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What's in a name?

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Archives / 1998 / February

 

 

What's in a name?

Marco T. Terreros,

Marco T. Terreros, Ph.D., is chair of the School of Theology, Colombia Adventist University, Colombia, South America.

 

The name "Seventh-day Adventist" moves in two directions: "The Seventh-day" points backward to the belief that God created the world, while "Adventist" points forward to the belief that God has an eschatological destiny for that world. While the seventh-day Sabbath roots us to the origin of life's Creator, the Advent hope takes us to the end of history and the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth.

Considering, therefore, how much of who we are and what we believe is found within our name itself, it's reasonable to ask What is a Seventh-day Adventist?

An Adventist is one who holds nonnegotiable Creation-related beliefs.

The word Adventist describes someone awaiting the advent of the One by whom "all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible" (Col. 1:16).* This belief in eschatology, the second coming of the Creator, is, however, linked to protology, the beginning of all things in the creative activity of that same God.

Adventists would have no right, biblically speaking, to expect that the advent they await will mark the end of this world, unless the One who comes is the Creator of that world. We are correct in connecting the Second Advent with the initiation of a new order of things only because He who comes has revealed Himself able to originate a "very good" creation (Gen. 1:31), even out of nothing (Heb. 11:3). It is on the basis of this biblical truth that Seventh-day Adventists believe that the redemption of humanity will materialize—not through the improvement of the present world but through the creation of a new one.

The term Adventist, far from implying the exaltation of a doctrine, implies the exaltation of a Person—Jesus Christ. We await His coming. It is the Person who gives relevance to both the event and the belief, not the other way around. We wait for the advent of the Creator, and the Creator is the Redeemer. Thus, He can promise, "the old order of things has passed away. . . I am making everything new," and we, in turn, can trust that "these words are trustworthy and true" (Rev. 21:4,5).

In our name, the word Seventh-day points to the Sabbath, which comes from Creation. Creation is the visible and tangible demonstration of who God is; it is the great est evidence of His power, greatness, and divine nature (Rom. 1:19, 20). Besides redemption, it is also the greatest demonstration of His love. Seventh-day Adventists celebrate these two events—Creation and then redemption. The Sabbath symbolizes both.

Sanctifying the Sabbath is such a powerful exaltation of God as Lord of life that, as Ellen White has said, "had the Sabbath always been sacredly observed, there could never have been an atheist or an idolater."1 Just by keeping Sabbath holy, without any additional proclamation, every Seventh-day Adventist believer exalts God and testifies that He made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Such observance would also testify of God's love for humankind as revealed since Creation by giving to His children each week a day for rest and special fellowship (Mark 2:27). By worshiping on the Sabbath, Seventh-day Adventists demonstrate their personal conviction that God, not an evolutionary process, is responsible for the existence of all that exists. Belief in the Sabbath "constitutes the greatest bulwark against the progress of the theory of evolution."2

As with the Second Advent, so it is with Sabbath-keeping. The day is important just because of the Person we adore and fellowship with during its hours. No other day holds the same significance as a day of worship for Seventh-day Adventists, because the Creator set apart only the Sabbath for that special purpose.

An Adventist is one who accepts a biblically based recent creation

Adventists believe that all forms of life were created by God, but they do not stop there. They believe that accepting God as Creator is the foundational issue. How He created, how long ago, and how long it took Him to create is also pivotal. Adventists perceive these as inter-related issues that speak to the character and power of a personal Creator. Bible passages about creation indicate that it was an awesome miracle performed in a very short time period (see Gen. 1:3, cf. 2 Cor. 4:6; Gen. 1:6- 7,9,24,26,27, etc.; Ps. 33:8,9). As Lubenow points out: if we inject a long time frame into one of God's miracles, we spoil it and it is then no longer a miracle.3

Scripture does not stop with the miracle of an instantaneous (six-day) Creation. Through its genealogical listings and depiction of generations back to Adam, it strongly suggests a recent creation, as opposed to the evolutionary premises of a lengthy one. Adventists, therefore, accept the account of a recent Creation, based on the credibility of Scriptures as God's supreme revelation. Ellen White's writings help to formulate, support, and effectively articulate the Adventist stand.4

In order to alleviate the discrepancy between the Bible and science regarding the age of the earth, some Adventist scientists in recent years have proposed that while life on the earth is young, the planet itself is as old as radiometric dating suggests, which leads to an interpretation of Genesis in which the earth was created "in the beginning" (a very distant past) while the organization of the planet and the creation of life on it occurred only six to ten millennia ago.

Perhaps this is how it happened. Some questions could be posed, however, in the light of this interpretation of the evidence: First, Genesis 1:1,2 declares that when God created the earth, it was "formless and empty." And Isaiah 45:18 adds that God "did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited" (cf. 45:12). If this is so, why should the earth be empty for 4.5 billion years or so (according to evolutionary dating of the earth's core), and be inhabited for only about 6,000 years, if God "did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited"?

The traditional understanding of Genesis 1, that God created the earth (Gen. 1:1) and placed humanity on it in harmony with His purpose for the planet, seems more consistent with God's actions as revealed in Scripture elsewhere than is the option of leaving His declared purpose unfulfilled for billions of years. "Like the stars in the vast circuit of their appointed path, God's purposes know no haste and no delay."5

Also, because evolutionary science usually dates the fossils on the basis of the rocks or strata in which they are found, the question arises: How consistent and defendable is the basis upon which Seventh-day Adventists accept evolutionary science's age of the rocks and strata while, at the same time, rejecting its age for the fossils (hence for life) contained therein?

The implication of a discontinuity between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis l:2ff is similar to that proposed by Gap theorists.

(The Gap Theory proposes that millions of years elapsed between the events described in Genesis 1:1 and those narrated in Genesis 1:3 and that Creation took place in three stages: A pre-Adamic period when the earth was perfect and beautiful [Gen. 1:1]; an intermediate period in which it became empty and formless [Gen. 1:2]; and the "reconstitution" period described in Genesis l:3ff.) But are we aware of what the acceptance of such a gap (passive, granted) entails? Is it not the result of a rather broad concordist endeavor between Scripture and science?6 The point is that science, not Scripture, forces us to accept the Gap. "One thing is certain," writes evangelical author Clark Pinnock, that "they did not find out about an ancient earth from reading Genesis."7

Meanwhile, what should we do with verse 2? Shall we consider it a thought unit with verse 1 or with verse 3? In either case, we have two problems. First, we have the Spirit of God "hovering over the waters" for millions or billions of years to no effect, which is not a typical result of the Spirit's activity or intervention in world affairs. When the Spirit intervenes, something happens—a change of conditions; a renewal. "When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps. 104:30). Second, verse 2 contains three clauses whose fundamental function in Hebrew is to express something fixed, a state, and not to mark a becoming, a progression, or a sequence in action.8 So the text would not allow us to conclude that the Spirit was hovering over the waters for the eons elapsed since "the beginning" but instead entered into action only at the beginning of Creation week initiated just a few thousand years ago.

An Adventist is one who declares to the world that God is the Creator

Seventh-day Adventists are conscious of their high origin, created in God's own image and likeness (Gen. 1:27). Thus, they recognize that they are the stewards of what God has created. As such, they are mindful of their status as co-workers with fellow human beings. Even though God commanded Adam and Eve to rule "over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Gen. 1:28), they were not commanded to lord over other humans. A neglect of this principle has brought about oppression and unhappiness throughout human history.

Because the creation is God's, Adventists proclaim His glory (Isa. 43:7, 20, 21) and exercise loving care over the world that surrounds them by:

a. being thoughtful and diligent in cultivating the earth (Prov. 28:19);

b. being ecologically responsible and taking good care of such natural elements in the ecosystem as water, air, soil, etc. because the land is the Lord's (Jer. 2:7,9);

c. selecting, preparing, and sowing only the best seeds possible (Matt. 13:24);

d. studying, learning, and applying the best, most adequate farming (planting, pruning, grafting, etc.) methods (Isa. 18:4, 5);

e. giving the land periods of rest in order to get from it the best yield possible (Lev. 25:3-7);

f. being careful in the disposal of waste materials and in the use of chemical products to avoid adding to the contamination of the planet;

g. being concerned about and taking loving care, all plant and animal life in general (Prov. 12:10); and h. being just, faithful, and solicitous with employees, subordinates, and fellow workers, who also reflect the image of God. Malachi expresses it this way: "Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?" (Mal. 2:10).

Conclusion

Who, then, is a Seventh-day Adventist? In the context of the biblical doctrine of Creation, a Seventh-day Adventist is a Christian who believes and upholds biblical Creation, who declares to the world that God is the Creator of all things, who worships and serves the Creator—the only One to be forever praised (Rom. 1:25), who observes the seventh-day Sabbath as a memorial of Creation and redemption, and who hopes for the final consummation of of all things when the creation joins together in proclaiming, "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Rev. 4:11).

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*All Scripture passages in this article are from the New International Version.

1. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1958), 336.

2. Seventh-day Adventists Believe ... A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines (Silver Spring, Md.: Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), 165.

3. Marvin L. Lubenow, "Does a Proper Interpretation of Scripture Require a Recent Creation?" in Decade of Creation, eds. H. M. Morris and D. H. Rohrer (San Diego, Calif.: Creation-Life Publishers, 1981), 90-104.

4. Henry M. Morris, scientific creationism's main leader, observes that "Adventists to some degree have remained solidly creationist because their main teacher/founder, Ellen G. White, taught literal creationism." Henry M. Moms, History of Modern Creationism (Santee, Calif.: Institute for Creation Research, 1993), 92.

5. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 32.

6. Without ignoring the validity of science when checked by revelation, it is important to keep in mind Langdon Gilkey's observation as to what has been happening in recent history. "The most important change in the understanding of religious truth in the last centuries—a change that still dominates our thought today—has been caused more by the work of science than by any other factor, religious or cultural" (Langdon Gilkey, Religion and the Scientific Future: Reflections on Myth, Science, and Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), 4). Gilkey's words imply that on the understanding of religious truth in modern history, science has had a greater influence than the Bible.

7. Clark Pinnock, "Climbing Out of a Swamp: The Evangelical Struggle to Understand the Creation Texts," Interpretation 43 (Jan. 1989), 154.

8. See Richard M. Davidson, "In the Beginning: How to Interpret Genesis 1," Dialogued (1994), 3:11.

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