Ten reasons why I choose to remain an Adventist
Tests are common in life. At school, tests determine one's grades. In a doctor's office, tests help in the diagnosis and treatment of an illness. A road test is needed to get a driver's license.
But the ultimate is the Final Test. How is one to pass it? The Final Answer is always grace. However, there's a problem. Whenever God gives grace, He always makes a package deal with this thing we call the “church.” The students on my campus will sometimes say, “I'm spiritual, but I'm not religious.” That usually means they have had some problem with the church.
Yes, some times the church can drive you crazy. Internal politics. Too many rules. Scaring people with stories about persecution in the last days. Legalism. I had a kid with long hair and a T-shirt come to my congregation, waiting for his girlfriend. And supposedly one of my saints told him, “Young man, you can't go into the church dressed like that. You'll have to wait outside.” That young man vowed never to go back to church again, until I called to apologize.
As a pastor, I've often had reasons to think about the church and ask myself the question, Why do I stay in the church? Why do I put up with all the problems I find within the church? My reflections led me to jot down 10 reasons why I stay in the church—reasons that may lead you to a similar conclusion. Here they are:
1. He isn't heavy. “‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light'” (Matthew 11:30).*
Someone said to me that Adventism just felt heavy to him. But Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all you who are weary–I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” If your religion feels heavy to you, you didn't get it from Christ. That verse has become a defining verse for me. And so I had to go through all my Adventism, and take out or spin everything until it felt easy and light.
Charles Swindoll tells a story about a man going through an airport, carrying two heavy suitcases. Another man asks him for the time. He gives him the time, the Lakers score, and the weather in London.
“Your watch can tell you all that? I have to have that watch. I'll give you $100 for it.”
“No, it's not for sale.”
“No, it's one of a kind, my father gave it to me, and I'm going to pass it on to my son.”
“$5,000. I have to have that watch. I have the cash right here.”
“Oh, all right.”
The man, thrilled, puts the watch on and goes off. The first man picks up the suitcases and shouts, “No, wait, don't forget the batteries!”
That is how it happens for so many new Christians. They come into the church, they love grace, the Sabbath rest, heaven, baptism, new friends. Then they get all the laws and rules laid on them, and soon it all feels like those heavy suitcases. But Jesus says, “‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light'”
2. God is not a thief! “‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full'” (John 10:10).
Satan has been telling lies about God for thousands of years. “God is a thief. He'll cheat you out of life. He'll take all the fun away. Watch out for Him. He's out to steal your life.” But Jesus said, “I am not a thief.” And so I had to go through all my Adventism, every doctrine, and every church standard, and make sure that there was nothing of God being a thief.
3. Fear not. “‘Do not be afraid'” (Luke 2:10).
When the angels finally were given a chance to say something in the Great Controversy, what were their first three words? “Do not be afraid.” I grew up with fear. Every time I sinned, I was afraid God crossed my name off “The List.” I was afraid of the Judgment, the Last Days, all of it.
But the angels said, “Do not fear. Go find Him–in a manger. He's a baby. You don't have to be afraid of a baby. Don't have to be afraid to get close to God.” So again I had to go through all my Adventism and get rid of all fear. No more fear of being lost. No fear of the judgment. No fear of the Last Days.
When I was in the seminary, one of my brothers sent me tickets to a Chicago Bulls-Portland Trailblazers game. I was from Portland, and we were the world champions. Whenever Chicago scored, 20,000 people stood and cheered. Whenever Portland scored, two of us stood and cheered! It came down to the end of the game, Chicago stole the ball, and went down and dunked, ahead by one, four seconds to go. Twenty thousand standing, rocking. Two of us sitting! Portland called time out, came back on the court, and Lionel Hollins sank a long shot that went in as the buzzer went off! Two of us standing, rocking! Twenty thousand sitting, stock silent! It was the highlight of my life!
Sometimes it looks like the other side is going to win. Where is God? Why doesn't He show His power more? Why aren't millions coming to hear about God? But somehow it's going to happen. Someday God is going to show His power, and stadiums are going to be full of people coming to hear about God. I don't want to sleep through it. I'm not afraid.
4. Good news! “‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy'” (Luke 2:10).
Everything about God is good news. There can't be some good news, some bad news, and as long as there is more good than bad, we can give God a C+ and let Him pass. No, it has to be all good news.
Once in Pasadena, California, we went to a wedding. The wedding came right during the seventh game of the playoffs between the Lakers and Portland basketball teams. The moment we got back in the car to go to the reception, our boys turned on the radio. The Lakers were down 15 or 18. We got to the parking lot for the reception, and I started to turn the car off. The boys began to cry, “Dad, you can't turn it off now.” We looked around the parking lot, nobody else was getting out either!
Finally my wife said, “Dan, we have to go. We're going to be late.” So I turned it off, and the boys sullenly dragged themselves out of the car. But five minutes into the reception, the buzz began to spread, “Did you hear, the Lakers won! They came back!” In five minutes, everybody heard. Why? Because it was good news.
Maybe the reason the gospel hasn't gone all around the world yet is that we haven't been convinced ourselves that we have only Good News!
5. Great joy! “‘I bring you good news of great joy'” (Luke 2:10).
The other night I came home, and my wife happened to be watching Elton John in concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. I had never heard him. I watched as 35,000 people, my age, stood for two hours, singing along, and knew all the words. But I was a little sad, saying to myself, “When is something like this is going to happen for God?” Our worship services have to be alive. As Christians, we have to be the most alive people in the world, because the angels said they bring us good news of great joy.
6. A Savior is born! “‘Today… a Savior has been born to you'” (Luke 2:11).
When we get this “church” thing figured right once and for all, it will be totally focused on Christ. Every sermon will be centered on Christ. Every doctrine will flow out of being a follower of Christ. Salvation will be grace alone, because “‘today…a Savior has been born.'”
In 1994, in Rwanda, with all the killing, people began to seek refuge in the churches. One morning, all of a sudden a group forced its way into a Christian church, running from a gang of thugs dressed in fatigues. Their “commanding officer” ordered all members present to lie down, and then walk up to a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall, spat on it, and say, “Jesus, you are useless, I want nothing to do with you.” Then the minister walked up to the picture, spat on it, and said, “Jesus, you are useless. I want nothing to do with you.” A few leaders in the congregation followed.
Finally one young girl walked up, took her skirt, wiped away all the spit, and said, “Jesus, You are the most important person in my life. I am the one who is useless.” Then she turned to the commander and said, “You can shoot me now!” The officer began to cry, took off his cap, and put it on her. It broke his heart to see someone willing to die for Christ. Our final, last-day church is going to be full of faithful disciples of Christ like that.
7. For all the people. “‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people'” (Luke 2:10).
In our last-day church, there will be no walls, no discrimination, no hierarchies. We grew up singing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight,” but we didn't do it. In many parts of the world we have allowed unbiblical discrimination and prejudice to guide our decisions, even today. As Adventists we have made progress in social and ethnic issues, but we still have a ways to go.
When he was preaching to a black audience, Pastor H.M.S. Richards, Sr. would sometimes shout, “There will be no black people in heaven.” Silence. “There will be no black people in heaven!” People would begin to get angry. Then he would say, “There will be no brown people either. No white people. Only red people, red in the blood of the Lamb.” All the walls will come tumbling down.
8. Freedom. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Too many of us have grown up not feeling free. People have kept the Sabbath, given their tithe and offerings, changed their diet, taken off their jewelry, but it didn't feel free. If your religion doesn't feel free, then it didn't come from the Spirit. Because, “where the Spirit…is, there is freedom.”
9. Has to make sense. “‘Come now, let us reason together'” (Isaiah 1:18); “‘Love God with all your heart, your soul, and with all your mind'” (Matthew 22:37).
Everything about the last-day Adventist Church has to be anchored in Scripture, centered in Christ, and make sense. Because it is God's church, and God has to make sense. We used to say that you couldn't go to the theater, but you could watch movies at the school gym. No, the place wasn't the issue. It was what the movie might do to your soul. Everything we say has to make sense, because God is never arbitrary. People have to know that they are making an intentional choice, with their eyes wide open. Choosing is an upgrade, a bigger truth, a better truth.
10. I am not ashamed. “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16).
As I gradually worked through my Adventism with this list–I finally ended up with a Christianity and Adventism I could be proud of. I refuse to believe anything I have to be ashamed of.
Years ago I did a funeral for a rich family. These people had everything–mansion, yacht, airplane, everything. I was sitting there coveting some of what they had when one of the men in the family came up to me and asked, “Do you believe what you said today during the funeral service?”
“I don't. I used to. I wish I could again. Maybe if I had a pastor like you, I could believe again.”
And I was shocked to realize I had been sitting there wishing I had what he had, and he was wishing he had what I had. And I vowed I would never be ashamed again. I am proud to be a Christian, proud to be a Seventh-day Adventist. It has the best picture of God I know. The best package of truth I know. The truest to the Bible I know.
Dick Winn wrote once that if you are unhappy with the church you have some choices. You can stay but just go numb, keep up appearances. Or you can slip out the back door. Or you can get mad, go out the front door. Or you can go “a la carte,” pick and choose your beliefs; you don't have to throw everything out just because you have some trouble with one part. Keep what works for you!
Or you can stay and work. Make it better. And that's what I have chosen. I have gone through theological controversies. I had friends of mine leaving the church, even abandoning the ministry. I looked at that. But finally I decided, I am going to stay. If you and I leave, then the other people get to have the final say about what the church becomes. If you leave, you don't get a vote. So I chose to stay. As long as I have a pulpit or you have your role in the church, we have some say, and we can work to make the Adventist Church all it ought to be. So stay! Decide today that nothing can drive you out–no hypocrisy, no politics, nothing. Stay. Love the church, because Jesus loves the church, and died for the church.
Dan Smith is the senior pastor of the La Sierra University Church in Riverside, California, U.S.A. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* All Scripture quotations in this article are from New International Version.