A few months ago, I found myself in a delightful situation that I realized could likely only come as a result of being a Seventh-day Adventist. Needing to travel to the UK for my doctoral studies, I decided to go a few days early so I could—among other things—go to Newbold College to worship on Sabbath with the Adventist community there and connect with some old and new friends I’ve made along the way.

On Friday night, I was hosted by a couple who I’d met during my previous trip, with them graciously allowing me to stay in their guest room. That, in itself, was quite remarkable, since I was welcomed into the home of a family—with the husband from eastern Europe, and the wife the daughter of missionary parents who’d lived all around Europe and Asia—I didn’t even know existed 12 months before.

On top of that, we went to their friends’ home—both of whom were from Brazil—for dinner that evening. And as we crowded around their small table, in their tiny apartment in Newbold’s student housing, all eating pizza together and laughing, it suddenly hit me: in what other religious community could this experience be replicated?

There we were, some of us relative strangers to each other a few minutes before, experiencing the gift and joy of Sabbath, all from our various parts of the world—Brazil, Europe, Asia, America—eating Italian food together. It was the quintessential Adventist experience, a community in which you can go anywhere in the world and immediately find family.

And that, to me, is one of the gifts of Adventism—a faith community whose theology implicitly and explicitly appeals to and seeks to reach those from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people (Revelation 14:6).

It was the result of many converging factors—some theological, some cultural, some missional.

The Sabbath unites Adventists around the world, as we all commit to setting aside the seventh day of the week in order to celebrate God together and fellowship with one another.

Also, because we have strong institutions and annual gatherings—academies, universities, hospitals, camp meetings, prayer retreats—we all seem to know each other, or know someone who knows someone.

Similarly, because we have a worldwide mission, believing we’re called to share the gospel with everyone, there’s hardly a corner of the globe you might travel to where you won’t run in to someone who at least knows someone you know.

This is Adventism at its best—at least one way in which Adventism is at its best. When we can all sit at the table together, having a common understanding, a common language, a common mission, and a common belief in the sufficiency of God and his message of love to the world, it’s a powerful experience.

Of course, sometimes it can also be Adventism at its worst—promoting insularity, exclusiveness, arrogance, and navel-gazing. Instead of inspiring us to reach out to others, seeking to extend that same powerful community to them, it can often encourage us to stick to ourselves, as we congregate in Adventist “ghettos,” and criticize the culture around us (and especially ourselves).

But that is, I’d submit, a corrupted version of the beautiful message and mission of Adventism—and not its most authentic expression. When properly understood and embodied, the Adventist message and mission propels us into the world as we attempt to live out and extend a safe and Jesus-centered community to others.

The Koinonia of God

One of my favorite passages of Scripture of late has been the words John starts his first epistle with. There, he launches right into his message, sharing with his audience, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3, NKJV).

This is a thought pregnant with meaning. John testifies to the reality of God’s incarnation in Christ. He was a real person, whom the apostles heard, saw, and touched. He was also the center of their theological reflection, as they sought to pass along the Jesus-story to others.

But sharing the Jesus-story was for a specific purpose, he notes.

That, John says in verse 3, using a Greek word that signifies purpose, you also may have fellowship with us. In other words, they weren’t simply sharing the Jesus-story so others could hear it, accept it, and be saved. They weren’t merely preaching it so people could accept abstract teachings and check off doctrinal boxes. They weren’t merely sharing it so people could be safe against deception.

The purpose of John’s preaching of the Jesus-story was so that others could be drawn into fellowship with him and with other Jesus-followers.

The word for “fellowship” is the Greek word koinonia, which denotes the idea of communion or commonality. It’s coming into true community and experiencing a shared life. It is, to use a phrase that is quite popular today—and the recipient of an eye-roll or two—“doing life together.”

And that’s the whole point of the whole Jesus-story!

Not only that. John goes on to say that koinonia was not only to be shared amongst themselves, but it is, actually, to be shared with the Father and with the Son!

This is the end for which we were created and redeemed. It’s the reason we do evangelism or preach anything. The goal is not simply to get people to agree with us doctrinally. The goal is to draw people into community—safe, rich, beautiful, authentic, vulnerable, diverse, other-centered community—with the triune God and God’s family.

And I think that’s what Adventism—at its best—has the capacity to do.

Through our wonderful message centered on God’s character of love, which expunges false pictures of God (like an ever-burning hell, for starters), we have the chance to draw people into communion with God to greater depths than have been experienced in earth’s history before. They no longer have to run away from God out of fear but can allow His Spirit to draw them deeper into his heart of love.

And as we explore the depths of God’s love to greater degrees, it draws us into safe and authentic community with each other to greater degrees.

This is the precise point my good friend, Tihomir Lazić—who, quite incidentally, teaches at Newbold and also did his doctorate at Oxford—made in his doctoral dissertation, which was a reframing of the remnant concept within Adventism to have it focused on koinonia.

“The ultimate cause and basis of the church’s existence,” he thus writes in his dissertation, “is the whole-life response of the community of believers to the continuous presence, words, and actions of the Triune God, who dwells among them and draws them into mysterious union with himself and with each other.”

Indeed, he goes on to propose, echoing what I’ve outlined above, the whole purpose of mission and evangelism is to spread koinonia—to extend a safe and loving community to others, sharing life with them as we point to the God with whom they can ultimately share life.

I believe this is what God has always been after—seeking to help us recognize that he is chiefly defined as a relational being, whose ultimate hopes and dreams for us is to experience the warm, safe, and loving community of the Triune God for all eternity.

After all, this is eternal life, Jesus said, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).

This is, I’d submit, the end toward which our theology, our beliefs, our mission aims. And the degree to which we understand and embrace it, is the degree to which we will fulfill God’s purposes for Adventism.

Let us, therefore, find ourselves around those tables, sharing life with those from “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people,” doing what Adventism at its best so often does.

Shawn Brace is a pastor in Bangor, Maine, whose life, ministry, and writing focus on incarnational expressions of faith. The author of four books and a columnist for Adventist Review, he is also a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, focusing on nineteenth-century American Christianity. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @shawnbrace and sign up for his weekly newsletter at: shawnbrace.substack.com