BY COLLEEN TINKER
Last month when the Seventh-day Adventist executive committee met for its Annual Council, general conference president Ted Wilson reiterated Adventism’s bottom line as he set the tone for another year of intensive proselytizing for his organization. During his sermon on October 7 he said,
Our prophetic message is core to all that we do in Mission to the Cities. The Seventh-day Adventist historicist understanding of prophecy and our historical-biblical approach to hermeneutical interpretation gives us the full picture of what we believe. Do not succumb to the aberrations of hermeneutical approaches being promoted by some. Do not fall for the false approach that we really are not much different than other denominations so let’s unite with them. Maintain strong religious liberty and freedom of conscience initiatives. Do not accept the bland neutralization of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs by individuals who say you only have to believe in Jesus and not doctrine. My friends, Christ is the center of every Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. Doctrines are not some legalistic remnant of days gone by, doctrines are Christ’s life and teachings in practical understanding. Jesus is the center of all that we believe and all that we do in His name. He is the One who accomplishes every good thing in any of us. We are saved by grace and faith in the One who is our all in all.
In this paragraph Wilson revealed both the Adventist strategy as well as the Adventist public pose. On the one hand, the top leader of Adventism is giving instructions to his members around the world that as they pursue the worldwide initiative of evangelizing cities, they are never to compromise the pure Adventist message and identity. They are never to pose as fitting in with the “nominal Christians” who “say you only have to believe in Jesus and not doctrine.” On the other hand, he is claiming for Adventism exactly what Christianity claims, that Jesus is the center of their belief, and that they are “saved by grace and faith in the One who is our all in all.”
Wilson is demonstrating classic Adventist double-speak. Only when one looks closely at the doctrines of Adventism will one see that the Jesus he claims is their center is not the same Jesus the Bible presents. His Jesus could have sinned. His Jesus, the one taught by their historic Adventism, did not complete the atonement at the cross but continues accomplishing it today in heaven as He pursues the “investigative judgment”. Moreover, it is clear that Wilson knows what he is communicating; by declaring that Adventists must not neutralize Adventism by saying doctrine is not important, he is affirming the central doctrines of his organization: the investigative judgment, the seventh-day Sabbath, the authority of Ellen White, and the material nature of man which leads to the doctrine of “soul sleep” and annihilation.
In other words, Wilson is showing by example that Adventists are to claim what Christians would claim: salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus alone, yet concurrently Adventists are to teach and believe the Adventist doctrines that deny the gospel they purport to embrace.
NAD Grand Opening
Days later, on October 26, the North American Division (NAD) conducted a ceremony demonstrating Adventism’s application of president Wilson’s directives. After years of sharing space with the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the North American Division moved into its own headquarters in Columbia, Maryland.
The grand opening ceremony hosted over 600 guests including government officials. In spite of Adventism’s rigorous stance on the separation of church and state, the NAD officials betrayed the organization’s persistence in soliciting favor and influence with government and community leaders.
At this religious service which included remarks by several Adventist leaders including Ted Wilson and music by two Adventist academies and also by Adventist recording artist Wintley Phipps, an employee of the NAD, Annika Anderson, sang “The Star Spangled Banner” during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Maryland congressman John Sarbanes and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz both addressed the audience.
During the evening, these two men demonstrated Adventism’s success at using their health and medical work to create good will in their communities. Sarbanes, who used to work as a lawyer, said he had represented Adventist healthcare organizations throughout his career. Now, as a congressman in the district of the new NAD headquarters, he said,
The Seventh-day Adventist Church makes a huge impression on people because of the extent to which it connects with whichever community it resides in. This is going to be no exception. You can already tell there’s a sense of connection with the Howard County community. It’s a great match—Columbia is a very diverse place, a lot of different perspectives, a lot of wonderful people, and I think that reflects who the Seventh-day Adventist church is as well.
Kamenetz echoed Sarbanes’ sentiment as he addressed the Adventists: “The church is helping people grow and improve their lives—who wouldn’t want you as a neighbor?”
Significantly, the public perception these local officials articulated is that Adventism is an asset in any community because of the health and lifestyle services it offers. The apparently disinterested community and health care services Adventism performs are two of the organization’s major ways of fulfilling the Total Member Involvement initiative Wilson endorsed above.
Additionally, in spite of its emphasis on the separation of church and state and on its unique identity which Adventists must never compromise or lose, Adventism is quick to work with local and national governments to facilitate its own growth and to influence legislation in its favor. They are willing to hide their true nature and agenda from the public in order to seduce converts and have influence.
An interesting tidbit—the headquarters building that was the center of the celebration which included the United States national anthem is also the headquarters of the Canadian region of Adventism.
The Christian gospel, that the Lord Jesus fulfilled the law by living a sinless life, dying a substitutionary death in our place, being buried, and rising from death on the third day, is the core doctrine that unites all true believers throughout the history of the church. This doctrine of a completed atonement that ensures eternal salvation for all who believe, however, is the very thing Adventism cannot endorse.
Ironically, Adventism insists that it is a Protestant denomination in the tradition of the Reformation, yet the doctrine of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone is not an Adventist doctrine. Adventism insists that obedience to the law is required for one to demonstrate that he or she is saved, and the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath will ultimately define all who are saved when Jesus finally returns.
Ted Wilson continues to remind his members that they cannot compromise their unique doctrines. He knows that Adventism is not the same as historic, biblical Christianity. Moreover, he knows that Adventists cannot unite with Christians around the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith. Furthermore, he continues to insist that Adventists must not unite with government but must insist on the separation of church and state and religious liberty, wrongly implying that those values grew out of the Reformation.
At the same time, Wilson advocates for Adventist health and lifestyle community service programs. Because of Adventism’s health message, he is willing to allow Adventists to appear to be Christian as they mimic the New Testament commands to feed the poor and care for the sick. He knows that ministering to people’s felt needs will create emotional attachments in those who are helped, and he is happy for the unsuspecting public to assume they are being drawn to a Christian church when they encounter Adventist healthcare.
Furthermore, Wilson represents the entire Adventist organization as it intentionally partners with governments in order to promulgate its health message and humanitarian public agenda.
Underneath, however, the goal within Adventism has never changed. As Ted Wilson said, “Our prophetic message is the core of all that we do in Mission To The Cities.”
No matter how attractive and helpful Adventist outreach appears, under the hood it has one goal: to make new members. The humanitarian face Adventism presents to the public is a deceptive way to entice people into a religion which becomes a trap instead of providing the freedom it appears to offer.