Constructing a Christ-Centered Adventist Faith, Part 1: Jesus or Doctrine?

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Constructing a Christ-Centered Adventist Faith, Part 1: Jesus or Doctrine?

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”[1]

I can remember a phone call I got back in February from one of my students at the Bible college I was teaching at. At the time she was interning as a Bible worker in one of the many churches that she and her classmates were placed in during their winter quarter. She had begun studying with a man who was already a little familiar with Seventh-day Adventists, who expressed to her that he was interested in seeing how the Bible studies they were going to have together would focus on Jesus. As we discussed on the phone how to best go about conducting her next study with this man, my student realized that the Bible study guide she was going to use, which focused on the signs of the times that show us that Jesus’ second coming is imminent, unfortunately, did not do the best job of focusing on Jesus Himself. Although it provided information about what Jesus said, it failed to educate on how to get to know Jesus through the information He shared.

 

This is not just a problem found in a few Bible study guides. I can testify that for a long time since I’ve come into Christianity, it has been much easier to simply share information than to share Christ. The history of the Jews in the time of Jesus shows us a people who were very good at communicating the messages contained in the Mishnah (Jewish commentary) while missing the Messiah. Even in early Adventism, we can find a heavy emphasis placed upon teaching the right information, often shared in a polemical or argumentative way, while unfortunately leaving out the message of the cross. Hence, the huge call for more Christ-centered preaching and teaching at the famous 1888 General Conference session.

 

Getting back to the conversation with my student, we began to discuss how to make a Signs of the Times Bible study more Christ-centered. We knew that mere information about the increase of famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in the world wouldn’t help this man to focus on Jesus. We would have to dig into the reason why Jesus would even want to share this information in the first place. What other signs does Jesus mention, and what does His sharing these tell us about God’s character? How does Jesus want us to respond to these signs, and how will He help us to do that? How does this study connect with what Jesus did for all of us on the cross? When these types of questions were asked and discussed along with the technical information, my student found that this man was more than happy to continue studying the Bible with her.

 

I believe that lifting up Jesus in this way as we discuss the different themes and teachings of the Bible with others makes the sharing experience much easier. We see from the scripture above that Jesus clearly understood what would draw people into a loving relationship with Him. Every teaching from the Bible must remain intimately connected with the central theme of the Bible, which is, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”[2] Learning how to do this is the main purpose of this series.

 

Why Doctrine?

 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”[3]

One of the unfortunate consequences of failing to lift up Jesus in our teachings is that people tend to go to the other extreme and say, “Why don’t we just focus on the cross and the love of Jesus, and stop bringing up teachings in the Bible that others disagree with?” The problem with that thought is that it almost assumes that no other stories or writings in the Bible can teach us about the loving character of our God other than the crucifixion story. That would directly contradict what Jesus said in the gospel of John quoted above.

 

From Creation to the Flood, from Abraham to David, and from Solomon to the end of the Old Testament, all of these scriptures testify of Jesus. It is within these scriptures that we find the doctrines of the Law, Sanctuary, Sabbath, State of the Dead, Resurrection, and a host of others. These same teachings are reiterated and made even more clear in the New Testament. Jesus declares that all of these things point to Him. And if they point to Him, they will point to the defining moment of His life on earth, the cross. Not only will they point to the actual crucifixion, but they will help to clarify the major principles that surround the death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, each of our doctrines teach us about selflessness, atonement, and love.

 

When the barber cuts your hair, they don’t just stay on one side of you (or at least I hope they don’t). They go from the back to the front, and then to both sides, getting a full 360° view of your head to make sure everything comes out perfect. When we come to the Bible, we don’t want to stay stuck in one position. Every theme and teaching in the word of God is just giving us a view of Jesus from different angles. To show what His life and death really meant, Jesus started “at Moses and all the Prophets,” and “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”[4] Should we not try our best to do the same?

 

Recapturing the Joy of Sharing

 In the winter of 2016, I was preaching an evangelistic series in the Bay Area of California. A young Catholic man began attending the meetings right from the start. He was enjoying the series and expressed to me that he had never learned so much about the Bible after only the first few sermons. As the meetings continued, we began to go over doctrines that differed from those of his faith, and although he was not as enthusiastic about the messages as at first, he continued to come. Then came the night of the Antichrist message.

I remember feeling confident about the truth I was going to present, but not so much in the outcome that might occur. As I went through the sermon and came to the point where I revealed the Roman Catholic Church as the entity that fits every characteristic of the Antichrist power, my fears were realized when the Catholic man started to speak out in front of everyone in disagreement. Fortunately, he was not too disruptive, and I was able to go on to show why I would make such a claim. I was able to make it through the sermon with him only speaking out one more time before the end. Amazingly, after having such a visceral reaction to that message, the man still came to all of the remaining meetings.

 

After the series was over that man actually took me out to lunch and told me once again that he was blessed by some of my sermons, but that he still definitely disagreed with the Papal Church being the Antichrist. He also had a bunch of papers from Catholic apologists to prove it to me. He presented arguments, and I countered with facts that I still strongly believe today. But as I look back on my time spent with this man, I wish that I could have brought out Christ more, both in my sermons and in our one-on-one conversations. I remember the trepidation I felt when I was about to share that Antichrist message, and know that if I truly believed that it was Christ-centered I would not have had those feelings, no matter the outcome.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still believe that the Antichrist message is very important for people to know in the times that we live in. But we need to present it, and the rest of our doctrines, properly in the light of Christ and Him crucified. Ellen White made a grave statement in 1890 concerning our church:

 

“We have not held up before the people the righteousness of Christ and the full significance of His great plan of redemption. We have left out Christ and His matchless love, brought in theories and reasonings, and preached argumentative discourses.”[5]

 

From my own experience, I can see that this problem definitely still exists, but it can be remedied. When we better understand how to bring out this matchless love of Christ in every teaching we present from the Bible, it makes sharing with others an infinitely more joyful experience than simply presenting arguments. This joy is what I pray we can all experience.

Read the rest of this series!

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Notes.

[1] John 12:32 All scriptures are taken from the New King James Version

[2] 1 Corinthians 2:2

[3] John 5:39

[4] Luke 24:27

[5] Ellen White. Faith and Works (p. 16).

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About the author

Tony Dennis

Tony Dennis is from Sacramento, California, and spent most of his life as an atheist. His big dream, when he was young, was to become a professional poker player. He was converted to Seventh-day Adventism when he was 21 years old by reading the book Steps to Christ. He went on to graduate from the Pacific Union Conference’s school of evangelism, SOULS West. He has been a teacher now at SOULS West for the past three years, teaching classes on Daniel, Revelation, and the Sanctuary. He has also recently started a YouTube channel entitled By Every Word to help young people understand and apply the Bible to their lives.