The Common Problem
Two of my best friends left the church in the last year. Both of them went through Adventist Education from kindergarten through graduate school. Both come from Adventist families that have been members of the church for generations. Both of them are financially successful, respected, and well-liked by their peers, colleagues, and former Church communities. They were active in their local churches, never let meat touch their lips, never consumed alcohol, and generally were shining examples of traditional Adventism. But recently, quite independently, they stopped going to church and informed their communities they no longer considered themselves Seventh-day Adventists.
Both of my friends told me, “the church is no longer relevant to my life.” To them, the corporate church’s struggles over women’s ordination are irrational and archaic, the church’s leadership at multiple levels is ineffectual and inconsequential to their spiritual well-being, and they feel widows and orphans received little benefit from their tithe dollars (James 1:27). For them, Adventism became spiritually and mentally draining rather than sustaining. It was something they constantly needed to justify to themselves and others.
For the most part they continue to believe the 28 Fundamental Beliefs in some capacity, but are so dismayed by the church’s execution of the Gospel Commission they simply lost faith in the church.
You probably know someone who has had a similar church journey. Maybe you can relate yourself. The relevancy issue is a common problem in our church, and Christianity in general, throughout North America. According to the Pew Research Center, each year, approximately 1 percent fewer American adults “describe themselves as Christians.”The inability of our church and its members to demonstrate the relevancy of Seventh-day Adventism is one of the greatest challenges we face as a denomination in this territory. There’s nothing wrong with the Gospel Message or the Adventist interpretation of it, but how we are representing our beliefs is limiting us.
Seventh-day Adventism has a rare set of applicable beliefs that can be readily put into action in our day-to-day lives. Like other Christians, we are called to be Christ-like, and share Christ’s love with others, but our doctrines about how we do so are so amazingly poignant for our modern world it strikes me as only Divinely-inspired. Whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, educated or illiterate, Adventism has something remarkably special to offer.
Seventh-day Adventism, as inspired by God, has many answers to society’s and our own individual challenges. The answer starts with Jesus Christ. As our Lord and Savior, He wants the best for us in all things, and that doesn’t mean just in heaven. Jesus wants the best for us in the here and now, not only in the hereafter. The Seventh-day Adventist interpretation of the Bible gives us an extremely pragmatic roadmap for how Christ’s love can show us an alternative to the world’s pain and suffering today, right now.
One of our core beliefs as Adventists is in the value of physical and mental health. You might not be able to see it when you look around at the people who congregate in your church sanctuary, or sense it when you read how your fellow members interact on social media. Yet, the Adventist value of protecting and developing the health of the whole person is an incredible foundation for mitigating pain and suffering in this life.
I recently learned that 71 percent of the people who live in the county where I live in Michigan are either “overweight or obese.”Now consider for a moment what that means for nearly 3 out of every 4 people who are my neighbors. This means higher rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, gallstones, and depression — just to name a few of the problems associated with obesity.The Adventist health message, if properly shared and modeled, has an answer to some of the most undesirable health issues a person can face. This is not something to be taken lightly, this is a division-wide problem Seventh-day Adventists can directly help with.
One of my favorite doctrines is the Sabbath. It provides a solution to so many of the crises we face in the twenty-first century. Here are several distressing statistics on American society’s challenges the Sabbath and our health message can help alleviate. Stress causes 1 million Americans to miss work every day.Suicide is the 10thleading cause of death in the U.S., with 47,173 suicides taking place in 2017. In 2017, there were 1.3 million suicide attempts in the U.S.Almost 1 in 2 people report “strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships.”Obviously, we are a stressed out, lonely, and sad people in need of a Savior.
This is why I’m so thrilled about the Sabbath. I get stressed out, I get lonely, and I’m disposed to negative thoughts just like everyone else, but for an entire day once a week, I focus on God, rest, family, and friends. Because of the Sabbath and the health message, my mind, body, and spirit are clear, rested, and rejuvenated. My God knows what I need to be healthy, and the community my church has given me supports me and those I love from so many of the crushing relational and stress related issues we face in North America.
By emphasizing a vegetarian lifestyle and the belief that God cares about His Creation and doesn’t want to see it meaninglessly destroyed, Adventists, sometimes unknowingly, espouse environmental stewardship. About three quarters of Americans believe global warming is taking place, and “53 percent believe it is attributable to human activity.”Regardless of your views on global warming, caring about our planet (aka God’s Creation) is something most people take seriously, and something we as Adventists should be proud of.
Depending on who you ask, the Adventist educational system is either the largest or second largest system in the world, and although education isn’t necessarily a doctrine, it is something we as Adventists take seriously. Every year, Adventists invest billions of dollars in uplifting students to know their Creator and to be ministers in a host of different professions around the globe.
Adventist investment in education is an incredibly consequential service-oriented and socially-minded ministry. Education reduces poverty, increases income, improves health, strengthens economies, decreases infant mortality, makes countries more peaceful, improves gender equality, and combats serious disease. In short, Adventist education changes the lives of millions of people every year, and I am one of them.
Although there are a host of other ways in which Adventism is relevant to the world, I’d like to mention one that resonates with all of us who are hurting, broken, anxious, and depressed. Hope. The “Advent” in Seventh-day Adventist comes from our belief that Jesus will soon return to earth and take us to heaven. We don’t live a nihilistic existence where good things happen only by accident and nothing really matters. We know God’s return is imminent and all of our pain and suffering are only temporary. Martin Luther once said, “Everything that is done in this world is done with hope,” and so I’m happy to have it.
I believe in the aforementioned blessings offered by Adventist doctrines, and yet, I would be lying if I didn’t state that I am also frustrated by the corporate church and its members. There are times when I want to walk away, and it would be easy for me to do so, because Adventism has equipped me with the values, traditions, and general personal foundation to allow me to live a happy, healthy, and productive life.
By the grace of God, Adventism has given me a worldview by which I can bypass so many of the avoidable problems society faces. I am the product of Seventh-day Adventism, and a beneficiary of the blessings that adherence to its beliefs and Christ’s love offer.
But I believe those of us who have also reaped the rewards of Adventism, have a responsibility to the church to repay what it has given us. The responsibility is to try to be a blessing to the community of faith that we benefited and continue to benefit from on a daily basis. I refuse to turn my back on something that has given me so much, especially in its hour of need.
Although I am sometimes frustrated with the church, and understand wanting to walk away, it is not frustration with the church’s beliefs, but rather with the people that make up the church.
It’s important to remember that people, all of us, are flawed. We often get in our own way.
People will come and go, but truth remains, and I can work with truth.
— Adam Fenner, Ph.D., is director of the Adventist Learning Community.
Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” May 12, 2015, accessed at: https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.
John Matuszak, “Berrien obesity rates are alarming,” The Hearld-Palladium, June 7, 2012: accessed at: https://www.heraldpalladium.com/localnews/berrien-obesity-rates-are-alarming/article_19de58c3-0e8f-5859-8415-e70607e94bbd.html.
Arthur C. Brooks, “How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart,” The New York Times, November 23,2018: accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/opinion/loneliness-political-polarization.html.
Josh Kurtz, “Millennials’ Climate Views Could Sway 10 House Elections This November,” E&E News, March 5, 2018: access at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/millennials-rsquo-climate-views-could-sway-10-house-elections-this-november/.