This article, which appeared in the Jan. 2022 Adventist Journey magazine, is adapted from the Oct. 30, 2021, North American Division (NAD) year-end meeting sermon entitled “More Than a Denomination,” given by G. Alexander Bryant. Some characteristics of the oral presentation remain. — Editors.
All through the Bible we see evidence in which God has used people to do His bidding and to carry His message. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is no different. And we are more than a denomination. We are a prophetic movement.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was born out of prophecy, the church coming out of the wilderness, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (see Rev. 12:17). That’s who we are. We sometimes squabble over whether we should be more focused on the gospel, the righteousness of Christ, or whether we should be more focused on the final message to the world, but the truth is, God has called His people to proclaim both messages: the message of Christ’s soon return and the message of righteousness by faith, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what the three angels’ messages teach us. That is the final message that is to go out to the world.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is called to do both: we’re to lead people into a loving relationship with Jesus; and we’re to tell the world that Jesus is soon to come. We have a dual responsibility. God didn’t call us, however, because we were special, or because we were better than anyone else. And even having this message does not make us better than anyone else. It just says God has given us the assignment to warn people that He is soon to return—and let them know that He loves them with an everlasting love.
The Bible teaches us that we aren’t special or better. “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people” (Deut. 7:7, KJV). God is telling Israel, I didn’t choose you because you were better. I didn’t choose you because you were bigger. I didn’t choose you because you were richer. But I did choose you to accomplish a prophetic assignment.
We are a prophetic movement, but we are also a place of hope and wholeness. You know, sometimes we think that because God has given us a special assignment, we are “it.” But remember the text that says, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold” (John 10:16, KJV). That’s God’s kingdom. One Shepherd. But His kingdom is broader than this church. And you can be a part of the kingdom and not part of the church. You can also be a member of the church and not part of the kingdom. God has other sheep, but He also has a special assignment for a chosen people: to tell the world that He’s soon to return; and that He loves us all with an everlasting love.
Centered on Jesus
This is the very essence of the three angels’ messages. The first angel’s message proclaims with a clarion call the gospel of Jesus. And the gospel is good news, the hope for humankind. God has given this message to His church in these last days to tell the world that there’s hope — in spite of all the hopelessness around us, God has called this people to declare the hope that He has for the world.
We should never let people think that our church and our message is not centered in Jesus. No one should ever preach Jesus more than this church, because without Jesus, this church doesn’t exist. This church is nothing without Jesus; this church has no message without Him.
If you ever want to know what this church stands for, go read what the church believes. Don’t just listen to what people say, go read what the church said — read our beliefs, the foundational truths on which we stand.
The three angels’ messages are relevant to the times we’re living. They speak to justice. Creation is in there. They let people know that, in spite of how difficult this world is today, there is hope. God has a sure future for those He created in His image. We are a prophetic movement, a place of hope and wholeness, and a proclaimer of God’s final message.
Sound the Alarm
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and I remember practicing tornado drills in grade school. Sirens would sound when there was the threat of a tornado. People had studied the atmospheric conditions enough to know when the conditions were right for a tornado, and whether it was a tornado warning or a tornado watch. A tornado watch can be issued hours in advance; it simply says that the conditions are ripe for a tornado to take place. Things might change suddenly, so people need to be alert and be vigilant. A tornado warning meant that a tornado had been spotted by the radar system, or a tornado had touched down and had been witnessed by someone. Whenever a tornado warning went out, the sirens would go off, and people would take shelter because a tornado had been spotted or was on the way.
We know that a tornado is just around the corner. God says to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I’ve set you on the walls of Zion to warn them for Me. Tell them that the atmospheric conditions are ripe. I’m about to return. God has called us to sound the alarm. The atmospheric conditions are right. Tornadoes have been spotted on the radar. One touched down during the killing of George Floyd. I saw another touch down during the coronavirus pandemic. I saw it touch down during the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. I saw it touch down in the turmoil over in Afghanistan. I saw it touch down on the streets of Myanmar. I saw it touch down on the Mexico border. I saw it touch down in Haiti. . . . The Lord has called the Seventh-day Adventist Church to warn the world that a tornado is coming. The conditions are right. The tornadoes have touched down.
The purpose of the warning is to give people an opportunity to prepare. You can’t force people to act or take cover. Back when I was in school, there were some people who’d just walk up the street or drive down the street ignoring the cry of the siren. But the siren had done its job.
You can’t force people to take action. But it’s almost criminal not to warn people that the tornado is coming. Oh, my brothers and my sisters, it’s criminal to know the tornado is coming—to see the signs as we know them, to see it coming over the horizon, and stay quiet. It’s criminal to have a bullhorn on your desk and a megaphone in your car seat, and you don’t warn the world, letting them know that the tornado is on its way and that Jesus is about to come! There is no excuse—God says one of the purposes of the church is not only to warn the people who will listen, but also to warn the people who will not listen.
Beyond the Devil’s Distractions
The devil brings all these challenges into the church — theological debate, a squabble over this, a squabble over that. What is his intent? His goal is to keep us distracted from doing the mission that God has called us to do. We spend our time either afraid of the challenges or fighting each other.
The devil is no match for the church when we’re steadfast in doing the work God has called us to do, because the church does it in the power of God. And so the devil says, The best way I can mess the church up is to distract them. Get them arguing over the coronavirus vaccination, get them arguing over wearing face masks, get them arguing over women’s ordination. Get them arguing because as long as they’re arguing, they’re not doing the mission. Distract them because they’re out to win our subjects from us.
God says, I’m looking for a church, and a people who will stay focused on the purpose for which I brought them into existence. I want my people to tell others that I love them. To tell them there’s a God who cares and is coming back.
My brothers and sisters, the church has challenges. But I’m so glad the church doesn’t stand by itself. We have a mighty weapon. Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18, KJV). Jesus understands how the enemy fights, and He understands how we must fight to be successful.
Sometimes we get mixed up and confused, and we play defense. But God has not called this church to play defense; God has called this church to play offense. When the subjects for whom Jesus Christ gave His life receive His power, and they go out and do what God has called them to do, the church becomes more than a denomination. We are a prophetic movement; we are a place of hope, and we are proclaimers of the last message God has for this world.
The Bible says when we, the church of the living God, take up our armor and move forward in the name and power of God (see Eph. 6:11), there’s nothing the devil can do to stop us. We are an unstoppable force. Yes, we have challenges, but the gates of hell shall not prevail. When we have difficulties, the gates of hell shall not prevail. When we have errant theology being taught, the gates of hell shall not prevail. When there is more mission field than mission people, the gates of hell shall not prevail. The church will survive the devil’s challenges. The church will be triumphant. It may rock to and fro, and it may appear that it’s about to fail. But it will not fail. It’s built upon the Rock, Christ Jesus.
We are a prophetic movement, a place of hope, a proclaimer of God’s final message.
God says this about His church through His servant Ellen White: “The church of Christ, enfeebled and defective as it may be, is the only object on earth on which He bestows His supreme regard. While He extends to all the world His invitation to come to Him and be saved, He commissions His angels to render divine help to every soul that cometh to Him in repentance and contrition, and He comes personally by His Holy Spirit into the midst of His church.”* The church is not perfect because you’re in it and I’m in it. But in spite of its challenges, God says, I called My church, and I’m going to guide it safely through.
Will you today say, “Lord, I’ll be Your mouthpiece”?
Time is running out on us. Time is running out on accepting the grace God gives so abundantly. May we, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, cry aloud, and spare not a moment. May we lift up our voices like trumpets and let the world know Jesus is soon to come. May we take on the responsibility, be more than a denomination—and soon the Lord will come, and we will go home.
* Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 15.
— G. Alexander Bryant is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.