The Alter-Protestants: Exploring Adventism’s Radical Identity (Part 1)

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The Alter-Protestants: Exploring Adventism’s Radical Identity (Part 1)

Editorial Note: This series was originally published on the blog www.pomopastor.com

A couple of years ago, I ran into an article that was summarizing a talk given by an official in the church. Although I have since forgotten where the article was located, there is one thing I have not forgotten—the boiling sense of irritation I felt as I read a quote from this official complaining about the rising trend within Adventism to make our church appear like other denominations.

Having grown up a conservative Adventist, I had been exposed to the “us vs. them” mentality for far too long. In my experience, such a mentality did nothing but breed narcissism, elitism, and ignorance. And I was tired—tired of the ridiculous arrogance that continued to be passed around as “faithfulness” or “love of truth.”

I’m referring to the idea that Adventism is somehow better than other denominations, that we have no need to learn from other Christians, that we should only ever read Ellen White and other conservative Adventists, while refusing to read anything written by fellow evangelicals. I am referring to this rebarbative sectarian attitude that somehow places everyone else in the category of “Babylon” and us in the category of “remnant” with no grey in between. I was done with it.

At that point in my life, I had benefited greatly from discovering how Adventism was like other denominations. It was a breath of fresh air. I also enjoyed reading books written by fellow Christians in other denominations. I learned a lot from them and came to appreciate and value their faith journey and heritage. I attended their churches, and was amazed at how simple and contagious their love for Jesus was. I was motivated by their passion and excellence. But most of all, I had found that my faith heritage was rooted in the same soil as theirs, that I really wasn’t that different from them, neither practically, historically, nor theologically.

We were all protestants. We all held to the five “solas” of the protestant reformation. Martin Luther was as much their hero as he was mine. The legalism which had enveloped the medieval church was just as repulsive to them as it was to me. From John Calvin down to John Wesley there was a continuum of truth that we all shared. I learned that Adventism wasn’t born in a vacuum, but instead derived its identity from the same pool where the “Sunday churches” (a term I have come to despise) gleaned theirs.

Through my journey of exploring the faith of my fellow Jesus-followers, I came to appreciate Adventism more. I had discovered, for the first time, an Adventism divorced from sectarian ideology and self-adulating platitudes—one that had a beauty securely planted in the person of Jesus and did not need, even for a moment, to put another denomination down in order to make up for its own deficiencies.

Related Article: How Should Seventh-day Adventists View Other Christians?

Perhaps now the reader can better understand why I found the GC official’s statement so vexatious. Granted, I had no way of knowing exactly what he meant. However, that was how I interpreted it based on my own emotionally unstable experience with the church. I wanted Adventism to be the same as others. I hated the way in which we, with our misguided zeal, had taken such a beautiful message and managed to morph it into such a repulsive narrative that the rest of the Christian world found it necessary to label us a cult. For me, this official’s words were a reminder of the very thing I saw as detrimental to our mission and identity.

However, the story doesn’t end there. I am now a pastor. I continue to interact with other Christians, learn from them, read from them, and be amazed by them. However, I also have a responsibility to teach the Bible, and I have young people, teens, and youth asking me why Adventism is unique. I have others who, with no hesitation, tell me they would just as happily attend a Baptist church as they do the Adventist one, and if it weren’t for the fact that we go to church on a day where most other churches are closed, we would likely see a much bigger youth exodus.

So, over the past couple of years, I have had to pull the reigns on this issue and get a bit more objective. The questions I have asked are:

  1. Is Adventism, apart from some surface peculiarities, really no different from other denominations?
  2. If it isn’t, then what reason do I have to stay in Adventism?
  3. If it is, then what is it that makes us unique? Is it the Sabbath? The judgment? 1844? Or is it perhaps something deeper and more fundamental?
  4. What reason does Adventism have for its existence? In short, what story are we telling? And is it true, necessary, or unique? If so, in what way? If not, then why bother?
  5. Is it possible that perhaps Adventism is alter-protestant (Protestant in its heritage but alternate in some other way, thus separating it from historic protestants like Presbyterians and Methodists, but also separating it from historic sectarians like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons)?

That final question is what has given birth to this four-part series that I will be writing over the next few weeks: The Alter-Protestants: Exploring Adventism’s Radical Identity. In this series, I will share the journey I have taken through each of the above questions, and offer a conclusion that both embraces Adventism’s unique narrative while rejecting the way in which we have historically misgoverned this reality.

In other words, through my study, I have come to a place that continues to embrace my disdain for our historic self-aggrandizing and condescending approach to this question, while simultaneously adopting the unavoidable conclusion that there’s just something eccentric about what we have to say.

Click here to read the rest of this series

Read another article series dissecting the foundations of Adventist theology.

Read another article series (co-authored by Marcos Torres) exploring Adventism’s unique contribution to Christian theology.

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About the author

Marcos Torres

Marcos Torres is a pastor in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. He loves talking about faith, culture and Adventism. You can follow his blog at www.pomopastor.com.

  • Daniel

    “3. If it is, then what is it that makes us unique?”:

    I’m afraid the answer to that question may not end well, or will it?

    What makes any “Christian” unique? To be filled by the Spirit of Christ and to do His will, which always leads to glorifying Christ Jesus and God the Father–all else is self-glorification.

    People need to stop building walls between themselves and other Christians by developing “unique” doctrines; derived from “private interpretations” of Scripture and Prophecy. This is what separates genuine Christians from each other, when they depart from the pure doctrines of the Holy Scriptures and begin to introduce their own.

    • Thanks for the comment Daniel. I’m kind of not sure if you read the entire article? Your critique of the question seems to ignore the rest of what I wrote. The question was part of an honest exploration and made me as uncomfortable as it makes you. Surprised you didn’t affirm any of that?

      Assuming you did read the entire article, I would respond by saying that its not “uniqueness” that is the problem. It’s narcissism. All humans are unique, but its only when we see ourselves as superior and others as inferior that social problems emerge. Its the same with theology. As an avid student of theology, I can confidently say that not all theological traditions teach the same thing. And yet every single one says exactly what you said – that we are not to “depart from the pure doctrines of the Holy Scriptures and begin to introduce [our] own.” Every theological tradition believes it has the pure doctrines and that everyone else has diverted from the Bible in one sense or another.

      So when it comes to this question, its a very valid one. Is Adventism unique? (Not better or superior). If it is then what makes it so? If it isn’t then why does it exist as a separate entity with its own denominational brand?

      Parts 2-4 will be published in the coming weeks. Would love to hear more thoughts.

      • Daniel

        Thanks for your response, Marcos.

        Firstly, yes I did read the entire article. Your fresh and honest approach to the questions you raise should be an eye-opener for many. I just hope your findings will be unbiased, which is only possible when Christ speaks through His people. This is why I wrote previously: all else is self-glorification—which is rampant within Christendom.

        Indeed, theological traditions, if authored by carnal minded people will result in false doctrines handed down successive generations. These doctrines will always leads to heresies and more ungodliness. Carnal minded people are convinced they have the true and pure understanding of Scripture and the Prophecies within. No one will convince them otherwise. But those who wait on the LORD, being taught by Him won’t be deceived by those “private interpretations”.

        In regards to question No. 3: I was pointing out that no denominational belief system should be regarded as unique—they should all be based on One “Foundation”, which is Christ Jesus. But this is not what I see within Adventism. However, I’ll leave it there and let you complete your series lest I am accused of “answering before being questioned”.

        Look forward to reading your findings and concluding thoughts.

        • Thanks Daniel!

          I agree with your overall view. For me, it boils down to the story of God. This was part of the basis for me beginning this journey. I wanted to know if we had anything to say about God that was worth saying. If our uniqueness was about us and our “brand” that would be pretty useless. If our uniqueness actually turned out to be about God and not us, that would be worth further exploration. Hopefully, as the series progresses its the story of God that emerges and not the corporate identity of an institution.

          The next post explores our practical and theological roots shared with the rest of the prostestant world. Post 3 explores the unique contribution we bring to the Christian conversation and part 4 wraps it up by going through some of the skeletons in our own closet. Hopefully, by the end of it, we find ourselves more committed to the story of God.

          Looking forward to more of your thoughts,

          • Valerie Barbara Briggs

            So sorry sent my message in wrong place its at top of page 3 messages up.

    • Valerie Barbara Briggs

      Hi Marcos. I am a born again Christian and Baptised in the Holy Spirit. Until recently I have always believed that I am worshiping on the day Jesus rose from the grave Sunday, but I have just read that the Catholic Church changed our worship from the sabbath day to Sunday to show their authority over all churches,I am not happy about this and don’t know what to do because I belong to a loving church who genuinely love Jesus and are Christians in every way. I could do with a little help. Val

      • Hi Valerie! Your story is so inspiring! Thanks for sharing. It is also very difficult because the question you ask is a deeply personal and emotive one. I would love to chat with you about it some more but would you mind doing it over email? If so, you can find me on Facebook ( facebook.com/pomopastor ). Send me a private message and I will send you my email address. If you don’t have Facebook let me know and we can work something else out.

        Blessings,
        Pastor Marcos

        • Valerie Barbara Briggs

          Hi Marcos I tried to message you on Facebook without success we could speak on my email its private, you already have my email. Address. God bless. Valerie
          Sent from my iPad

          • Daniel

            Hi Valerie,
            See my comment to you further down.

        • Valerie Barbara Briggs

          Hi Marcos I sent you I message on messenger God bless. Valerie

      • Daniel

        I have been unable to reply to your comment directly–so lets try again.

        Having unintentionally drawn my attention to your question, if I may also add some Scripture passages which will shed some light on the subject.

        “27 Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? 29 See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.”
        (Exodus 16:27-30). My emphasis added.

        “7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” (Acts 20:7);

        “2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” (1 Cor. 16:2).

        What does Paul mean when he says, “no collections when I come”? The answer is in Exe. 20:8-11 and Jer. 17:19-22:

        “19 Thus the LORD said to me: “Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; 20 and say to them, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. 21 Thus says the Lord: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; 22 nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.”

        We see that Christians need to spend quality time with their God—quite time. Indeed, we can do this every day of the week, but the affairs of this world seem to keep us busy. Therefore God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (Gen. 2:3), thus it is His day; and He has made it for us:

        27 And He [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, 28).

        “Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:27-30);

        and this:

        “10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10).

        No doubt you are aware that there are many Christian denominations in the world today. Sadly, some are concerned with glorifying humans and not Jesus Christ. It is the work of the Devil—distracting Christians from focusing on Christ. But one thing is for certain, those who have the Spirit of God within them will always witness to Jesus and only Jesus, and none other (Acts 1:4-8).

        I wouldn’t be too concerned about meeting with fellow Christians on Sundays—as you have said: “I belong to a loving church who genuinely love Jesus and are Christians in every way.” Remember: By meeting with fellow Christians we can all share the glorious Revelations which Jesus gives us through the Spirit; and edifying one another we go out witnessing for Christ Jesus—because it’s all about Him.

        Let the Spirit of God teach you as you read the Holy Scriptures.

        May the LORD Jesus bless you.

        • Valerie Barbara Briggs

          Hi Daniel Thankyou for your message it was very helpful. God bless. Valerie

  • Daniel

    Hi Valerie, I have been unable to reply to your comment directly as it keeps being flagged
    as “spam”. I hope you see it.

    Having unintentionally drawn my attention to your question, if I may also add some Scripture passages which will shed some light on the subject.

    “27 Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but
    they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? 29 See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.”
    (Exodus 16:27-30). My emphasis added.

    “7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” (Acts 20:7);

    “2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he
    may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” (1 Cor. 16:2).

    What does Paul mean when he says, “no collections when I come”? The answer is in Exe.
    20:8-11 and Jer. 17:19-22:

    “19 Thus the LORD said to me: “Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; 20 and say to them, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. 21 Thus says the Lord: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; 22 nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.”

    We see that Christians need to spend quality time with their God—quite time. Indeed, we can
    do this every day of the week, but the affairs of this world seem to keep us busy. Therefore God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (Gen. 2:3), thus it is His day; and He has made it for us:

    27 And He [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the
    Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, 28).

    “Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:27-30);

    and this:

    “10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be
    exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10).

    No doubt you are aware that there are many Christian denominations in the world today.
    Sadly, some are concerned with glorifying humans and not Jesus Christ. It is the work of the Devil—distracting Christians from focusing on Christ. But one thing is for certain, those who have the Spirit of God within them will always witness to Jesus and only Jesus, and none other (Acts 1:4-8).

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about meeting with fellow Christians on Sundays—as you have
    said: “I belong to a loving church who genuinely love Jesus and are Christians in every way.” Remember: By meeting with fellow Christians we can all share the glorious Revelations which Jesus gives us through the Spirit; and edifying one another we go out witnessing for Christ Jesus—because it’s all about Him.

    Let the Spirit of God teach you as you read the Holy Scriptures.

    May the LORD Jesus bless you.