During one of my recent presentations, the interviewer posed the question: Do you consider yourself a liberal or conservative Seventh-day Adventist? Momentarily, the spontaneous and direct question stopped the flow of my thoughts, steering them toward in-depth personal cogitation. 

First, I wouldn’t say I appreciate being labeled. The confrontational nature of comparable questions reverts my mind into defensive alertness—a space of fear of being exposed to the darts of criticism, stifling the freedom to think freely and creatively. However, this momentary hiatus elicited soul-searching rumination on my beliefs, particularly my understanding of God’s self-revelation through Jesus as applied to my life’s journey.  

Second, the notion of conservatism scares me, as it tends to view the pathway of faith from a retrospective perspective that confines God to doctrinal expressions locked in time, a space of assumed security so often submerged in static boundaries of human assumptions, rather than a dynamic mystery of God who acts according to His will and mercy. As Quartey argues, “The core idea of conservatism—together with its close cousin, fundamentalism—is preservation: holding on to an idealized past in hopes of transmitting it “unadulterated” to future generations.” 1  The focus on preservation induces conservative, safeguarding, and replicative attitudes governed by the spirit of hegemony to secure established beliefs through compliance and control.

Consequently, the named qualities mold the progressive dynamism of faith into static informative expressions detached from its relevance to contemporary life. Simultaneously, the spirit of safeguarding generates an addictive power over what often is rationalized as the required capacity to defend the truth—a stance to “preserve a pristine or desirable past.” 2 

In contrast, my spiritual journey prompted me to engage with the progressively changing world in its social, cultural, environmental, and political domains. It empowers me to discern God’s presence in the turmoil of my doubts, failures, pain, disappointments, shouts of whys and scary moments of loneliness to understand His silence. This is my world, the world of today, the world embracing my life—a thirst to know and understand that God moves beyond the need to ensconce beliefs in the iconic vestiges of the past and habitual religious practices that tend to shape the patterns of religious addiction, i.e., habitual practices and rituals removed from the pathway of my struggles. 

Dale S. Ryan and Jeff VanVonderen described this space quite adequately: “At its root, religious addiction begins when our faith stops being about a spiritual connection with God and becomes instead an attempt to control our lives—or to control God—by behaving in certain ways.” 3  In that sense, I’m not a conservative Seventh-day Adventist, but I’m respectfully appreciative of my heritage and beliefs for another reason.

I connect with the story of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, which shaped the pioneers’ faith and recaptured inspirational experiences encoded in the narratives, rites, and images that transmit the passion of lives once lived—stories associated with struggles to understand God in the context of the pioneers’ time and culture. For this purpose, I immerse my thoughts in the memory lane of time. On this point, Halas defines memory’s fascinating and dynamic nature and function: “Memory consists of communicative acts transmitting reflexive knowledge about the past from the perspective of a future present.” 4  

Her view’s significance rests in the fact that this proposal no longer defines memory as turning exclusively toward the point in time locked into the distant past. It also highlights its dual function. She proceeds to make a compelling point: “Memory cannot be reduced only to a set of ideas about the past because it is linked with action and, thus, with an orientation toward the future.” 5 In her understanding, the ensuing reflexivity is not merely a static recollection of past events and beliefs, but rather a memory that determines “the transmission of meanings which will be formative for the future.” 6 For a moment, let’s review the story of how the past relates to the present in the context of a lived experience.

The pioneers’ lived experience.

Circa 1862, a time when the Seventh-day Adventist movement was experiencing transitional struggles to establish its identity, Ellen G. White made a fascinating observation: “We cannot be accepted or honored of God in rendering the same service, or doing the same works, that our fathers did. In order to be accepted and blessed of God as they [the forerunners of her generation] were, we must imitate their faithfulness and zeal—improve our light as they improved theirs—and do as they would have done had they lived in our day [emphasis added].” 7 Here, she stressed the interconnected relationship between the past and present. 

Simultaneously, her view highlighted elements of discontinuity concerning sameness as applied to the future present. In her mind, the memory of the past was critical, for it provided essential inspiration necessary for the ongoing progression of faith. This encompassed faithfulness, zeal, and a struggle to shape the contours of faith in the context of its time. However, in her understanding, faith moves beyond the boundaries of established beliefs encoded in the verbal expression of a particular generation, to a living faith relevant to its time and place. 

The depth of such spiritual experience translates into a meaningful contextualization of God’s presence in the fabric of human life, i.e., such a process enhances space for new negotiations, meditation, motivation, and nurturing that, in turn, builds the drive toward a meaningful comprehension of God and the passion of His heart. In this context, I’m not a conservative Seventh-day Adventist, nor a defender of truth, but an open-minded believer endeavoring to make sense of God’s presence in the history and complexity of life TODAY. Does this position make me a liberal Seventh-day Adventist?

Given the expressed thoughts, my understanding of the spiritual journey may align me with the freedom and attitude of liberty that I take to question traditional or orthodox positions and the emerging religious fundamentalism in my faith tradition. However, in the context of religious liberalism, determined to be emancipated from supernatural demands and the authority of the Bible as the source of God’s inspired revelation, I do not view myself as a liberal Seventh-day Adventist. Allow me to share a succinct response.

The history of Seventh-day Adventist heritage suggests that one of the foundational pioneering voices of the movement, Ellen G. White, maintained an open-minded and progressive understanding of God’s revelation. She maintained that growth in understanding God’s grace contributes to a clearer understanding of His Word, but that a decline in spiritual life tends to impact the advancement of truth. Her conclusion was rather enlightening: “Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative and seek to avoid discussion.” 8 Furthermore, she added, “There is no excuse for anyone taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our exposition of the Scripture (is) without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not proof that our ideas are infallible.” 9 Recapturing such inspirational guidance encoded in the pages of history motivates me to adopt an open-minded, progressive, and liberal approach to my understanding of God. 

But more to the point, an essential question requiring attention is: Am I identified as Christian, a follower of Jesus? In this context, Ellen G. White challenged the Church to recapture the memory of Jesus’ story as a historical event and a transformational motivator oriented toward the future. She wrote, “To all who profess to be Seventh-day Adventists, I would say, ‘You are entitled to the name of Christian only as you employ your talents in harmony with the plan of the Lord Jesus Christ, only as you are co-workers with God. The life of Christ is the only pattern that is safe for us to follow.’ ” 10  The outlined focus on a faith-oriented relationship with Jesus impacts my view of the origins of human life—its present purpose—and imparts my life with hope, providing a sense of security and inspirational motivation to embrace life’s journey with a renewed view of God that always is open to a deeper understanding of His love. 

A relationship with Jesus imparts boldness to relinquish status-quo traditions to embrace a contextualized and refreshed, but biblically grounded meaning of faith. It transforms the concept of leadership influence from a defensive, prescriptively authoritarian, and informative mode to an inspirational voice calling on people to visualize the incomprehensible benefits of God’s kingdom of grace. Thus, I wouldn’t say I appreciate being labeled as conservative or liberal, for primarily, I identify as a Christian, a Seventh-day Adventist, an open-minded believer, and a progressive thinker on a journey of faith with Jesus. 

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 Matthew Quartey, “The Paradox of Conservative Adventism,” https://spectrummagazine.org/views/2020/paradox-conservative-adventism 

2 Ibid.

3 Dale S. Ryan and Jeff VanVonderen, “When Religion Goes Bad: Part 2 Religious Addiction.” https://www.nacr.org/center-for-spirituality-and-recovery/when-religion-goes-bad-part-2-religious-addiction 

4 Hałas, Elżbieta. (2010). “Time and Memory: A Cultural Perspective.” TRAMES, 14(64/59), 314.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View: CA, 1948), 262.

8 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington: D.C.: Review and Herald, 1915), 38.

9 Ellen G. White, “Christ Our Hope” Review and Herald (December 20, 1892), para 1.

10 Ellen G. White, Lt 9, 1905.