How effective is the Seventh-day Adventist Church in revealing the principles of God’s kingdom of grace in contemporary society through the committed integration of its members in the life of communities? Are the church members acknowledged in their cultural milieu as “people who are always talking about Christos, the Christ people, the Christians”?1  How do Jesus’s words I have sent them into the world (John 17:18) align with the main focus of the church’s mission?

Sent to the World

In response to Christ’s challenge in Matthew 24:14, the Seventh-day Adventist Church solemnly proclaims the gospel with ardor. The task’s urgency generates an ongoing drive toward innovative programs, alternative methodologies, and tireless efforts to reach people’s hearts. The command to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) signifies its reason for existence and the pinnacle of the church’s mission. Consequentially, the church engages in spirited activities to produce numerical growth as justifiable evidence of its organizational success.

However, Jesus’s imperative command “to go” calls for a more profound sense of engagement. While it directed the disciples’ minds to a precisely defined future responsibility, the same phrase, to go, in Matthew (28:7; 28:10) challenged the disciples to experience a retrospective reflection of lost vision, a journey toward a renewed commitment to the resurrected Jesus and a revitalized meaning of His death and resurrection. Before they could cross cultural boundaries and engage in the mandate of making disciples of all nations, they had to grasp the nature of God’s mission to the world expressed by Jesus (see John 3:16). The instruction was clear: Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me (Matthew 28:10). In this post-resurrection encounter, the disciples would recapture the crux of the gospel, the living Savior whose relational presence heals the pain of shattered dreams.

The heart of God’s mission to the world entails more than sharing a tantalizing story. Kraft asserts that “[t]he fact that God became a human being to reach human beings is not only relevant as a technique for putting his messages across […] Christianity is Someone to follow, not simply information to assimilate. And that Someone came in love and power, demonstrating God to humans.” 2 In other words, Jesus is the focal point of God’s mission to the world.

For this purpose, Jesus framed the designated task of sending disciples to the world in the context of God’s designed purpose. Jesus prayed, As you [Father] have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18). In Matthew’s narrative, the use of the word “go,” in both its imperative command and reflective context, modifies the church’s urge toward frantic activities driven by responses to cultural and societal demands and values and often self-glorification. It calls for renewed reflection on the church’s purpose in the world. Lesslie Newbigin reasons that “[t]he church exists not for itself and not for its members but as a sign, agent, and foretaste of the kingdom of God.” 3 In this context, the news about the resurrected Jesus is not a neatly packaged Christmas story to be placed habitually under the glittering lights of the Christmas tree. It stands for life, a different quality of life wrapped in hope, acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, identity, and purpose. To go means to absorb the full passion of God’s heart, with which “it is impossible to give faithful witness to the gospel while being indifferent to the situation of the hungry, the sick, the victims of human inhumanity.” 4 It means to serve the world as Jesus served: in the marketplaces, businesses, places of education, people’s homes, and even on the streets.

A few years ago, a secular-minded respite nurse who attended my aged and blind mother-in-law discussed the purpose of Christmas festivities with my wife. Brenda shared with her the Christmas story—the Jesus story. To her surprise, the nurse asked, “But who is Jesus?” Her response awakened the realization of our lack of awareness to understand the reality of the existing cultural barriers.

The members of the church who are invited, as were the disciples, need to step bravely into the depth of human ignorance and brokenness with a refreshed passion discerning the cultural beat of people’s hearts, songs of lost dreams, and respond with “the same relational message he [Jesus] carried—to love as he loved, to accept as he accepted, to free people from demons and other types of captivity as he freed, to speak as he spoke.” 5 In other words, the church is not called to just disperse doctrinal information about God, but to integrate the principles of Jesus’s life in every facet of life experience—to be in the world, but not of the world and to make Jesus known.

In the World? Really, What Have We Missed?

A reflective analysis of the church’s influence on contemporary culture in the Western world exposes a challenging disorder in its missional pursuits. A recent report on “Community Perception of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” in Australia and New Zealand highlights the nature of the problem.6 The results of the study are staggering. One-third of the survey participants said they knew nothing about the Adventist Church. Despite all the efforts to evangelize and share the good things Adventists offer in education, health, and service activities, the church struggles with community awareness.

When asked what three words came to mind when thinking about the church, most participants were baffled, but the most common response was “none,” followed by “unfamiliar” and “different.” Further, 70 percent of New Zealanders and 66 percent of Australians believe that the Adventist Church emphasizes doctrine more than relationships.7 In the report’s opening statement, Tracey Bridcutt asserts that the “Adventist church has a significant identity issue and needs to seek opportunities to help people understand its relevance.” 8 In the report, the South Pacific Division President remarked, “Our God and His message do need to connect with people.” 9

How can the church maintain a distinctive identity and, at the same time, enhance its connection with contemporary culture? Suffice it to say, the problem is not a lack of missional activities through various programs, the production of resources, or claims of accomplishments. Still, maybe amid all the haste and well-intended activities, the church has lost its focus on the nature of God’s mission.

Not of the World

Jesus’s prayer in John 17:1–25 confronted his followers with a challenging pragmatic paradox; namely, the vision of a Christian life immersed in a world of different values, behavioral principles, and cultural practices, but a world that Jesus inundated with the qualities flowing from God’s kingdom of grace. Jesus’ announcement about his departure, I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world (John 17:11), placed his followers in such an existential reality, but with a sense of a revived identity entrenched in God and Jesus. So, Christians are not of the world, but as Christ’s followers, they are entrusted with a unique message.

As Kathy Howard observes, “Our goal as the followers of Christ is to actively engage our culture with the Gospel without allowing the culture’s ungodly morals, values, attitudes, and behaviors to infiltrate our lives. Unfortunately, many Christians struggle to get it right.” 10 Others tend to isolate themselves from the cultural influences hiding in spaces of holiness, assuming it is easier to live by God’s standards.11

One may ask, “Is it then possible to consider that the lack of an expressed secure identity generates a cover-up in the form of overactivity and attempts to define the passion of God’s heart in terms of doctrinal purity and theological arguments?” Leon Morris maintains that “to know God means more than knowing the way of life.” 12 In other words, it means more than providing a chart of alternative views. He argues that “[t]o know Him transforms a man and introduces him to a different quality of living. Eternal life is simply the knowledge of God.” 13  The heart of the Christian identity and empowerment for discipleship and mission flows from God’s heart (see Romans 5:1–5).

Conclusive Reflection

Jesus’s invitation to go and make disciples of all nations, framed in the experience of a retrospective reflection of the lost vision, challenged his followers to recapture the joy of His presence, a restored sense of forgiveness, identity, and acceptance. Jesus said, I am still in the world so that they may have a full measure of my joy within them (John 17:13). The refreshed vision of Christ’s incarnational mission, raised in the disciples’ minds a view of a “journey to unknown places where they encounter God’s presence in a new way.” 14 In this spirit, Jesus inspired them to cross the barriers of relational and religious isolation, doctrinal purity, and cultural and national differences to build bridges of trust, unconditional friendship, and acceptance in places where God’s Spirit is already at work—the everyday cultural marketplaces where people walk and talk. Perhaps this is the lost vision the Seventh-day Adventist Church needs to reclaim and restore.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

1  Bruce, F. F. (1979). Commentary on the Book of Acts. Eerdmans, p. 241.

2  Kraft, C.H. (1999). Communicating Jesus’ Way. William Carey Library, p. 47.

3 Newbigin, L. (1989). The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society. Eerdmans, p. 136.

4  Ibid.

5  Ibid.

6  Bridcutt, T. (2022, October 14). “Community Perception of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Record.

7  Ibid. The study was commissioned by the South Pacific Division and was been conducted over a decade ago by McCrindle, a Sydney-based research company.

8  Ibid.

9  Ibid.

10  Howard, K. (2022, June 24) ”What does it Mean to be in the World but not of it.” Crosswalk.

11  Ibid.

12  Morris, L. (1971). Commentary on the Book of Acts. Eerdmans, p. 719–720.

13  Ibid.

14  Hirsh, A. (2006). The Forgotten Ways.  Blazen Press, p. 221.