What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.
— NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
We were having lunch near the Washington National Cathedral. There were three or four of us–two high-level clergy of another Christian denomination, and two Seventh-day Adventist Christians. As we concluded a conversation on ways to cooperate in international aid and development and how we could work jointly in combating poverty, it was time to plan a timeline for our efforts.
Deciding on who would research what, one of the bishops asked, “So, shall we meet and report our findings in three months?”
“Did you actually mean three weeks?” I asked.
Turning to his colleague, the bishop commented, “Look, let’s remember that we are meeting with Seventh-day Adventists. They are a missionary church. We can learn from them. That’s why they continue to grow, and we are standing still. They have no time to lose.”
It is always better to be told by others than to brag about our own success. Their reaction reminded me of a comment by a Vanderbilt University professor, Paul K. Conkin in his book American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity: “It is worth noting that no other American-based denomination have ever attempted to transform itself so fully into a worldwide fellowship.” (p. 144).
Reflecting on my Adventist journey for several decades, I must not overlook the essence of our church witness. It was usually called “evangelism,” but mostly “witnessing” to … other Christians.
It was perhaps 60+ years ago when this experience happened that stands out in my memory. My father held a series of evangelistic meetings about a premier Adventist topic: “The Last Day Events.” A woman came to our door (the meetings were held in a church, and we lived on the second floor of the same church building) and as it appeared, she had responded to an invitation to have a Bible study.
My father ushered her into our living-room, and I eavesdropped from a bedroom next door. I will never forget how the conversation went between our guest and my father.
“What brought you to our meetings? Were you invited by someone?” he asked.
“I heard about your church. I was searching for a church that would teach what I also believe. You Adventists resent Catholics. I do, too,” she answered.
That’s what she said. Her comment was rough, but genuine. Obviously, she spoke about a perception many people have developed about our church, a reputation assigned to a Protestant faith community in a Catholic country. Whether she was right or not, my own perception developed along similar lines. For many, an evangelist’s concentration mostly on teachings and practices of Catholicism would contribute to it all.
I grew up in such an evangelistic atmosphere. Over the decades, I also learned what Ellen G. White wrote: “There are many who need our sympathy and advice, but not that advice which implies superiority in the giver and inferiority in the receiver.” (Testimonies, vol 3, p. 534) When you say that you have the truth, they hear that you are better than they are.
She also said, “There are many among the Catholics who live up to the light they have far better than many who claim to believe present truth, and God will just as surely test and prove them as He has tested and proved us.” (Evangelism, p. 144)
And since my youth, I have learned even more. Our Christian call is to share Him who sends us into the world with the Gospel of Good News. Just as the Twelve, whom He sent into the world, we are to preach and teach the world about Jesus. Jesus alone. And the church will grow. Until He returns.
Rajmund Dabrowski is the editor of Mountain Views and RMC communication director. Email him at [email protected]