I am a counselor living in the southern United States, and have been directly involved with my community for over 20 years. In my work, I come across a wide swath of people—many of whom consider themselves “Christian,” but are from other denominations besides Adventism.
Several years ago, my wife sent me an e-mail that first made me laugh, then made me sad, and finally left me angry. The email contained an image of two boys in a sandbox with one boy apparently screaming and crying with his hands over his eyes, and another boy with a handful of sand behind his back (apparently he’d just thrown it in the other boy’s face). The caption below the image simply read: “Doesn’t play well with others.”
Being a proud, unapologetic, wild-eyed, and frothy-mouthed Seventh-day Adventist for my entire life, I can honestly say that Seventh-day Adventists haven’t had a great track record for playing well with others. However, Jesus makes it clear that “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:32, NIV).
As Seventh-day Adventists, we know we aren’t the only ones that Jesus wants will save. However, I believe that just as Martin Luther felt compelled to nail the 95 theological disagreements he had with the Catholic church, similarly, it’s our responsibility to interact with and share the full spectrum of Biblical truth with our Protestant brothers and sisters.
Now, Some Honesty
To be honest, I have struggled over the years regarding how best to interact with other Protestants—maybe you have too. There was a time when I didn’t want anything to do with them, and possessed a “we have the truth and if they don’t want to accept it, they can just go (literally) to hell!” However, as I’ve gotten older and more mellow with age and experience, I have come to recognize that although Seventh-day Adventists have the blessing of understanding God’s fullest revelation of Biblical truth, this can, like the Jews of old, make us very “pruney” people (yes, I made that word up).
You know what I mean: someone who knows everything and wins every theological and spiritual discussion, but is as mean as a snake or so weird and different that the end result is the same: no one likes or wants to be around them—even people who work with/for them, and yes, especially their own family/friends.
So, in light of the upcoming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s stunning 180° change in theological position and understanding from the Catholic church, how can we as Seventh-day Adventists leverage the distinctive and beautiful biblical truths we have in interacting with other Protestants?
Well, most importantly, we must understand that Jesus loves all of humanity and gave Himself as a sacrifice for us all (John 3:16). The fact that Seventh-day Adventists have more truth than other Protestant churches shouldn’t make us more prideful, but rather more focused on wanting to share it with others. But how? What do we do when we come across other Christians who aren’t interested in wanting to know what we believe?
We’re All in This Together
The German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, Rupertus Meldenius, famously wrote: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” I have heard and read this quote so many times, but honestly never gave it any serious thought. However, this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has gotten me thinking and re-thinking about how I interact with other protestants.
In terms of interacting with other faiths, the Apostle Paul had it right when he wrote to the Corinthian church regarding his method of evangelism:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV)
Today’s reader could replace the labels above including: “Jew,” “those under the law,” “those not having the law,” and “weak,” with such words as (remember, I live in the southern United States): “Southern Baptist,” “Methodist,” “Church of God,” and, yes, even “Catholic.” (GASP!) The fact is that, as uncomfortable as this idea may be to many people (I know that at one time it was uncomfortable to me too), we are called to interact with people of other faith perspectives—even other protestants—and not lock ourselves away in our homes, communities, educational institutions, etc.
I sometimes get the feeling that we as Seventh-day Adventists would prefer to share our faith with someone who is a spiritual “tabula rasa,” in other words, someone who has absolutely no Christian beliefs whatsoever. That way, we don’t have to spend valuable Bible study time “un-teaching.” We can top-off their spiritual gas tank with the “28 Fundamentals,” call it a day, and move on to the next person.
But that’s not how it usually works. In fact, I’ve never seen it work like that. If someone is interested in learning something about what I believe, it’s usually because they have worked with or known me for some time, or come into contact with me on a regular and consistent basis. Ellen G. White terms this: “ disinterested kindness.”
I don’t know about you, but I can tell when someone loves and takes an interest in me just because—with no hidden agenda or axe to grind. When I encounter those types of people, I’m more open to what they have to say. Did you know that this is actually the most effective way to do evangelism? Go figure! Loving people—just because. Again, check out what Ellen White had to say about it:
Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.” There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice.”
Taking the Next Step
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a full-time pastor. I am a lay pastor, and in my two-year’s worth of hard and serious studies (hats off to the Georgia-Cumberland Conference Ministerial/Evangelism department) I was required to read many books. However, I have found three to be the most helpful in teaching me to hone (I’m always learning how to do it better) my people/evangelism skills, even when trying to reach other protestants:
- Gospel Workers (Ellen G. White)
- Persuasion (Mark Finley)
- Studying Together (Mark Finley)
In addition to that, in my interactions with other Christians, I have identified four major differences between my Adventist beliefs and other Protestants. They are:
- Sabbath vs. Sunday
- Christ’s Second/Third Coming vs. The Rapture
In order to win other Protestants, it is essential for us to know what we believe as Adventists, and to know what they believe. Also, it’s important to remember that just because someone identifies as a particular Protestant faith, the spectrum of belief and actual life application can vary from very strict/conservative to very liberal. They’re not going to tell you that information up front—you really have to invest time and effort in getting to know them.
Lastly, in my estimation, the top seven things needed to interact with, and produce optimal results, in reaching other Protestants are:
- Constant connection with the Holy Spirit: without Him, well, anything you will do or try will fail
- Consistent, real, and joyful Christian lifestyle (Ellen G. White wrote: “The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian.”)
- Proper timing: the Holy Spirit will tell you when to strike (maybe that’s not the best word, but you get the idea)
- Gentleness/respect: Apostle Peter wrote, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . .” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
- Beliefs: you have to know what you and other Protestants believe
- Worldview: you have to know how you and other Protestants perceive/view the world and truth
- Apologetics: you have to know how to defend the Gospel (you would be amazed how many Protestants don’t truly understand and believe it)
Playing Well with Others
Should Seventh-day Adventists interact/evangelize Protestants? Of course! But we must remember that we can’t force other Protestants to believe/live as we do. Throwing sand in people’s eyes has never been an effective evangelism strategy. However, the reality is that if we begin and continue to live our lives in such a fashion as to love all of those around us, with no strings attached, then that provides the optimal environment for Protestants to become Seventh-day Adventists as we teach and preach the Three Angels’ Messages.