If the mission or purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is truly the antitype of that of John the Baptist – to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus – the next logical question that arises is, how is that done? Again we must go back to the life of John the Baptist for the answer. When you study his life and ministry two things become unmistakably clear: He lived what he taught and he taught what he lived. There was no dichotomy between his words and his everyday life. In the case of John the Baptist, the medium was the message.
When I look around at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America I wonder if we truly understand the relationship between how we live and the message we proclaim to the world? It seems that some are convinced that the message is all that matters, that proclamation alone will prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. So we spend millions of dollars a year on evangelistic outreach events in local churches, we mass-produce evangelistic literature to be passed out in our neighborhoods. We produce television programs that are streamed all over the Internet and around the world on satellite stations.
However, when we adopt the mindset that “the message is the message” and someone rejects the message, we assume that they are rejecting the God behind the message, when in fact they may just be rejecting the medium. In other words, us! Thus we cast the blame of stagnant growth of the church in North America to the culture around us rather than looking in mirror and accepting the fact that the problem may have much more to do with us then the message we are trying to share. Are we living like we truly believe Jesus is coming soon?
If the answer is “no,” does that mean that we should stop proclaiming the message until we can really start living it? When you really think about it, the answer to that question is not so clear. On the one hand the church has been given a mission to take the message of Christ’s soon coming to the entire world, and so it should seem obvious that the church, despite its hypocrisy, should continue to “fake it until we make it”. However, on the other hand we find this sobering quote from the Spirit of Prophecy:
When the theory of the truth is repeated without its sacred influence being felt upon the soul of the speaker, it has no force upon the hearers, but is rejected as error, the speaker making himself responsible for the loss of souls.—Testimonies for the Church 4:441.
In other words, the medium is actually more important to the success of the truth being accepted than the truth itself! In fact, a medium that is not living the truth – although speaking the truth – is a lie, which would explain why the individual rejects the truth as error. Cognitive dissidence between what he sees (the medium) and what he hears (the message) creates a justifiable excuse to reject it.
This gets to the heart of why so many younger generation Adventists have such a hard time with the churches remnant theology. When one is brought into membership into the church, the 13th vow on the back of the baptismal certificate states the following:
Do you believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophecy…?
In order to be baptized one must answer “yes” to that question with conviction. But what exactly makes the Seventh-day Adventist Church the remnant church of Bible prophecy? It is interesting that the 13th vow references Revelation 12:17, which reads:
“And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 12:17 KJV)
Yet the description of the remnant in the text mentions nothing of proclaiming a message per se. The “Remnant” are not defined by what they say but by rather who they are. The identity of the remnant is rooted in character – keeping God’s commandments and having the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Thus though the church today may proclaim a remnant message – can we honestly say we are the remnant in its truest sense? I’m not sure we can fully say that until at least the majority of us, like John the Baptist, who was a type of whom we are to be the antitype, are living what we teach and teaching what we live.
In short we need to become the remnant we claim to be. Future posts will be wrestling with a relational theology that helps get us there.