By Colleen Tinker
This week we are reporting on three apparently unrelated stories about Adventism, but they demonstrate similar points: Adventism is growing in many parts of the world while it cultivates a public profile as a champion of religious liberty and human rights.
Rwandan pastors reminded that there are no miracles without prayer
First, the Adventist News Network reported last week that, on June 3, the Adventist organization in Rwanda ordained 54 new Adventist pastors. This large ordination service was in response to last year’s massive baptism in that country of over 100,000 people. The sudden influx of new members created an urgent need for more pastors, and many of the 54 new ordinands were lay leaders who had already spent years baptizing new Adventists and serving Adventism.
The ordination service had been preceded by a three-day ministerial convention. Over 400 Adventist pastors and church leaders were excited to meet together “to share experiences with other pastors, build camaraderie and find common solutions together.”
Alain Coralie, the executive secretary of the Adventist organization in the East-Central Africa region, “gave a special presentation on prayer ministry. He reminded attendees that many Adventists read the word and teach it but they pray less. As a result, they do not see God’s miracles.”
The president of the East-Central Africa region’s Adventist Church reminded the new pastors that “the ordination was another testimony of the incredible church growth of the church in Rwanda.” Further, he exhorted the pastoral couples in a part of the world where Christianity is often dominated by health/wealth, word/faith movements, that “ministry is not a shortcut to wealth but a gateway to servanthood and selfless service for the Savior.”
Significantly, the speakers seemed not to see that their emphasis on praying as a means of seeing miracles actually is similar to the prosperity mindset against which they also seemed to caution their new pastors.
The Rwanda Union Mission now has more that 800,000 registered Adventist members in a country populated with more than 12,000,000 people.
Adventists Change the Vote in PNG
Meanwhile, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Adventists have petitioned the Chief Electoral Commissioner to change the dates for the general election later this month.
In PNG, voting occurs over a period of weeks. This year’s vote was scheduled to run from June 24 through July 8. During this time, voting officials travel from town to town, and residents vote on the days the officials open the polls.
The voting period included three Saturdays, so the president of of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in PNG wrote a letter asking for special consideration so that Adventists would not find themselves unable to vote if their polls opened on a Saturday.
“We were worried about Sunday-keeping Christians, too,” said the PNG Union Mission communication director in a statement that revealed Adventism’s misunderstanding that “Sunday-keeping Christians” believe Sunday to be a holy period of time. “They would be in the same situation if they were asked to vote on Sunday.”
The Electoral Commission responded by saying their officials would not be working on weekends, and it is believed that the government will declare June 27, a Monday, to be a public holiday to facilitate voting.
It must be noted that the concern expressed not only reveals Adventism’s misunderstanding of the fact that Christians do not generally regard Sunday in the same way Adventists regard Saturday, but it also conceals the fact that Adventists generally fight for “Sunday keepers’” rights as a means of protecting themselves. They lobby for freedom of religious practice for all religions, even those with whom they disagree, for the purpose of protecting themselves against any hint of legislation that would require them to work on Sabbath—or to be forced by a national or international Sunday-law to worship on Sunday. By fighting for the rights of other religions, they establish themselves as a significant force in the world of religious freedom.
Adventism’s view of the Reformation and religious freedom
Finally, the Adventists sponsored a one-day event on June 1 at the Washington D.C. Religious Freedom Center “to commemorate and discuss the implications of the Protestant Reformation for religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”
In an interesting twist on remembering the Reformation, this conference did not focus on the theological significance of the Reformers’ positions. Rather, they attempted “to delve into the multiple connections between the watershed 16th-century event and our ongoing contemporary quest for freedom of conscience and worship.”
Ganoune Diop, the director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the “worldwide” Seventh-day Adventist Church, made a point about Martin Luther’s belief in the kingdom of God that would resonate with Adventism’s eschatological perspective. “The kingdom of God was central to [Martin Luther’s] beliefs; his theology expected the end of the world. So, in this doctrine too, he was a Reformer.”
He also pointed out that “while Luther’s work opened ways for the freedoms we enjoy today, there was a long way to go…Claims to truth must be paved with the individual freedom to believe or not.”
Other presenters included the General Secretary of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Gretchen Castle. She spoke of George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, as establishing the Quaker’s current “commitment to making the world a better place.”
David Little from Georgetown University’ Berkley Center told the audience that the Reformers believed that “religious uniformity was the foundation of public safety and prosperity.” He continued, saying that, on the contrary, people who advocated for personal freedoms, such as Roger Williams, were right. “Freedom of conscience is the cornerstone of religious freedom.”
General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson spoke about Adventism’s “contribution to freedom of conscience and worship.” He stressed that part of man’s being created in the image of God is the existence of human conscience. He explained Adventism’s historical commitment to “freedom of conscience,” explaining that “such emphasis is ingrained in the character of God Himself.”
“Seventh-day Adventist pioneers believed that acting according to one’s conscience is an inalienable right,” Wilson said; “followers of Jesus do not force others. Freedom of conscience is a universal right—it is for all.”
Wilson also stated the current emphasis in Adventist international activism: “Seventh-day Adventists are determined to help develop a global culture that respects every person’s freedom of conscience.”
The General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance admitted that “it is difficult to trace a straight line from the Reformation to our current focus on religious freedom,” but aligning oneself with “secular powers will eventually force us to submit to one of those powers.”
Quaker General Secretary Castle summarized the commitment of those attending the conference: “[We] desire a church that is always reformed and reforming. This is our spiritual imperative—to act and be active, to take risks for social change, and to choose to love.”
On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation marked by Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 thesis to the Wittenberg church door on October 31, 1517, it seems significant that the Adventist organization sponsored a commemoration of that event tying it not to justification by faith or the Five Solas that defined the Reformation, but instead used the event of the Reformation to make a case for the supremacy of human conscience and the practice of religious freedoms.
Adventism’s strange gospel and incomplete atonement is at home with other organizations that value social change and human rights over the biblical declaration that all mankind is enslaved to sin and needs a Savior. Instead of remembering that the Reformation drew a theological line in the sand between Protestantism and Catholicism, the Adventist organization championed the rights of all people to worship however and whomever they wish.
Although Adventism’s worldview teaches that they are the heirs of the Reformation, restoring the second coming and the seventh-day Sabbath to the Christian world, they cannot declare justification by faith and the five Solas of the Reformation as their battle cry: Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone; Sola fide: faith alone; Sola gratia: grace alone; Solo Christo: Christ alone; Soli Deo gloria: to the glory of God alone.
Adventism is growing in many places around the world, but its growth is not premised on the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus and the simple gospel of grace that declares we have passed out of death into life the moment we place our trust in the finished work of Jesus for our sins.
Rather, Adventism is positioning itself as an international humanitarian agency promoting medical care, healthful lifestyles, human rights, and religious freedom. All these things are good things—but they are not the gospel. Unless the gospel precedes the practice of these values, they are limited and offer no real hope to their beneficiaries.
Only being brought from death to life by the blood of Jesus brings true hope and redemption. Only out of spiritual life and redemption can good works flow with redemptive power.
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