Saturday, September 13, 2008

Christless Adventists

Note: I wrote this over two years ago while in the seminary. The class on Revelation was taught by Dr. Jon Paulien, and one of our requirements for the class was to converse on a discussion board for the class, as well as send e-mails with our thoughts on Revelation to our fellow students. This post was in response to something that Dr. Paulien had said in class, as well as the overall tenor that was present among a number of students. The post may seem pointed and direct at times, and I am not wishing to offend anyone. But sometimes we need to be pointed and direct! As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

Adventism has doctrine and prophecy, and Willow Creek and Evangelicals have Jesus. Though in passing, this is what Dr. Jon Paulien shared yesterday in Revelation class. He's not alone. Many other people advocate this idea.

Is this an accurate statement, though?

Admittedly, much of our preaching and doctrine is Christless ("dry as the hills of Gilboa" Ellen White would say) and even much of our preaching about Christ is Christless. But I have always been a little uneasy when people insist that the mega-churches and other Evangelical denominations have Christ, and we don't.

Can a church really have Christ if they don't have doctrine, or prophecy, for that matter? This follows the assumption that doctrine and prophecy are exclusive from Christ.

It's not an either/or situation, though. While Adventism may get caught up in preaching Christless doctrine at times, what we need to do is find Christ in the doctrines. Just as it's not faith or works, or even faith and works, but faith that works, it's doctrines that are Christocentric.

Indeed, if you preach/teach the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, the Second Coming or any of our other 28 Fundamental beliefs, and Christ is not at the center of them, then it's not true doctrine.

I would argue, on the other hand, that these other churches aren't truly preaching Christ at all. They're preaching a version of Christ that is devoid of His fullness. It's a bunch of medication that doesn't truly heal the sin-sick soul. We don't need to go to Willow Creek, or Saddleback, or wherever else, to learn about Christ. He is among us.

If someone is struggling in their walk with Christ, they don't need less Sabbath, they need more. They need to understand that Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath who bids them to come to Him and find rest for their souls.

If someone is discouraged about their faith experience, they don't need less sanctuary, they need more. They need to understand that Christ was the Lamb slain for them; that He is standing at the right hand of the Father right now, interceding for them; that He not only promises forgiveness, but cleansing.

If someone is tired of their Christian walk, they don't need less 2300 days, they need more. They need to understand that Jesus is now at the other end of those 2300 days, cleansing the sanctuary in heaven, as well as the one in their hearts, and He is eager to return.

If someone is struggling with their faith, they don't need less Ellen White, they need more. They need to understand that because Christ loves us so much, and that He shed His blood on Calvary, He, because of His mercy, gave us a special message from His heart in these last days, that will help us in our times of need and struggle; to guide us through the stormy weather and the rocky terrain.

Although someone can certainly accuse me of taking a verse out of context or spiritualizing it, when the disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 14 and said that they were going to send the 5,000 into the villages to get someting to eat, Jesus' response says a lot. He told them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." And what did they get for their hungry stomachs? They got Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Do we, as Adventists, have to send people to these other places to give them a taste of Jesus, or can we provide Him for them? Jesus tells us, "You give them something to eat."

"Here is the patience of the saints: here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev 14:12).


Charles said...


This is the most clear reasoning I have ever read/heard in support and defense of doctrine and the teaching of doctrine.

My comments on an earlier post are based on the fact that so often it seems that Adventist Doctrine is taught in such a way that belief is based on the fact that it's Adventist Doctrine, and nothing else. "We have to believe these doctrines because we have the truth, and not those other protestant heathens following Babylon." LOL I only laugh at the absurdity of the comment...

What ends up happening, the doctrine becomes Christless and breaths absolutely no LIFE into my soul. It even becomes drudgery. And discouraging. And I even begin to hate it... It becomes, as what I have witnessed on a weekly basis, form and ceremony - not unlike the lifelessness of the Jewish temple services at the time of Christ.

But centering every doctrine on/in Christ as a way of understanding and belief is a whole new concept that I rarely see, yet disparately long for. The doctrine becomes less about Adventism and more about Jesus. The once and for all, I could with integrity say:

"I am a Seventh-day Adventist because I believe in and fell in love and grace with Jesus."

Thats a thought I can stomach.

Anonymous said...

Collectively, my wife and I have more than 100 years of experience in Seventh-day Adventism. We also fervently believed SDA dogma and served overseas as well. However, we eventually discovered that sincerity is not a substitute for biblical truth. When one discovers that even one SDA doctrinal pillar is not biblical, it creates concern that some of the other beliefs may not pass close scrutiny as well.

His grace still amazes me,

Dennis Fischer

Shawn Brace said...


I'm glad that you were blessed by the post. And I'm glad that it was clear reasoning! With Paul, I want to do nothing more than preach Christ and Him crucified. But Christ and Him crucified can be seen in every biblical teaching.

Have a blessed day.

Alison said...

I hope you got an "A" on this post - while in the seminary!! If this was a "gradable" post. That was extremely well-written!! Sometimes I can get frustrated with the church because I feel we get self-important with our doctrine- so then it becomes easy to forget that at the heart of all of the teachings is Jesus. He should always be the focus !!

Sue and Don Perkins said...

Bingo, Alison,

You got it. The key is the words "WE GET self-important"...or whatever it is that we get. Why blame the church? It's the people reflecting or not reflecting God's intended purpose for the church. Don't leave the church...straighten out the people.

I have known people (and some of them "important" people) who have been hurt/wronged by the "church" but who have not "left" it. They have continued to work and pray for the "church". I have a hard time sympathizing with people who have "left" the church because they didn't like/agree with something. I admire those whose attitude is "what can I do to help keep the ship on course."

Israel Ramos said...

I appreciated your solution to the problem: put Christ in the doctrine (instead of getting rid of the doctrine to find Christ).

Shawn Brace said...


Thank you for weighing in! Glad that the post resonated with you. Yes, indeed, it is all about Jesus. And it is sad to me when people cannot separate individuals who do not live up to their high calling, and the overall mission of the church.

May we all keep our eyes on Christ and Him crucified.

Sherman Haywood Cox II said...

You have stated something that I like to think is at the foundation of my own block. I think that the statement that "willow creek has Jesus and we have doctrine" makes assumptions both about the experience of willow creek and the experience of Adventism. Is it true that we can assume that Adventism knows less of Jesus than Willow Creek. I would also agree that Sanctuary, Sabbath, State of Dead, all point to a clearer understanding of Jesus. If Jesus ain't in our understanding of doctrine, then it simply aint' true doctrine. I think a very helpful resource in this endevor are the writings of E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones...I think from perusing your blog that you are familiar with these ministers...

God Bless...

Thanks for the post and keep at it...