I was once a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. In 1999 I walked away from my pulpit as an Adventist minister. I spent 18 years of my adult life as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, including serving as a pastor in both the Carolina Conference of SDA and the Gulf States Conference of SDA. At the time that I left the Adventist denomination I was going through an unwanted divorce, and although my conference president was gracious in seeking ways to preserve my ministry, I opted to resign and walk away, with a hope of going back to the drawing board of my faith, life, and pastoral ministry.
My choice to leave, was not solely because I had issues with the conference, disputes with theology, or because I was displeased with my parishioners. I certainly had issues, disputes, and displeasure, but really – I needed a place of grace, a safe haven to heal, and a fellowship that would foster a growing faith in Jesus and hope for my future, at a very difficult time in my ministry and life.
Unfortunately, I knew I couldn’t find grace in the Sabbath-keeping focused Adventist church, because I knew by experience that its culture favors an over-emphasis of legalistic adherence at the expense of pointing to Calvary’s grace, so I found myself attending a small local United Methodist Church and eventually a Baptist church during those months of transition and healing where I found grace to grow and get back to my calling.
If you are an active Seventh-day Adventist and born-again believer and happy in the Adventist church, then I’m happy for you. However, if you are former Adventist or inactive member seeking biblical peace about the balance between grace and truth, then my story is for you.
A Return Visit..
You may have found that it’s hard to find peace in a church where the congregational culture tends to emphasize a legalistic adherence at the expense of grace, growing in knowledge more than growing in a relationship, and where the majority of conversations are centered on the faults of doctrines held by other churches, or on diet and Sabbath-keeping rather than on praises of Christ or the transformational power of the Holy Spirit to save and heal.
About 5 years after I left the Adventist denomination, I actually visited the local SDA church in Mobile with my new family, at the urging of the pastor who assured me over lunch that “things have changed” and that I would find the church is “more grace focused now.”
My wife and I did visit, but left shocked and saddened after hearing “Happy Sabbath” over and over and over. In fact, we recounted at least 21 “Happy Sabbath’s” from the time we were greeted at the door, greeted in the sanctuary, and as we heard over and over again from the platform during the worship hour by everyone who stepped up to the microphone. Sadly, we never heard the name “Jesus” mentioned – zero, zippo, not even in the sermon.
Now, I realize that the Adventist church as a denomination doesn’t sanction the worship of the Sabbath and I know the church believes in Jesus as the only Savior and Way to heaven. However, on the local church level, it can seem like the opposite is true.
Worship of the Sabbath…
From my perspective, the Adventist church seems consumed with worshiping the Sabbath, rather than the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath, in the Holy Decalogue, as I understand it is a command to rest not on the day of a week through works, but a command to rest in the Creator through faith. Jesus Christ is the Sabbath that the command bids us to not forget, and to rest in and exercise our faith in.
In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a type of Christ to point them to the Christ to come. They were taught to refrain from work, because we could not be saved by works but by resting in faith of Jesus who would come.
There is no command of worship in the 4th command, although it is called a sign in Exodus 31:13. The fourth commandment does not mention the word “worship” or make reference to the practice of fellowship or assembly.
It is a sign that points to the covenant of the Messiah just as the rainbow is a sign that points to God’s covenant not to send another flood. We use signs on the highway to remind drivers of which road is at the exit ramp, but the sign is not road. The sign points to the real thing – the road at the exit.
The 10 Commandments are the behavior standard of righteousness and a monument of the character of God, but they are not a means of being justified by God (Galatians 3:10-11). Jesus said He did not come to destroy but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-20). He came to live them out and in His teachings He taught us that it is the spirit of the law where application gets fleshed out in our day to day life. Remember that Jesus said that to kill means to hate (Matthew 5:21-22) and that adultery means to lust (Matthew 5:27-28) and that it means to love God and love man (Matthew 22:36-40). Likewise, I understand the Sabbath as pointing toward the Messiah in whom we find rest (Matthew 11:25-29).
The laws and regulations given in the Old Testament were for a people who could not look back at Calvary or have the full measure of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant law for the pre-Pentecost believer became the New Covenant faith for the post-Pentecost believer. John 1:17 says “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
In Galatians 2:21 we find assurance with these words from Paul, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (ESV).
I think its possible that a Christian can maintain some type of Sabbath keeping practice, but I also think its most difficult without fellowship in a grace centered-congregation. Worship of the Sabbath, not on the Sabbath, is the inevitable result of sinful human flesh and the attempt to construct a means to obtainment, without faith.
An Appeal to Former Adventist…
If you live in the Mobile, Alabama area, I would enjoy talking with you! CrossHope Chapel is a place of grace and a ministry where you can grow your faith, without being pigeonholed into a test of fellowship or a denominational culture with freedom to share and grow.
You are invited to join us as we gather on Sunday morning as a fellowship to encourage and engage your journey to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, NKJV), while maintaining your involvement at the Adventist church, if that’s your desire.
I would enjoy talking with you and being able to hear your story. I would enjoy being able to pray for you about God’s leading in your life. I would enjoy answering any questions you may have about my journey or yours! Please contact me!