Asymbol is an idea or thing that represents something else. And a spiritual symbol enables us to experience profound and enduring meaning in an otherwise ordinary experience. Symbols also have a dynamic dimension. That is, they can evoke different kinds of reflection at different stages of our lives, providing different ways of looking at the same experience, the same truth. This is why symbols endure—they’re adaptable to different explanations, even while remaining the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Against that background, I wish to share my personal experience with the symbol of baptism. Put succinctly, “baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reception of the Holy Spirit” (“Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,” No. 15). It is done in the name and under the authority of the triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19, 20). The word means immersion in water, an act that carries powerful symbolic meaning.
I find at least four meanings for my personal life in the baptism symbol:
1. A New Beginning
For me, baptism marked the beginning of a new commitment to God. It gave outward expression to a stand I was making—deliberately committing my allegiance to a new Person. But it also seemed a natural step to take as an outgrowth of the influence that God’s reign was having upon my heart. I remember saying to God, “Look, I have had intimate conversations with You for a while now; it’s time for me to move in with You. I am not ashamed of You. I’m willing to go public!”
My impression of baptism back then was not so much that of a lifetime relationship as it was of a new beginning of a committed relationship. It was something similar to the meaning of a wedding, which marks the beginning of something meaningful, with the understanding that a marriage will follow, if you can see the subtle difference.
Some people are able to say, “Lord, I am going to be faithful to You for the rest of my life!” That is commendable. But back then (when I was baptized) I wasn’t able to say that. In fact, I was scared about letting God down. Yet, I concluded,if I can just focus on the fact that baptism marks a new beginning, then I will take each subsequent day as it comes. This approach had the benefit of not placing me under undue pressure as to how the future partnership with God might work out. Instead, I was able to concentrate simply on a fresh start with God.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Unless you are born again, by water and the Spirit, you cannot truly experience God’s reign” (John 3:3-8, paraphrase). Against the background of those words, it was as though God was saying to me, essentially: “We have had a relationship for a while, Gifford; it’s time to move in; time to take a stand; it’s the next logical step.”
2. A Spiritual Renewal
Baptism is a symbol of spiritual renewal and healing. Back when I was baptized, I was open to and yearning for a spiritual experience. I wanted to have a certain gap filled in my life. Romans 6:1-4 speaks of baptism as a death, burial, and resurrection of the new believer. It’s a text that must not be downplayed. For Paul, this is not a once-for-all event—as if one becomes spiritually fully grown in a moment. For while baptism is, indeed, an event, it serves also as the onset of a process—namely, an ongoing, life-changing spiritual journey at a new and heightened level.
By baptism we confess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and testify of our death to sin and of our purpose to walk in newness of life. Thus we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior, become His people, and are received as members by His church. Baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reception of the Holy Spirit. It is by immersion in water and is contingent on an affirmation of faith in Jesus and evidence of repentance of sin. It follows instruction in the Holy Scriptures and acceptance of their teachings. (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12, 13; Acts 16:30-33; 22:16; 2:38; Matt. 28:19, 20.)In this experience the new believer wonderfully experiences God through the symbol. It’s a mystery. I experienced the immense meaning of dying, of being buried, of being resurrected to a newness of living. God impressed upon my spirit a soul-cleansing watershed, as it were. Then I arose out of the water with a new expectation for my life. It’s a transforming experience in which the heart opens to the supernatural presence of God—a presence that anticipates and allows for new possibilities in one’s life. It marks and celebrates the movement from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. It marks the birth of a new heart, receptive to a new outlook, new values, new tastes, new desires, and new possibilities.
3. A New Belonging
Baptism also symbolizes that I belong to a new family, a new community, which the Bible calls the body of Christ, the church (Eph. 3:6; 1 Cor. 12:12, 13). The witness of the local community lends intimacy and shared joy to the baptismal experience. I found the willingness of the church family to join me in my spiritual walk both encouraging and enabling.
So when my mother, my spiritual mentor, stood up while her four children entered the baptismal pool (I was baptized with three of my siblings), she was saying along with the congregation, “You are not alone. You are being celebrated. We affirm you.”
This is the body the new member joins through baptism.
4. The Experience of New Gifts
Baptism, finally, is a symbol of anointing. When I was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a new and authoritative power was released upon me to serve people (see Matt. 3:16; Acts 19:1-5). In the name of the Holy Spirit I was being anointed, and my natural talents were being baptized with me.
This was good news to me. It meant that I was not only wanted by God, but also needed and trusted. I was not left outside (Eph. 4:7-10). The challenge of the local church is to enable the new believer to see this as part of their baptismal heritage, especially at a stage in their spiritual experience when they’re excited and zealous about the transforming power of God in their lives. I found it empowering to see how God endows us with supernatural, spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12:27-30 for a list of the gifts).
It was then that as a newly empowered, gifted believer I flourished in my music ministry (if I may give a personal example) as I cooperated with other ministries to grow the church—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The locus of my service was not only the church family, but also the larger community. And this continuum between the marketplace and the worship-place has kept me relevant over the years.
So baptism marked for me a new beginning with a personal, dauntless, and boundless God; a spiritual renewal of my life (even with all its complexities and contradictions); a new sense of belonging (to a diverse and multifaceted community); and a new resourcing of spiritual power (manifested through spiritual gifts and communication). The experience of baptism has launched me on a fresh and adventurous journey with God.
I can still see her puzzled expression before me. Our church group was on a study tour in southern France where, for an entire week, we had been exploring the history of the Huguenots who were martyred for their Protestant faith. She had been our tour guide and was very knowledgeable in questions of history, religion, and culture. Even though she had been exposed to many Christian traditions through her work, she had remained an atheist. We had developed a wonderful friendship, and on the last day she wanted to know more about Adventists. We were a strange and noteworthy piece in her denominational collection. What was so special about this Sabbath day? she asked. And why were we so stubborn and obstinate about such an unimportant side issue? I tried to make it clear to her why Sabbath was so important and holy. I was not successful. She could not understand why one day in the week would be different from the other days. That was the reason for the puzzled expression I remember so well.
I probably remember the look that she gave me because it hurt. I had to ask myself once again: “Are you just an odd religious outsider?” This was not the last time I would get this look as it is an expression often used by secular people who live in their own “relative” world. But I also discovered something else: I remember her expression so well because I could understand it. I have grown up in this secular world; I went to school and have been molded by it. And in many areas of my life I live and think similar to the average postmodern person.
Tradition or Identity?
So do we Adventists keep Sabbath simply because it has become a tradition? God forbid! Or perhaps Sabbathkeeping has just become our Adventist trademark? What, then, is the relationship between tradition and identity? Has our understanding of truth gotten stuck in the 1900s? Fortunately, I believe that for the majority of Adventists Sabbath is not simply a tradition or an identity feature.
In Matthew 13:44 Jesus tells the parable of a buried treasure in a field. A hardworking farmer found the treasure while going about his business. It was a coincidental discovery. It was serendipity. Remember how the first Adventists discovered the Sabbath. It was a lot like the farmer in the parable. It was a serendipitous discovery of a biblical truth that through the ages had somehow been buried and lost. Our spiritual forefathers “bought” this treasure. Many of our brothers and sisters have paid and continue to pay a high price for the treasure of the Sabbath.
The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)God’s Rhythm
Music is an important part of human life. Rhythm is the currency of music, and, in a sense, the Sabbath is a rhythm of time that governs and moves every aspect of our lives. An orchestra or a band can play a song slow or fast. They can vary the tempo, but if you want to sing and clap with the music you must follow the rhythm with everything you’ve got. You know, it is all about timing.
Jesus uses the parable of the buried treasure as a metaphor for the kingdom of God or the gospel. Would it be a little far-fetched or completely out of context to compare the Sabbath to the kingdom of God? Or to put it another way: isn’t the accusation often made against our Sabbath theology that it has been made a salvation requirement? Just to clarify this point: I do not believe that you have to keep the Sabbath in order to be saved. This is not Adventist theology. Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.
Salvation and the Sabbath
Some Christians think that the only important issues are “salvation questions.” But if we were to follow this logic then discipleship would become unimportant, as a disciple is someone who has already been saved and because of this begins to order their life around God’s will. A disciple also consciously prays “your will be done” (Matt. 6:10) and then, after this prayer, is prepared to search for and then practice God’s will. This brings us full circle back to salvation. Looking at Scripture, I believe that it is God’s will that we enter into His rhythm. It is God’s rhythm—not mine. I do not decide, as many Christians believe, on which day I should rest (as long as it is one in seven), but God decides. In theological terms this is called righteousness by faith. It says: not my will but Your will. Not my method but God’s method. Not my righteousness but Your righteousness, Jesus.
Two biblical events illustrate this concept vividly.
1. Genesis 2:2 indicates that God rested (literally: “sabbathed”) and that He blessed and made the seventh day holy. How “old” was humanity at this point in time? Not even a day old as humans stepped onto the stage of life only on the sixth day. God’s seventh day was the first complete day for humankind. What works of gardening or “multiplying” could the couple look back on? Absolutely none! On the first Sabbath day Adam and Eve enjoyed God’s works and not their own. This is why the Sabbath is a symbol of salvation and righteousness by faith right from the beginning.
2. Then comes the giving of the law. Moses climbs the slopes of Mount Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments from God’s hand. The Sabbath is there in the middle of the law. But isn’t the real issue that God had first freed His people and that this act led to the covenant law? First came the Exodus, salvation, and then the laws characterizing the covenant. Again, righteousness by faith.
Back to our treasure buried in a field. Jesus says that the treasure is a symbol of the kingdom of God. I believe that the Sabbath is also a symbol of the kingdom of God (though not God’s kingdom itself). As baptism is a symbol that in itself doesn’t save anyone but rather is a vivid demonstration, so the Sabbath is a sign of salvation in our time. And what is really fantastic is that regardless of culture, language, social status, or age time is the one thing that is fairly divided: 24 hours, 7 days, for everyone.
What would my tour guide have said to all this? She had skillfully described the faith of the Huguenots in the old historical sites, emphasizing that we can thank these martyrs for our freedom of religion and conscience—yet she perceived our Sabbathkeeping as a step back into the Middle Ages. She taught me that Jesus needs to be the first focus also in our Sabbath theology as one cannot understand what is important to a disciple when one does not know the Lord the disciple is following. The Sabbath is nothing without the Lord of the Sabbath. Instead of only telling people to keep the Sabbath, let our Sabbathkeeping become a bright advertisement of our redemption—and yes, feel God’s rhythm in our life!
Dennis Meier is pastor of the Grindelberg church in Hamburg, Germany. He enjoys making music and spending time with his wife, Gunda; daughter, Thandi (9 years); and son, Levi (6 years).
By John T. Baldwin, Leonard R. Brand, Arthur Chadwick, and Randall W. Younker
Charles Darwin famously con-cluded that the Old Testament contains a “manifestly false history of the world” and therefore the Bible is “no more to be trusted than … the beliefs of any barbarian.”1 Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church live in a world that takes evolution for granted and generally follows Darwin’s logic. Furthermore, an increasing number of Christian scholars and scientists conclude that since the account of the beginnings is not to be trusted, other “truths” of the Bible cannot be accepted at face value.2 However, Adventists continue to cherish the biblical teaching of special creation (that is, a recent creation week). Why?
This article considers why the doctrine of special creation still mat-ters so deeply, by addressing first its scriptural basis as recently endorsed by the General Conference Executive Committee,3 which will be followed by a closer look at the impact of the doctrine of special creation to four key doctrines.
Special Creation in Scripture
The biblical teaching of special creation is based on seven key biblical passages regarding special creation, namely Genesis 1; 2; Exodus 20:8-11; Psalms 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; and Hebrews 11:3, which need to be linked to Revelation 14:6, 7.
The listing of Genesis 1 and 2 is important. These two complementary chapters intentionally teach the acc-ount of earth’s history and of the origin of the first life forms on this planet.4 Exodus 20:8-11, written by the finger of God, reminds us of the central place of the seventh-day Sabbath as the memorial of creation. The fourth commandment only makes sense if creation week was a literal seven-day event and clearly refers back to the Genesis accounts. It unambiguously describes God’s creation in terms of a short period. His work culminated with creatures bearing God’s own image and charged with the responsibility to care for the world.
Adventists have generally endorsed the view that these historical days of Creation were neither mythical, meta-phorical days, nor so-called literal divine days in which each of the six days allegedly translates into multimillions of earth years, amounting to a few billion years.5 The days of Creation were days like our own, comprising 24 literal hours.
Additionally, the chronological material in Genesis 4, 5, and Matthew 1 are only compatible with a time since creation of a few thousand years, not millions of years (deep time). But why does it matter how long ago it was? Why do we care about time? It matters a great deal, and the reason involves our response to modern scientific interpretations of geologic time and what it says about the nature of God and of the Bible. Deep time and the theory of the evolution of all creatures go hand in hand. Our choice is between deep time plus evolution of life forms, or a recent biblical creation week.
The concept of a recent creation is important. It guards against the concept of theistic evolution, or progressive creation, which seems to creep into some Adventists’ understanding of special creation.
Revelation 14:6, 7 highlights the importance of the doctrine of special creation in the context of today’s post-modern culture. The specific language of God’s last message to the world is such that it earnestly calls all people to worship God because He created by the brief, peaceful, compassionate method of six days alluded to in Exodus 20:11. It reaffirms a special creation worldview in the end-time. In a neo-Darwinian world, God is thereby shown to be wholly worthy of worship because of the brief, recent temporal method He used in Creation.
As the climax of Creation, God rested on, blessed, and sanctified the seventh day, thereby instituting for all humanity (Mark 2:27) the creation-based, seventh-day Sabbath, the day called Saturday in our current calendars. The Sabbath serves as an unchangeable memorial of a completed Creation in six days, and as a sign of the sanctifying relationship existing between the Creator and the beings created in His image.
God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made “the heaven and the earth” and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Pss. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.)
When Creation was finished, God declared His creation works as “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The later author of Psalm 19 echoes this divine approval and excitement by linking Creation to God’s glory (Ps. 19:1-6).
Special Creation and Other Biblical Doctrines
Four key reasons combine to show why belief in a recent historical creation matters. First, special creation is indissolubly linked with the authority and inspiration of Scripture. If a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 cannot be trusted, who or what will be the guide to indicate “trustworthy” or “doubtful” parts of Scripture?
Second, the alternate worldview of theistic evolution and progressive creation produces intractable problems involving the biblical teaching of the loving character of the Creator (1 John 4:8). If one would accept theistic evolution as the supposed intentional divine method of creation, one would have to harmonize more than 3.8 billion years of trauma (predation), disease, death, mass extinctions, suffering, countless regional geologic catastrophes of all sorts, and other natural evils with the biblical image of a loving and caring God.6 Scientist David Hull agrees by saying that the God implied by evolutionary theory is neither loving, nor a God to whom one would be inclined to pray, but is nearly diabolical.7 This is definitely not the God who sees every sparrow that falls (Matt. 10:29-31).
Third, the millions-of-years creation worldview necessarily requires the denial of a historical, literal Fall, a global flood, and a historical Adam through whom sin and death passed to all humanity, and ultimately involves the denial of the need to accept Jesus as Savior through His life and death on the Cross (Gen. 2:9, 17; Rom. 5:12, 14; 6:23; 8:20, 21; 1 Cor. 15:26). In this view death in the animal realm, including protohumans, appears millions of years before sin, thereby undermining the atonement and redemption.
Fourth, a historical special creation confirms the divine rationale for observing the Sabbath. Consider some implications if, as some suggest, God, in the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20:11, is only using language humans can understand and is not telling us the actual way in which He created life forms on earth in six literal days. If so, God Himself bears prohibited false witness at least twice in the Sabbath commandment. Contrary to its claims, read literally, He neither created in six days, nor rested on the seventh day. (Did He even bless the seventh day?) If the commandment is understood in this nonhistorical sense, God grounds the divine rationale for worshipping on the seventh day on events that never happened. In so doing it would seem that God would impeach His own wisdom and trustworthiness.
Bringing It All Together
Special creation preserves the integrity of Scripture, safeguards the loving, praiseworthy character of God, establishes the reality of the atonement and redemption, and the soundness of the seventh-day Sabbath. These reasons, and more, show why a special creation worldview matters so deeply to the Adventist message and mission.
1Nora Barlow, ed., The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882 (New York: Norton, 1958), p. 85.
2Langdon Gilkey, Religion and the Scientific Future: Reflections on Myth, Science and Theology (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1970), p. 9.
3Due to the importance of special creation, the Adventist Church recently sponsored two International Faith & Science Conferences on Creation (2002 and 2004) and encouraged regional conferences throughout the world in 2003. A consensus document emerged at the Denver International Faith & Science Conference (2004) entitled, “An Affirmation of Creation,” which was forwarded to the General Conference Executive Committee at its 2004 Annual Council. This 353-member General Conference body discussed and accepted the report from Denver and voted a historic reply called: “A Response to an Affirmation of Creation.” This document, published, among other printing channels, by the NAD edition of the Adventist Review, August 4, 2005, p. 11, affirmed a recent, literal, historical creation week composed of days like our own, along with a global flood. The word global was significantly used for the first time in a voted General Conference statement on Creation.
4Randall W. Younker, “Genesis 2: A Second Creation Account?” in Creation, Catastrophe & Calvary, ed. John T. Baldwin (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 2000), pp. 40-68.
5This view is formulated by Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom (New York: Free Press, 1997).
6See Thane Hutcherson Ury, “The Evolving Face of God as Creator: Early Nineteenth-Century Traditionalist and Accommodationist Theodical Responses in British Religious Thought to Paleonatural Evil in the Fossil Record,” (Ph.D. diss., Andrews University, 2001).
7David L. Hull, “The God of the Galápagos,” Nature, vol. 352, No. 6335 (Aug. 8, 1991), p. 486.
This article represents a unique collaboration between biblical and theological scholars and scientists. John T. Baldwin is professor of theology in the Theology and Christian Philosophy Department atAndrews University. Leonard R. Brand is professor of biology and paleontology at Loma Linda University. Arthur Chadwick is professor of geology and biology at Southwestern Adventist University, and Randall W. Younker is professor of Old Testament and biblical archaeology at the same university.
Children often experience some growing pains as they develop toward adulthood. The Christian life is no exception. Growing in Christ is a process leading to spiritual maturity. It may involve breaking loose from powers of the spiritual world that may hold us captive and the mediums that promise protection and providence. This disengagement may be a painful experience, especially for people who come from high-context cultures in which there are strong communal bonds, but it is followed by a joyful engagement of growing in Christ.
Two Communities in Tension
When a person accepts Christ and embraces the biblical truth and an Adventist lifestyle, there are sometimes tensions between the community of faith to which he or she now belongs and the community into which he or she was born and initiated. Someone who accepted Christ can no longer rely on the spiritual support systems such as diviners, ancestors (the dead), and witch doctors for help against the demons and evil powers. Mediums, such as palm readers or fortune-tellers, are no longer appealing. All ties with mediums and the spirit world have to be severed, and the newly born child of God has to rely only on the mediatory ministry, providence, and protection of Christ.
The allegiance of a Christian changes from faith in the ancestors and spiritual mediums to faith in God only. In 1 Samuel 28:6, 7 a king turned to such mediums in desperation. Saul himself had “cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land” (verse 9).* Thus, he was going back to former ways of apostasy and rebellion.
Paul challenges the believers in Colossae who were being persuaded to harmonize their former practices with the Christian faith. He states: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules …?” (Col. 2:20). Christian life is not compatible with any spiritual powers that are controlled by evil forces.
There are certain threats that an individual faces when they sever ties with the world of spiritualism and its mediums. They may get sick, suffer misfortune. Whatever negative experience they go through will be interpreted as directly related to their neglect or rejection of an important source of help. Breaking loose from these mediums in the context of such a community therefore means also dealing with rites of passage and community life in a new way. How does the individual associate with the community that is immersed in a web of ancestral spirits and mediums?
Paul’s encouragement to the believers of Colossae who faced similar challenges is helpful: “You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10). This does not mean that these powers and authorities are in harmony with Christ as their head, but they are overpowered by Him. Colossians 2:15 continues: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” No Christian needs to be threatened by these powers.
The allegiance of a Christian changes from faith in the ancestors and spiritual mediums to faith in God only. During this transfer of allegiance, there may be fears on the part of the new believer that things may go wrong. As tensions with family or community mount, faith needs to grow even stronger. This is the most critical time in which the church family needs to give support.
Growing in Christ
By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience. (Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; Luke 10:17-20; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil. 3:7-14; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Matt. 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal. 5:22-25; Rom. 8:38, 39; 1 John 4:4; Heb. 10:25.)The focus should not be on severing the relationships with the community and family members who believe in these mediums, but on the systems themselves. This means that the Christian will continue to love his community and family and help them acknowledge and appreciate his or her new life in Christ.
Paul encourages believers who were in transition by giving the necessary support: “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (Col. 2:4, 5).
When a person has made a firm commitment to Christ, the community of believers becomes his or her new family. New relationships are formed and a new way of life emer-ges. This gradual transformation of a life affects all areas of life. Various images and metaphors are used in Scripture to portray this kind of growth: like a plant “the righteous will flourish … grow … bear fruit … stay fresh” (Ps. 92:12-14; see also 144:12). Christian growth is a gradual process and requires patience—and divine providence (Mark 4:26). Other images used in Scripture to portray spiritual growth in Christ are taken from human development: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2, 3). This growth leads to spiritual maturity—believers will not just rely on “milk” but rather “solid food” that is Scripture-based and Christ-centered (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:11-14).
There are specific areas in which spiritual growth will be evident in the life of a Christian: knowledge of God, unselfish works, faith that is Christ-centered, to mention a few (Col. 1:10; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Thess. 1:3). This growth is not focusing upon ourselves, but upon Christ, the Head of everything (Eph. 4:15). Growing in Christ therefore means that there is development, change, and growth in the life of an individual who has accepted Christ.
In the process of faith development Christians may experience growing pains. However, the joy of growing in Christ surpasses any apparent loss or painful experience. Growing in Christ means a complete transfer of allegiance from the powers of darkness to Christ and involves spending quality time with the new Master (Bible study and a dynamic prayer life). It also means developing and growing in faith and love (for God and fellow humans), and reaching spiritual maturity in all aspects of life.
*All Scripture quotations in this article have been taken from the New International Version (NIV).
Michael Mxolisi Sokupa, Ph.D., is lecturer in New Testament atHelderberg College, South Africa. He is married to Zanele and has three children.
Most people would probably agree that unity is important. Unity has become a well-used motto in politics and religion. There are the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Germans sing in their national anthem about unity. Political parties stress unity. We are familiar with the slogan “United We Stand.” We hear about the United Church of Christ, the United Church of Canada, the United Methodist Church, and the Uniting Church in Australia, to name just a few. We use illustrations to show how important unity is. Take, for instance, a match and break it. This is easily done, even by a small child. Tie 10 or 20 matches together and try to break them. It is very hard, if not impossible.
Unity is also important for Adventists. In the following we will look at unity in Scripture and, based on what we learn there, will try to apply these key concepts to the Adventist Church.
Unity in Scripture
In Scripture the topic “unity” is often expressed by the term “one.” It is used in a positive and a negative sense.
1.Unity and Creation: In the Creation account God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Gen. 1:26).* The next verse states: “God created man in His own image.” There is one God, but in this one God is found a plurality of persons. The unity of the Godhead is clearly stressed in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Verse 5 continues: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” When Jesus was asked, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” (Mark 12:28), He quoted Deuteronomy 6:4, 5, the Jewish confession of faith. Jesus and His followers also believed in the one God only, however, manifested in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough, Jesus based His call to love God and neighbor on the unity of God. Because God is one in three persons, our love toward Him and each other must be undivided. Love of the members of Jesus’ church leads to fellowship and unity. Thus, the source and foundation of unity is found in the Trinity.
God’s unity is reflected in the creation of marriage. Two persons, different in gender, become one in marriage (Gen. 2:24; see Matt. 19:5, 6). The unity expressed in marriage is supposed to be a reflection of the unity in the Trinity. Unity is more than a union of two or more persons of the same kind. Unity does not deny diversity. The miracle of divinely ordained unity is that people with vast differences are joined together and form a new “organism” in which they are considered equals.
2.Unity and the Fall: With the Fall a negative type of unity came about, discussed more extensively in Paul’s writings. After the Fall of Adam and Eve humanity became united in their opposition to God (Rom. 1, 2). All became sinners (Rom. 3). They are united in the foolish wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20, 21). As a result of their sin there is unity in death (Rom. 6:23). All sinners must die. Adam has become the unifying figure of humanity.
3.Unity in Christ: It was through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection that humans regained the option of being freed from the power of sin and from death. In other words, the unity in sin and death has been and will be destroyed for those who believe in Christ and are in Him, the new head of humanity, the second Adam. Through baptism they are added to Christ’s church and flock (Matt. 16:18; Luke 12:32). This unity is primarily a unity with the Lord, but it is also—and it must be—a unity with other believers. “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16). In His high priestly prayer Jesus then prayed for the unity of His followers (John 17:11).
Unity in the Body of Christ
The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children. (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ps. 133:1; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:27, 29; Col. 3:10-15; Eph. 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23.)These followers of Christ have come and are still coming from various backgrounds. They are different. Diversity must not be denied. But they have been made one through Jesus who has broken down all barriers of gender, nationality, race, status, learning, and what other barriers there may be (Eph. 2:11-22; Gal. 3:26-29). Diversity is important, but unity surpasses diversity. Now believers form one body, Christ’s body, where He is the head (Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:4; Col. 1:18). They use their various gifts for the building up of the church and for its mission (Eph. 4:11, 12; 1 Cor. 12). Although their functions may vary, they are equal before God who shows no partiality. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
Unity for Adventists
Scripture clearly presents the ideal, but churches may be plagued by factions as the church in Corinth was (1 Cor. 1-3). Adventists are confronted by cultural, societal, philosophical, political, and other forces that threaten the unity of the church. What can be done to remain united?
When addressing the Corinthians, Paul points out that unity must be found in the crucified Lord “who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). It is Christ, it is the Godhead that guarantees unity, and on Jesus we must concentrate. But faith in Jesus cannot be a theoretical construct only. It must include a common message, namely, “truth” (John 17:17) and the sharing of the “one hope” and “one faith” (Eph. 4:4, 5). Unity without truth is sentimentalism, lacking a solid foundation.
Second, following the example of Jesus, who is one with the Father, includes care for believers and various entities of the church, for example, through practical acts of neighborly love and through financial support (1 John 3:13-18; 2 Cor. 8:1-5). Furthermore, it includes working together for the common mission entrusted to this church (Matt. 28:19, 20; Rev. 14:6-12). A common task can help us to soar above our (often) petty misunderstandings, grievances, and differences of opinions.
Unity will not come automatically. We have to be intentional about it (Eph. 4:3). Drawing closer to the One who loves us immeasurably will draw us closer to each other. It reduces distance.
Idon’t believe in the Trinity!” That’s what some Adventist pioneers concluded. In fact, questions on the Trinity continued for 87 years. It’s happening again today. Is history being repeated? “Is God a Trinity?” “Does it really matter?” “Doesn’t Scripture say ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one’”?* (Deut. 6:4, cf. 4-9; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41).
What do we forfeit if God is only one Person? For one, Christ could not be our Savior. It took the Holy Spirit to bring Christ to Mary. It took the Father to answer Christ’s prayers and give Him needed help. That’s how important the Trinity is to us. Our eternal life depends upon this truth.
The Lord Our God Is One
So why did God say, “The Lord our God is one”? In the ancient Near East there were numerous deities that surrounded and imperiled Israel. God knew His people would be attracted to these gods, and abandon Him. In that context He said, “I alone am God” (“there is no other,” Deut. 4:39). That’s why the prologue of the Ten Commandments states, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt…. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2, 3). Only the true God could save in the mighty rescue at the Red Sea! The word “one” focuses on God’s uniqueness, not on His being alone.
The English word “one” is used to translate two words in biblical Hebrew: yāhîd (unique, only son, Gen. 22:2) and ’ehād (those united in marriage “become one flesh,” Gen. 2:24). “The Lord our God is one” translates ’ehād, and means God is not solitary, even though He is unique. It suggests that God is united, or more than one Person. Scripture declares that God is love (1 John 4:8-16). Prior to the commencement of any creation there was an eternity when God existed as love. God could not be love if He was solitary. For whom would He love? It takes more than one to love. So God’s nature requires that He be more than one Person.
Hints of the Trinity in the Old Testament
Scripture often indicates that God is more than one. Plurality is indicated in the following: In creation “God said [singular], ‘Let us [plural] make man in our image’” (Gen. 1:26). After sin’s entrance into the world, “the Lord God said [singular], ‘The man has now become like one of us [plural], knowing good and evil’” (Gen. 3:22). In response to the Tower of Babel builders God [singular] said, “Come, let us [plural] go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (Gen. 11:7). Isaiah said, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord say [singular], ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us [plural)’?” (Isa. 6:8). While focusing on one God to keep His people from many gods, He allowed them to glimpse that one God is more than one Person. This is really about a different dimension. If God was only one Person, who would have ruled the universe when Christ was on earth, and where would God have been when Christ was in the tomb?
There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation. (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 14:7.)Scripture designates Father, Son, and Spirit as God. Let me just list a number of powerful examples. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), and He created the universe through His Son (Heb. 1:1, 2). After Christ’s death “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:3). The Father said to Him, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (verse 8). The Father called Christ God (cf. John 1:1-3, 14). Paul urged the Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” through unloving talk and acts (Eph. 4:30). Peter told Ananias, “You have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3), and in so doing “You have not lied to men but to God” (verse 4).
Scripture Interpreting Scripture
Some say the Trinity is only explicit in the New Testament, not in the Old Testament. A good example is the Father speaking to Christ at His baptism and the Holy Spirit descending on Him as a dove (Matt. 3:16, 17). Another example is the gospel commission, sending His children to baptize in the name of all three (Matt. 28:19). A third example is Paul’s ending to his Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). So, clearly, the New Testament teaches the Trinity.
There is, however, more about the Trinity in the Old Testament than some people realize. When Scripture interprets Scripture, we discover that the Old Testament makes a contribution to our topic. In Luke 4:18, 19 Christ read from Isaiah 61:1, 2, and in so doing recognized that the verses tell of His mission. In other words, Christ gave His commentary on these verses in Isaiah, noting that they speak of the Trinity as follows: “The Spirit [Holy Spirit] of the Sovereign Lord [the Father] is on me [Christ]” (Isa. 61:1).
There are several places in Isaiah where the Trinity is explicit. Here are three more examples: First, in Isaiah 42:1 it says: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” God the Father is speaking about His Son, to whom He will give His Holy Spirit. The New Testament corroborates that this passage from Isaiah was fulfilled in the healing ministry of Jesus (Matt. 12:15-21), who was sent by the Father (John 3:16, 17) and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16, 17; Luke 4:18). Second, Isaiah 48:16 states: “Come near me and listen to this…. And now the Sovereign Lord [Father] has sent me [Christ], with his Spirit” [Holy Spirit]. Third, in Isaiah 63:7-16, reference is made to “the angel of His presence” who “redeemed them” (verse 9, Christ), the Holy Spirit (verse 10), and the Father (verse 16).
If I was marooned on an island and could take only one book each from the Old and New Testaments, I would choose Isaiah and John. The Trinity is found in both. The Old Testament is about the love of God just as much as the New Testament. Isaiah 53 is one of the best biblical chapters on our Savior’s love for all of us. Isaiah presents the Trinity with greater specificity than any other Old Testament writer. The Old Testament gives evidence that God does not change (Mal. 3:6), a concept that is echoed in the New Testament as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love each other, and in so doing each one loves God and fellow beings (cf. Matt. 22:37-40). That love is eternal and reciprocal in their inner history, and overflows to enter human lives so we can reflect to some degree that love for God and for others. A solitary God could not be a God of love. What an awesome Trinity!
*All Scripture quotations have been taken from the New International Version.
The term remnant appears often in Adventist literature and is closely linked to our self-understanding and our mission in these final stages of the great controversy. This article will explore the remnant from a biblical perspective, focusing particularly upon the crucial text of Revelation 12:17.
The Bible speaks of a remnant on several occasions. When God looked upon the earth before the Flood, only Noah’s family was faithful (Gen. 6:1-5). When the Israelites made the golden calf, only a few refused to worship it (Ex. 32:25, 26). When Ahab led Israel into apostasy, only Elijah and 7,000 others did not bow to Baal (1 Kings 19:10-18). When Judah could return from the exile in Babylon, only a few heeded God’s call (Ezra 2:1-70). And when Jesus came to earth only a remnant accepted Him (John 1:10-13). A remnant, therefore, refers to a group of people who remain faithful to God when the majority around them compromises its faith.
Perhaps the best-known reference to the remnant is Revelation 12:17, which describes the characteristics of this group in the context of the last days of earth’s history. This remnant has six important characteristics.
Characteristic 1: Time of Its Appearance
Revelation 12 summarizes the great controversy between good and evil, between Jesus Christ and His angels (Rev. 12:7) and the dragon, Satan (12:3, 7-9). Four encounters are described.
First, there is a battle in heaven (12:7-9). Second, at the incarnation of Jesus the dragon attempts to destroy Him, but is defeated (12:1-5, 10). Third, the dragon attacks the church, symbolized by a pure woman, and persecutes her for 1,260 prophetic days or years (12:13-16). Adventists understand this period to end in A.D. 1798. It is after this date that the remnant appears and faces the dragon in the fourth and final encounter. The remnant of Revelation 12:17, therefore, emerges and thrives in the last days—in our time.
Characteristic 2: A Distinct Identity
The remnant is described as “the remnant of her [the church’s] seed.” By definition “remnant” implies one small part of a much bigger whole. The seed of the woman is numerous, but the remnant constitutes only a small part of this whole. Today there are 2 billion professed followers of Jesus. While the dragon hates all who have even a semblance of faith, his wrath is directed specifically against this small group, this remnant, because by their fidelity to God they stand apart from the rest. If ever the remnant were to compromise its special identity, it would cease to be the remnant.
Characteristic 3: The Testimony of Jesus
Revelation 12:17 declares that the remnant has “the testimony of Jesus Christ.” “Testimony” is another word for “witness,” and is used in the Bible as a confirmation or proof of something.1 It is often used specifically in relation to salvation by grace.2 The truth that salvation is a gift of God was a clarion call by Jesus and the apostles against the backdrop of the legalism of the rabbis and the heathenism of the pagans. It was also the rallying point of the Reformation against a works-based medieval religion. In these last days the remnant stands by this most amazing of truths and announces God’s free gift to a suffering humanity. It is God’s grace that gives the remnant its identity and empowers it to stand firm.
Characteristic 4: The Commandments of God
Revelation 12:17 also highlights the remnant’s obedience to the commandments as one of its foremost characteristics: “The dragon … went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God” (KJV).
Historically, Protestants have held biblical law in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular, in high esteem. However, dispensationalism and postmodernism — an unlikely coalition — have combined to change this. The former assigns the Ten Commandments to the Old Testament and declares them no longer valid. The latter downplays belief in objective truth in favor of relative and subjective truth. Against this backdrop Revelation 12:17 describes the remnant as obedient to the commandments of God.
The Remnant and Its Mission
The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.)Obedience does not negate the efficacy of God’s grace. Rather, it defines God’s will for our lives. God writes His law of love on our hearts so that obedience becomes a way of living (Jer. 31:33).
Central to remnant fidelity is the Sabbath commandment, which reminds humanity of our origin and allegiance. John touches on this theme again in Revelation 14:7, a clear allusion to the fourth commandment. The Sabbath as a sign between God and His people (Ex. 31:13; Eze. 20:12, 20) becomes the defining mark of God’s end-time people.
Characteristic 5: Prophetic Role
A comparison of Revelation 12:17, 14:8, and 19:10 shows that the remnant has the Spirit of Prophecy. This means two things. First, the remnant has been given the Holy Spirit to understand biblical prophecy. The Adventist Church was born when people studied prophecy and continues to find an essential part of its identity in biblical prophecy. It is the unique understanding of last-day events and the special role we are called to play that has fueled Adventist mission that now spans the globe, as well as commitment to holy living.
Second, it means that the remnant is to be led through the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:7-11; 2 Peter 1:21; Rev. 19:10). The role of biblical prophets was to provide inspired guidance to God’s people during important junctures in the history of salvation. Such guidance we find in Ellen White, whose ministry helped navigate the Adventist Church successfully around a multitude of theological and organizational pitfalls.
Characteristic 6: Mission
Every biblical remnant had a crucial mission in the plan of salvation. The remnant of Revelation 12:17 is no exception. As it faces the dragon’s attacks it must heed James’s advice: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Resisting is not a passive activity. Revelation 14:1-13 pictures God’s people taking the initiative to bring the battle to the enemy by proclaiming the everlasting gospel throughout the inhabited world. The good news of salvation by grace is to be fully proclaimed to a suffering world. The dragon’s repeated attempts to mar the character of God must be exposed and the beauty of what it means to live in and for Christ not only preached but demonstrated. Success in this mission brings glory to God’s name.
Wrapping It Up
While the universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Jesus Christ, God has called a remnant to proclaim a special message in these last days of widespread confusion. It lives and proclaims the gospel of salvation in Jesus; obedience to the Ten Commandments, including the seventh-day Sabbath; maintains a distinct and strong identity; understands its role prophetically; and is on a mission to resist the dragon and spread the gospel to the entire world.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church fits this description well. This fact gives us no reason to feel triumphant or proud, though. Rather, it reminds us of our inadequacies and wrinkles and brings God’s end-time remnant to the feet of Jesus. What a huge task! What a mighty God!
1 For example, Matt. 8:4; Mark 1:44; 6:11; 13:9; John 19:35; 21:24; 1 Cor. 5:7; 2:1; 2 Tim. 1:8.
2 Compare John 5:34; Acts 22:18; 1 Cor. 1:6; 2:1; 2 Tim. 1:8; 1 John 5:10; Rev. 1:9.
Many people today agree that our world is a battlefield of good and evil spiritual powers. Their activities are evident, for instance, in the dramatic contrast between the happiness of life and the pain of death, the beauty of love and the cruelty of hate, or the fact that sometimes good people are the ones who suffer the most (cf. Ps. 73:2-17; Mal. 3:13-18). In Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:24-29), the servants asked the owner of the field, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” And the owner replied, “An enemy did this.”1
The mysterious coexistence of and dispute between good and evil do raise a few crucial questions: Did that controversy have a beginning, and will it ever end? What is its basic theological meaning? And, more, how widespread is it in our world today? This article seeks to find some biblical answers to these three foundational questions.
How It All Began
The great controversy is a currently ongoing cosmic conflict that had a beginning and will have an end. Its mysterious beginning in the heavenly courts was foreseen but not ordained by God, who “made provision to meet the terrible emergency.”2 After losing his gratitude to God and becoming increasingly jealous of Him (Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-17), Lucifer began to spread his apostasy in the heavenly courts. “God in His great mercy bore long with Lucifer,”3 but there came a time when the rebellion was consolidated, and Lucifer (who became Satan) and his angels were “hurled to the earth” (Rev. 12:7-9).
With the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3), earth became the battlefield of good and evil.
All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God’s adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the worldwide flood. Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation. (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6–8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14.)Human history is much more than just the stage of human actions. It is indeed the scene of a continuous struggle between Satan’s deceiving strategies and God’s redemptive plan. Despite Satan’s success in misleading the vast majority of human beings, God is still in control of the whole struggle and allows it to develop only within certain limits (cf. Dan. 4:32). Whenever those limits are pushed, God intervenes through His judgment, as in the destructions of the antediluvian world by the Flood (Gen. 6–7) and of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim by burning sulfur (Gen. 19:23-29; Deut. 29:23; Jude 7).
The pagan theory of natural immortality of the soul suggests that sin had a beginning but will never come to an end. By contrast, the Bible teaches that sin and sinners finally will be destroyed, and the universe will be restored to its original perfection and harmony. Through God’s timely design of the plan of salvation (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 13:8) Christ’s triumph over Satan, sin, and death (John 12:31; 14:30; 19:30; Rev 1:18) is assured. This great controversy will be concluded with the final destruction of Satan, his angels, and all the wicked (Mal. 4:1; Jude 5-7).
What Does This All Mean?
The whole cosmic controversy gravitates around God’s character as expressed in His moral law. Throughout history Satan developed different strategies to distort people’s relationship with that law. In Old Testament times, up to the Babylonian exile, God’s people were always tempted to transgress the law by idolatry. After the exile, the pendulum went to the opposite extreme of legalism, when the law was considered an end in itself for salvation. In the post-apostolic period, the cross of Christ, which confirmed the law (Rom. 3:31), began to be regarded as having abolished it. Meanwhile, the unconditional commitment to the law of God’s end-time remnant people places them under the special fury of Satan (Rev. 12:17).
Some people consider the cosmic controversy as the center of biblical theology. But neither it nor any other theme can replace God as the unfolding center of all true doctrine. The cosmic controversy provides the basic theological framework in which all Bible doctrines and lifestyle principles become meaningful and rightly focused. Furthermore, it also gives us a correct understanding of history as a huge stage where human beings play their life role either for Satan and his misleading cause or for God and His saving plan.
As the great controversy moves toward its end, evil, temptation, and sin have become more aggressive in nature and more widespread in scope. In the Garden of Eden temptation was delimitated geographically to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16, 17). With the fall of Adam and Eve temptation became a global reality with external (environmental) and internal (human nature) expressions (Gen. 3:7-19). In centuries past, the homes of God’s children were often (though not always) fortresses of spiritual and moral values (cf. Joshua 24:15; Job 1:5). Yet, with the intrusion of modern media into our lives, all kinds of temptations became available to God’s children everywhere.
Crucial within the great controversy is the dispute for the human mind, which commands personal and social behaviors. Christ explained that “from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21, 22). The force of evil is recognized in Paul’s words, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom. 7:19, NASB).* Only the supernatural power of God’s saving grace can rescue sinners “from the dominion of darkness” and bring them “into the kingdom” of Christ (Col. 1:13, 14; cf. Eph. 2:1-10), restoring in them “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and making them “new creation[s]” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The great cosmic controversy began in heaven through the rebellion of Lucifer and his angels, was transferred to this world through the fall of Adam and Eve, and will last until the final destruction of sin and all impenitent sinners (including Satan and his angels) at the end of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20. Since sin is not eternal, nor sinners immortal, they will be destroyed, and God will restore this earth to its original perfect condition. Then, the pain of death will be replaced by the happiness of life; the cruelty of hate will be overruled by the beauty of love—and no longer will good people have to suffer. At last, good will have triumphed over evil.
1 Except otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations have been taken from the New International Version.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 22.
3 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 495.
Alberto R. Timm is the rector of the Latin- American Adventist Theological Seminary and lives in Brasilia, D.F., Brazil. He is married to Marly and has three children: Suellen (22), William (16), and Shelley (13).
About 35 years ago, after I had just been converted, coming from a Catholic and secular background, I found the following singular quotation from the Spirit of Prophecy: “The 12th and 13th chapters of 1st Corinthians should be committed to memory, written in the mind and heart.”1 Although I knew that 1 Corinthians 13 was the “love” chapter, I did not know much about its much longer sibling preceding it.
As I began to slowly commit the lessons to “mind and heart,” a pre-cious theology of the relationship between the gifts of the Spirit (as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12) and the fruit of the Spirit (as described in 1 Corinthians 13) began to emerge. This article briefly explores the Adventist fundamental doctrinal belief number 17, which deals with Spiritual Gifts and Ministries. It will first outline the relationship between the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit, give a brief overview of the biblical foundation of the doctrinal belief, and then provide further resources that will help put the teaching into practice.
Gifts and Fruit: How Do They Relate?
Scripture teaches us that the fruit of the Spirit, the “more excellent way” that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12:31, instills our actions with high value before God (1 Cor. 13:1-3). After all, Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). Those workers who have exhibited various gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy and miracles, without “knowing” Him are labeled as “evildoers” (Matt. 7:22, 23). Ellen White herself states that “the object of the Christian life is fruit-bearing,”2 thus underlining the foundational importance of being rather than doing.
In our hyperkinetic world, we have the privilege every day, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus, which was “better” than Martha’s desire to be hospitable (Luke 10:42), which had led her to become critical of her sister. In Buddhist countries such as Thailand I often told church members that unless we take time to deepen our spiritual lives and become like a “monk,” the stresses of everyday life will turn us into “monkeys.”
Biblical Foundation of Spiritual Gifts
There are several key biblical texts that provide foundational understanding of the fundamental belief on spiritual gifts. First of all, it tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:11 that the Holy Spirit determines which gift(s) are given to each of the members. In practical terms, it can be said that every member of the church has at least one gift, but nobody has all the gifts. Paul uses the interdependence of the body to stress both the diversity and the unity that must exist if the organism is to function well. The biblical teaching of spiritual gifts avoids the twin extremes of expecting everybody to do the same thing (as, for example, to go out and give Bible studies) or that only a few are called upon to do the work of the church.
Spiritual Gifts and Ministries
God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)There are 20 specific gifts mentioned in Scripture, with some of the gifts mentioned more than once. Romans 12:6-8 lists the seven gifts of prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. In addition to these seven gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 and 12:28-30 add the 11 gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues, apostle, helper, and administration. Finally, Ephesians 4:11 adds the two gifts of evangelist and pastor. While some commentators would limit the list to those that are specifically mentioned in these texts, others have postulated that more gifts were demonstrated in the New Testament church, such as hospitality, intercession, and mission, and that these should also be included.
The gifts given to an individual are not static but, as in the case of Paul, can be given by the Spirit as the need for healing (Acts 14:9, 10) or prophecy (Acts 27:23-25) arises. I feel it would be in harmony with Scripture that if an individual or group of believers is lacking a certain gift, they could pray that the Lord would either give the gift to those present or send a person who had that specific gift, in order to minister more effectively. Gifts need to be cherished and developed. Paul urged Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift that had been given to him through the laying on of hands (2 Tim. 1:6, NIV).
Spirituals Gifts: Practical Applications
As far as resources go, Peter Wagner’s easy-to-read and very popular Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow is still a classic in the field.3 Although there are a number of spiritual gifts tests that can be taken and graded online, many of them favor a charismatic theology, biased toward certain gifts, such as healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy and do not provide much of a background on how the gifts should be understood or used within the local church or ministry context. A very excellent and well-documented approach to the whole area of spiritual gifts, called Connections, was produced by Seventh-day Adventist pastors and leaders and can be accessed via the Internet.4
Several years ago I wanted to start the dishwasher but discovered we had run out of dishwashing soap. Thinking that all soap was the same, I put some laundry detergent in the dispenser and went merrily on my way. When I returned a short time later I discovered the dishwasher had been turned into a bubble maker and the kitchen floor was receiving the offering of suds!
The doctrine of spiritual gifts teaches the importance of putting people in the right place in the church. At times, a very successful deacon has been made a head elder and difficulties have arisen. Like the detergent in my trusted dishwasher, the member is not “bad” but has been placed in the wrong responsibility. After encouraging us to memorize 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, Ellen White suggested that “Through His servant Paul, the Lord has placed before us these subjects for our consideration, and those who have the privilege of being brought together in church capacity will be united, understandingly and intelligently.”5 A biblical understanding of spiritual gifts will unite us both in understanding and creativity as we reflect more the servant spirit of Jesus and fulfill God’s mission for His church.
1Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, ed. F. D. Nichol (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1965), vol. 6, p. 1090.
2Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1941), p. 67.
3C. Peter Wagner, Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1979).
5White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, pp. 1090, 1091.
A pastor and teacher, James Park ministered in the Los Angeles area for 25 years before accepting a call to teach at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. He is currently chairing the Applied Theology Department and focuses his ministry and research upon discipleship and mission.
Wonderful Words of Life Understanding (and living) salvation
By Paul Petersen
The Bible employs a number of different ways of describing how God saves human beings. This article briefly revisits some of these important concepts from the perspective of Scripture.
Forgiveness and Salvation Only one of the supplications in the Lord’s Prayer contains a condition. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14, 15, ESV).1
When confronted with these words, Nietzsche ironically exclaimed, “How unevangelical!” Does God really grant forgiveness only on conditions?
Yet in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus emphasizes exactly the same point, and we are left with the nagging question Are we forgiven, or not? Are we saved, or not yet?
The tension is heartfelt, because the alternatives seem extreme. If we are saved once and for all, then human responsibility evaporates, lawlessness easily takes over, and salvation becomes a mechanical process. On the other hand, if it is not yet finished, we may lose our assurance of salvation and develop a legalistic attitude.
Is there a middle road where we are not left with only uncomfortable extremes? I think there is. A proper understanding of the biblical usage of some of the key terms helps us understand.
However, we first need to remember that genuine forgiveness is part of a personal relationship, not simply an impersonal object. It is present only when Jesus is present, and it is only my experience when I am with Him.
The Experience of Salvation
In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)When using theological terms, we all too often mechanize salvation. We may speak about forgiveness as if it is a kind of object, a little like New Age people who buy a stone of forgiveness and supposedly feel and experience it if they press the stone in the palm of their hand. But in employing purely abstract concepts, we may miss the very nature of forgiveness: we are forgiven only because someone, another person, forgives us. Forgiveness is always (and only) present in personal relationships.
Justification and Sanctification The tendency to turn central aspects of Christian life into purely abstract concepts is also common in regard to the expressions “justification” and “sanctification.” These terms are biblical, but in the course of history their meaning has at times changed. Thus, we may approach the biblical terms with the baggage of later definitions and risk imposing our cultural concepts upon the biblical message.
The major misunderstandings regarding these terms stem first from the Latin words from which our English words derive. In Latin the words are compound words, connecting the adjectives iustus(“just,” or “righteous”) and sanctus (“holy”) with the verb facio (“to do, make”). In Western Christianity the meaning easily became “making righteous/holy,” and with the emphasis on the inner man so typical for much Western thinking since Augustine, theologians often came to use the terms justificationand sanctification as parts of a continuing process of salvation, in which sanctification follows justification in a straight line.
But in the Bible these terms describe aspects of our ongoing personal relationship with Jesus rather than a psychological-ethical process. Let me illustrate this by focusing on the termsanctification.
In light of later discussions and the way we often use the term today, the original meaning of the word for sanctification may be surprising. In the New Testament the verb sanctify (from the Greekhagiozo) exclusively takes persons as their object (as in John 17:17, 19; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:12). In the Old Testament this is the dominant usage too (as in Joshua 3:5; 1 Sam. 16:5; Joel 2:16). In the context of the sanctuary service God sanctifies or asks people to sanctify cultic objects (as the altar in Exod. 29:36, 37). There was, of course, also holy time, such as festival days and Sabbaths. The weekly Sabbath remains as sacred or sanctified time in the Christian Era as a memorial of Creation (Gen. 2:3). But the sanctuary system with its sacrifices and festivals is now replaced by the realities of the heavenly temple, built on the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary.
The main point is clear: God sanctifies people. This can be described as a past event. According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit has sanctified believers to Christ (1 Peter 1:2; cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). The meaning is akin to a marriage ceremony. In baptism the believer is sanctified to Jesus Christ, and this sanctification is then to be a daily, ongoing experience, just as a spouse is to be daily committed or dedicated to their partner.
This sanctification leads to a life of holiness. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 Paul provides a good illustration of this usage in the context of marriage relations. In these verses the Greek noun for sanctification, hagiasmos, occurs three out its total of 10 occurrences in the New Testament, marked in italics in the following translation of the text:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (ESV).
Consequently, sanctification is a lifelong process—for our dedication to Jesus is never to end. It is part of our ongoing faith relationship with Jesus. As such, it is not a psychological process that one day is finished. Even in eternity we are in this sense to be sanctified to God in Jesus Christ. Indeed, to whom else should we be sanctified?
So in conclusion: Is there a middle road in describing salvation, where I am not left with only uncomfortable extremes? The answer is yes. That way is Jesus. Only in walking with Him is forgiveness a reality. In Him, salvation is experienced, and the promises of future restoration guaranteed. When I trust in Jesus, God in His mercy treats me as if I were Jesus, as if the future verdict on the day of judgment has already been pronounced. This is justification, daily revealed to me through the Word. As I respond in faith, the Holy Spirit sanctifies me to Jesus.