Over the past few days I have been meditating on what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist. It is obvious to say that being a member of the church means one is willing to support the official teachings of the church as documented in the Statement of Beliefs.
However, while the church pushes for doctrinal unity, it is important to note that unity is not uniformity. The church still allows for diversity of thought and disagreement. One group wants to emphasize the holiness and justice of God, while another group wants to emphasize God’s love and forgiveness. The problem we face is that liberty can lead to license for some groups who disregard the official church doctrine at any cost.
The real danger within the church is when doctrinal truth is stretched to extremes and fervor becomes fanaticism. Too much of a good thing is extremely bad. This is why I have always supported a balanced approach that seeks to avoid extremes.
“Do not be overly righteous,
Nor be overly wise:
Why should you destroy yourself?
Do not be overly wicked,
Nor be foolish:
Why should you die before your time?”
Should the church focus on God’s justice or His mercy? It would be a mistake to make this an either/or problem. The truth is we need to emphasis both in a way that fully explains the character of God.
This balance is found at the cross where God satisfied the justice of the law by pouring out his punishment for sin on Jesus. God did this so He can have mercy on us sinful and fallible human beings. If God could have changed His law then there would be no need for the cross, but if God was not loving then He would have destroyed us all at the beginning.
We do not worship only a God of holiness, or only a God of love, but we worship a God of Holy Love. This should be our balance and our emphasis when it comes to expressing the character of God.
Paul understood this balance when he declared, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23, NKJV).
When it comes to doctrinal unity, I think the quote by C.S. Lewis explains the correct approach to various doctrinal theories:
“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work” (Mere Christianity, Book 2).
When it comes to diversity of thought within the Adventist church there are many theories about inspiration, prophecy, and the atonement. While we might not all agree on the details, we should all agree that we are talking about divine mysteries that are rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We should be able to focus on the main and the plain teachings of scripture, and while we may not be able to explain them fully, we can know that they are divine truth.
At the same time, we cannot allow spiritual liberty to decay into spiritual anarchy. If a member of the SDA church cannot agree (at least in principle) with the official teachings of the denomination, then they should not be calling themselves Seventh-day Adventist.
If the church is serious about doctrinal Unity then we need to focus our teaching around the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is our focus and it is His spirit that brings us into oneness with Him.