Jeffrey O. Brown, PhD, is the associate editor of Ministry and an associate ministerial secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

After one less-than-successful discipline session, our six-year-old son Jamel startled us with a profound commentary. “When I’m a daddy, I’m not going to shout at my children or hit them. I’m just going to talk to them and say, ‘Now you shouldn’t do that.’ I’m going to love my wife. I’m not going to divorce her. I’m going to kiss her every morning and every night and tell her, ‘I love you,’ and sleep with her in the bed.”1

Priceless! Discipline must be authoritative, yes, but it must also be restorative. There must be commitment to God, but there must also be compassion for humanity. I realized that some things can’t be either-or. Some things must be both-and.

Which is it?

This concept was highlighted for me recently through a presentation I heard that described the involvement of Adventist pioneers in the issues of their day—iconic church leaders such as J. N. Andrews, John Byington, Ellen White, and Joseph Bates. Joseph Bates “provides a window to catch a glimpse of the worldview of early Adventism. . . . Along with other leaders, Joseph Bates helped forge a biblical understanding of social justice that should be remembered and applied to our lives each day as we live and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit of our radical pioneers.”2

Then I attended a spiritual retreat emphasizing our need for an intimate connection with God. It underscored our unswerving need to “ ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ ” (Matt. 6:33, NKJV). And I asked myself, Which is it? What should we be focusing on? Prayer or action? Meditation or agitation? Spiritual transformation or social reformation?

Divorcing justice from judgment

Isaiah 58 helped with my questions. It taught me that while prayer and fasting have their place, spiritual activity can't be divorced from social activism. Ellen White says, “The work specified in these words [Isaiah 58] is the work that God requires His people to do. . . . With the work of advocating the commandments of God and repairing the breach that has been made in the law of God, we are to mingle compassion for suffering humanity.” “The third angel’s message is not to be given a second place in this work.”3

So those who preach a judgment-hour message ought not divorce justice from judgment. Dates and location should not be preferred over deeds and compassion. Indeed, Matthew 25:31–46 is the definitive word on the judgment.

Speaking of this passage, Ellen White writes, “ ‘When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another.’ Thus Christ on the Mount of Olives pictured to His disciples the scene of the great judgment day. And He represented its decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering.”4 Personal salvation can never be elevated over community liberation.


We received a textbook at the spiritual retreat. I was ecstatic upon seeing how it ended. “What issues do I care about? List issues that are being neglected in your world that make you angry. Or list issues that you have a passion to address.”5 I saw that people with a worship message must have a worship method, and people with a judgment message must have a justice method.

A strong devotional life must be coupled with passionate activism. Walk with God and fight for justice (Mic. 6:8). Not everything in life is either-or. Some things—some eternal things—are both-and.

  1. Jeffrey Brown and Pattiejean Brown, The Total Marriage (Grantham, UK: Autumn House, 2016), 118.
  2. Dwain Esmond, “Adventist Abolitionist Pioneers,” Emmanuel Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church, Feb. 28, 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Y8eMsaechU&t (from 25 min). See also Kevin Burton, “Joseph Bates and Adventism’s Radical Roots,” Adventist Review, Mar. 4, 2020, https://adventistreview.org/magazine-article/joseph-bates-and-adventisms-radical-roots.
  3. Ellen G. White, Welfare Ministry (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1952), 32, 33.
  4. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), 637.
  5. Don MacLafferty, The Way Back to the Altar (Washington, DC: General Conference Ministerial Association, 2023), 69.

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Jeffrey O. Brown, PhD, is the associate editor of Ministry and an associate ministerial secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

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