Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Investigating the Judgment - Part 2

Evangelicals have a problem on their hands (the same holds true for "Evangelical Adventists," and, to a lesser extent, more liberal Adventists - though they aren't challenged by certain biblical teachings as much because they do not hold the authority of scripture in as high a regard). The challenge is a topic that I addressed a few weeks ago in part one. That is, the biblical witness is abundantly clear that God performs a judgment based on works. Any serious student who reads the Bible cannot get past such verses as Ecclesiastes 12:4: "For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil." And there are others, of course.

But here's the problem for Evangelicals: maintaining that God performs a judgment based on works challenges at least two important pillars of their faith. 1.) A judgment based on works places too much emphasis on the law, and supposedly diminishes the role of grace. And, perhaps more importantly, 2.) such a thought jeopardizes the destiny of an individual, thus undermining the dearly-held teaching of "eternal security," "the perseverance of the saints," or, as it is commonly known "once saved, always saved." (These three terms, or whatever other term you can come up with that describes the same thing, are not necessarily synonymous within the lexicon of Protestant/Evangelical Christianity. There are varying nuances to each system, but all find their origin in Calvinist theology. I will address this subject as well in a future post.)

So notice what they do in light of these clashing ideas: they place the judgment after the Second Coming, and each person receives his or her reward upon arriving in heaven. Thus, they take a verse like Romans 14:10, where Paul says that we will "all stand before the judgment seat of Christ," and make it into a literal experience that a person goes through upon his arrival in heaven. And, depending on how the judgment goes before Christ's judgment seat, the person will receive a reward that is consistent with how many good works he or she performed, or what that person did with the talents that Christ gave to him, etc.

Aside from the fact that it ignores the plain biblical witness - that Christ will bring His reward with Him at His Second Coming, not after it (see Rev 22:12) - it, more importantly, is a false teaching that appeals to a person's ego. Not only does it take a person's eternal destiny off the hook and exonerates them of any true responsibility here on earth (I would be more than happy to coast through the rest of this life without ever acting with Christian responsibility if it simply costs me a bigger house in heaven), but it, as with all false teachings, pets human pride. To think that I can gain a bigger house, a brighter crown, a whiter robe, by performing better here on earth is the epitome of self-love and self-centeredness.

At the same time, it is incredibly ironic that, in an attempt to make the judgment more palatable - and less "scary" - by placing it after the Second Coming, Evangelicals have actually made it more troublesome. In the Adventist understanding of the judgment, we do not maintain that we actually, literally and physically stand before God as He goes through the books, looking over our records. The Evangelical explanation has its participants literally and physically standing before God's judgment seat, crossing their fingers in hopes that they have enough good deeds to earn that new heavenly BMW. In the Adventist understanding, we have Jesus as our Defense Attorney, pleading our case before the universe, claiming His blood on our behalf. In the Evangelical understanding, the participant is standing disturbingly alone before God, hoping that He can speak up enough on his own behalf. In the Adventist understanding, Satan is the "accuser" of the brethren. In the Evangelical understanding, Jesus is. The Adventist understanding is ultimately God-centered, with the purpose of vindicating and clearing God's name before the universe and our fellow human beings. The Evangelical understanding is self-centered, with the purpose of vindicating our names before God and our fellow human beings.

And the list could go on . . . .

So I ask you: which version of the judgment seems more palatable, less ego-centric, and more gospel-oriented? It seems pretty obvious to me.


Charles said...

Mornin Shawn,

Both your commentaries on the IJ doctrine have been very interesting reads. I even downloaded and read the pdf linked to in the last post and perused through it.

As an SDA who is not an emergent or evangelical (heck, I hate labels and descriptors - they box people in and place quotation marks around beliefs) I honestly am not sure about the IJ doctrine. Currently, I believe it because I am afraid NOT to believe in it. Does that make sense?

I know, a very SDA way of thinking.

But more importantly for me, I struggle with many SDA doctrines only because we tend to hold ourselves in such high esteem compared to all the other evangelicals and Christians out there who "don't have the truth". To me, we seem arrogant in our belief system. "We are right and you Sunday-worshipers are wrong."

I wonder if we wouldn't be losing so many young people if we would trade in our collective SDA egos for humility. If our tone was less superiority complex and more concern for bringing people to Jesus Christ and into a saving relationship with Him, would we not have to play apologetics with these "great 28" a little less?

We you around AU when Dwight Nelson preached on the 11th commandment (it was back in the last 90's or early 2000's)? I don't always agree with Dwight Nelson, but I have to give him credit where credit is due - that was one of his best sermon series ever. That and the 2nd Coming of the Holy Spirit.

Question - what is more important - Belief in a crucified and risen Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the only path to Salvation or belief in the Investigative Judgment? ;-)

Kinda a PS here - if I seem disagreeable here, please accept my apologies, that is not my intent. Thoroughly ensconced in my mid-30's and wondering where my youth went and staring at the inevitability of finally having to grow up (LOL), I currently am in the process of "reinvestigating" my belief system and why I actually believe the way I do. What often sets me off is the apparent "we have the truth" attitude that I don't want to pass on to my children. Though I don't know you well, and it may not be fair to say this, but this article had a hint of that, so I may have had a knee-jerk. Please allow plenty of grace.

In all seriousness, though. God bless you and your ministry.

Shawn Brace said...


Thank you so much for your comments - not just on this one, but on others. Thanks for keeping me on the right path, and I mean this with all sincerity. If I ever sound "boastful" or "arrogant," I am truly sorry. Sometimes, since my writing is straight and to the point, I can come across that way, and I have to guard against that. In my every-day life, I have a tendency to be a little facetious as well, and that can sometimes get me into trouble. But thanks for your perspective - which you can probably offer more objectively since you don't know me.

Now let me speak to your other points/perspectives (this may turn into a whole other post in and of itself). Firstly: the "we have the truth" that we as Adventists - myself included - often display.

Unfortunately, this is far-too-often true, and it is not healthy. I don't think that I was around for Dwight Nelson's sermon series on the 11th Commandment (I think I was away that year), but he is on to something. I preached a sermon last year on Colossians 3:14. I had never noticed the verse before but was blown away by it when I first realized the implications: "But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection." Many Adventists - myself included - talk about perfection a lot. But what we fail to see and appreciate is the importance of agape, other-centered love. Without it, there is no such thing as perfection (as an aside: I don't have the audio for the sermon, but I can send you the manuscript for it if you are interested).

I also just happened to be reading something from Ellen White that speaks beautifully to this subject: "The most convincing testimony that we can bear to others that we have the truth is the spirit which attends the advocacy of that truth" (1888 Materials, p. 632). I was reading that in my devotional time this morning, and does it not speak exactly to the "we have the truth" (she even uses the exact phrase) attitude that you are speaking about?

Of course, I think sometimes people mistake the "we have the truth" attitude for simply being unapologetic about what we understand as biblical truth. Like I said, this never excuses us for being arrogant or condescending towards others, but we should not be ashamed of our understanding of biblical truth as we see it. And, truth be told, I think you will find such zeal in other denominations over their doctrinal distinctives as well (interestingly, I am preaching a sermon series right now called "Mere Adventism" and my last sermon - which I will preach on Oct 11 - is entitled "The Chosen?" speaking about this idea of a Remnant. And, if you're also interested, I speak about this "superior" attitude that we have in one of my chapters in my book. If you don't have a copy of my book, I would be more than happy to e-mail you the chapter).

Lastly, as it directly relates to the IJ: when it comes to the sanctuary message, the idea that God is judging us according to our works is actually the last thing I am worried about. To me, the sanctuary message is primarily about God cleansing His people totally from sin - helping them to overcome their selfishness - and about vindicating God. Going through some type of "books" in heaven seems to be a very minor issue in the grand scheme of things (though still a component). My book is essentially about this whole theme, if you haven't already read it.

Yes, I believe with my whole heart that "Christ and Him crucified" is the most important aspect of the Christian faith, without a doubt. But the message of Christ and Him crucified is reflected in a lot of different ways. Christ and Him crucified is reflected in the fact that God has enough humility to be judged by the universe (is that not a reflection of the cross??). Christ and Him crucified is reflected in the reality of the Sabbath, where God blesses us with a day to fully rest in Him. And I could go on.

Anyway, I hope this helps clarify a few things.


Charles said...

Shawn, please know that I never thought you boastful or arrogant. Remember, I am located in the Michigan conference, a bastion of extremely arrogant conservatism, and in my opinion, Pharisaical piety, especially in regards to Adventism's roots and traditions. I often hear the "We have the truth" mantra ad nauseum.

I am of the belief that every church service should be in line with what the apostle's did on Solomon's colonnade - preach the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection. Church should be purely evangelism - not only for the un-churched or non-sda's in the pews, but preparatory for members to go out and bring other's in, as was the case in Acts. Prayer meetings or other related/similar meetings are perfect for "preaching to the choir", including doctrine, the 28 fundamentals and so forth, for edification and growth.

I really appreciate your quote from EGW with regards to how we advocate for our belief system. My family and a few other's gather ever week for inductive Bible study. We started on Ephesians last night (my favorite book of the Bible). I believe that Ephesians 1 should be preached every Sabbath. What amazing words... Adopted... Chosen... United... Great pleasure... Rich in kindness...

And speaking of having the truth, this struck me last night as we were discussing this passage - this fits in with our discussion on "we have the truth":

"And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own* by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God's guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people..." (NLT...emphasis added)

Charles said...

Whoa! Reinventing SDA Wheel has a new post mirroring this discussion. Freaky..

Shawn Brace said...


Your views on the idea that every church service should be "evangelistically focused" is something I've been thinking about for a while. This is a very current discussion, and one that a few of my church members have either hinted at, or told me outright. And while I see the overall wisdom in doing it (sometimes I cringe when I see a non-Adventist in the pews, and know what I am going to preach about - like this morning), I am also a little hesitant.

To begin with, why can't doctrinal preaching be evangelistic in focus? I preached about the Spirit of Prophecy this morning. And, yes, it was mostly on Ellen White. And although I wanted to remind the saints in the pews to enjoy the blessing that she is, I also presented it in a way that would (hopefully) help people understand that we have been given a loving gift from God, and it is just one more way that He is trying to have an intimate experience with us.

Along those very lines, why do we make it sound as if Christ and doctrine are at odds with one another? That is a false dichotomy that we often set up. I don't know if you read the Review or not, but one of the better articles I've seen there in a while was on this very subject. You can read it here. I really think it is relevant and you will gain something from reading it.

At the same time, what happens if there is a pressing issue that I want to address with my local church, and the sermon is the only time I can actually raise important matters to them? What happens when only 10 out of 70 of your members come to Prayer Meeting? That's not a big turn out for any type of in-depth teaching.

I mean, as I alluded to above, even when I preach "peculiar" Adventist sermons, I make Christ and Him crucified the central theme, and uplift the Savior. I always preach within that context. And these peculiar doctrines - Sabbath, sanctuary, etc. - are not antithetical to evangelistic preaching, and preaching Christ. In fact, I would argue that they are the fullest picture and understanding of God's character and love. All of these things - the joy of Sabbath rest, the health message - are extensions of God's care and intimate interest in every part of our lives. Are these things not also Good News - and are they not also a reflection of Christ's death and resurrection and love?

Lastly, and I ask this with all sincerity: where does the idea come from that we cannot preach "doctrine" in church? I'm not saying this question you, but I hear this sentiment a lot and I'm just sincerely curious as to what this idea is based on. As I told another pastor friend of mine recently: if we cannot preach our 28 Fundamental Beliefs in a relevant way that uplifts Christ and Him crucified, then we ought to throw them out.

By the way, I am going to post something I wrote a while back that I do not think I've posted here. It was on another site that I have, but I think it would be relevant to this discussion.

Thanks for the continued discussion. I hope I can continue to learn from you.


Charles said...

Shawn - thanks for your response to my thoughts and for taking me seriously.

I will admit that I overstated what I meant, and in doing so, eliminated the need for preaching fundamentals during church. I agree, if the 28 fundamentals don't have root in Christ, then we shouldn't have them, and thusly, if they are rooted in Christ, then its perfectly OK to preach them during the church service.

My comments were rooted in frustration, specifically when a preacher gets up and says something like this: "today, this sermon is an Adventist sermon" or "this is for the saints" or "this is a sermon for the believers". It seems a bit exclusive, but perhaps I am being reactionary. (A bad habit of mine.) I believe every sermon should be for all people, as is the Gospel - for all people. That is where I am coming from.

Now, regarding the idea that church should just be an evangelistic service based on Acts, I think it is rooted, at least for me, in the tired formula that is the stereotypical church service. In many ways, at least for me, church hasn't changed in the past 1000+ years, and for me, hardly at all in the past 35 years. It's still very rooted, even in SDA churches, in a Catholic model of teaching, even though we don't have liturgical service. (I want to be careful, because I don't question the people, only the method used).

I can get into specifics if you so desire, but rest assured, I am not referencing changing the service such that we are sitting in couches instead of pews. I am not talking about coffee and donuts in the foyer (though that would be awesome). The whole concept of church and community needs changing - other stuff as mentioned above is just window dressing. Church should not just be 3 hours on Sabbath sitting quietly in our pews.

I have to confess, I am not sure what this means, but something has to change - and perhaps its me that needs changin, maybe its starts with a community, a congregation. I don't know. Its a restless feeling that I can't shake. We could be so much more for Christ and His kingdom. I could be so much more for Him.

Sue and Don Perkins said...

Hi, Shawn,

I have been most interested in this post and the comments. Throughout, I experienced about every emotion…pride, excitement, frustration, confusion, aggravation, elation…you get the picture.

I was raised by an Adventist mother in a “dark county”…we had no SDA church in the whole county. On Sabbath we met at the home of an elderly lady 20 miles away. When I got about 8th grade, we occasionally drove 60 miles away where there was a small but nice church. When I graduated from high school and went to Andrews, I was in seventh heaven. My mother never “forced religion down my throat”…I don’t even understand this phrase. She gave Bible studies with a tape recorder, and I attended most of them. When I was a freshman at Andrews I flunked a test on the Sabbath…but I can assure you that I understood why I loved the Sabbath and the reason I believed it was God’s special and holy day.

Although I have spent 12 years living in Michigan at various times and have spent all my adult life serving at an academy or college, I have not experienced butting heads with arrogant conservatives. Now perhaps you could accuse me of being one, cause I do consider myself to live conservatively…but I hope I am neither arrogant nor judgmental. And if I am, I would certainly like to have it pointed out to me…specifics needed.

For a lot of years I have struggled with understanding what the “big deal” is…and trust me, I’ve been through the “boredom” of church but have also experienced the excitement of church, and the difference wasn’t only the leadership…it was also ME and my attitude and participation. Yes, I do understand that some SDA’s are judgmental jerks, but so what…they exist in evangelical churches, too.

I agree with you, Shawn, that Christ should be the foundation for every doctrine and every sermon. I am 67 years old, and though the first 17 years of my life were lived without the benefit of the organized church, I have seen the church change about every decade. Some of it has been good, and some of it has me scratching my head. I certainly hope no one is suggesting that we should throw out all the doctrines and preach as tho we have none.