Adventists and Justice

Traveling internationally makes me think of my beliefs and challenges me to get at the core of my faith. It helps me unwrap the culture from the biblical. Having said that, I was reflecting today on the fact that we are the sum total of our experiences. Who we are is a mixture of genetics/heredity/DNA and where we’ve lived, our successes, our failures and the things to which we have been exposed. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister like his father. Yet we see that he was a different kind of Baptist preacher than King Sr. To be sure, his father was an influence both in terms of genetics as well as a role model. But King was exposed to persons like Pious Barbour in Chester, Pennsylvania and Sandy Ray out of New York City. Without a question, they put their mark upon the man who we celebrate today every year in January.

I know I am no Martin Luther King, Jr. Let me say that from the outset. But I find that though I am a Seventh-day Adventist minister who is quite happy to serve as a pastor in this denomination, I am, shall we say, a different kind of SDA preacher.

I am in Gaborone, Botswana right now preaching an evangelistic series out of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Seventh-day Adventists have a unique perspective of eschatology not shared by many other Christian denominations. Many of our ministers have done Revelation Seminars for years. To be sure, the Revelation Seminar materials do inform my presentation. I find that the Revelation Seminar at times lacks depth and nuance. It fails to connect the dots to some of its assertions. There are other texts to which I have referred with great satisfaction. Some years ago Ranko Stefanovic wrote a tome simply called Revelation. It is an extensive verse-by-verse commentary on the entire book. Jon Paulien has written several little books that are useful for understanding how to read and interpret apocalyptic prophecy. And then there is Jacque Doukhan’s book entitled Secrets of Revelation: The Apocalypse through Hebrew Eyes.

This morning I realized that when studying the book of Revelation, I find the most logical and biblical perspectives written by Seventh-day Adventist authors. I have looked at other commentaries, but I always return to those written by SDA authors. So much of Revelation makes reference to the Old Testament. For the most part, the authors I have cited above are faithful to letting the Bible be its own interpreter. They continually cite chapter and verse in opening up the meaning of that apocalyptic book.

But this morning I also realized that when it comes to studying other passages of Scripture, I rarely find good, deep scholarship in the Seventh-day Adventist Commentary. I read other commentators with much greater satisfaction.

I think our focus on eschatology has really helped us go deeper than most other Christian scholars in the last book of the Bible. We have a view of history that is informed by reading Revelation line upon line and precept upon precept. We don’t place many of the events after the millennium as evangelical scholars and adherents of Dispensationalism do. Very thoughtful scholars outside of my denomination seem to check their skills of probative exegesis at the door of the Dispensationalist view. They decide to see everything through a futurist interpretive lens. Because of this they miss the powerful message of this rich book that Jesus says in the very first chapter will be blessing to those who read, hear and keep the words of it.

I realize though that I’m a different kind of Seventh-day Adventist preacher because Christians ought to immerse themselves in the whole counsel of Scripture. As pastors we must read the entire Bible and preach authentically from the entire Bible to nurture balanced disciples of Christ.

We have not dug deeply into the prophetic works of Amos and Isaiah (outside of those passages that point to the time of the end). Yet the messages of those books speak so powerfully to us about ethics and morality that God clearly expects of His covenant people. We do end-time better than anybody I’ve fellowshipped with. But the Black Baptists of the 50s and 60s were light years ahead of us Seventh-day Adventists in 2008, e.g. their LEADERSHIP in the Civil Rights Movement.

We need balance. Seventh-day Adventists (generally speaking) are pathetic with respect to being advocates for justice. I believe much of it has to do with how we read books like Daniel and Revelation. We neglect that glaring biblical truth that God is a God of justice NOW. Yes, He will remember those who have suffered humiliation and even death for the Word of God, e.g. the souls under the altar that cry out in Rev. 6, and will bring final justice. Yes, He will make everything right in the end. Let us not content ourselves with the idea of final justice and do nothing about being advocates for justice NOW.

Our church said nothing (and still has said nothing!) about Robert Mugabe who was responsible for the killing of 20,000 to 26,000 Debele-speaking people in his country. Our church has made no apologies for that Rwandan Seventh-day Adventist pastor who was instrumental in the killing of persons who were not of his tribe. We are shamefully silent! We take an almost fatalist view of this life. We are just waiting for Jesus to come. Passive waiting is unacceptable.

Pastor Strike Ben and I were talking this morning about his thesis for a Master’s Degree he is pursuing in leadership. He is investigating the role of the Christian church to the passion killings here in Botswana. There are maybe 3 to 4 passion killings reported in the news every month! It is a major problem in a country of only 1.8 million people. I asked him to define passion killings for me.

He gave me several examples. The first was of a high-ranking deputy in the Movement for Democratic Change party of the soon-to-be prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai. This young man was also a Seventh-day Adventist and member of the church Pastor Strike Ben was pastoring at the time. He was a lawyer. He discovered that his wife was in love with another lawyer. What did he do? He killed her. I was horrified at this story. (I keep referring to him in the past tense because he was killed in prison by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.)

I thought that was a unique story when he told it to me a few days ago. But today he told me more. There was another girl, also a Seventh-day Adventist, whose boyfriend wanted to move on. He no longer wanted to be her boyfriend. This 22-year old girl stabbed him in the heart and killed him. I can’t remember all of the stories. But the last one I can recall was of another young man who killed his girlfriend in front of her parents! As a child he had watched his father murder his mother before his eyes.

As Seventh-day Adventists, our silence, our apathy, our inactivity is what makes us seem irrelevant to people whose lives are adversely affected by these social ills. It’s not enough to say that the Lord will make everything right "after a while" when we have resources and education and a voice that could be used to, at the very least, stem the tide of evil that seems to overrun our communities. If we will care like Jesus cared, our invitations to hear the “everlasting Gospel” of Revelation 14:6-7 will be more warmly received.

If we are to be followers of Christ "withsoever He goeth" we cannot divorce our understanding of the Gospel from Jesus’ own self-definition of his calling found in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…” Jesus’ good news was good news now AND in the future. Yes, the Lord is going to be the Ultimate Administrator of Justice as we see in Revelation 19-20, but we who are His children are called to be advocates for justice NOW. We must strive for the ideal in a less-than-ideal world. Everything cannot be fixed, but some meaningful work can still be done. The effort speaks volumes and gives us credibility with those we desire to reach with the “everlasting gospel."

When we engage in social issues that adversely affect our communities, we help people understand that the Lord of the Sabbath is the same loving Lord Jesus Christ Who came that we might have life and life more abundantly both NOW and for ETERNITY.


I appreciate your reflections here. Would you be willing to have this cross-posted on the Spectrum site?

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