understood the basic elements of the truth and had committed their lives to Christ and His commission. They were to faithfully live their lives day in and day out until they were called to martyrdom or died of natural causes. Every aspect of their life was considered to be ministry. They were all ministers and disciples of Christ. The focus was on making disciples rather than converts (who were clergy dependent). These disciples were indigenous to the area and would go on to create more disciples in their local area.[34] The local church was the hub for fellowship but not the main source of their religion. Since they met in their houses to worship and teach the truths of Jesus and read the letters of His Apostles as well as their Bible which was the Old Testament, the nexus of church was their everyday witness rather than a principal location as it is in our church today. “Paul’s strategy was to plant a new church in a new cultural group. He would stay long enough to make certain that the disciples had been made, leaders had been trained, and the new disciples were busy making other disciples. Then he left to raise up a new church. The leaders of these churches were not the counterparts of our modern-day pastors. They were laity. The local church operated independent of settled, paid pastors. If the New Testament church had endorsed an arrangement of paid pastors over congregations, its growth would have been nullified.”[35]


Departure from the NT “Non-Dependency” Model to a “Clergy Dependent” Model

Burrill notes that the New Testament era (34 CE – circa 96 CE) “ends with no indication of any change in clergy role from that established by Jesus, Paul and other founders of the Christian church.”[36] Yet in a very short time – by the opening of the second century – there is already indication of a departure from the biblical model of an itinerant clergy to one of a localized clergy, and the development of the role of a local leader as primary care giver. While its origin is in the beginning of the second century, it is established everywhere by the end of the century.[37] The earliest indication of an established clergy over churches comes from Ignatius (110 CE). [38]


Departure from the NT “Non-Dependency” Model & the Rise of the Fixed Clergy

In the third and fourth centuries, the development of a fixed clergy with priestly power fully develops, so that by the time of Nicea (325 CE), it is a recognized feature of the Christian church as it moves into the Constantinian era.[39] Burrill notes two transitions from the New Testament model. The first was the move from an itinerant ministry to a settled ministry, which changed the role of the clergy to a more localized role. The second transition occurred after Constantine. It further separated clergy from laity and gave them powers that God never intended them to have and which have no New Testament roots. The church began to pattern its ministry after the Old Testament priestly model, where clergy performed for the people ministry, which they could not do for themselves, rather than the clergy being the facilitator of the ministry of the laity.[40] These transitions, Burrill concludes, resulted from a change in the environment of the church from a missional field to an established location. With the missional emphasis no longer prominent and primary, it was necessary for the church to be reorganized for a maintenance ministry. This was a logical development for a church that had lost its missional function. Whenever a church appoints clergy as the primary care givers of the congregation, it loses its mission consciousness.[41]


Burrill writes that as the church identified more with the empire, various groups within the church moved underground and created the dissident church of the Middle Ages. While these groups had strong leaders, they viewed the “Christian” world as their “hostile” environment and consequently did not accept the established church’s abandonment of the ministry of the laity. Instead most of these dissident groups engaged in lay ministry. This ministry of the laity was responsible for the rapid spread of these groups in papal Europe. A prime example of this model in the Middle Ages were the Waldenses who under the guise of merchants conducted business but their real purpose was to share the good news.[42]


Reformers begin the journey back to the New Testament Ecclesiological Model

John Wycliffe was the first to argue for the separation of church and state and for the priesthood of all believers. He vehemently rejected the sacraments and the ‘priesthood’ of the clergy. The Protestant reformers, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, brought the attention back to the New Testament model of the priesthood of all believers during the Reformation however their implementation of the biblical concept suffered as they failed to return ministry to the people.[43] Preaching was the hallmark of the reformation. Luther’s reliance on the state to enact his reforms kept him from returning to the members their biblical mandate of member-care. It was the Anabaptists who first discovered that church and state could not be united. Whenever the spiritual and the political were brought together, there was corruption. Therefore, the Anabaptists were the first reformers to abandon the Middle Ages concept, which united the church and the empire. Interestingly the Anabaptists did not develop a strong clerical movement, instead they developed a more missional organization and the denominations that have descended from the Anabaptist movement are today more missional than those descending from the mainline reformers, adds Burrill.[44] He offers a striking case study to contrast the revival movements of Whitefield (clergy-driven & clergy-dependent) and Wesley, (member driven & non-clergy dependent).[45]


Summary of Section 1: New Testament Model for Ecclesiology

New Testament ecclesiology finds its theological foundation in the Great Commission. Discipleship to Christ means partaking in the sufferings that come with a life of service to Him. Discipleship is a life-long commitment to the teachings of Christ. This commitment is made and demonstrated before taking the step of baptism. Baptism is considered to be the ‘ordination’ of the disciple into the ministry of all believers. Departure from the New Testament ecclesiology in the 2nd century saw the clergy assert greater and greater powers over the so-called laity. As centuries passed, power was accreted towards the clergy till they began to assume the priestly status of the Old Testament priests and also the power to forgive sins. The union of church with the empire saw the church view the world as Christian. Multiple underground dissident groups, most notably the Waldenses, kept the Sabbath and spread the seeds of the reformation throughout Europe through their lay-led missionary activity.


The protestant reformers began the journey back to the New Testament model of ecclesiology but their own biases towards the state hampered their efforts. The Anabaptists took up Wycliffe’s call for radical separation of church and state and protestant denominations that have descended from them have kept a closer adherence to the New Testament model of member care while those of the mainline protestant reformation movements have adhered closer to a clergy role that is similar to the Catholic Church. Whitefield and Wesley’s revivals offer a stark contrast in the longevity of their efforts. Whitefield’s concentration of efforts towards reviving the clergy was not as successful as Wesley’s small group concept that centered on Bible study, prayer, social meetings, and Sunday school.


Like the Anabaptists, Seventh-day Adventists continue to advocate the separation of Church and State because the union of the two leads to coercion and corruption. We hold that while it is in the best interests of a government to provide freedom of religious belief and expression to its citizens, the church asserts its own right to exist apart from that of the State. The Church has always existed independent of the State and owes its existence to God and not the State. Thus, Christ’s disciples are compelled to share the Gospel with those who will hear it regardless of whether a government provides the Church the freedom to do so or not. With the New Testament model of biblical ecclesiology in place, we now turn our attention to Adventist ecclesiology.


In contrast to the New Testament church, in our church today we have raised up not disciples but members who require babysitting and thus we have failed to carry out the Great Commission of creating disciples.[46] This understanding of New Testament ecclesiology is then applied later in this article to evaluate early Adventist ecclesiology, and current Adventist ecclesiology and the differences that have led to profound changes in the local church in North America.








Section 2: Adventist Ecclesiology, Mission, and Remnant Identity

In this section, we will build the Adventist concept of mission from the Great Commission and the Three Angels’ Messages from which the church derives its remnant identity. We will then trace the beginnings of Adventist ecclesiology through its early period (1844-1920). We will also see how Mrs. White understood and articulated Adventist ecclesiological concepts and how the church applied its ecclesiology through the combined aspects of community and organization. Finally, we will look at the departure from the New Testament model of ecclesiology (1920-1950) and the how these shifts are reflected in our current modern model of evangelism (1950-2017) and note the devastating effects of this policy trend in the North American Division. Later in section four of this article, we will look at contemporary Adventism and see the divergent views on the Remnant understanding and how it is a symptom of the theological fragmentation in the North American Division.


Early Adventist Concept of the Remnant

Dr. Rodriguez names a few of the central elements in an Adventist ecclesiology as the “Eschatological outlook, soteriological outlook, gospel outlook, missiological outlook, and the remnant outlook. He sees these elements as “non-negotiable aspects of biblical theology as understood by the Adventist movement.” According to him, “Adventist ecclesiology cannot ignore that fact that from its beginnings, the Adventist movement saw itself as the remnant mentioned in Rev. 12:17.” It placed the movement “within the flow of prophetic history,” “defined its nature vis-à-vis the rest of the Christian world, and “determined its missiology.” He goes on to suggest that “an Adventist ecclesiology is fundamentally a remnant ecclesiology.”[47] The rest of the book develops the concept of the remnant as understood by Seventh-day Adventists from the Old Testament, through the gospel writers, Pauline writings, Peter and James, and Revelation as well as the writings of Ellen White.


Early Adventist Concept of the Local Church Leadership

In his article, “Have Adventists abandoned the Biblical Model of leadership?” Dr. P. Gerard Damsteegt, Associate Professor for Church History at Andrews University, first develops the New Testament model for local church leadership. He then traces from the writings of Ellen White her concept of the New Testament model of the local church. His paper largely confirms the roles that we earlier, through Dr. Burrill’s research, identified as being related to the local church. [48]


In the early 1850s, the Lord gave the small company of Adventists, who by now had accepted the truth on the sanctuary and the Sabbath, special insight that would lead them to adopt the New Testament Model of church organization. In 1850, Damsteegt writes that, “the Lord gave Ellen G. White, the prophetess to the remnant church, a vision emphasizing, “that everything in Heaven was in perfect order.” Two years later, another vision in which it was revealed that, “There is order in Heaven. There was order in the church when Christ was upon the earth, and after His departure order was strictly observed among His apostles.” “Order, would be especially important during the closing days of Earth’s history” writes Damsteegt of White’s vision where she wrote, “Now in these last days, while God is bringing His children into the unity of the faith [since 1844], there is more real need of order than ever before, for, as God unites His children, Satan and his evil angels are very busy to prevent this unity and to destroy it.”


The Problem of ‘Self-Sent’ Men

Mrs. White’s vision, according to Damsteegt, further revealed, “a major challenge to the fledgling movement was men entering the Gospel ministry whom God had not called. The vision showed that through Satan’s influence, “men were hurried into the field who lack wisdom and judgment, perhaps not ruling well their own house, and not having order or government over the few that God has given them charge of at home; yet they feel capable of having charge of the flock.” Others had an unholy lifestyle with a theoretical knowledge of the truth, but lacking in spirituality. Still others were confident that God had called them, yet “they lack sound judgment and patient reasoning, talk boastingly of themselves, and assert many things which they cannot prove from the Word.” All such persons the vision described as “self-sent men.” Those whom God had not called paradoxically were the most confident of His “calling” and according to Mrs. White, “have a measure of success, and this leads them and others to think that they are surely called of God.” Damsteegt then establishes from her vision that the early Adventist criteria for leadership in the work involved a selection by the brethren “who chose men who had given good evidence that they were capable of ruling well their own house and preserving order in their own families, and who could enlighten those who were in darkness.” He shows that as early as 1853, James White, in a series of articles called “Gospel Order” showed his “strong support for following the biblical model of church organization and leadership.”


Qualifications & Roles of Early Adventist Church Leaders

Essential Qualifications

After the visions of Ellen White in 1850 showed the need for the establishment of gospel order among the Sabbath keepers, James White took it upon himself to study the issue and in 1853, he printed the results of his study in a series of articles under the title “Gospel Order.” Damsteegt writes that Elder White showed his strong support for the following Biblical model [emphasis his] of church organization and leadership. Elder White wrote that the fundamentals of church organization, or Gospel order, were spelled out in the Bible. He urged that “vigorous efforts should be put forth to restore as fast as possible the order of the Gospel.” He declared, “The divine order of the New Testament is sufficient to organize the church of Christ” and added significantly, “If more were needed, it would have been given by inspiration.” James White also recognized, that it is the Lord Who calls a minister. The prospective minister must meet the “necessary qualifications” that are “plainly stated in the Word.”[49] These qualifications Paul listed in his counsel to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.[50] James further elaborated on the requirements for the office of elder or minister, stressing the importance of the ability of the prospective elder or minister to manage their home.


“Many seem to desire the office of a bishop, or elder, who fail in many points named here by the apostle. He must be “blameless,” “sober,” “patient,” “not a brawler.” He must rule well over his own house. How is it possible that the Holy Ghost should make a man an overseer of the precious flock, to rule over them [Hebrews 13:17], who knows not how, or neglects to govern his children at home? – Here the apostle appeals to our reason. And it seems the greatest absurdity that such a man should be called to rule the church. God does not call them. He will not trust souls to their care.”


For a large portion of their early ministry, the Whites had to entrust their children to the care of others while they crisscrossed the States to visit churches and speak at conferences. Despite their absence, letters to their children and their caregivers show Mrs. White’s deep and abiding concern for the spiritual upbringing of her children. The two sons that made it to adulthood served the Lord faithfully. One by securing a lasting legacy for Mrs. White’s writings (Willie White) and the other by developing the work among African-Americans in the South (Edson White).


Distinction Made Between Local Elders and Ministers

In 1861, when the first Seventh-day Adventist conference was organized, James White published his address to the conference focusing on how to organize church with its officers, their duties, and how to elect them. He divided the officers into two groups: Those “Called” by God: Apostles & Evangelists and those “Elected” by the local church: Elders & Deacons.[51] Describing the first class of officers, he designated an apostle as “anyone especially sent out of God in any age to proclaim His truth.” The was “especially applicable to those who are called of God to lead out in any new truth or reform; such, for instance, as Luther, Melanchthon, Wesley, and William Miller.” He described an evangelist as “a preacher of the Gospel, not fixed in any place, but traveling as a missionary to preach the Gospel, and establish churches (Acts 21:8, Eph. 4:11, 2 Tim. 4:5).”


The Function of a Minister

“This New Testament model of church organization guided the Seventh-day Adventist Church at the time of its official organization as a church in 1863,” and Damsteegt notes that, “Adventists followed it throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century.[52] During this time, ministers were employed by the various conferences as administrators and evangelists, raising up churches, and visiting established churches that needed counsel. No conference-employed minister functioned as a resident or “settled” pastor of a local church, as was the practice in most Protestant churches. James White wrote of the early Adventist policy on pastors,


“It does not appear to have been the design of Christ that His minsters should be stationed, salaried preachers. Of His first ministers it is said, immediately after receiving their high commission, that ‘they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following’ (Mark 16-15-20).” He added, “Paul was not what is now called a ‘settled pastor.’[53], [54], [55]


Evidence of the “Calling” of a Minister by God

The best evidence of whether a Seventh-day Adventist minister was called by God depended upon his ability to raise up a church. James White, wrote,


“In no way can a preacher so well prove himself as in entering new fields. There he can see the fruits of his own labors. And if he be successful in raising up churches, and establishing them, so that they bear good fruits, he gives to his brethren the best proofs that he is sent of the Lord (emphasis mine).[56]


Damsteegt notes that for James White, failure to establish a new church would indicate that God had not called him and that he was not needed in this particular line of work. James White wrote if ministers “cannot raise up churches and friends to sustain them, then certainly the cause of truth has no need of them, and they have the best reasons for concluding that they had made a sad mistake when they thought that God had called them to teach the third angel’s message.”[57]


Harsh as this “test of calling” may seem to us today, it is clear that James White put a high premium on finding out if God had truly called someone into the ministry rather than have the work suffer because God couldn’t bless the efforts put forth by self-sent people. Can God expect any less of us? Hard data backs up James White’s approach. “Immediately after its official organization in 1863 with little over 3,000 members, the church grew at amazing speeds over the next few decades. The 1860s saw an annual growth rate of 7.9 percent. The rate skyrocketed in the next decade to the highest average in the history of the denomination, reaching an 18.6 percent growth rate per year throughout the 1870s. The rate cut in half for the 1880s, slowing to 9.1 percent per year, but accelerated again in the 1890s to its second highest growth for a decade, reaching 12.4 percent.”[58]


The Shift Towards “Settled” Pastors

Church Manual?

Decades later, and merely two years after the death of James White, in 1883, the General Conference committee met to discuss the proposed new “Church Manual” that had been commissioned a few years before. In the language of the proposed church manual was a suggestion was made that the “high standards” for the selection of elders and ministers should not prevent the church from finding individuals who didn’t “yet” meet the standard, but who would “in time” reach it, be elected to office. Mrs. White, and those on the committee, which by then included her son Willie, unanimously rejected the manual. Later an article was published describing some of the concerns expressed regarding the creation of such a manual and the advice contained therein, such as a suggestion for the possibility that conferences might employ “ministers” who were not able to do evangelistic work but who confined their ministry to “existing” churches. [59]


Damsteegt suggests that this initial suggestion in the proposed manual of workers ‘staying at a church’ marks the beginning of the trend toward ministers being employed as “settled pastors,” a concept previously rejected by the Adventist pioneers, as discussed above, most notably by James White. He also asserts that Ellen White would have strongly opposed this manual due to its suggestion about implementing “settled pastors.” Her writings on this matter bear witness to the accuracy of his observation. Shortly after the 1888 General Conference, Ellen White warned believers against depending on ministers to do all the work their churches. She wrote, the task of ministers is to “seek the lost sheep” while the members are to “help them.”[60] The church members “must have light in themselves” so they can care for themselves. In 1901, she spoke with great sadness at the General Conference regarding ministers who were ‘hovering over’ churches. Her insights here are doubly valuable because they present both the solution to the growing trend towards “settled pastors” and also provide a time stamp of the growing implementation of practice towards established policy in the church.


“Instead of keeping the ministers at work for the churches that already know the truth, let the members of the churches say to these laborers: “Go work for souls that are perishing in darkness. We ourselves will carry forward the services of the church. We will keep up the meetings, and, by abiding in Christ, will maintain spiritual life. We will work for souls that are about us, and we will send our prayers and our gifts to sustain the laborers in more needy and destitute fields.”[61]


20th Century Institutionalism and the Call to City Work

During the decade that Mrs. White spent overseas, the work in North America began to lag behind the rest of the field. The church spent its resources building up its institutions and shoring up the work in North America. Battle Creek Sanitarium under the direction of Dr. Kellogg had become world famous and well-respected. Business titans and other famous individuals frequented its premises to get recover from illness and learn of the principles of health at the core of its success. For some reason, a shift came over the members as they began to feel that “evangelism was fine overseas, but in the homeland, they began to feel that they should concentrate their efforts on reaching their own children rather than reaching out with overt evangelistic efforts. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Adventist church had existed without much pastoral attention. The Church viewed itself as a mission agency rather than the caretaker of the saved.”[62] However, as the new century dawned, Burrill notes that, “cries began to arise from the churches to place pastors over the flocks like other denominations.”


Mrs. White returned from Australia and immediately took stock of the situation in North America. She began to push in two directions. First, was the need for reorganization of the church to decentralize power, which was accomplished by the 1901-1903 Sessions. The second was to reignite the Adventist church as a mission movement. With the rise of industrialism, America was changing from a rural society to an urban one. As a result, more and more people were moving to live in the cities. Adventists however viewed the cities with suspicion and with cramped living conditions and pollution; nobody can blame them. However, Mrs. White advocated a return to the mission approach that had served the church well in the past, one that was built on biblical principles, and had a track record of success that met the biblical standard.[63]


In her last visit to a General Conference Session, in 1909, in a series of talks she established the urgency as well as the principles for work that was to go forward. Principles such as meeting people in their homes and presenting the Word of God to them personally, of developing nimble organizations so that they can react better to the changing circumstances, and of a united work between the ministry and the physician are especially noteworthy. We are called, just as Adventists were in her day, to use our God-given mental ability and ingenuity to solve the problems of reaching people for the gospel today. Unfortunately, the brethren responded to her call with resolutions but no action. Daniels, the General Conference president, reported that more than 500 people had been taken from the field and placed in administration since 1901. This was his evidence of expansion—removing people from the field and placing them in administration. It is even more ironic when one considers that the entire ministerial force was only 1,200 at the time—and now half of them were in administration.[64], [65]


The Golden Age of Evangelism

Just before World War I, evangelism would once again become the focus of the Seventh-day Adventist church. However, there was a difference. Just like the years before 1844, there was a sense of urgency but for slightly different reasons. This time war was in the air, and Adventists were well positioned to catch the wave. In the years after 1844, James White and others had taken a strong view regarding the papacy in their interpretations of Daniel 11. The 1860s however saw a demise of the papacy to such a degree that some Adventists came to believe that it would not recover. Uriah Smith invented “new light” declaring that the power of Daniel 11:40-45—the final king of the north—was not the three-fold union, but instead it was Turkey. In 1878, James White declared that Uriah Smith was “removing the landmarks” of the Adventist faith, and they dueled over the issue.[66] However, Ellen White counseled her husband and Elder Smith not to divide the church over such an issue. She never revealed who was correct because that wasn’t the point. The crux of the matter to her was the importance of leaders presenting a united front before the people. James White obeyed his wife; Uriah Smith did not. He even incorporated his “new theology” into the famous books he wrote on Daniel and Revelation. After James White died, it became the prominent view in the Church.[67]


It was this view on prophecy that caused such a stir and drove people in 1916, during World War I, to the Adventist church. Adventists, Burrill says, were not proclaiming it as “it might be” but rather “it will be” however by 1919, that view lay in ruins as Turkey exited the national stage. Daniells found that while many attended his services in some cases 2000 or more, he couldn’t continue the same level of success with someone else preaching after him. Those who were following up were unable to maintain the same enthusiasm that he had generated initially. In 1922, when Daniells lost the presidency, men were recalled back from evangelism to administration and the church went to the “six-month” meeting approach.[68] All this led to a gradual systemization of the work. Slowly the individual preachers began to be absorbed by the organization and evangelists began to be hired by conferences to do a “specialized work.” H.M.S Richards on the West Coast, J.L., Shuler in the south, east and west, and R.L. Boothby in the Columbia Union drew crowds with their six-month campaigns baptizing as many as 500 people.


Sowing to the Wind: The Rise of the 3-Week Evangelism Series

Burrill shows that “as the second half of the twentieth century dawned, the six month-meeting evangelist had competition. With the rise of motion pictures and television few people were attending the meetings. The evangelist was no longer the main attraction in town. Fordyce Detamore was one of the most energetic and innovative evangelists the Adventist church had seen in some time. He noticed the changes and came up with a new plan. It would radically change how Adventists did public evangelism for the next fifty years.”[69]


Detamore theorized that more people could be won if he preached in more places. He could only do this by shortening his campaigns. Detamore also noticed that there was a great need to reach former Adventists. They did not need a five or six-month campaign. They already knew the message—they just needed a reconversion. So Detamore began conducting the three-week campaign to reach these people. He came under sharp criticism. How could he make Adventists in three weeks? But Burrill says, “if you think about his target audience, his approach made sense. And one could not argue with his success. Soon other evangelists started copying his approach. Unfortunately, they didn’t copy his audience. Instead they would attempt to cover the whole message for new people in three weeks, preaching every night of the week.”[70], [71]


The shortened meetings were not the only innovation that proved to be detrimental but as postwar America brought in prosperity and women began leaving the home for work in the office, volunteers to help out diminished. The result was that Adventist evangelists had to spend money on advertising with some using “creative door prizes” to “buy” attendance. The consequence was that members found it easier to give money to advertising than to invite their friends. Thus, more people attended the meetings but a fewer percentage of them were baptized. Also, evangelists moved away from holding meetings in public auditoriums and started holding them in churches. Church planting diminished as more and more evangelism services were held at local churches rather than in new un-entered areas. The 90s were the decade of “satellite” evangelism. Many churches by now thought that all they had to do was “beam down the evangelist” into their churches and the results would come. “They didn’t,” Burrill reports. “If you don’t sow, you cannot reap.”


Reaping the “Harvest”

By now the 21-day or 3-week evangelism was the “gold standard.” Conference evangelists had everything down to a “science.” The church having long since “professionalized” the clergy, was churning out “ministers” who were proud possessors of a degree which upon presented to the local conference would secure for them a local church for them to pastor to serve as what Ellen White would term “settled pastors.” James White’s old method of finding out whether someone was truly called of God, was replaced with a signed form attesting to such from the local church board along with the signature of the prospective candidate ministerial student affirming their “call to ministry.” Mrs. White had predicted that members would become weak if pastors “hovered over them” and that prediction began to bear fruit.


In 2013, the church held its first member retention summit. The results were sobering. The data revealed that from 1960 onwards 30 percent or 1 in 3 people were leaving the church after being baptized, in less than 3 years. The precise ratio was 43 people lost for every 100 new converts.[72] A closer look at the data revealed the reasons for this “exodus.” People were leaving because “the church was not helping these people during their times of hardship” in other words, the church was failing at the biblical principle of “member care.” Worse still, it was revealed that data showed that on most church boards there was at least one member who didn’t agree with all the 28 fundamental beliefs of the church. Then the church statistician lowered the boom. There was cheating among God’s people. A division audit had revealed that 30% of the church clerks had been pressured to “inflate the numbers.” “It is a sin to lie about anything in the Seventh-day Adventist church, David Trim continued, “but for some reason, too many people think it’s OK to lie about numbers.” Because the church representation is heavily based on church statistics, this is cause for serious concern.


As members ceded the work of member-care to clergy and evangelism became a “church event” the same results that are prevalent in other protestant denominations began to bear fruit in ours. Another overlooked factor is that despite America getting increasingly secularized, and people becoming less and less biblically literate, the church has persisted with a short 21-day series that largely builds Christian concepts in a short amount of time. Where Detamore developed an innovation to bring in former Adventists, Adventist evangelists were now baptizing large number of new converts with very little background in the faith. Biblical discipleship principles have fallen through the cracks as evangelists blamed the local church pastor for not “following up” on the new converts. The local pastors burdened with member care literally do not have the time to take care of new converts because they are rushing here and there to put out one fire after another. The conference adds to the problem by its policy of moving pastors every three years or so. This conference “moving policy” is designed to allow the conference to have plausible deniability so that they can say that they don’t have any “settled pastors” but when combined with all the other factors mentioned here and more, they contribute to the “revolving door” for the exodus of new coverts.



It seems like we have a choice to make in regards to our ecclesiology and the model of evangelism we are going to follow in our local church. As I see it, there are two models that are available to us: the information model of evangelism with its clergy-dependent model for church[73] and the biblical model of discipleship and non-clergy dependent model for church.[74] The metrics for success follow logically and depend on your choice of the model. It is important to note that except for a very small minority, the vast majority of historical, evangelical, and progressive Adventist churches all are based on the ‘information model’ and are clergy-dependent. And despite their differences in theology, their retention statistics are equally dismal when you look at the 3-5-year range and out. With Adventist ecclesiology, and the shifts towards a clergy dependent model and the devastating effects of the information-based 21-day series evangelism and corresponding decline in biblical discipleship, the anemic retention numbers for the NAD make sense. With this context in place, let us look at the concept of the remnant and how each faction’s mutually exclusive interpretation of it leads to chaos and confusion in the local churches.



Section 3: Adventist Factions & the Theology of the Remnant


Renowned organizational leadership expert, the late Stephen Covey described a poll conducted by the company, The Harris Poll. They polled 23,000 businesses’ employees regarding their organization’s goals. Here were the reported results:

Only 37 percent of those polled, said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.

Only 1 in 5 was enthusiastic about their team and organization’s goals.

Only 1 in 5 workers said they have a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s goals, and the overall organization’s goals.

Only half were satisfied with the work they have accomplished at the end of the week. Only 15 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.

Only 15 percent felt they worked in a high-trust environment.

Only 17 percent felt their organization fosters open communication and better ideas. Only 10 percent felt that their organization holds people accountable for results.

Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.

Only 13 percent have high-trust, highly cooperative working relationships with other groups or departments.

Covey went on to equate these results to a soccer team by describing the team as having only four of the eleven players on the field knowing which goal was theirs. Only two of the eleven would care. Only two of the eleven would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but two players would, in some way, be competing against their own team rather than the opponent.[75]


In this section, let us look at how each Adventist faction’s interpretative methodology of Scripture logically gives rise to their factional interests. Then we will examine each faction’s mutually exclusive theological views. We will use the theology of the Remnant concept as a case study in how the diversity at the hermeneutical and theological levels give rise to mutually exclusive versions of what the remnant should be. The remnant cannot be simultaneously all these things and yet, each faction asserts that their version of the remnant is the one that the church should adopt. Thus, it is impossible to have unity of purpose in the local church in the areas of worship, discipleship, evangelism, missions, or theology. And like Covey’s analogy above, we will see how members and whole churches are scoring their “own goals” against the global church.


Historical Adventist’s Concept of the Remnant

The Last Generation

The historical Adventism faction has largely stayed rooted in Andreasen’s theory of the last generation with some variations to account for the group that emphasizes the 1888 findings of Weiland and Short. In the Last Generation view, the remnant achieves sinless perfection and brings the great controversy to a close by vindicating God against the charge of Satan that His arbitrary law cannot be kept. Thus, it is the last generation’s final display of commandment keeping and the faith of Jesus that vindicates God and fulfills the description provided in Revelation 14:12. The 144,000 may be literal or symbolic. Those who take the literal view, emphasize overcoming of sin and place a greater emphasis on the personal character perfection as a catalyst for bringing about the final conflict, and less of an emphasis on evangelism. While those who believe the symbolic nature of the 144,000 place some emphasis on the proclamation of the Gospel as the catalyst for the time of the end but the greater emphasis is still on reproducing Christ’s character in their lives.


Evangelical Adventist Multiple Concepts of the Remnant Identity

We heard from the One Project during the Create Conference regarding their views on how remnant identity and “denominational Inc.” might be hindering us from growing the kingdom of God on earth.[76] And that possibly the term Remnant may be applied to other protestants.[77] They are not alone in this view in our church.


These days, for some in contemporary Adventism, the concept of the remnant, according to the Dean at the Bogenhofen Seminary, in Austria, Frank M. Hasel, is shaped by the reaction against it outside our church. He writes in the BRI book cited above, that “our stance has been at times been viewed by other Christian communities as being “arrogant,” “exclusivist,” and judgmental attitude toward the spirituality of others.[78] He writes “this concern has had an impact on some Adventists who have attempted to redefine their understanding of the concept of the remnant.”[79]


He lists several views on the remnant that conflict with the understanding of the remnant concept that the founders of Adventism understood and believed. I find all of these views to be in the evangelical Adventist faction. In this faction, the remnant includes other Christians,[80] the remnant also includes non-Christians,[81] the remnant is an invisible entity,[82] and the remnant is a future reality.[83] However, there are significant problems with this view. If the remnant includes other Christians, then why did our founders come out of Protestantism? If the remnant includes non-Christians, then can someone who denies Christ’s divinity like Muslims do, be considered the remnant? If the remnant is invisible, then why does the Adventist church claim to be the remnant church? If the remnant is a future reality, what prophecy is still outstanding regarding the remnant (Cf. Rev. 12:17)?


Progressive Adventism’s Concept of the Remnant

A Movement for Social Justice

This line of thinking arises from the Progressive faction in Adventism. Some seek to re-interpret the remnant concept along socio-political lines. Prompted by the social evils in the world, it is proposed that, foremost the role of the remnant is to address social and political issues and to promote reform in these areas.[84] Others have gone even further, Hasel reports, and have divested the remnant concept of almost any religious content. Instead, the remnant has been transformed into a social movement of reform in opposition to social abuse and oppression, largely to the neglect of its clear religious dimensions.[85] While the remnant should have social impact and must condemn evil in all its forms, this new approach radically redefines the concept along sociological lines and neglects the fact that the biblical remnant is fundamentally a religious entity.[86]


Biblical Adventism’s Concept of the Remnant

Biblical Adventism takes a canonical approach to Scripture.[87] I will cover this theological method including its canonical approach and contrast it against the communitarian and liberal approaches to Scripture as being the only rule for faith and practice. This approach to Scripture eliminates the theological complications that arise from the historical Adventist theological method of doing theology from Mrs. White’s writings, the Christo-centric or gospel-based hermeneutics of Evangelical Adventism and the multiple source matrix of authorities for Progressive Adventist theology. This Sola Scriptura and Tota Scriptura canonical approach allows the Bible’s narrative to emerge and develop the biblical concept of the Remnant from Genesis to Revelation. The remnant concept embraces the messages of the Three Angels’ messages and the inherent logic of gospel order and organization (Rev. 14:1-12. I list some of its understanding of the characteristics remnant here.


Christological Focus of the Concept of the Remnant

Dr. Rodriguez writes:


“From the broad non-religious usage of the term “remnant” developed a theological content closely related to God’s activity within salvation-history. The remnant became the center or nucleus of God’s true people, through whom God’s redemptive work will succeed in spite of threats, obstacles, and opposition…If divine intention is to preserve the human race through a remnant, then it is obvious that the concept of the remnant is to be deeply connected to the person of Christ, who is God’s instrument for the salvation of sinners. It could even be affirmed, that theological speaking, Jesus Christ is the truest “remnant.” In Him we finally find a person who was absolutely faithful to God under the most difficult circumstances and who was able to overcome the forces of evil (e.g. Heb. 3:2; 2:14-15). In His life and ministry, Jesus recapitulated the experiences not only of Adam but also of the people of God. Where Adam failed, Jesus overcame. He was the only one who remained absolutely loyal to God and to His plan on earth; He was the Servant of the Lord par excellence. In His own person and through His sacrificial death, God was to preserve for Himself a remnant. Since Christ permanently took upon Himself human nature, we could argue that even if the totality of the human race were to reject the salvation He obtained for them, the race would not be extinguished from the universe. God would have preserved it in the person of His Son as a human being (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22-28; 1 Tim. 2:5).


If Christ is to be identified as the true and faithful remnant, then the identity of the eschatological remnant is fundamentally related to the person and work of Christ. This remnant constitutes the true people of God by virtue of their union with Him. Therefore, the remnant not only owes its existence to Him, but He also shared with it His victory over evil. The remnant people have joined Christ in the realization of the divine plan for the preservation of the human race and, empowered by the Spirit, they participate in His mission. It has been through Christ that God has preserved the remnant and used it to His glory.”[88]


Fellowship through Baptism

According to Dr. Hasel:

“In baptism, a believer joins the fellowship of other believers, i.e., the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). The remnant concept emphasizes that God has a people who are united to Christ by faith and who demonstrate this by living submission to God, by worshiping Him, and by a loving service to others. While there are “other sheep” (John 10:16) that truly believe in Christ[89] according to the light they have received (the universal church), there will be a remnant of Bible prophecy in the last days. This remnant has a specific prophetic task to fulfill: To preach the eternal gospel to all people and to prepare the whole world for the soon coming of Jesus Christ.”[90]


The Unity of the Church

“A remnant ecclesiology,” according to Dr. Rodriguez:

“that is genuinely Christian has to deal with the relationship between the remnant and the larger group from which they were constituted into a remnant. One of the central concerns in any ecclesiology, and particularly in a Protestant ecclesiology, is the need to address the reality of the fragmentation of the Christian church. Although many factors contributed to that breakup, it is unquestionable that the visible unity of the church was compromised by the introduction of radical theology and doctrinal diversity into it. From the prospective of apocalyptic thinking, the lack of unity prevalent in the Christian world should be interpreted as the presence of Babylonian elements within it. This condition needs to be addressed in an Adventist ecclesiology that by nature is expected to emphasize the universal unity of the church (cf. John 17). We say, “by nature” because the possibility of ecclesiastical oneness is presupposed in the mission of the remnant people of God. Their end-time proclamation of the eternal gospel invites people from all nations, peoples, and tongues to be reunited to the Creator and Redeemer in commitment of faith and in submission to His will (Rev. 14:6-12). In other words, the remnant works to rectify the fragmentation of the Christian world in anticipation of Christ’s soon return. We could then suggest that a remnant ecclesiology is in a sense a revolt against the fragmentation of the Christian world.”


The Inner Logic of Organization

Furthermore, this eschatological remnant is connected to the Christian Church, which is built upon the Israel of faith as described in the Old and New Testaments. It has a global mission whose target is every nation, tribe, and people. Such a universal commission cannot be fulfilled by one or two individuals. A genuine Adventist ecclesiology will assign a high priority to the fulfillment of its prophetic mission and will maintain adequate organizational structures to be able to fulfill its worldwide missionary mandate. The mission of the church is closely bound to the content of that which is proclaimed and gains credibility if it is authentically lived.


Grounded in Tota Scripture

Dr. Hasel continues:

“while our proclamation of the eternal gospel will be adapted to the context and audience we are addressing, the theology of our proclamation must be firmly grounded in the written Word of God, the totality of the Scripture (Tota Scriptura), as authoritative for faith and praxis. It is here we find the basis for the unity of the church. Hence, an Adventist ecclesiology and missiology must be faithful to the Word of God and should inform, direct, and guide the missionary activity of the church.”


Driven by the Liberty of Conscience

“Almost by necessity, the biblical-prophetic understanding of the remnant concept, implies a minority, even though it is a great multitude from all corners of the earth. This minority remains politically powerless but does rely on God and His intervention. Therefore, a separation of church and state and the principle of liberty of conscience are integral aspects of the remnant church. The idea of the remnant church does not square well with a state-church model. Any ecclesiological model that makes recourse to the remnant concept needs to reflect these aspects in its structure and organization. Adventists respect religious liberty and the religious convictions of others. The very concept of the remnant stands in strong contrast to any form of coercion or feeling of superiority.”



“The biblical concept of a visible end-time remnant provides Seventh-day Adventists with a more distinct understanding of the nature of the church than is present in any other Protestant church.[91] Adventists believe that the church is not essentially invisible, but rather that is a reality represented worldwide and inclusive of all nations, peoples, and tongues.”


Implications of a Divided View on the Remnant

As you can see, the contemporary Adventist church is divided on what constitutes the remnant.

These divergent views have vast implications for ecclesiology. Any attempt to rally around the concept of a remnant in the NAD is nearly impossible due to the multiplicity of views in all the factions. The logical premise for the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist church is found in the Three Angels’ Messages. As the factions in Adventism, drift farther from each other, the need for concerted action through a worldwide organization also diminishes. There is no reason to have an organization if there is no coherent message to take to the world. If the concept of the remnant is being framed as the problem of the church’s woes in the NAD, then what is the alternative?


In ancient times, when armies gathered for war, the king would make plans for battle with his generals. Once the plans were set, the generals would return to their division to be at the head of their division ready to lead them into battle at the command of the king. The king would be viewing the entire battle from a vantage point, in order to command his troops into battle. Often the troops would be spread over several miles and it was impossible to shout commands thus the king would have a trumpeter next to him. He would give a command, and the trumpeter would sound the first particular note, which would alert a certain division to move forward according to the plan established beforehand. The second sound would denote whether they turned to the right or to the left. As the battle proceeded, the king would make necessary adjustments and deploy his troops where they were needed most. It was crucially important that the trumpeter sounds the accurate notes to activate the correct battalion for the battle and the generals hear the sound correctly and implement the command from the king. It is from this practice that Paul drew the analogy in 1 Cor. 14:8. If the trumpeter gave an uncertain sound, the men would be confused as to the commands of the King, and the confusion that resulted may cost them victory. Contemporary Adventism, with its divided views on its identity as the remnant, faces the same predicament. I would like to suggest that our King, Jesus, is sounding the call through the Three Angels, but it is our interpretation of that signal that is at fault. Thus, we are all preparing for some battle, but it may not be the one that is directly in front us. And despite the trumpet’s sounding, some of us who have heard the call haven’t activated the troops forward into battle.


The contributory causes as to why growth and retention has been anemic in the North American Division are: matching the wrong method with the wrong audience (the 21-day series with non-Adventists), a transition from the New Testament model of traveling pastors and evangelists to settled pastors, a failure to implement discipleship that demonstrates a lifelong commitment to biblical teachings before baptism, and theological diversity or confusion that arises from a departure from the Sanctuary-based hermeneutic regarding the identity of the Remnant and thus the central existential purpose of the Adventist church.


With our church currently riven with deep theological divisions. We are incapable of rallying to the work that God has set before us because we cannot agree on who we are let alone who needs to hear our message. Our division has factions scoring its “own goals” and large “divisions” of our army that are unable to mobilize for battle because of the ‘uncertain sound’ preached week after week in our pulpits.


We now turn our attention to see how the factions interact with each other and how the resultant dynamics affect our ecclesiology and mission. You can refer to this table to see how each theological faction matches up against the others.

Click the image to enlarge.

Check back soon for the conclusion to this series on the One project!

Read the previous articles in this series.



[1] See for example the Global Church Retention Report. It reports a net loss rate 39.25%.


[3] Zahid, Adrian. The Jesus. All. Paradox.

[4] The rest of the Series on the One Project is available here:

[5] Early so-called investigations into the One project ministry fell short for a number reasons: a lack of mutual trust, a lack of a consistent research method, a lack of a consistent standard to measure results by, lack of transparency and objectivity, and a lack of rigor and a failure on the part of the researchers to fully grasp the theological and philosophical tensions at the root of the problems, within the NAD. Because their observations were subjective and their analysis lacked rigor, their proposed solutions fail at accomplishing theological unity at best and at worst further contribute to the current fragmentation.

[6] Any theological analysis must be conducted free from partiality or other vested interests, other than the overall interest of serving the church. The inquiry into the ministry must be open, and the findings published in a transparent way so that the theological method and tools used for analysis as well as all relevant data and its collection can be scrutinized and replicated.

[7] Despite promoting Ellen White’s book, the Desire of Ages, Bryan seems to forget her own writings regarding Christ’s insistence on establishing or anchoring the disciples’ belief in Him on the prophecies of the Old Testament. Cf. “Had He first made Himself known to them, their hearts would have been satisfied. In the fullness of their joy they would have hungered for nothing more. But it was necessary for them to understand the witness borne to Him by the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. Upon these their faith must be established. Christ performed no miracle to convince them, but it was His first work to explain the Scriptures. They had looked upon His death as the destruction of all their hopes. Now He showed from the prophets that this was the very strongest evidence for their faith. In teaching these disciples, Jesus showed the importance of the Old Testament as a witness to His mission. Many professed Christians now discard the Old Testament, claiming that it is no longer of any use. But such is not Christ’s teaching. So highly did He value it that at one time He said, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Luke 16:31.

It is the voice of Christ that speaks through patriarchs and prophets, from the days of Adam even to the closing scenes of time. The Saviour is revealed in the Old Testament as clearly as in the New. It is the light from the prophetic past that brings out the life of Christ and the teachings of the New Testament with clearness and beauty. The miracles of Christ are a proof of His divinity; but a stronger proof that He is the world’s Redeemer is found in comparing the prophecies of the Old Testament with the history of the New. Pg. 799.

[8] Bryan, Alex. THE ONE PROJECT & Adventist Ecclesiology Paper.

[9] See Cindy Tutsch’s observations in part 1 of this series and

[10] We noted in the third article of this series, that the early Adventists struggled to the deal with the Great Disappointment. Many left the cause but the few who stayed (by some counts, 50 people) went back to Scripture to study it anew. Over the course of few months, the missed connections and the error of their main presupposition, that the earth was the sanctuary being cleansed, became apparent. As they advanced in present truth, they encountered opposition from their churches where they had heretofore fellowshipped. The shut door theory developed under these circumstances helped to insulate them for a while as they continued to discover and integrate into the system of truth the doctrines that we are intimately familiar with today. The concept of a ‘world-wide’ mission was still a few years away. It is important to recognize here the unifying effect the doctrines had on the ‘little flock’ during the years of 1846-1852. As the group coalesced, around the biblical doctrines, a sense of a larger mission began to dawn on them from their study of Scripture. We will not rehearse every twist and turn of this important history, but it is enough to say, that their study of Scripture led them away from the shut door theory to a sense of world-wide mission that was grounded in the Three Angels’ Messages in Revelation 14.

[11] Views on Local the Local Church & Adventist Education. For Pastor Bryan, denominationalism has contributed to a glut of administrators and a dearth of ministers in the field. To fix this and other problems, he called for a decade of theology devoted to the local church. He also called for more of the best and brightest to enter the field and work at local churches. He also suggested ways that local churches could keep their money local and invest in a local expression of Adventism.

Pastor Tim Gillespie suggested a greater emphasis on the “parish-model” of church where the local pastor is closely affiliated with the local church. In his view, the pastor, who is a conference employee, has no vested interest in the local church, and it is for that reason among others that the local churches are failing in the NAD. Among other solutions he offered were an emphasis in church planting and his own church’s community-focused programs such as substance abuse programs, Yoga, taking on the ‘life risk’ for the surrounding community.

Pastor De Olivera offered his own church administration practices as a model for local church leadership that is focused on change and not being satisfied with the status quo. In his church, which has four ministers, a board of elders for vision, administration, young adults, and worship, he stated that it is important to focus on the right kind of metrics, which include retention.

Pastor Sam Leonor described the domino effect of declining Adventist enrollment at the secondary level at La Sierra University and their subsequent efforts to recruit Adventist students in non-Adventist high schools in the Southern California school systems. They were wildly successful but their success brought on new challenges as a significant portion of their student population is non-Adventist. For Leonor, this represents a new normal and an opportunity for growth. He mentioned some of the shifts in mission focus from overseas missions to local community-based learning programs and water-testing programs.

In their diagnosis of the problems facing the NAD, they didn’t describe a model that included discipleship, or any kind of member-driven involvement that was independent from pastoral leadership and care. Nor was any “proclamational” evangelism of any type mentioned. Funding from the Conference that was reserved only for “Reaping events” was critiqued. Other than Bryan’s criticism of the focus on the remnant identity of the church, no other overt attempt was made to tie the local church’s mission to the Great Commission or the Three Angel’s messages.

[12] Burrill. Russell C., “Recovering an Adventist Approach to the Life and Mission of the Local Church.” Dissertation. 1997. Pg. 57.

[13] Ibid, 60.

[14] Burrill gives five characteristics of disciples that are produced. 1. They have the Father’s name on their foreheads (v.1). These people are living in full commitment to God; therefore, the Father can place His name on them, signifying that they belong to Him. 2. They have been redeemed. They belong to God because they have been purchased by the blood of Calvary. Only blood-purchased sinners can be ready to meet Jesus. 3. They possess a pure faith. In contrast to those who receive Babylon’s wine and indulge in her adulteries, these people are not defiled by Babylon the Great. They have not partaken her wine, neither have they committed adultery with her. In spite of the overwhelming apostasies of the last days, apostasies which the Scriptures declare nearly deceive the very elect, these people have kept the pure faith of Jesus. 4. They follow Jesus all the way. In contrast to those who follow the beast and his image, Revelation pictures a people who follow Jesus. They follow completely. Not only have they been taught, but they follow all that Jesus commanded. 5. They stand without fault before the throne of God, blameless in His sight. They do not stand in their own righteousness, but are holy because they have been redeemed, as noted above. They have been covered with the righteousness of Christ, therefore the judgment has vindicated them as ready to meet Jesus and enter heaven.

These five characteristics of those who respond to the three angels’ messages are reminiscent of the characteristics of true disciples as Jesus enumerated them in the gospels. Revelation 14:1-12 not only specifies the kind of people who are the object of the church’s mission in the end time, but also cites the message to be preached in order to produce a people who will live in full discipleship with Jesus Christ. (Ibid. page 62-63)

[15] Ibid, 63.

[16] Ibid. 64

[17] See Alex Bryan’s talk in the Create Conference Article in this series.

[18] It has been a privilege to write this series. A task that requires over a year of research and writing cannot be done alone. I’d like to say thanks to all who helped me make this series possible. First, to the Compass Managing Editors, Rachel C. Whitaker, who first green-lighted the series, and Ingram London, for his tireless efforts to make it a reality, and Compass Research assistant, Seth Roberts who helped read and collect resources for my work. Second, the board of Compass Magazine who gave me the independence to conduct my analysis of the One Project without any interference of any kind. It is that sort of independence and trust is rare but essential to produce series like this. Third, Dr. Canale, for his lending his expertise and wisdom throughout this last year while I was engaged in research and writing. His faithful commitment to Bible and the Seventh-day Adventist Church through original research and teaching is bearing good fruit in his students. Fourth, Pastor Leonor, Pastor Wohlberg, and Pastor Swenson, for answering my questions to help me understand their point of view. Fifth, the countless individuals who took my calls, talked on and off the record, emailed me with innumerable suggestions, comments, observations etc. Sixth, my friend Mike Manea, who asked the key questions. Seventh, my parents, who taught me to build my faith on Scripture through their example. And last but not least, to God, who is leading the Seventh-day Adventist Church and whose gift of life I cherish every day.

[19] What you believe impacts how you view the world and the church. Your beliefs shape your own understanding of how the church should function, what the purpose of organization is, and how your own existence fits within that central purpose. In other words, theology breeds methodology. Since we noted earlier in the series that the One Project is a product of a theological faction within the NAD, we must center our findings within those factions. This means that any attempt to analyze the One Project, and the Evangelical Adventism faction as a whole must also take into consideration all the other factions in the church.

[20] Burrill. Russell C., “Recovering an Adventist Approach to the Life and Mission of the Local Church.” Dissertation. 1997. Pg. 6, 7, 8. He cites Frederick Bruner, he notices the five “alls” that form this commission: “All authority, all nations, into the name [all of God], all that I have commanded you and finally, “with you all [the] days.” “The risen Jesus here does not appear for the purpose of proving that He is risen from the dead, but rather for the purpose of revealing that His state of “risenness” gives Him the authority to issue the commission which He is about to give.” “Now He comes declaring that He is the One with absolute and total authority over heaven and earth.”

Inherent in the call of the Great Commission, according to Burrill, is the promise of the Spirit that is to be fully manifested at Pentecost. While the disciples had to wait ten days for the Holy Spirit to be manifest, we have no such waiting period. He is here, and He is ready to attend to our work with His presence and power that was available to the disciples at Pentecost, according to Mrs. White in her book Acts of the Apostles. Too many of us are waiting, praying, and hoping for that power, when in reality, the Holy Spirit is ready and waiting on us to receive Him by faith.

[21] Ibid, 12.

[22] Far too many churches in our church in North America do one or two but not all three aspects of this mission. And it is the chief reason why many churches in our division are failing or are spiritually dead.

[23] Burrill. Russell C., “Recovering an Adventist Approach to the Life and Mission of the Local Church.” Dissertation. 1997. Pg. 12

[24] Ibid, 13.

[25] Ibid, 15.

[26] The English word “disciple” is a translation of the Greek word “mathetes.” Its origin was in Greece when a student would attach himself to a teacher for the purpose of acquiring practical and theoretical knowledge. It is used in the New Testament to indicate total attachment to someone in discipleship. To be a disciple, is to be living in a relationship with the One who is discipling you.

[27] Ibid, 18.

[28] We examine four passages where Jesus Himself was very clear what it meant to be a disciple, the first passage being, in Mathew 10: 24-25 (NIV)

“A student [mathetai] is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”

One who becomes a disciple of Jesus becomes like Jesus. He or she must expect to be treated as Jesus was treated – misunderstood and persecuted. When people have just come to faith in Christ, it is difficult for them to endure trying circumstances for their faith. If, as this text above suggests, one who is a disciple is able to withstand these attacks, then that person must have come to a basic maturity of faith in Christ. Burrill asserts here that this basic maturity occurs before becoming a disciple. Therefore, part of the evangelistic process of making a disciple is to help that person develop a faith mature enough to withstand persecution or ridicule.[28]

The second passage on Jesus’ understanding of what it means to become a disciple is found in Luke 14: 26, 27, and 33 (NIV):

“It anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

This passage tells us that large crowds were following Jesus (v. 25). Here Burrill analyzed that “If Jesus had believed in “mass movements of unconverted people” coming to faith, then He had made a very inappropriate, discouraging response to the masses in the statement above. There is a cost to following Jesus.” That cost is due to living in a sinful world. Deprivation, hardship, loss, were the lot of Jesus and will be the lot of His disciples at one time or another. Therefore, “Jesus does not desire half-hearted followers; He desires fully committed individuals. Those who decide to become his disciples must be willing to give up everything…in order to follow Him. If Jesus believed in the people movement concept, Jesus should have received the entire crowd and not worried about commitment – He could do that later. But that was not the approach of Jesus. Even when the rich young ruler came to Jesus, He discouraged him by demanding full commitment upfront.” Sometimes people don’t make a full commitment initially but this doesn’t mean that they will not make it down the line. We should neither rush people into membership if they are not ready nor give up on them.[28]

The third passage which deals with Jesus’ understanding of what it means to be a disciple is found in John 8: 31-32 (NIV).

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Burrill’s analysis of this passage reveals that “Jesus is speaking to people who already believed in Him. Again, if Jesus’ definition of disciple was the “initial coming to Christ” then these people would already be considered disciples. Yet, Jesus declares that it is not sufficient to simply believe in Him. To be a disciple means to continually hold on to His teachings. This would again suggest that being a disciple involves a longer process than just coming to Christ. The result of continuing to hold to the teachings of Christ would be, Jesus promised, to know the truth. John later described Jesus as the Truth (John 14:6). One who is to be a disciple of Jesus, then, would be a person who really knows Jesus as the ultimate truth in life. In order for this to happen evangelistically, the neophyte must be taught the basic teachings about Jesus prior to discipleship. The Amplified Version suggests that a disciple is one who holds fast to the teachings of Jesus and lives in accordance with them. A disciple then, is one who is obedient to what Jesus says, a commandment keeper. Obviously, he is keeping Jesus’ commandments out of his love for Jesus and not because of a requirement or duty. If this outward fruit of that attachment were missing it would indicate that discipleship has not occurred. Love is to be, Burrill concludes, the absolute infallible test of one’s discipleship.”[28] [28]

The fourth passage in which Jesus refers to disciple making is in John 15:8:

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Connection to Christ means bearing fruits. It is the inevitable result of such a union. Because it is inevitable, if the fruit is not there we can know that discipleship is not occurring. Some think this fruit is the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about, but here, Jesus is speaking several decades before Paul, and in the context of this passage Jesus is referring to Himself as the vine and His followers as the branches. Burrill’s analysis of this passage here is that it seems to center in a missional understanding:

“The Christian who is not reproducing by creating other disciples is not really a disciple. It is impossible, then, to be a follower of Jesus and not share Jesus. Disciples must not only share, they must also make other disciples or they cannot be considered disciples. This is not to be a casual convert once a lifetime. Jesus’ discipleship invites people into a life of constant discipleship making. Jesus wants us to produce much fruit. Inherent then in the call to be a disciple is the call to be a fruit-producing Christian, and by extension, a fruit-producing, reproductive, self-perpetuating church. In this sense, Jesus is declaring that Christian discipleship cannot exist unless a person is involved in discipleship making, nor can a Christian church exist that is not a disciple-making church. This connects with the Great Commission itself, when, as we have seen, Jesus demands that His followers go and make disciples.”

[29] If you recall, Paul and Barnabas separated over the young John Mark (Acts 15:3-16:10). John Mark believed and accompanied the two men on their journeys. However, he returned home when he was unwilling to fully commit to the hardship that came with being a disciple of Christ. When he regained his commitment, Paul was not entirely convinced that he should be trusted just yet. Barnabas by contrast felt John Mark was ready and the disagreement between the two men caused them to go their separate ways. Later Paul found John Mark’s service to be ‘useful’ showing that he had changed his mind regarding the young man. Choosing to be a disciple is a choice and implicit in that choice is the acceptance of the trials and hardships that come with being a disciple. Everyone needs to make that choice, individually, at their own pace, of their own volition and anything short of that is coercion, and the result will be less than optimal for the prospective disciple and the church in the long run. And just because someone is unwilling to make a commitment now, does not mean they won’t do so later. And if having made a commitment someone steps back, we must continue to work with them, until they decide that their decision is final, or they decide to recommit. Paul’s very human response to John Mark’s reconversion should be a lesson for us to not give up early on those who are still working out in the minds and hearts what it means to take pick up the cross and follow Jesus.

[30] “The secret to the success of the early church was due not so much to their correct methodology as to their consistent witness by exemplifying in their lives the clear marks of discipleship that Jesus had modeled for them.” Burrill continues, “It is a tragedy when the ‘masses’ are brought into membership in the church without these clear evidences of discipleship. This destroys the natural witness of the church and weakens Christianity. Jesus’ instruction on disciple making as the job of the church seems to be designed to prevent development of a church that would compromise its witness. Jesus is concerned about reaching the masses, but He wants them reached with the “real thing,” not with artificial Christianity.”

[31] Ibid, 27.

[32] In his book, The Biblical Principles of Discipleship, Allan Coppedge draws a parallel with the ancient Israelite experience and Jesus’ calling for discipleship. “In the Biblical record, Jesus first calls for repentance and faith; then, second, as a separate event He calls believers to follow Him as disciples (Matt. 4:17-22; Mark 1:14-20). This twofold pattern parallels the Old Testament model in which God first delivered Israel from Egypt and then, three months later, offered them a covenant relationship with Himself at Sinai. It is one thing to trust God initially and begin to follow Him, but it is quite another to commit oneself to a covenant relationship with God and become a disciplined follower. “

[33]Ibid, 28-29.

[34] Ibid, 47.

[35] Ibid, 48, 49.

[36] Ibid, 159.

[37] Ibid, 159.

[38] He portrays a highly developed clergy, even suggesting that where there is no bishop, there is no church, and obedience to the bishop is obedience to Christ. Burrill believes that a more credible source is the first letter of Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas. In both these works, one discovers a less developed clergy than in Ignatius, although movement toward a hierarchy is beginning. Clement is the first in Christian literature to suggest a distinction between clergy and laity, as well as a hierarchy of position. The reason Clement gives for this is that church order and position can only be granted by the local church. Burrill quotes John Knox, in “The Ministry in the Primitive Church” to give some reasons for the change from the non-dependency model to a clergy dependent one:

A system of government through a council of elders could be cumbersome; and with the increasing complexity of the congregations’ operations and the growing need for both unity and efficiency in the face of increasing persecution by the state and the more vigorous activities of the gnostic teachers – in such a situation the conception of a single head of the church, the guardian of its unity and the responsible agent of its decisions, would have appealed to many congregations.

Other historians such as Carl A. Volz have argued that such a move would be advantageous for the church. Volz argues that the local elders and bishops were more in touch with the local congregation that the itinerants, so that it was a natural development for them to grow in power and prestige. [38] Burrill questions that conclusion by writing,

“There was a missional reason for the clergy’s role in the New Testament, and when the role changed, clergy lost its missional function. When a church or its clergy lose the missional function, it has lost its reason for its existence. The only thing left is a power struggle, which is what happens as the church moved toward the traditional model of church.”[38] Knox adds, “With the establishment of mon-episcopacy went the doctrine that a certain priestly power inhered in the office of the bishops, who were the successors not only of the apostles but also of the Old Testament high priests.”

[39] Burrill. Russell C., “Recovering an Adventist Approach to the Life and Mission of the Local Church.” Dissertation. 1997. 162

[40] George H. Williams observes that “Slowly the bishop, while still a local pastor, began turning over some of his authority and functions to surrounding parishes that did not have episcopal care. That made these presbyters priests and paved the way for the bishop to exercise authority over these neighboring churches. Thus, the ministry became more of a career than a calling. The ministrant became much less an organ of the local church and spokesman of the community before God and much more of a professional cleric, appropriately trained, and promoted, even from one parish to another.”

“Ordination of clergy began around 200 CE. Slowly the church organization is likened and then tied to the Old Testament. The result was that the clergy then assumed the power of the Old Testament priest, until they eventually claimed they had the power to forgive sins. They first used the term “priest” just before the Council of Nicea, in 325 CE. By the fourth century, this change had greatly accelerated. The church ceased to be organized for evangelistic mission and was spending most of its time debating the intricacies of the clergy’s power. Ultimately, the primacy of one bishop over all others developed through Leo the Great and then led to the first medieval pope, Gregory the Great, who set the tone for pastoral care throughout the Middle Ages. With the conversion of Constantine and the ascendency of the Christian empire, the whole world became ‘Christian’ and there ceased to be any need for evangelizing and discipleship, since the eyes of the Church, all the people in the Roman empire soon become fully evangelized.”

[41] Burrill, p. 164.

[42] White, Ellen G. “The Great Controversy” (Washington: Review and Herald, 1911), 71.

[43] Burrill. Russell C., “Recovering an Adventist Approach to the Life and Mission of the Local Church.” Dissertation. 1997. Pg. 175. “While the Reformation Period restored the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, pastoral care and watchcare over the flock continued to be the domain of clergy. The chief clergy role of the Reformation became preaching. The key term for clergy became “pastor” rather than “priest.” While eliminating priestly function, Luther and other reformers failed to return the ministry to the people, especially mutual member care. This, as mentioned earlier, was partly due to the continuance of the union of church and state.”

[44] Pauck, Wilhelm, “Ministry in the Time of the Continental Reformation” in the Ministry in Historical Perspectives, ed. H. Richard Neibuhr and Daniel D. Williams (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956), 119, quoted in Burrill pg. 169.

[45] A Case Study of Two Revivals & Their Longevity. Two modern revivals in the 18th century offer for us contrasting features that will help us explore the combination of elements of New Testament ecclesiology. George Whitefield was a Calvinist theologian who is said to have preached over 18000 sermons to an open ‘field’ audience of 10 million people in his lifetime. Whitefield’s revival according to Burrill was a clergy oriented one rather than a lay oriented one. John Wesley, started his ministry in the Anglican church but ended outside it with a vast organization that became the Methodist church. Wesley, unlike Whitefield, focused on building small groups of lay people who would continue to study the Bible by meeting both for prayer and ‘social’ meetings long after he left the area. Wesley made attendance at these groups compulsory for his followers. So seriously was this enforced that unexplained absences could result in dis-fellowship from the church! In these groups, a close examination was made of the attendees’ spiritual growth with each member accountable to everybody else. Burrill asserts that it was this system of accountability, coupled with an itinerant ministry that was modeled closer towards the New Testament ecclesiology that contributed to the longevity of Wesley’s revival compared to that of George Whitefield.

Mrs. White grew up in the Methodist church and was familiar with the prayer meetings and social gatherings. She wrote of her early experiences in her life with her friends and her personal work in converting her friends to the Millerite movement. Throughout her life, as we will see in the next section, she emphasized the concept of member care and the Wesleyan idea of itinerant preachers in her exposition of Adventist ecclesiology.

[46] Ibid, 49.

[47] Rodriguez, Angel M. “Toward a theology of the remnant.” Silver Springs, Md. 2009. Pg. 19

[48] He states the differences between the roles and functions of “apostles” who were “itinerant” spiritual leaders while “elders” were spiritual leaders of the “local church.” Apostles served as “overseers” of the church while the elders served as “shepherds” of the church of God. For Damsteegt, these two roles served as close parallels with one being local while the other being itinerant. The apostle was tasked with opening up work in new regions and planting new churches and establishing within them “elders” who would fortify the church through the preaching of the word (Titus 1:9). The apostle was also considered an “elder” but in the sense of a “traveling elder” whose responsibility was not confined to a local church but who also served as an evangelist, raising up new churches.

[49] White, James. “Gospel Order,” Review & Herald, Dec. 6, 1853.

[50] White, James. “Gospel Order,” Review & Herald, Dec. 20, 1853.

[51] Those “Called” By God: Apostles & Evangelists. He pointed out in the New Testament there were “the following classes of rulers and officers of the Christ church… Apostles, Evangelists, Elders, Bishops, Pastors, and Deacons.” He further divided the officers into two major classes, “Those who hold their office by virtue of an especial call from God, and those selected by the church: the former embracing apostles and evangelists; and the latter, elders, bishops, pastors, and deacons.”

Those “Elected” by the Local Church: Elders & Deacons. According to James White, the local church elected the second class of officers – elders, bishops, pastors, and deacons. He saw the office of elders as the equivalent of the words bishop, pastor, and overseer. The term pastor was identified as “literally a herdsman, a shepherd; specially a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual guide of a particular church (emphasis mine). Essentially, James reduced the New Testament model to two positions in the local church namely elders and deacons, who were elected by the local church, and whose authority was confined to the particular local congregation, with the elder serving as the chairman in all its business meetings, and male and female deacons serving as overseers of the sick, and poor, and the alms (Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:8, 12, Acts 6:1-6).”

[52] Pipim-Koranteng, Samuel, “Here We Stand” Section 6: New Changes in Local Church Leadership. A: The New Testament Model of Leadership by Gerard Damsteegt. Quotes sourced from Pgs. 650-653.

[53] Burrill, Russell. “Recovering a Lost Passion: Recreating a Church Planting Movement” (pgs. 49-55). quoted by Damsteegt in his paper. James White, “Conference Address” Review and Herald, October 15, 1861 for White’s quotes above.

[54] As the “elected” leadership of the local church, the elder or elders with the support of deacons and deaconesses, were to lead the church, which was basically a lay movement. The elders were responsible for the prosperity of the local church. James White, according to Damsteegt, considered the work of the Seventh-day Adventist ministers similar to that of the early Christian ministers who entered a town, began preaching and teaching the Word, until they had formed a group of believers whom they organized into a church. “Then these ministers would pass on to a new field of labor. These churches were not carried upon the shoulders of their ministers, but were left to sustain the worship of God among themselves. Occasionally would they pass through and visit the brethren, to exhort, confirm, and comfort them.”

[55] White, James. “Go Ye Into All the World and Preach the Gospel,” Review and Herald, April 15, 1862. Quoted in Damsteegt’s paper pg. 654

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Burrill, Russell. “Reaping the Harvest: A Step-by-Step Guide to Public Evangelism.” Hart Books, Fallbrook, CA. Pg. 51.

[59] Butler, George I. “No Church Manual,” Review and Herald, November 27, 1883. See also W.H. LittleJohn, “The S.D.A. Church Manual,” Review and Herald, June 5, 1883.

[60] RH May 7, 1889, par. 8

[61] 6T 30.2

[62] Burrill, Russell. “Reaping the Harvest: A Step-by-Step Guide to Public Evangelism.” Hart Books, Fallbrook, CA.

[63] Some when reading her testimonies today draw the wrong conclusions. Instead of drawing from the principles that Mrs. White highlighted, they are drawing from the methods themselves as if the exact methods they employed back then were enshrined as a “formula” we are to use till eternity dawns on us. While there is a great deal to be learned from the evangelistic methods that were employed it is the principles that hold the greatest value. Many of the health reforms that Mrs. White called for have been institutionalized in our society today through public health and community health services. We no longer have to worry about water, sanitation, or even clothing to a large degree. However, it is the principles behind these reforms and other testimonies contain great potential for us today.

[64] If Mrs. White ever had a right to be discouraged this was the time. She was calling for action, but all she was getting from the General Conference was resolutions and promises. The brethren were mired in yet another fight over the daily. Daniells felt that he needed to muster a response to the attacks and that this was the best use of his time. Ellen White strongly disagreed. In a letter to Daniells, Willie White, urged the president to put his focus back on evangelism. He felt a great crisis must be near and reported on the “intensity of mother’s distress over this matter regarding our slowness of action in getting the work going in our big cities.” Daniells responded with some plans to get evangelistic series going on the West Coast. He traveled there to oversee the effort and stopped by Elmshaven to visit the aged prophet to inform her of the “progress being made.” She refused to see him. Dejected, he boarded a train back to D.C. and penned an apologetic letter to her. She replied, “When the president of the General Conference is converted, he will know what to do with the messages that God has sent him.”[64] Daniells was shocked. Later writing of the experience, he said, “I thought I had been converted fifty years before, and so I had; but I have since learned that we need to be reconverted now and then…That message, telling me that I needed to be converted, cut me severely at the time, but I did not reject it. I began to pray for the conversion I needed, to give me the understanding, I seemed to lack.

[65] Weeks, Howard. Adventist Evangelism in the Twentieth Century. Review & Herald, Washington, D.C., 1969. Cited in Burrill’s book Reaping the Harvest pg. 57.

[66] See note from White Estate on this issue here.

[67] Burrill. Reaping the Harvest. Pg. 66.

[68] The content switched from a heavy prophecy basis to a strong emphasis on righteousness by faith and with six months, there was adequate time to cover “every aspect of Adventism in detail.”[68] Adventist preachers began to incorporate medical evangelism presentations with their talks, as well as astronomy. Soon radio and television began to capture large audiences, and Adventist evangelism hit the airwaves too. Adventists experimented with the “jury trial” where the audience was the jury and the “criminal” was the papacy, advertising gimmicks such as the “whisper” campaign where two people would ride elevators and ‘whisper’ to each other about the meetings etc. became hallmarks of the depression era evangelism. Adventist evangelists began to talk with each other and collaborate which led copying each other and the outcomes become more predictable and more systemized. The first “evangelism school” was conducted by J.L., Shuler, where young ministers were trained under an experienced evangelist. Shuler published a book, Public Evangelism which became a textbook.

[69] Ibid, 75.

[70] Ibid,76.

[71] Interestingly, Burrill notes that SDA ministers used the five or six-week meeting approach before the twentieth century “6-month approach.” Burrill surmises that the speakers needed 6 months to cover all the legalistic requirements because of Adventism’s foray into fundamentalism. Once the Church returned to the Christ-centered approach of the past era, they shortened the subjects needed for conversion to Adventism and were able to present the message in the “short” campaign of three to six weeks. Here I would differ from Burrill however, because I’m relying on memory and not substantial proof I cannot assert anything to the contrary. My view is that I read somewhere were Pastor HMS Richards was talking about the preparation of the converts and he mentioned that it took him 6-9 months to prepare a person to be an Adventist. I also recall with less degree of certainty AG Daniells also doing 9-month public evangelism series. But we will stick to Burrill’s analysis on this point for this article.

[72] Adventist New Network (ANN). The Reality of the Exodus.

[73] Information Model of Evangelism and Church. In this model, the member or prospective member is like a computer storage stick. We as members define our involvement with church and participation in its activities as “information download” events. We attend to gain information for ourselves. Membership is defined by attendance at church events. Participation is defined as helping out for church preliminaries at church events such as on Sabbath, vespers, and mid-week prayer meeting etc. The pastor is there to give you information.

If your model of evangelism is merely an information transfer model then evangelism as an “event” makes sense. In this model, evangelism discipleship is also information-based as well. If we find someone who is curious about our faith, and we have the time to share, we give them all the information about the facts, names, dates, places, so that they come to a knowledge of the truth. They may not meet the Source of Truth, but we are satisfied with downloading what we know into this new “storage stick.”

For the information transfer model of evangelism, intellectual assent to belief in the doctrines is enough. In this model, you ‘present the truth’ and they ‘accept it’. Accepting it is defined as them being able to verbalize what you have presented to them. It doesn’t make it theirs, it just shows that information passed from one human ‘storage stick’ to another. This model works best when your beliefs function as some sort of creed. In this model, the doctrines or ‘truths’ are presented as discrete ‘eternal verities’ and, is based on the philosophical foundation that we have much in common with other protestant denominations and we differ only in a few ‘testing truths’. Acceptance of these additional truths qualifies you to be a member by baptism or profession of faith into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

This model is the easiest to measure and track. Attendance is the main metric, baptism and cash being the others (ABC). Your whole Christian experience is judged by you showing up to events and bringing your friends to events etc. And if you get good enough at being a ‘regular’ member you might be asked to ‘participate’ in Church. This participation is considered an exercise of your spiritual gifts. You are classed into ‘roles’ based on some gift rubric. You divide your time into ‘witnessing’, ‘fellowship’, ‘discipleship’ events etc. Your Christian experience is wrapped up in service at the local church.

This model is responsible for members being classed as ‘active’ but in reality, there is little to no impact on the world outside the church. This model is responsible for pew warmers feeling good about being ‘faithful tithe-paying’ Adventists whose sole activity is attendance and reaching for their wallet. Parachurch ministries and the Church itself lend legitimacy to this and work from this concept where the members support the ‘super member,’ the ones that are most active for God.

The One Project critiques this model of evangelism when it says “traditional” evangelism methods do not work. They point to the declining retention rates and the dismal growth figures as evidence and propose a redefinition of the remnant identity and a shift to belonging before believing as a way to reignite growth in the church and improve rates of retention. This thinking has deep theological roots and vast implications for the church at large as we will see later in the article.

[74] Biblical Model of Evangelism and Church. In contrast, the biblical model envisions an active role for every member. Each member is unique and brings a diverse range of perspectives, life connections, and gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church. Therefore, each member must be an active disciple of Christ which involves making disciples.

The biblical model of evangelism is more than information transfer and is actually a calling, a decided change in the person’s life, a training, equipping and growth of character then evangelism is a natural outgrowth of your daily life. People meet you and see Jesus in you. They desire to see Jesus, you introduce them to Him. Information is still transferred but in a way, that allows people to experience it and see the results for themselves.

In this model, doctrines are a not discrete set of beliefs organized into a creed and presented in a way to be accepted by the hearer. There is a system of truth, a science of salvation, a ‘crown’ in whose context these doctrines and principles are laid. There are deep connections, deep structures, philosophical shifts in the approach a person takes in dealing with the vicissitudes of life when this system takes hold of the believer. Biblical truth in this case becomes a way of life and your primary method of witness is your life first, and then your articulation of your beliefs second. People are drawn to the consistency of your witness first and then to the system of truth and the way of life that are at the foundation of it. Their desire to change their life emanates from wanting to be like you and when you tell them that you are actually imitating Christ, they want to meet Him and be like Him. In this context, present truth isn’t in competition with other beliefs but on a vantage point. In this model, apprenticeship, or discipleship, plays a foundational role in the growth of the disciple. If you love Jesus and follow His teachings then you will be constantly modeling the Christian walk, training disciples, helping train disciples to teach and lead others, etc. Organization and organized action will be viewed as important to accomplish the Great Commission as the need to maximize talents and return on the investment of resources including time will be important. This implies that a local church be a hub for bringing prospective disciples into fellowship with other believers as they learn Christ’s way and become proficient the basic elements of Christian living. As their knowledge deepens and their capacity for commitment matures, then and only then are they ready for baptism and ordination into the priesthood of all believers. In this model, the metrics are not attendance but commitment, learning, making self-sufficient disciples and baptizing them into the church.

With the Adventist history in place, let us turn our attention now to the local church and see how theological diversity gives rise to divergent views on the Remnant and how those views intensify the war in the local church.


[76] See article on Create Conference in this series for Pastor Alex Bryan’s views on the Remnant.

[77] See my interview with Pastor Sam Leonor and my question on the One Project’s view on the Remnant. He discussed at some length Alex Bryan’s view as well. Available here:

[78] For a good response to these challenges, Hasel recommends Clifford Goldstein’s book, Remnant.

[79] Rodriguez, A. Toward a Theology of a Remnant. Pg. 164.

[80] The Remnant Includes Other Christians. Hasel writes that “In the context of the creation of the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement, a series of dialogues took place between Adventists and Evangelicals in the mid 1950s. It has been suggested that “it is to those dialogues that we can trace the seeds of the first divergence from the Adventist Church’s self-understanding as the remnant church.”[80] In the book, Questions on Doctrine (QOD), it has been pointed out that it introduces a subtle shift of meaning. In this shift is the idea that it is also used to designate non-Adventists. It reads,

“Seventh-day Adventists firmly believe that God has a precious remnant, a multitude of earnest, sincere believers, in every church, not excepting the Roman Catholic communion, who are living up to all the light God has given them. The great Shepherd of the sheep recognizes them as His own, and He is calling them into one great fold and one great fellowship in preparation for His return.

He continues, “the term “remnant” is now applied to sincere Christians anywhere in the world. In fact, it comes very close to defining the remnant as an invisible group of God’s faithful servants among Christians. Hasel believes that this shift in in the understanding of the remnant “could have far-reaching consequences for the Seventh-day Adventist ecclesiological identity and mission. If other Christians are already part of God’s end-time remnant, on what ground is that determined and in what sense can the term be applied to them? Do they bear the marks of the remnant mentioned in Revelation? If so, why do we have to invite them to become part of God’s (visible) remnant church?”[80] I posed a variation of this question (on the Adventist positional identity as the Remnant), to Pastor Sam Leonor in my interview with him. Here was his reply:

“I believe that Revelation 14 is less about calling other good Christians out of being Methodist,

Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, etc. And it is more about calling people out of a world and systems that are increasingly anti-Gospel, anti-God and are drawing humanity away from salvation. I’m not saying Revelation 14 is not about calling people “out of Babylon,” I’m saying we need to think about who and what Babylon is. Again, I think it is less about my Methodist, Baptist, Wesleyan brothers and sisters, and more about other systems and powers that are drawing people away from God.”

[81] The Remnant Includes Non-Christians. Hasel writes here that “Missiological concerns have encouraged certain Seventh-day Adventists to modify the Adventist understanding of the remnant. The mission among Muslims has received a new force through those who have come to the conclusion that Mohammad could be seen as a God-led reformer. This approach has become a major missiological issue in the church. It is suggested by some that we should use Muslim terminology and ideas from the Qur’an to close, as much as possible, the gap between Muslims and Seventh-day Adventists. More recently the idea of engaging deep in religious search together with Muslims has brought forth “a movement of Muslims who speak of themselves as ‘followers of Isa [Jesus]’ but remain culturally Muslims.” This view is undergirded by the understanding of Walla Walla University Theologian, Alden Thompson’s view of inspiration that the Bible is a casebook not a “codebook” and therefore some have followed this new approach that utilizes the Qur’anic thought patterns to explain biblical truths.”[81] It has been pointed out that a “distinct group among these ‘Jesus Muslims’ observes the Sabbath and considers itself as a part of the end-time ‘remnant’ that believes in Jesus as mediator and keeps God’s commandments.” This movement has been described as a, “remnant of God within Islam.” This Muslim group is organizationally independent from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, although it resulted from Adventist missionary activities. Hasel continues, “Using the same hermeneutical presuppositions, similar missionary methods have also been developed by Seventh-day Adventist for Buddhism, and there have been attempts to establish similar “remnants” in the Hindu community as well. In Yangon, Myanmar, where Psalm 23 “mantra sheets” are being distributed and a “meditation house” is being built in Burma, and Burmese gospel paintings are being used to explain the Christian gospel to Buddhists. Thus, according to this position, there are “various remnants in other communities… yet we are all part of God’s larger remnant which will be united when He reconciles all things unto Himself at His coming.” It is no longer true Hasel writes, “that the term “remnant” is applied only to believers in other Christian communities; it is now applied to groups among non-Christian religions who have an incomplete understanding of the message and mission of the end-time remnant. This usage of the term weakens the nature of the end-time remnant as described in the book of Revelation.”

[82] The Remnant as an Invisible Entity. Others have recently argued, Hasel reports, that the remnant is by its very nature invisible. Noting that Seventh-day Adventists, have traditionally been very much opposed to the ecumenical movement, it has been argued that we cannot afford to ignore a new ecumenism that is sweeping through much of the Christian world.[82] This new spiritual ecumenicity reconnects “Christians and all who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ outside Christianity to a common core that is not institutional. It is argued that “this movement is directly connected to the ‘Charismatic renewal’ and calls us to quit debating differences and to renounce our sectarian mentality. Rather than thinking of ourselves as God’s chosen people, it has been suggested that we should start recognizing the existence and ministry of God’s chosen peoples. Thus, we are called to “cease to think of speak of ourselves as the remnant church and see ourselves as a part of God’s larger remnant.”[82] Such a position, writes Hasel, requires a rejection of the Adventist institutional and denominational identity. The remnant has at best only an invisible spiritual identity.” I believe this view of the remnant best fits Pastor Alex Bryan’s view on the remnant. I cannot say it for a certainty, because he never replied to my written interview questions despite his request that I submit my questions in writing to him. Among the questions I asked was a direct question regarding the identity and remnant stance of the Seventh-day Adventist church. However, my analysis of his sermons talk at the Create Conference gives me a fair degree certainty. Nevertheless, Hasel writes, “While it is certainly laudable to have an open mind and teachable spirit that is willing to learn and grow, the position seems to question the connection between a visible church organization and the remnant and instead appears to express the idea that the remnant is scattered throughout Christianity and at the present time is invisible. One can detect here a growing discontinuity with the traditional biblical-Adventist position and a redefinition of our understanding of the remnant.

[83] The Remnant as a Future Reality. Some have suggested that the remnant of Revelation is yet to appear and conclude that is almost perverse for the church to call itself “the remnant church” because the remnant is more than an institution.[83] Hasel writes that “this view effectively denies the idea that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant is God’s end-time remnant and re-interprets Revelation 12:17, as prophecy that is still to be fulfilled.”

[84] Scriven, Charles. “The Remnant and the Church: A Reconsideration,” unpublished paper, Andrews University, Heritage Room, 1984; idem, “The Real Truth about the Remnant,” Spectrum 17/1 (1986): 6-13

[85] Teel Jr., W. Charles. “Growing up with John’s Beasts: A Rite of Passage,” Spectrum 21/3 (1991): 25-34; also idem, “Remnant,”

[86] Rodriguez, A. Toward a Theology of a Remnant. Pg. 172

[87] Please See Dr. John Peckham’s Book: Canonical Theology: the Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura & Theological Method.

[88] Toward a Theology of the Remnant, 202.

[89] See Fundamental Belief No. 12. Cf. also the Summary of Doctrinal Beliefs, nos. 21, 22, and 28 in the Adv. Ch. Manual, pp. 212-213.

[90] Direct quotations taken from Toward a Theology of the Remnant. Please see Dr. Hasel essay, on the Remnant in Contemporary Adventism, and Dr. Rodriguez’s concluding essay on the Remnant.

[91] To guard against the charges of exclusivism and triumphalism in all its forms, Rodriguez gives five points. “Occasionally the Adventist concept of the remnant has been considered by some to be offensive, exclusivist, and triumphalist.

  • This opinion is based on a distorted understanding of the biblical data and of our understanding of it. In response to these charges, we can say that the chapters found in this volume (Toward a theology of the Remnant) have shown that the application of the concept of the remnant to a specific group of individuals through whom God was fulfilling in a particular way His design for humanity is found throughout the Scriptures. On that basis, the prophets and those who joined them in the perseveration and practice of God’s truth would have been considered offensive, exclusivist, and the same applies to the writings of Ellen G. White.
  • The Scripture makes clear that those who have formed part of God’s remnant people very often came into view at critical spiritual moments in the life of the larger people of God. This usually happened in the context of apostasy and oppression. In that setting the role of the remnant was that of servanthood.
  • The existence of the remnant does not mean that salvation is exclusively theirs. It is true that the history of the concept of the remnant shows that it has been misused along exclusivist lines (See Lesile Pollard’s essay on the non-canonical Jewish Apocalyptic Works and in Qumran in the book). But the truth is that God’s people are found everywhere. We will argue that an Adventist remnant ecclesiology presupposes that God is actively involved in the salvation of people outside the remnant. His people are larger than the remnant. This should put to rest any charges of exclusivism in Adventist ecclesiology and soteriology.
  • The biblical remnant has always had a message that was of relevance and importance to God’s people at a particular historical moment. It often contained elements of judgment against the larger religious community, but its ultimate intent was to proclaim salvation. The real aim of the message of the remnant has always been salvific and may have included restoration of truth and rejection of apostasy. This is what we find in the biblical prophets, in Jesus, and in the apostolic church.
  • We should keep in mind that exclusivism and triumphalism are not only dangers for the Adventist church: they are also a danger for any Christian community claiming to possess a message of universal value and relevance or that requires from those who will become members the acceptance of specific beliefs and practices, considered non-negotiable for the life of that particular religious community. Any religious community that claims to have a particular identity and mission (and which does not?!) could be open to charges of arrogance, triumphalism, and exclusivism. However, those claims by themselves do not make them that way. For a brief discussion of this concern in the context of ecumenism, see, G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacrament, Worship, Ministry, Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), pp. 255-256.

We Adventists should do all we can to avoid giving wrong impressions that may provide, in the opinion of some, reason to raise those charges against us. But we should not allow those charges to undermine our self-identity and mission as God’s remnant people.” (216-217)

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About the author


Adrian Zahid is a recent survivor of advanced-stage cancer, he is trying to make the most of the second lease on life that God has given him. He is the co-founder of Intelligent Adventist and in his free time enjoys helping nonprofits be sustainable and the Seventh-day Adventist Church succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission.