In the 1860’s the early “Adventists” chose a special name as the religious institution I belong to was being organized. They chose this name because it directly pointed to the two most important doctrines they had learned from Scripture.
Those two doctrines were and are the Seventh day Sabbath and the soon return [Advent] of Jesus to complete His redeeming of our bodies. All other doctrines were considered secondary to those two doctrines. While the church may have shifted focus in many areas, but these are still the two key identifiers of believers.
Until the death of Ellen White in 1915 Seventh Day Adventists were clearly known as the people of the Book, referring to our teaching doctrines from Scripture. Gradually, laziness and ignorance crept in as we began to use the writings of Ellen G. White to explain the meaning of Scriptures. In the 1960’s I was studying for the ministry and heard a pastor say, “If I have a question about a scripture, I look it up in the EGW index. If she said nothing about it, I will not speak about it.” This puzzled me, but I did not forget it.
In my first pastoral district I began encountering this attitude in a different form. A very sincere church member asked me, “What brand of margarine should I buy?” Today people would misinterpret this question so I hasten to explain that at that time there were margarines made of various animal fats as well as vegetable margarines. She had somehow learned not to go to the Bible or to read the labels to figure out the answer. This intellectual laziness is all too common today. People are more concerned about how you feel than what you believe.
What we believe is very important. Everything should be clearly demonstrated from the Bible. It should be so simple that even children will understand. A most important principle is the testimony of multiple witnesses to document truth. The Scriptures provide many witnesses to the truth of the Sabbath and Second Coming. We need to read and know those witnesses intimately.
While growing up in the church, I became aware of numerous groups and individuals who were called “offshoots” because they had previously been part of the SDA organization. Most of these people were filled with a desire to take Seventh Day Adventists away to a new organization. Their focus was on the need to be “true” believers. Whatever distinctive issue they were focused on became the definition of “true”.
Today, there appears to be a reversal of this exclusive and divisive attitude. Among our leaders there are those who desire to focus on issues that did not make us Seventh day Adventists. Yet they say you could not possibly be a true and complete Adventist without their particular belief.
I was baptized in 1955 when there were only about 12 beliefs to become a member. When I was a pastor in the 1960’s and 70’s there were 16. Today, the church has now codified 28 doctrines. And…Guess what? Some are saying that number 23 [recently changed to 24] is the key identifier of being a true Seventh day Adventist. Why did number 23 suddenly become so important that even leaders in the denomination changed it to 24 and will persecute people who even are known to think out of agreement with that doctrine? I hear them saying that if you don’t agree with number 24 you should leave the church. What bigotry and arrogance to act and treat others in such a cruel way.
Those of us who were baptized without number 23 are willing to stand up and say we are really true and complete Seventh day Adventists. A long time ago a cynical movie was made entitled “Catch 22”. The Adventist church needs to realize we are creating nothing but trouble for ourselves and misrepresenting God with our own catch 23/24.