As others see us

A bit of doggerel on a bulletin board implies that our public image as Seventh-day Adventists does not match the message we have been commissioned to give the world. People should see the beauty of Christ's character in us.

Dorothy Parfitt is a homemaker and freelance writer living in Queensland, Australia.
The official bulletin board in the reli gion department of the leading uni versity in our area recently pro vided a rare opportunity for Seventh-day Adventists to see themselves through the eyes of others. Believing, as we do, that this church was raised up by God to present a certain message to the world, it becomes crucially important, then, how the world perceives us who bear the message.

 

What truths do Seventh-day Adventist Christians believe we are divinely des tined to present to the world? If we cut through the mists of theology, is not the total aim and ideal of Seventh-day Ad ventist Christians that the world may see Jesus reflected in them? How successful we are in achieving this goal is perhaps shown in the following anonymous bal lad that was posted on the university bulletin board for all to see:

A Pilgrim's Progress

I was baptized a Presbyterian,

Before the tender age of one:

My parents didn't ask me first;

They simply had it done.

 

Now Mom was Presbyterian,

But Dad was C. of E.

It didn't mean a thing to them,

And meant still less to me.

 

They sent me off to Sunday school,

The nearest one to home.

"It doesn't matter much," said Dad,

"As long as it's not Rome."

 

But when I started work, you see,

My boss, a plumber's foreman,

Soon made it very plain to me

That I should be a Mormon.

 

And so a Mormon I became,

Until I found conversion.

A worthy man—Brown was his name—

Baptized me by immersion.

 

But in a very little space,

In mood of bold defiance,

I found a better way of grace,

And practiced Christian Science.

 

And so I might have ceased to roam,

Had I not met a dentist

Whose probing deep has made me now

A Seventh-day Adventist.

 

If the rhyme had ended thus, we could have said, "That's good!" To be known for deep Bible study is something to be thankful for (in the proper way and not like the Pharisee, of course). However, it is the next verse that arrests our at tention:

I often yielded to despair

Of finding moral fitness;

But now I stand, without a care,

A staunch Jehovah's Witness.

 

"I often yielded to despair of finding moral fitness." Apparently this line characterized Seventh-day Adventists in the mind of the poet. Have we deserved such an image? If we look objectively at ourselves we must admit that to a great degree we have.

How often we have heard sermons in which the main emphasis was "Our greatest concern at this time should be getting through the judgment!" Of course, being red-blooded Seventh-day Adventists, we all want to jump to the defense of ourselves and one another. "We know what such sermons mean. They are talking about reflecting the character of Jesus fully." But do we reflect His character by making our own salvation our main obsession? Is this what Jesus did? No, He did not. If He had been primarily concerned about His own salvation, He would have changed the stones into bread; He would have stepped off the cross and allowed angels to transport Him back to heaven in a cloud of glory.

Jesus was the Son of God, yet He did not consider His position in heaven something to be grasped at and retained at all costs. He willingly emptied Him self and went to the cross. Did He for sake heaven so that we might grasp pos sessively at it? I think not. He laid aside His own interest so that we could reflect His character by laying aside our own interests. He made His position in heaven secondary to His concern for the well-being of the universe, so that we could reflect the same unselfishness by doing likewise.

We are told that Jesus will be satisfied when He views the result of His suffer ing in the characters of those who reflect Him. Should not our main obsession, then, be to bring satisfaction to Jesus? If this is what the sermons mean, why do they riot say so plainly?

Instead, too often we hear in church prolonged discussions about the tech nicalities of how we are to be saved (Is it by justification or by sanctification?), with all the tortuous ramifications such discussions engender. Worse still, the speakers believe that in this way they are upholding Christ before the people in every discourse!

It isn't difficult to see why a visitor could think that the main concern of Seventh-day Adventists is how to get themselves saved. He could easily con clude that we are all in the seat of the unconverted, calling out, "What must I do to be saved?"

Yet, if we remind an Adventist who is "yielding to despair of finding moral fit ness" that the Father accepts us in Christ just as surely as He accepts Jesus Himself, he will say, "Of course I know that, but ..." But what? But we are still chiefly concerned with a (selfish) con sideration of how we are ever going to get through the judgment! How are we going to make it to heaven at last?

It doesn't make sense, does it? I have an apple, but I am chiefly obsessed with getting the apple! I have salvation in Christ, but I arn chiefly obsessed with getting salvation! Even toddlers know better than that, and their recently shed tears glisten like rainbows of happiness when they see on their plate what they cried for.

If only the ballad writer could have written that as a Seventh-day Adventist, "I can't take my eyes from the attrac tions of Jesus, as upheld before me always by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Whereas before, I searched for salvation from eternal death, I now scarcely think about it, so intent am I on resembling the character and life style of the Son of God; so concerned am I with helping Him achieve the things He shed His blood—to win the salvation of every willing soul, the lighting and lightening of every heart; so radiantly happy am I with the knowledge that He Himself is with me 'even unto the end of the world,' wherever that may be. I know my search is over, for I have found the presence of the glorious, incomparable Jesus to be the meaning of life and all my soul has longed for. I have now a sense that there is an infinity beyond, waiting to be ex perienced and enjoyed in Him."

Instead, in our misdirected anxiety, we are like a child wanting to take home every shell on the beach; every bluebell in the woods to wilt in our sticky clutch; every minnow in the stream, to choke in our tiny pail of water. And all the time fresh wonders abound everywhere the eye turns, and grasping a small portion of beauty blinds us to the rest.

A selfish anxiety for victory and heaven is not beautiful. Christ's charac ter is beauty. It is pure, self-sacrificing love. That is beauty in every language and in any philosophy. Could people see that beauty reflected in us, then our public image would match our commis sion. We would be living the message we are destined to give the world. Can the peaceful lake reflect the stars better by screwing up its face?

It is our privilege to study and to pro mote Christ's interest, with a heart at rest from self-interest. Then we will give Christ the satisfaction He died to achieve, for we will be reflecting His selfless character as it is, direct from the light of God.

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Dorothy Parfitt is a homemaker and freelance writer living in Queensland, Australia.

August 1980

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