Friday, September 12, 2008

Why Study?

Legitimate questions arise as we undertake the study of the foundations and doctrines unique to Adventism. “Why should we study them? Isn’t this just a distraction from the gospel and from Jesus? Is this just another form of legalism and the religious spirit? Who cares about doctrines anyway? Who ever thinks about them?”

What we believe about Jesus is what we will transmit to those we take by the hand and lead into His presence.

Can we start from a position that all who repent and call in faith on the name of Jesus as our Savior have eternal life and are seated with Him in heavenly places? That is the foundation of our salvation. Sadly, it is not a given that a person steeped in Adventism will be certain of that position for themselves. There are deep fears about "being ready" and wondering in what ways they have offended a tabulating God. The spectre of a pen-holding deity with 'His Sheep May Safely Graze' by Cherry Brandstatermemory greater than any 
computer ever imagined is not a great comfort. The fear of standing before a Holy God without the covering of Jesus is enough to make the most arrogant tremble. Is that the dread we want to instill in others? Is that the Jesus we want to portray? Is that the heritage we want to pass on? Is that what we want to reproduce? What is Jesus really like? Our task must be to search and find what He has revealed of Himself in scripture and to let those truths replace distortions we may have inadvertently incorporated into our beliefs about Him. What we believe about Jesus is what we will transmit to those we take by the hand and lead into His presence. God has given us the scriptures for the purpose of bringing us into harmony with His heart and will. That’s what sound doctrine means.

The spirit of the world says, “You have your truth and I have my truth. It’s deluded and arrogant to believe that we can arrive at The Truth.” Intellectuals from academic institutions make proclamations from purely human derivations that the best we can hope to accomplish is to try to understand each others’ perspectives and come to accept that there is validity in all beliefs. Unfortunately, many in the Adventist Church have adopted the same position. If you are unaware of the emergent church movement within Adventism, you may want to familiarize yourself with that trend. This may be a place to start. Faith House is fully authorized by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. You can find the endorsements of well- known Adventist leaders on the site.

We are all hampered by weak and limited capacities to grasp the truth about God. But holding to a position that it is impossible for us to study the Bible and be led into “true truth," as Francis Schaeffer used to say, is denying the words and power of Jesus. When Jesus came before Pilate, that ruler reflected the same attitude of futility when he rhetorically asked Jesus, “What is truth?” There was no hesitation in Jesus' answer: “In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” John 18:37 (NIV)

When Jesus was reassuring His disciples He told them "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” John 14:15-17 (NIV) “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:13 (NIV)

So, is He able to do what he has promised? Does it depend on our weakness or His strength? Are all things possible in Him or not? Do we believe that we are only victims in this world or do we believe that Jesus can use us proactively to promote His kingdom? Do we join the world in 'Jesus, Whom My Soul Loves' by Cherry Brandstatersaying that truth is relative and unattainable or do we agree with Jesus when He tells us that He will send the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth?

Which is easier, to believe that the Holy Spirit can lead us into all truth or to believe that the Holy Spirit can use us to heal the sick and raise the dead? Neither one. They are both impossible without the supernatural intervention of God. Faith says that both are possible despite the lack of faith revealed in the world and despite our weakness.

Our reticence to study doctrine has many roots. Our distaste for the legalistic ways and means by which the distinctive beliefs of Adventism were presented and enforced is legitimate. The last thing we want to do is to revisit those attitudes. However, the vestiges of that history remain in us unperceived. We are frequently unaware that beliefs we hold dear came from extrabiblical sources, but perceived or not, they affect our pictures of God and how we present His Son to others. I keep finding things I believed to have come from scripture just to discover they came from the writings of Ellen White and are nowhere to be found in the Bible.
The Church is being called to examine the foundations of belief and to change or cast off anything that does not stand the test of scripture.
As we undertake the task of searching the scriptures to purify our foundations, remember that God has called us to this task. As I have spoken with others outside Adventism I have discovered that we are right in line with what the Holy Spirit is doing throughout the body of Christ. The Church is being called to examine the foundations of belief and to change or cast off anything that does not stand the test of scripture. How gracious of God not to leave us out of this move, just as He will not leave us out of the powerful outpouring of His Holy Spirit if we surrender every thought and every belief to His leading. Change is uncomfortable. But then, Jesus didn’t come to make us comfortable.

Paul is a role model to us in conducting the mission of the church. As Paul was mentoring Timothy in ways to evangelize and disciple the church, he admonished him with these words: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Tim 4:1-5 (NIV) “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Tim 4:16 (NIV)

To Titus he wrote, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” Titus 2:1 Paul was particularly zealous that people not be burdened or confused by laying on them the injunctions of the Old Covenant which he referred to as the circumcision party. He made this clear in his letter to Titus: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach.” Titus 1:9-11 (NIV) “This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth” Titus 1:13-14 (NIV). The purity of the gospel is the essence of sound doctrine and anything that distorts that message needs to be cast off.

The strongest commendation for studying is preserved in Acts as Paul praises the people of Berea with these words, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11 (NIV) It is a noble thing to investigate whether or not the beliefs we have embraced are based on truth. It is in this spirit that we pursue the study of our Adventist foundations.

One must question any person in authority who would discourage the people under their protection from studying the foundations of their faith from the Bible.
We have a responsibility to God, and to anyone we bring to Him through Jesus, to provide a picture of God that is as close to truth as possible. We can determine to be the worshipers God is seeking, those who value both Spirit and truth. He inspired Paul to admonish us to “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.” 2 Tim 2:15 (AMP) Far from bringing division, the pursuit of truth brings freedom and unity around the One Truth, Jesus Christ. One must question any person in authority who would discourage the people under their protection from studying the foundations of their faith from the Bible. It is clearly a mandate from God.

Many of us have held to Seventh-day Adventist beliefs since childhood. They have become a part of our DNA engrained at a subconscious level. It will not be a quick or easy task to fully examine the teachings we have taken into the core of our belief systems. But I believe we owe it to ourselves and to God to put forth the effort to hold onto the purest picture of God we can paint. And I believe that we need to be willing to renounce anything that does not line up with the word of God. I’m excited that you have decided to put aside any discomfort or fear you may have faced to get to this point. I know that God will honor the risk you have taken with powerful blessing.

We will begin our studies with the doctrine of the Sabbath (Ultimate Rest) followed by studies on the state of the dead (Spirit), the remnant status of Adventism and the prophetic foundation of the Adventist Church including the Investigative judgment (Faith or Fear?) and the writings and leadership of Ellen White.

Ultimate Rest Table of Contents
The Next Chapter: A ChallengeA look at the topics of discussion for the remaining chapters of "Ultimate Rest"

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