Denomination Optional?

Do you have to be a Seventh-day Adventist in order to be saved? It’s an okay question to ask, of course, because the truth will never mind.

This is how a conference “President” answered that question not long ago:

“Of course you don’t have to be an Adventist to be saved or to spread the message.”

Okay… then what is the point of our church?

His answer? “The reason we’re organized is to be more efficient.”

Tell me, is the church really all that efficient? Please spare me the excuses.

Let’s explore the time-honored notion that a person must, in this day and age, be a “card-carrying” Adventist in order to be saved.

Perhaps we should first clarify what we mean when we say “church.”

When a person refers to “the church” they could really mean one of three things: a building, the body of believers (aka Christians) or an institution (or denomination). When we speak about the Adventist church, we are really talking about an institution which is made up of Christians who sometimes meet in buildings.

It’s interesting to note that both the institution and the buildings would be pointless—couldn’t even exist—without the body. But what if that statement were re-arranged—could you still have the body without the institution or the buildings?

Why yes, yes you could. Of course you could.

How many Christians have met in houses, or caves, or prison cells over the years or worshipped without a logo printed on their hymnals? Any of the groups or people from the Great Controversy ring a bell? What about the thief on the cross? Which organized religion did he belong to? What about people on islands with no outside contact?

Now suppose for a moment that you were approached by a person with the following request: “Show me—sola scriptura—where the Bible says a true Christian will only be known as a Seventh-day Adventist.” While we all know the words Seventh-day Adventist aren’t in the scriptures, the default Adventist reaction would probably be to point out a set of characteristics possessed by a certain group of people during a certain period of time in Earth’s history. But that’s not what the person was asking for—was it?

The question wasn’t, “What characteristics will define God’s people in Earth’s last days?” Because the answer to that question doesn’t point to the fact that a person’s name must be on the books of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

And what if the Seventh-day Adventist Church suddenly went bankrupt or was shut down by the government? That’s a very plausible end-time scenario. Would those who were members still consider themselves Adventists without a building to gather in, or a trademarked logo or name to be associated with or without a pastor being paid to preach to them? That’s an easy answer—of course they would. Nothing—and nobody—could ever reach into their hearts or minds to tear away their beliefs and convictions. Not then. Not right now.

And beliefs are the basis of Christianity. John 14:1 quotes Jesus as saying, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” Just a few verses later He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” As you already know, he sure didn’t say, “The Adventist church is the way, the truth and the life.” Yet I still have to ask myself, do some in the church love the church more than they love God? Is the denomination itself an idol to many?

Since Christians can love and help one another from anywhere and can use any residence, rented space or park to evangelize out of, to worship God, to study His Word, to pray, as a headquarters for doing good in the community around them, to baptize and learn to live Godly lives—what’s the point of organizing?

The Conference “President” I quoted above had it right: efficiency. Denominations should—in theory—allow members to be more dynamic, productive, competent and potent Christians. In short, denominations should be useful to membersespecially if they are contributing precious resources like time, attention and hard-earned money to it.

As a quick aside, yes time and attention are authentic forms of currency—a fact not lost on today’s marketers. The economics of the free Web are powered by user’s time and attention, without which powerhouse companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t exist.

But let’s play advocate on behalf of Adventism and assume that the institution will stick around until the end of time. Let’s pretend that it could never run itself into the ground. Who is to say an alternative group or two or ten with identical beliefs but differing cultures, strategies and methods can’t, or won’t, pop up and run to the finish line in parallel?

But hold on: what about preachers who put on “evangelistic” events and declare that the Adventist church is THE remnant church? Are they right or wrong?

Someone I know put it like this: “It’s mistaken, both theologically and chronologically, to call Sabbatarians the remnant at this time. The remnant arises when the dragon is mad at God’s commandment keepers. That’s not yet—we talk about the commandments but don’t keep them—lukewarm Laodicea. That’s only possible (ironically) when we lose the law for Christ’s sake—then find the law fulfilling in our lives. Romans 7. ”

Denomination optional?

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