Friday, March 11, 2016

The Tension of Being Seventh-day Adventist

Introduction: What's in a Name?

What’s in a name? A lot - when it comes to the name Seventh-day Adventist.* Understanding our name leads us to a greater understanding of and involvement in the Great Controversy between good and evil. It demonstrates and challenges involvement in both God’s glory and His creation.

What does the name Seventh-day Adventist mean to you? Does it inform your daily life? Some ask this question by saying, “Are a Seventh-day Adventist or a SEVEN-day Adventist?” Meaning does the name of your denomination define your church or your life? Let’s explore what it means to be focused on and driven by both the “Seventh-day” and the “Adventist” that combine to identify us as a people.

“Seventh-day” Adventist

The first part - “Seventh-day” - reaches back.

For ancient Israel, Sabbath was a reminder of freedom from the oppression of Egypt. In Deuteronomy, as Moses recounts the commandments of God to the people of Israel prior to entering the Promised Land, he says, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15).**

They were slaves in Egypt. We were slaves to sin. God planned and executed a perfect rescue mission. He saved His people - both now and then, us and them. Sabbath recognizes and remembers our freedom from sin, our salvation, our abandonment of all that is from the old life. On Sabbath we stop pining for Egypt. We rest. We worship. We reconcile. We celebrate. On Sabbath, we remember.

“Seventy-day” reaches even further back than the Egypt rescue mission. It reaches to a time before humanity needed saving from anything. A time of perfection. A time of beginnings. A time when God walked the Earth with mankind. Sabbath is a reminder that our God is the Creator of all that is good. “By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation” (Genesis 2:2-3).

We were created to live in cooperation with creation. We are to care for it, to work the ground, to rest the ground. “God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). And the next day, He rested - as a memorial of creation. The Sabbath reminds us to care about creation. Resting is a big part of that. We are not to overuse or abuse the Earth or our own bodies. The seventh day, each week, is a day to remember not just that you are free from slavery to sin, but that you were created in God’s image.

There is much more that could be said about the first half of the Seventh-day Adventist name. Isaiah, speaking for God, promises this special day of communion, memory and promise will exist forever when he writes, “All mankind will come to worship Me from one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another” (Isaiah 66:23). The Sabbath - the seventh-day - is from creation to eternity.

But “Seventh-day” is only half of what the name Seventh-day Adventist represents.

Seventh-day “Adventist”

The second part - “Adventist” - reaches forward.

Starting again with Israel, the hope for salvation was embedded in their culture and faith from the moment of God’s first prophecy - His promise to Satan, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). From day one, God had a plan to undo the devil - to conquer evil. And the Hebrew people knew this promise would come through the “seed” of our first parents. A Messiah would be born.

Messiah movements and moments sprouted often in the Old Testament time of expectation. Was David the Messiah? Was Cyrus? The prophets called both men God’s “Anointed” - an equally good translation is “Messiah”. In anticipation, the prophets reflected on God’s men - David, Moses, Abraham and Noah - the forbearers of the Hebrew faith. When the Messiah came - the Israelites believed - He would be great like these men. Like David, he would rule as a powerful King. Like Moses, he would stand against the evil oppressors and deliver people from bondage. Like Abraham, he would follow God with conviction. Like Noah he would build a safe place to protect the people from death and destruction.

But when the Messiah came, He came like Adam - a new Adam - the first of his kind. Jesus was both God and man. He came in His fullness. 100 Percent God. 100 Percent man. And in this God-man state, He showed the best of God and the best of humanity. But He looked nothing like powerful David, passionate Moses, faithful Abraham or persistent Noah. Jesus looked like any other average man. Until He opened His mouth in parables, His hands in healing and - ultimately - His heart in death. This first Advent - appearing of God - was expected and yet a surprise.

The second Advent - the return of this God-man as the King of the heavenly Kingdom He talked so much about - is imminent. Just as scripture spoke of the Messiah coming to save Israel, so it promises His return to save Earth - to make all things new. To recreate creation. To end death. To destroy the devil.

Just as they looked to the first Advent, the prophets look forward to the second Advent by reflecting back. Kingdoms have risen and fallen, Daniel said, from Media-Persia to Greece into four kingdoms that will fragment and fray at the edges until an eternal Kingdom comes - represented by a Rock falling from the sky obliterating all other kingdoms and spreading - like yeast in dough - to envelop the whole Earth.

The book of Revelation, in parable and metaphor, reveals the fall of Satan, the return of Jesus and the ultimate fulfilment of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.” Jesus speaks. Churches remember. A dragon falls. Angels bring messages. Beastly powers rule. Bowls overflow with wrath. Trumpets blare. The New Jerusalem. Recreated Earth. Eternal Emmanuel - God with us.

But, for now, we Adventists wait. In patient angst with hopeful hearts, we dare not sit by quietly - we call all humanity to Jesus, “Hear the three angels’ messages!” You can hear the death rattle in the throat of Satan, even now. Wars. Rumours of wars. Hate. Murder. Money. All the thrashing of a desperate dragon who knows his time is short. The signs are all around us.

This is what it means to be an “Adventist” - eyes peeled for the return of Jesus and a megaphone to our lips, calling the world to ready itself for the Kingdom of Rock coming to replace this fragmented world of sand.

But to be a complete Seventh-day Adventist, you need both parts of the name - both extremes - to work together, creating beauty through tension.

Conclusion: Faith In Tension

The first part, Seventh-day, reflects back on human history. Back to the moment we received forgiveness for and freedom from our slavery to sin. And back further, before Egypt - to the creation story - a time before sin. We celebrate the Sabbath, weekly, at the call of our Creator and in worship our Redeemer - as we look back.

The second part, Adventist, peers forward to a time to come when all prophecies will be fulfilled, all sin will be destroyed and all righteousness will be revealed. With anticipation we prepare ourselves and those around us through word and action. Looking forward we live in hope and assurance.

Reaching both forward and backward requires good balance. It takes careful planning and consistent refining. How are we to live up to the name of our name faith? Is it possible to be both “Seventh-day” and “Adventist” without downplaying one or the other?

As “Seventh-day” people reaching back should we, due to our commitment to God’s creation, focus on making this world a better place? Or, knowing it will all burn, should we focus solely on developing our character in preparation for the future Kingdom, abandoning our call to be stewards of the Earth?

As “Adventist” people reaching forward should we, due to our passion for the return of Jesus, spend our days studying prophecy, preaching to people and calling sin by its right name? Or, knowing that in Christ all are changed, should we focus our time on caring for the lost, hoping that by becoming all things to all people by all means we might save some?

Many have fallen in the ditches alongside the road of our faith, busying themselves with one passion or another. To be both “Seventh-day” and “Adventist” takes a constant tightening and trimming of our sails. Compromise is not the answer - we cannot let go of the Sabbath or the Second Coming. Combination is also not the answer - stirring them into some mixed broth of partial attention to both leaves us in watered-down lukewarmness. Our focus forward and backward must hold our attention equally.

Being a “Seventh-day Adventist” is to have a consistent and conscious grip on this Earth and the Kingdom to come - like pulling a length of rope tight in your hands. To relax either grip leaves you sagging. Releasing one end causes everything to fall apart. Pulling evenly, on both realities, provides a balanced place from which to work - focused forward, remembering.

Jesus was the best example of this balanced approach. Being fully man and fully God, He did not let go of either. Instead He held the two in tension. At times His humanity overwhelmed Him with tears - for lost friends, a lost city or His own death. Other times His divinity flashed through, knocking soldiers to the ground, “I am He!” or hinting at access beyond this world, “Do you not know I can call 10,000 angels?” Imagine the tug-of-war going on inside the mind of Jesus as He walked this world. He chose to reveal God in this way. Healing, forgiving, caring, feeding, praying, dying. Rising.

This is to be our story as well. Like Jesus, focused on the temporal needs of the poor and sick in first century Palestine, we mend the broken and heal the hurting in our world. And like Him, taking every possible chance to speak about the Kingdom of God even though it was beyond understanding, we proclaim the promised return of our Creator God-Man Redeemer King.

We all lean one way or another. What will you change in your approach to become more like Jesus and thus a more balanced Seventh-day Adventist?

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* This article was based on a podcast of a paper presented at the 2014 Spring Symposium of the Adventist Theological Society, held at Southern Adventist University. Read by author Jaques Doukan, the paper was titled: "The Tension of the Seventh-day Adventist Identity: An Existential & Eschatological Perspective.” (It's the top MP3 on this page)

** All Biblical quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

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