The Seventh-day Adventist Church has no shortage of critics-including, critics who are Seventh-day Adventists. It seems as though hardly a day goes by without a sermon, a social media post, an article-something, that says how bad off our church is, how it is losing members-particularly, young adult members-in droves. Baptisms and tithe have fallen (at least, in North America), there still is racism, sexism, ageism, nepotism-and just about any other negative “ism” that can be named.
The conservative members among us bemoan the loss of standards, while the more liberal members lament that our young people are being driven away from a church that is judgmental (in their words), that spends a lot of time worrying about things (especially dress) that (in their words) “Jesus is not worried about”.
This is not at all to say that those criticisms (and others) are entirely without merit. According to the last report that I saw from the North American Division, the median age of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is approximately 20 years older than the median age of the people in North America-a phenomenon known as “the graying (and in my case, “the balding”) of Adventism”. A church that is that much older than the population it is trying to reach is probably not doing all that well in reaching and retaining young people.
And while that is also true of mainline denominations across the board, it is not really much comfort to know that all churches are in the same boat in that regard. After all, it is not very comforting to know that everyone is in the same boat that you are-if it looks as though that boat is about to sink.
Generally speaking, the Adventist Church is taking in neither the members or the monies that it once did. And while women and minorities would almost certainly grant that the Adventist Church has come a long way on issues of race and gender, I suspect that a lot of women and minorities would also say that the Adventist Church still has a ways to go in those areas.
But if the critics of the church are hard on the church in sermons, on social media, etc., the truth of the matter is the Head of the church (whose Name is Jesus) could have some rather unflattering things to say about the church as well. He says that we are Laodecia; usually being described as Laodecia is going to be unflattering.
Jesus says that we Laodecians are lukewarm-neither hot or cold. Then He says because Laodecia is neither hot nor cold that He would spit us out of His mouth.
I have a three year old grandson; he is a complete joy. I tell people all the time that being a grandparent is the reward for all the challenges of being a parent.
Jaden (my grandson) is learning how to feed himself. He is getting better at it, but still, feeding himself inevitably means ”feeding” his clothes, his tray and everything else in the same area code.
Jaden is a picky eater. Occasionally, to get him to eat things that he needs to eat but does not want to eat, I’ll mix in a little of what he doesn’t want with a lot of what I know he does; unfortunately, that rarely works. Usually, as soon as his tongue ascertains that what is in his mouth is not just something he likes-such as rice (pronounced “wice”, by Jaden-who struggles with pronouncing “r” and “v”) but “wice” and something that he does not like, he immediately spits everything out. It is not a pleasant picture.
The Bible says that Jesus finds Laodecia’s lukewarmness so distasteful, that He spits us out of His mouth. So, Jesus is not entirely satisfied with the church, either. That suggests to me that some of the church’s bad press is deserved.
But, here’s the good news: Despite all the bad things that we could say about the church, everything about the church is not bad-there is a lot of good as well. That good should not blind us to the bad but neither should the bad things blind us to the good things. And there are good things.
So, please allow me to invite you to take a break for a few minutes from the all the lamenting, the lambasting and the lampooning; from the cynics and the critics of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and let’s talk for a few minutes about what’s good about it. I call it “Three Cheers for the Church”.
Here’s the first cheer:
- This is God’s Church: I know that not everyone thinks of it that way, but I do. If one assumes that God has a church (and the Bible says that He does) and that church can be identified by how the Bible describes it in Revelation 12:17- as the church that “keeps the commandments of God and has the testimony of Jesus”-then, no other church fits that description except the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
It seems to be no longer popular or politically correct-even among Seventh-day Adventists-for us to say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible Prophecy. But it is; and if we do not believe that we are that then I am not sure I understand why we are what we are.
Does that mean that God does not have other people in other places other than the Seventh-day Adventist Church and that no one will be saved other than Seventh-day Adventists? No, and absolutely no.
What it does mean is that Seventh-day Adventist have a unique message (and a responsibility that comes with it) that no one else has. That responsibility should not make us proud; it should not make us puffed up, it should make us prayed up. Because to whom much is given, much is required. God will surely ask us-both as individuals and as a church: What did you do with the responsibilities and privileges that I gave you?
I would like to suggest that the answer to that question: What has the Adventist Church done with the privileges and responsibilities God has given to us is: By the grace of God, we have done better than a lot of us think.
Which leads me to the second “cheer”:
- As Much As the Organizational Structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Is Criticized (again-with some justification), to at Least Some Degree, It Has Done What It Was Set Up to Do-Take the Gospel to the Entire World. According to statistics from the General Conference, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has churches in approximately 90% (or, approximately 220) of the approximately 240 countries that the United Nations recognizes as countries around the world.
I do not believe that there is another Protestant denomination that has the footprint, i.e., the world-wide network of churches, schools, hospitals and administrative offices, that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has; perhaps, the Catholic Church-which is much larger does, but I do not believe that there is any denomination-even our Catholic brothers and sisters-that would not trade their organizational structure for ours.
I remember going to the Pathfinder Camporee in Wisconsin a few years ago and seeing 50,000 Pathfinders from around the world and thinking “No one else has this. And we wouldn’t have it, either, if it were not for the fact that we are a world church, with a world-wide organizational structure.”
That does not mean that our organizational structure is perfect-far from it. First of all, it can’t it be perfect; it is run by imperfect human beings.
Nor can that negate the fact that while the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a denominational structure that might be known around the world, there are also far too many local Seventh-day Adventist churches that are unknown in their own communities. When I worked at the South Central Conference office, I would sometimes ask churches when I would do town hall meetings “If your church blew up tomorrow, what would the community miss most when you were gone?” The sad truth is that I suspect that there would be some communities that could lose Seventh-day Adventist churches and the community would not know that we were gone.
Nor does it mean that the structure that we have now is the same structure that needs to exist until the Lord comes. The fact is that any business that is not constantly re-evaluating how it does business is asking to go out of business.
It may be true, as it is popularly alleged, that our organizational structure has too many conferences, unions, educational institutions, etc, and that we need radical reorganization-that may be; another topic for another day.
But here is what I am pretty sure of: Whatever structure that will exist in the future will have at least 3 things that the current structure has:
- The same gospel commission from God
- The same Bible doctrines from God
- Flawed human beings operating it
And when we think about it-that last thing; flawed human beings in it and operating it-is the single biggest challenge for our church. The people. Us.
For when we talk about “the Church”, that is really who we are talking about-us. All of us. Whatever is wrong with the church, whatever the church is, the church is the way that the church is because we are the way that we are. And that is our biggest challenge. Us.
But if the people in the church are the churches biggest challenge and it’s biggest problem, they-us, are also the source of its greatest blessing.
You see, the only hope that any of us have to be saved is the goodness and the grace of God. A God Who-despite knowing exactly who and what we are-loves us anyway-despite the fact that He has absolutely no reason to do so. The fact that He has not given up on us gives us hope.
And if God loves us and has not given up on us individually, it stands to reason that He also loves and has not given up on us collectively-as a church; the Bible says so. It says that Jesus loves the church and gave Himself for it. Why would He give Himself for the church if He wasn’t planning to save someone in the church?
And that is the third reason to cheer the church:
- Because Somebody In the Church-No, Somebodies-Lots of Them-Will Be Saved. In fact, John the Revelator saw so many of those somebodies, standing on the sea of glass, redeemed-that he put the number of the saved at a number that no man could number.
It might not seem that way now. It may not seem that the church-the church that isn’t growing, isn’t keeping its young people, is aging, is racist, sexist, ageist, nepotist, and all the other “ists” and “isms” that still exist in the church-it may not seem as though that church can even survive-much less triumph. But it will.
Listen to the servant of the Lord, Ellen White:
The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains-while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out-the chaff separated from the precious wheat. Selected Messages, Book 2, p.380.
The church. Will. Not. Fall. Because the One Who gave Himself up for it, will not give up on it. It. Will. Not. Fall.
Three cheers for the church. And glory to the God of the church.