What does it mean to be an authentic Seventh-day Adventist? At first glance, answering that question seems easy. It is all in our name, right? Seventh-day refers to our belief that the true Bible Sabbath falls on the seventh day of the week … Saturday. Our name also indicates we believe in the second coming of our Savior and eagerly await His soon return. Why would we need to add anything to this simple explanation coming from our name?

Yet, under this umbrella of our name, there have been many theological viewpoints held by many different people. So, over the years, there was some confusion as to what our church’s official stand was on various doctrine. As a church, we started with just a few pillars of doctrine that we stood for, deriving our beliefs from the Bible and the Bible alone. The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald put these five pillars on the front page of their magazine on August 15, 1854. Here is the list as they published it:

  1. “The Bible, and the Bible alone, the rule of faith and duty.‌‌”
  2. “The Law of God, as taught in the Old and New Testaments, unchangeable.‌‌”
  3. “The Personal Advent of Christ and the resurrection of the Just, before the Millennium.‌‌”
  4.  “The Earth restored to its Eden perfection and glory, the final inheritance of the Saints.‌‌”
  5. ‌‌”Immortality alone through Christ, to be given to the Saints at the Resurrection.‌‌”

The church came out with other lists of fundamental beliefs along the way, but in 1980, at the World Session of Seventh-day Adventist General Conference, a list of 27 fundamental beliefs was formed and voted in. It was made clear when this took place that this was not a creed, but rather a set of beliefs that guided our movement. At the 2005 General Conference Session, a 28th fundamental belief was added on the importance of “Growing in Christ.”

There are still a number of different theological thoughts people have within our church that go beyond what we have voted in for our 28 fundamental beliefs. Some members will even get quite angry if you disagree or try to refute them. We must make sure our umbrella for what makes an Adventist stays large enough for all of us to fit under, as long as we are together on the 28. After the 28, other theological positions may be correct, but are considered “private interpretations” until the church body votes on it at a General Conference Session.

So, is this what makes an authentic Adventist? Someone who believes these 28 fundamental beliefs and obeys and follows them on their life’s journey? These beliefs are certainly important to being an authentic Adventist, but I don’t believe they cover the whole picture.

To the Adventist, the Reformation is critically important. What Martin Luther and the other reformers did was to stand up for the Bible and the Bible alone as our rule of faith. The concept embraced by the reformers was one in which church dogma was not going to influence their thinking; their doctrine was to be based on what the Word of God was telling them. The reason we do not have a creed is that we must never stop studying and learning from scripture. In other words, the reformation needs to be ongoing, never stopping until Jesus comes.

In her book, Counsel to Writers and Editors, Ellen G. White makes the following statement (p. 35):

There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.

The Biblical Research Institute, which is part of the General Conference, has developed a process for someone to go through who wants to bring new light to our movement. I am thankful we have a process for new theological discoveries because it shows we are willing as a church to keep the Bible—not the 28 fundamental beliefs—as our authority.

So, beyond our name and what it stands for, beyond our 28 fundamental beliefs, and beyond being people of the Word who never stop studying to find new light to guide our path, there is one more attribute I believe we need to talk about in regard to being an authentic Adventist.

I believe an authentic Adventist will be someone who reflects the character of Christ. It is put this way in 2 Corinthians 3:18: So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (NLT). Reflecting Christ and His character is without question, one of the trademarks of an authentic Adventist.

What does it mean to reflect the character of Christ? My wife gave me a beautiful piece of metal artwork which has the fruits of the spirit flowing out from a tree and being gathered in a barrel. It hangs on the wall right across from my desk and I look at it every day I’m in the office. I quite often miss the mark, but those attributes make up the core of how I want to treat people in my journey—whether they are the clerk at the store, my neighbor, a church member, or someone I work with. These are the core values I hold on to.

Ellen G. White makes the following comment: “The object of the Christian life is fruit bearing—the reproduction of Christ’s character in the believer, that it may be reproduced in others … The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Gal. 5:22-23). This fruit can never perish, but will produce after its kind a harvest unto eternal life.” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 67-69). I believe an authentic Adventist is someone who is reflecting the fruits of the spirit, which best represents the character of God Himself.

Don’t pass over this qualification too quickly with the idea that the concept is simple and you don’t need to dwell on it. I believe this should be the subject of our prayers every day. And when we treat others with this kind of grace, we will be quite different from the rest of the world.

Are you filled with love for others … even the unlovable? Is there joy in your journey? Do you wake up excited about what kind of plans the Lord has for you that day? Are you at peace? Do you have that “peace that passes all understanding?” Are you patient? Are you patient with the people closest to you when they seem to be under a different time frame than you are working in? Are you kind? Are you kind even to those who are not kind to you? Are you kind to the person who just let you down in some way?

Are you full of goodness? Do you care for others around you with graciousness? Are you as gracious to your family as you are to others? Are you honest and do you display integrity in your daily walk? Are you faithful in your work, your home, and in your church and community? Are you gentle with people in all circumstances? Even with those who are not gentle with you? Do you have the self-control you need to live a healthy, productive life?

The fruits of the spirit truly do paint a picture of Christ’s character. If you are like me, you fall woefully short of getting it right all the time. Yet these qualities are something I aspire to. I believe it will make me the most useful I can be in the Lord’s hands.

So, in review, what do I believe makes you an authentic Adventist?

  1. You whole-heartedly embrace our name. You are someone who believes in the Seventh-day Sabbath and eagerly awaits the soon return of our Lord and Savior.
  2. You know and understand Seventh-day Adventist 28 fundamental beliefs.
  3. You don’t hold our beliefs, however, as your final authority; that is reserved for Scripture and Scripture alone. You will continue to study God’s Word to learn even more about who He is and His plans for each one of us.
  4. Your heart’s desire is to reflect the character of Christ to the world, which is best understood in the fruits of the spirit.

I am sure each of you could make your own list as to what makes someone an authentic Adventist, but these are my thoughts as I reflect on the church and people I love. May the Lord bless each of you as you continue to walk in His glory and grace.

Gary Thurber is the president of Mid-America Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Email him at: [email protected]