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Seventh-day Adventist Engagements with Other Churches: Compromise or Mission Imperative?

Every so often an article is published with allegations that the General Conference is engaged in ecumenism. For those making these allegations, they imply or declare that this means compromising biblical truth, loss of distinctive prophetic Seventh-day Adventists identity, and downright apostasy.

Put simply, this is inaccurate, wrong, simplistic, and uninformed. It also seriously violates the teachings of Jesus to engage with our brothers and sisters before bringing them to court, including we may say today, the court of the social media. Those who do these things disregard Jesus’ commands and instead function as prosecutors, jury, and judges distributing sentences to those they consider accomplices of the enemies of the truth. They thus become accusers of the brothers and sisters. Christ, Stephen, Paul, and many Christian martyrs throughout the centuries refused to join the “accuser of the brethren,” choosing rather to pray even for their executioners.

The truth is undramatic, and unambiguous. The Seventh-day Adventist Church functions through votes and voted statements in one of these three groups: the General Conference in session; the General Conference Executive committee; the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM).

No individual Seventh-day Adventist person has the authority to be the voice of the church or to sign any document. No person at the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) department has ever signed a document with other churches--Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, or any others. The voice of the church are voted statements.

As leaders in the PARL department, we attend the general assemblies of other Christian faiths as observers. This tradition is reciprocated when we Seventh-day Adventists invite Christians from other denominations to come to our General Conference Sessions to gain a first-hand understanding of who we are as Seventh-day Adventists on our own terms. At these Sessions, they learn how we fulfill the mission Christ entrusted to His followers.

When we attend other Christians’ meetings, we choose to accept their offer to be guests of the various committees of their assemblies. We have no vote because we are not part of the organization in any way. In fact, we have no vote in any ecumenical context. We never vote. Voting would be irrelevant because we are not member of any ecumenical organizational with a central authority. When we attend committees of denominations, we can better understand those faith-based organizations and the direction they envision for the future of Christianity. And yes, we discover how we can partner to promote health, healing, and wholeness and how we can alleviate suffering. Just as Ellen White advised early Sabbatarian Adventists to partner with other Christians for the work of temperance, our presence and mingling with others do not imply endorsement, doctrinal alliances or compromise to the distinctive biblical truth taught by Seventh-day Adventists. Similarly, when we meet and speak with politicians and legislators, it never suggests that we embrace their political parties.

The Seventh-day Adventist church has been attending interchurch meetings since 1957 with the Conference of General Secretaries of Christian World Communions and the Global Christian Forum. Not only do we have opportunities to share our identity, our Christian witness, our message, and our mission on our own terms, but our basic credibility as a Trinitarian and Christian denomination, centered on the sufficiency of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, is enhanced.

Those slandering General Conference leadership should understand that the authority for our mingling with others is Jesus Christ Himself, who instructed us to act as light and salt in the world.

As Seventh-day Adventists, our distinctive biblical foundation is the New Covenant of direct access by grace to God. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty, and the sufficiency of Christ as our Intercessor and coming king, are the lenses through which we relate to everyone and to every group, whether religious or secular. We consequently need no mediator but God. Direct access to God causes us to focus on God and His revelation in His Word.

No sacrifice is needed but Christ’s own sacrifice, once and for all. Many Christians have a significantly different understanding of communion than do Seventh-day Adventists, and we therefore do not partake in the mass. While respecting other people’s choices to believe or not to believe, we know of no other means of salvation than the all-sufficient and complete provision God has offered in Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

With these facts in hand, it is preposterous to suppose that a Seventh-day Adventist leader is diluting our distinctive beliefs. In the humility created by the grace of God, who grafted us in through Christ’s righteousness, we do not despise anyone. We always choose the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In every relationship we seek to uphold the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). As Paul concludes, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

All General Conference PARL leaders who have participated in or led interchurch and interfaith dialogues have remained faithful Seventh-day Adventists. They have left a beautiful witness among other Christians who today respect Seventh-day Adventists and the integrity of our biblical witness.

Our commitment to religious freedom for allows us to mingle with those of other faiths while never putting the church under the umbrella of an ecumenical organization. The way our church functions—through carefully crafted and voted statements—is a sure safeguard against any one person or department presuming to be the voice of the church. Seventh-day Adventist Working Policy, the Church Manual, the 28 Fundamental Beliefs speak for the church. They function very much like a constitution. The Church’s Public Affairs ministry is similar to but not identical with a ministry of foreign affairs. Its tasks include working for the good reputation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by dispelling prejudices. This ministry ensures that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not be publicly associated with offshoots, sects, or cults who operate on the fringe of genuine Christianity. At GC PARL department, each of us works to foster credibility for our identity, message, and mission. If we do not protect our good reputation, people are not morally motivated to heed to our testimony and join us in preparing for the second coming of Christ.

May the peace of God guard the minds and hearts in Christ Jesus. Join us as we faithfully live as salt and light, witnessing to our resurrected and soon coming Lord. Pray for us, even as we pray for your faithfulness.