Millions are in the grip of tragedy and fear. With global deaths in the tens of thousands, the coronavirus pandemic has swept our world, crippling health, destroying lives, and endangering the economies of nations. The world truly needs the church as never before. But why?
The church can make three unique contributions to our world: knowledge of our spiritual past, understanding of our visionary future, and hope in our perilous present. All three qualities have the potential to make the church, in general, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in particular, the most relevant institution in the world today. Why is this? Church leader Glenn Townend maintains, “Humans want to be in a group where they are accepted and valued and can contribute. There is no better place than the church for this.”1
The question is, are we living up to our mandate? Townend laments, “As Adventists we know we have the last-day message for this world and might be tempted to think we have it all figured out. When we don’t, we pretend.”2
What is our unique calling? And to what extent are we fulfilling it?
Our spiritual past—Everlasting gospel
Elusive antibodies and anticipated vaccinations may engross us, and justified fear and understandable anxiety may engulf us. Still, amid our anguish and uncertainty, the church can offer comfort and hope. This hope is not based upon positive psychology or wishful thinking for the future; it is based upon sacrificial actions of the past. Our hope is rooted in our faith in the voluntary death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Death? Yes. “ ‘I lay down My life that I may take it again’ ” (John 10:17).3 Voluntary? Yes. “ ‘No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself’ ” (v. 18). To some, this may sound selfless—to others, it may sound senseless. What could possibly be achieved by an act of such apparent defeat? John answers, “ ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand’ ” (vv. 27, 28). What could possibly be achieved that is relevant to our crises? As one songwriter put it, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”4
This pandemic, with its accompanying lockdowns and curfews, isolations and quarantines, has given all of us an understanding of the psalmist’s sentiment, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .” (Psalm 23:4a). However, in times like this, it takes faith to complete the sentence: “. . . I will fear no evil” (v. 4b). Sickness may overcome the healthiest believer, and death may overtake the most spiritual Christian, but we do not fear. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus allows us to say like Job, “ ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him’ ” (Job 13:15). We stand as anchors of stability and pillars of hope. We stand on the everlasting gospel, calling the world to trust God and to try Him (Rev. 14:6–12), before it is too late. It’s what the world needs. It’s what the church has to give.
Our visionary future—End-time prophecy
Just recently, I watched a YouTube video in which two women were physically fighting over toilet paper. The store manager had to call the police. I thought to myself, If people will fight over toilet paper, what will happen when their food and water are threatened? I am not saying this pandemic is the end of the world. We face a health issue, not a religious liberty issue, at this time. But Revelation 13 shows us that it may be a dress rehearsal for a time when freedom and rights are replaced by fear and restrictions, and travel and trade are replaced by compliance and control.
The message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is this: time is running out. This is not a cry of despair, it is a cry of urgency. Prophecy declares, “ ‘And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold’ ” (Matt. 24:12). Our appeal is, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). Jesus is coming soon. We don’t have long. Therefore, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould” (Rom. 12:2, Phillips). Instead, put your trust in God and “crowd all the good works you possibly can into this life.”5
This message is the most important because it blesses those who hear it as well as those who proclaim it. Don’t exchange this message for another. Don’t give up on this message. “ ‘Staying with it—that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved. All during this time, the good news—the Message of the kingdom—will be preached all over the world, a witness staked out in every country. And then the end will come’ ” (Matt. 24:13, 14, The Message). It’s what the world needs. It’s what the church has to give.
Our hopeful present—Enduring sanctuary
The sanctuary message is a message of enduring health. The message heralded by the church is that our “body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (1 Cor. 6:19). One lesson from the sanctuary is that our body is not ours to do with as we like. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this—and a role model for these last days—is the prophet Daniel.
Exiled in pagan Babylon, Daniel could have taken a stand on many issues, but he chose to take a stand on food and drink (Dan. 1:8). Like Daniel, we are living in a world that youth analyst David Kinnaman describes as “digital Babylon.”6 This online world mimics the godless, pagan, proud, perverted, and antichrist environment of Babylon. But, like Daniel, we endorse proper nutrition as the foundation of good health and recovery (v. 12). Like Daniel, we promote whole-food, plant-based vegetarian cuisine (v. 12). Like Daniel, we recognize the link between nutrition and physical and mental health (vv. 15, 20). Despite this Babylonian environment, God will have a people who, like Daniel, refuse to defile His temple and whose health is blessed tenfold.7
The sanctuary message is a message of enduring rest. Max Lucado states, “Of the ten declarations carved in the tablets, which one occupies the most space? Murder? Adultery? Stealing? You’d think so. Certainly each is worthy of ample coverage. But curiously, these commands are tributes to brevity. God needed only five English words to condemn adultery and four to denounce thievery and murder.
“But when he came to the topic of rest, one sentence would not suffice.”8
For Paul, rest in Jesus is symbolized by the Sabbath, and access to God is symbolized by the sanctuary. Paul therefore urges the continuation of Sabbath worship in the context of the sanctuary. “So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience. . . . Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers” (Heb. 4:11, 14, The Message).
A. J. Jacobs, the secular journalist who spent one year keeping the more than seven hundred rules he had discovered in the Bible, was asked: “What, if any, rules are you still following?” He replied, “I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a forced day of rest.”9
The sanctuary message is a message of enduring trust. At the heart of the sanctuary is the message of trust in God. “Let us go with complete trust to the throne of God. We will receive His loving-kindness and have His loving-favor to help us whenever we need it” (Heb. 4:16, NLV). Trust in God is a gift leading to right choices, in line with God’s directions for our lives, that “will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity” (see Prov. 3:1-6), NIV).
It’s what the world needs. It’s what the church has to give.
Jesus said, “ ‘By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’ ” (John 13:35). The world needs not only to hear but also to see this message. How is the church faring? Townend declares, “Research through Natural Church Development in the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide shows that, of the eight characteristics of a healthy church, loving relationships is typically our lowest scoring.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a nurture and fellowship challenge.”10
That mirrors the church of Laodicea that prophetically describes God’s people in the last days. “ ‘I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit’ ” (Rev. 3:15, 16, The Message). It’s time for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to go viral on this virus—to preach with power the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 and, more importantly, to live out this everlasting gospel with conviction because there are at least three positive things this pandemic has given to the church.
First, it has given us an urgent incentive to become savvier and more innovative in regard to social media and technology. Seventh-day Adventists need to become experts at invading “digital Babylon” with contagious Christianity.
Second, it has demonstrated the significance of the younger generation in our churches. We desperately need their innovation and leadership now. Most of our youth display incredible facility with social media and technology. Many young people may not have been called forward to lead before. If we ever needed the youth before, we certainly need them now.
Finally, the coronavirus has inadvertently revealed the message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as the world’s most relevant and needed message. It is a message that says to the family, friends, and neighbors we love, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2). Who would not want such a message? It is a message that invites them to join with us and yearn with us “for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.”11
Now is the time to demonstrate to the world that we are more than one denomination among many; we are a people entrusted with a message of present truth for our world’s needs. When we live out this message, our joy will be to hear said of us what was said of Esther, “Maybe God put you here for exactly this moment, for just such a time as this.”12
- Glenn Townend, “Nurture and Fellowship Challenge,” Adventist Record, March 5, 2020, record.adventistchurch.com/2020/03/05/nurture-and-fellowship-challenge/.
- Townend, “Nurture and Fellowship Challenge.”
- Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article is from the New King James Version.
- Thomas Obediah Chisholm, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” in Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, no. 100.
- Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1925), 85.
- David Kinnaman, Faith for Exiles: 5Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019), 19.
- See Sandra Blackmer, “Adventists Live Longer, but Not Every Adventist Is the Same,” Adventist Review, July 12, 2019, adventistreview.org/church-news/story13841-adventists-live-longer-but-not-every-adventist-is-the-same.
- Max Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear (Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 2001), 41, 42.
- Jennie Yabroff, “Biblical Living: Following Every Rule for One Year,” Newsweek, September 21, 2007.
- Townend, “Nurture and Fellowship Challenge.”
- Ellen G. White, Education (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), 13.
- Samuel Wells, “For Such a Time as This: Will You Recognize the Moment in Which You Are Called Upon to Exercise Your Gifts?” Faith and Leadership, February 1, 2009, faithandleadership.com/such-time.