By Colleen Tinker
There is only one Adventism. Its core tenets have not changed, and despite public makeovers, the central doctrines of the investigative judgment, the incomplete atonement, the mandate of the seventh-day Sabbath, the material nature of man and the belief that people cease to exist when they die, the identity of Satan as the scapegoat who ultimately carries the sins of the saved into the lake of fire, the belief that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the last-day, remnant church of Bible prophecy—all these are firmly in place and have never changed.
Historically, Adventism has positioned itself as “peculiar people” who must fight for their religious rights and prepare for future persecution when Sunday-Christians will be legally permitted to hunt and kill them. In fact, this fearful future for the Sabbath-keeping faithful is still taught. Ellen White was very clear about the coming persecutions:
“Those who live during the last days of this earth’s history will know what it means to by persecuted for the truth’s sake. In the courts injustice will prevail. The judges will refuse to listen to the reasons of those who are loyal to the commandments of God, because they know that arguments in favor of the fourth commandment are unanswerable. They will say, ‘We have a law, and by our law he ought to die.’ God’s law is nothing to them. ‘Our law’ with them is supreme. Those who respect this human law will be favored, but those who will not bow to the idol sabbath will have no favors shown them” (Signs of the Times, May 26, 1898).
“Destroying angels are taking up the work of vengeance; for the Spirit of God is gradually withdrawing from the world. Satan is also mustering his forces of evil, going forth ‘unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world,’ to gather them under his banner, to be trained for ‘the battle of that great day of God Almighty.’ Satan is to make most powerful efforts for the mastery in the last great conflict. Fundamental principles will be brought out, and decisions made in regard to them. Skepticism is prevailing everywhere. Ungodliness abounds. The faith of individual members of the [Seventh-day Adventist] church will be tested as though there were not another person in the world” (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 982, 982).
“As the Sabbath has become the special point of controversy throughout Christendom, and religious and secular authorities have combined to enforce the observance of the Sunday, the persistent refusal of a small minority to yield to the popular demand will make them objects of universal execration.…A decree will finally be issue against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, denouncing them as deserving of the severest punishment and giving the people liberty, after a certain time, to put them to death.…The people of God will then be plunged into those scenes of affliction and distress described by the prophet as the time of Jacob’s trouble” (The Great Controversy, 615, 616).
New public face
The identity and nature of Adventism remains the same. The people in the pews are still being taught their unique peculiarity and their eschatological significance in vindicating the character of God by demonstrating that His law can be kept in spite of persecution to the death.
Publicly, however, the world is being shown a sympathetic, humanitarian Adventism that eclipses the fearful teachings of a universal Sunday-law and an international death decree for Sabbath-keepers.
The Total Member Involvement initiative that is currently shaping Adventist evangelism worldwide is a central part of shaping this new public face of the organization.
Concurrently, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is one of the leading organizations placing Adventism in the limelight. ADRA, a non-governmental organization, works in over 130 countries “to bring long-term development programs and immediate emergency response to communities through a network of global offices.” ADRA claims it “is changing the world through a range of programs and initiatives in nine key impact areas.” These areas are social justice; disaster response; economic growth; children; gender equity; community health; water, sanitation, and hygiene; hunger and nutrition, and livelihood and agriculture.
One recent example of ADRA’s humanitarian impact occurred on June 12 when ADRA Romania won first place in the fifteenth annual Civil Society gala entitled “Hope for Immigrants” in the section “Projects and Volunteer Campaigns”.
Adventist News Network reports, “ADRA Romania, through the project, ‘Hope for Immigrants’ recognizes humanity in the refugee crisis. By making sure human rights are respected and acting with compassion, a clear message of power is transmitted through this complex and fragile situation. Through its specific activities, ADRA wants to minimize the impact of this overwhelming and unbearable situation for as many as possible.”
ADRA, however, functions parallel to the Adventist local churches rather than directly integrated with them. While the egalitarian and non-religious public face of ADRA is garnering international recognition and respect for Adventism, the local Adventist members are stepping up to the plate and embracing their roles in the TMI proselytizing initiative. While ADRA’s purpose is not overtly proselytization, however, the local members’ purpose is to make new Adventists. Significantly, the ways the local members structure their outreach programs is similar to the humanitarian agenda of ADRA.
TMI reaches over 3,000 sites in Uganda
Adventists used medical camps around the nation of Uganda to reach more than 3,000 different locations during June this year. “Adventist-sponsored activities offered Bible studies and free medical camps, which are garnering the praise and support of local governments” in the nation, reports the Adventist Review. These medical camps are organized using the TMI principle of encouraging every Adventist to take an active role in “ministering to others and sharing the good news of Jesus.”
The camps “provided medicine, eyeglasses, dental treatment,” and the local government also provided equipment for blood testing, malaria testing, and also some medical staff.
One man who visited the camps in the Mbarara district is a member of a local Christian church. He said, “Our Christian community knows the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a caring church.”
An Adventist missionary from Korea currently working in Uganda said of the medical camp at Mbarara, “I was touched to witness that 35 of those treated in the Mbarara medical camp made decisions for baptism.”
That particular camp treated over 800 people a day. While 35 baptisms is not a huge number, it nevertheless reveals the true purpose of the humanitarian outreach. The Adventists were delighted that their medical camps brought praise from the government, goodwill among the citizens and the members of the local Christian churches, and also new Adventist converts.
Swiss health center promotes Adventist mission
A related development in Switzerland occurred on June 23: an Adventist clinic opened “a new medical and therapeutic center to promote the health message of the church,” according to clinic leaders.
The new center “offers therapeutic rehabilitation in cardiology, diabetology, and neurology, as well as orthopedic and rheumatological rehabilitation. It also provides occupational therapy, neuropsychology and logopedic [speech] therapy, physiotherapy, along with nutrition and dietetics for internal medicine, and pain therapy.” All of this is packaged in a building of “bright architecture” and design “which ‘inspires peace and serenity’”.
Leaders of the new center emphasize that the organization is dedicated to “remaining faithful to the tradition and values held for over 110 years—a biological, psychosocial and spiritual approach to the patient in agreement with the health mission advocated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Specifically, they said, “The institutions are faithful to the mission of care modeled by Jesus, and to the heritage of the spirit of the pioneers who built the campus, including Dr. Perry Alfred De Forest, a disciple of John Harvey Kellogg.”
Finally, Adventist in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia sponsored a four-day children’s festival from June 9–12. Nizhny Novgorod is a city of 1.3 million residents, and it is the economic and administrative center of that region of the county.
The festival, called “A Hundred Friends”, drew over 100 children, “mostly from other Christian denominations”, and 50 parents from 22 different cities in the Volga-Vyatka region. The Adventists organized tours of the “planetarium, a petting zoo, the Nizhny Novgorod Kermlin, the Museum of Science, and some of the Seventh-day Adventist churches in the city.” They also had a photo contest and a witnessing opportunity; on one of the city’s most famous streets, the children handed out 300 letters written by many of them that reflected “about what life would be in the nation if everyone lived according to God’s commandments.”
On Sabbath, the local Adventists organized a special Sabbath School for the visitors, having them visit different “stations” where they heard different people tell different “answered prayer” stories. At each station, after hearing the Adventist prayer stories including someone being saved from drowning and someone else being helped to pass a difficult test, each child received a token to keep with the special “passports” they had been given for their tour.
The organizers of the children’s festival were happy with the way the visitors responded. Their goal, they said, “was to show the kids how God reveals His love through friendship.”
Adventism is putting its most politically correct, humanitarian face forward. Under the surface, nothing has changed. Adventism still teaches that it is the only true end-time remnant church. It still teaches another gospel, and it still proselytizes unsuspecting Christians. The socially conscious humanitarian emphasis its members and organizations are promoting is NOT the definition of Adventism. Adventism is not primarily an organization that meets needs. It is a religion that mimics Christianity.
God definitely uses all things and everyone for His glory, and He is bringing provisions and blessings to people who need it through the humanitarian work of Adventism, just as He provides for people through the Red Cross, Islamic humanitarian groups, and so forth. All people and all organizations are under His sovereign care of the world.
I challenge Adventists who may read this: consider your doctrines. Your good works are helpful, but unless they accompany the true gospel of our salvation—that the Lord Jesus died for our sins according to Scripture, He was buried, and He rose on the third day according to Scripture, and He asks us to place our full faith and trust on these facts ALONE—without this message, your good works are merely band-aids. Without the gospel, there is no eternal life. Embrace Jesus alone and leave your cultic teachings behind.
Lastly, we urge the large number of Christians who are blinded by Adventism’s squeaky-clean public face to take a closer look. We cannot evaluate an organization based on its good deeds, especially when that group of people accompanies its good deeds with an under-cover agenda of making proselytes.
We all must be alert, contending earnestly for the faith. We must be willing to recognize false teachers who put people into bondage by attractive ideas that undermine the gospel. Paul warned,
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:1-7).
There is an antidote to false teaching and false religions, however: the word of God:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
If we evaluate everything by God’s word, allowing His Spirit to mature us as we submit to His word, our senses “will be trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).
God is faithful, and He is able to keep us from embracing deception as we work in the world for His glory.