Drop the Mic: Reincarnating the Adventist Faith Part 4

So far in this series, we have come to grips with two facts about Adventism in North America:

1. Adventist Bible-based evangelism is less and less effective in bringing people into the Adventist church.

2. New converts discover that they do not experience the transformational benefits and connection with God that were explicitly and implicitly promised to them when they decided to join the Adventist church. And, it appears to them, most veteran Adventist members don’t have the vibrant relationship with God nor have experienced great personal transformation either.

Therefore, I proposed that we replace what has been the recipient of our first love and the basis of our evangelistic methodology. Intentionally or unintentionally, Adventism’s high reverence for scripture devolved into a high reverence for being right and a conviction that in order to remain faithful to scripture, sometimes you give up on people or push people out the door. When our love for others conflicted with our love for our scriptural understanding, we, at times, sacrificed others and continued to bow down at the altar of our doctrinal inerrancy. It is time to follow the incarnated-and-crucified Jesus in putting other people first no matter what, even when it means sacrificing something core to our understanding of scripture.

I believe that this crucial value shift will help us read scripture and historic Christian and Adventist doctrines with new eyes. Last week, I shared how, for me, the Sabbath doctrine is now Christ’s bringing-rest-to-others manifesto rather than an obligatory ritual required by God to prove my allegiance. This week I want to look at how the doctrine of Jesus’ high priestly ministry can become a driver of mission in our quest to love others more.

I won’t go in-depth explaining the development of the Adventist doctrine of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, nor discuss the challenges that have been brought against it.1 But at the heart of our belief in Jesus ministering as our high priest is his action of bringing his offerings of his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection into the presence of the Father and offering them as humanity’s cleansing from the guilt and shame of sin and releasing us from the subsequent penalty of eternal death. God establishes Christ’s actions as the new covenant between the Godhead and humanity.2

There has been an unfortunate, and I believe unintentional, side-effect of the Adventist development of the sanctuary doctrine and the belief that Jesus moved from the holy place in the heavenly sanctuary into the most holy place on October 22, 1844. Because we have taught that from that date up to this very moment, Jesus and the Father are now judging the quick and the dead, we have communicated to both our members and to those we are evangelizing that this is a very treacherous time to be alive. One’s eternal status hangs in the balance. Our traditional interpretation of the divine courtroom scene in Daniel 7:9, 10 perpetuates the idea that this investigative judgment is like the ancient Day of Atonement experience where the Hebrew nation waits soberly and breathlessly to see whether they’ll survive God’s wrath for one more year. This has been, along with our usage of the unpardonable sin concept, an incredibly useful tool in our evangelistic series and Bible studies to convince potential converts that if they reject the truth they’re learning from us, they may very well seal their doom. The problem is that if they follow through and convert to Adventism, they don’t feel freed from God’s wrath. This pernicious Atonement Psychology never lets go and keeps them in limbo about their status with God.

The resulting insecurity and spiritual depression that pervades the collective Adventist mind is unfortunate and, I believe, could be resolved to a great degree if we understood the revolutionary shift in not having just any old high priest go into heaven, but having Jesus himself step up. And I think understanding the power of Jesus in the priestly role radically changes the impact of either view of the atonement.

Romans 8 has been very helpful to me in understanding how crucial Jesus is to the atonement process:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set youfree from the law of sin and death.3

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.4

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.5

I think the traditional Adventist teaching on Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary forgets that it’s not just anyone going into the most holy place: it’s Jesus! And according to Paul, John, et al, there isn’t any doubt of the outcome for those who accept Jesus. Jesus and the Father are not impartial, objective third-party judges to this. They’re not from the independent accounting firm of Elohim, Yahweh and Yeshua. They are passionately biased and obnoxiously on our side.

If Adventist pastors and evangelists could only change one thing about their message, I would ask them to do this: whether you believe the atonement process is complete or almost complete, give Jesus the credit he deserves for making us right with God. Don’t communicate the unbiblical concept that we’re still waiting to find out whether Jesus will make us right with God. You don’t need to manipulate people with guilt and the fear of Damocle’s sword hanging over their heads. Whether it’s done or almost done, the same result is guaranteed.

But by now you should know that, for me, clearing up theological concepts isn’t going to solve our evangelism problem, and while helpful, it won’t fundamentally change the timid and depressed culture in many of our congregations. The sanctuary message has to shift from a mere intellectual understanding to a call to love each other as brothers and sisters, and to radically and actively love people outside the doors of our churches. For this call to love, two passages, one from 1 John and one from Hebrews are helpful:

1 John 2:1, 2 uses the word “advocate”and Hebrews 7:24-25 uses the word “intercede”to describe Jesus’ high priestly ministry. This awakens me to the actions that Jesus takes on my behalf. He advocates for my acceptance by the Father. He intercedes to the Father on my behalf to protect me from the Accuser. Do these actions teach me how to do priestly ministry right here and right now? I know they do. I see the priestly ministry of Jesus happening all around me and for me by many people in my life. Let me share three examples:

  • My friend, Ben Garcia, an academy bible teacher and chaplain at Glendale Adventist Academy, spends many of his Sabbaths at Los Angeles County’s Central Juvenile Hall. The adolescent kids he meets with each week have already been written off by almost everyone. For many of them, Ben may be the only person they see all week that tells them that God has not given up on them yet. And Ben steps into the most holy place of the prison ward and shares bible stories, like the story of Joseph in Pharaoh’s prison, that show these kids that their dreams are not dead.
  • My friend and colleague, Arleene Chow, our church’s pastor for youth and young adults, has spent countless hours advocating for students who are: trying to break free from drugs; being condemned for unplanned pregnancies, being told by family, academy faculty and church leaders that their desires for same-sex companionship are of the devil; or are so depressed that they are ready to call it quits and end their lives. As a priest, Arleene boldly intercedes for these kids with their teachers, pastors and family members to give them another chance, to forgive them and to give them new life.
  • Back in the 1980s, our congregation’s senior pastor, Rudy Torres, became Carlos Martinez’s priest which ultimately led to a whole brigade of church ladies becoming priests for Carlos and many others like him. When Carlos told his church bible study group that he had contracted HIV through a gay relationship, these ladies, rather than whispering and turning away, got up and hugged all over Carlos. When his HIV turned to AIDS and he had to be hospitalized, Carlos was one of the few patients in his ward to get daily visitors. One day, when Pastor Rudy was visiting him, a nurse asked him, “Who ARE you people?” Rudy put on his priestly vestments and responded, “We’re from the Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church and Carlos is one of ours.”

What has often been one of the most confusing and obscure doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has the potential to become one of our most powerful forces for love. If we embraced the 1 Peter 2:9 declaration that we, Jesus’ followers, are a “royal priesthood,” and began advocating for people who have been written off by the powers-that-be in society and religion, we could show people the love of God and the passionate advocacy and intercession of Jesus. When we become the people who put our reputations on the line for those of no reputation, who speak up for the voiceless, and who pour out our un-objective and obnoxiously-biased blood, sweat, and tears for those who have no more to give – that’s when the sanctuary is cleansed and the camp is made whole again.

Imagine what would happen if Adventist churches would:

  • Stand up for ex-felons and help them get jobs and housing
  • Welcome and include LGBTQ individuals in their congregation’s community and ministry
  • Teach undocumented immigrants their rights and help them get work permits, visa extensions and green cards
  • Welcome and provide homes for refugees from war-torn parts of the world
  • Build strong, mutually-supportive relationships with Muslims in their neighborhoods
  • Get into the trenches with veterans returning to their cities who aren’t being given the support they need by our government to integrate back into society
  • Fight for affordable housing in their cities so lower-income families can find a place to live
  • Go the extra mile to make their facilities, ministries and worship gatherings completely accessible and hospitable to anyone with physical or mental disabilities
  • Intercede between their city’s residents and law enforcement to create dialogue and bring reform to how they relate to one another

These congregations would be on the cutting edge of carrying out the high priestly ministry of Jesus. Imagine.

Todd J. Leonard is senior pastor at Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church and president of Glendale Communitas Initiative, a local non-profit organization devoted to families working their way out of poverty. He shares life with his wife, Robin, and three daughters, Halle, Abigail and Emma.

Notes & References: 1. You can read the Adventist doctrinal statement here. A good study on the classical Adventist sanctuary doctrine is Leslie Hardinge’s book, With Jesus in His Sanctuary. To learn about the challenges to this doctrine raised by Adventist theologian Desmond Ford, you can read his book, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment. 2. See Hebrews 9. 3. Romans 8:1-2 (NIV) 4. Romans 8:9-11 (NRSV) 5. Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 (NRSV)

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8046

Christ became our Advocate as soon as the Covenant of Redemption was radified and upon His return to the Father became the everlasting Gospel. That is the theme of Revelation.


What I take away from studying these thoughtful essays is that the author’s call is not to change our major doctrines, but to give them the emphasis and priority that they need to have in our lives. The SDA church/denomination/movement’s central teaching; the central focus and emphasis depends on our doing the right things for the right reason. There are those who are so afraid of going to hell that they will try to do good to avoid it. I hear Pastor Leonard’s heartfelt plea calling us to be "on the cutting edge of carrying out the high priestly ministry of Jesus."
If we would prioritize having a “vibrant relationship with God” then we will have what we need most of all a great “personal transformation”.


Pastor, Are you ready to , "Drop the Mic ? " The only good thing about sin is that it is transferrable ( From me to the Lamb- to the priest- to the sanctuary, and on the day of At -one -ment ,to the Most Holy Place , where my sins are settled once and for all ) . Praise God. Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus is my High Priest. He bore my sins in His flesh/ the veil .It is His , " Righteousness , " that makes my prayers acceptable to God . ( The altar of incense , while it stands in the Holy Place ,serves it’s purpose in the Most Holy Place ). And yes , He stands before God as both my Intercessor and my Advocate . The beauty of the sanctuary is seen in this one lesson, " that sin can only require the life of the sinner , but it was Grace, that required the life of God. " Will you and I as sinners make this exchange ? That without money, we can make the greatest investment of our lives. Our life of sin, for Christ’s life of righteousness. Mary cried because she did not know where they had placed the body of Jesus. By studying the sanctuary truth, we know just where He is, and what He is doing on our behalf. This is a beautiful truth , and if taught correctly ,is a great tool to win souls to Christ , and strengthen the faith of the weak .


mmmmm… WHAT WOULD happen if there were 20 million Seventh day Adventists doing Priestly work around the World??
WHAT WOULD happen if we began training EACH AND EVERY PERSON in Seventh day Adventist families around the world in Priestly Duties? Beginning at 1st grade.



Your compassion is commendable. Think of what your suggestions & advice imply.
Conference leadership and/or pastor influence ain’t hacking it.
I have seen non SDA churches grow to thousands of attendees. They implemented one of EG White’s strongest counsel for pastors without even knowing it

I plan on preaching a sermon in less than 2 weeks. The title: “Adventists Anonymous”.

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@rodneybda: I’m grateful for the joy and gratitude you find in Christ through the teaching of his sanctuary ministry. It is truly beautiful as you describe it. And I think the opportunity to share that as both your testimony and as a bible study becomes possible once someone who hasn’t engaged the person of Jesus has seen your personal love for them coming through in tangible loving ways that they understand. For those of us who get genuinely and spiritually giddy over the power of God’s love in Jesus, it is a frustrating reality to see that what changed our life comes across as almost a foreign language to people today. This is my concern: that we find a common language for communicating God again. To borrow from my RCC friends, maybe we need our version of Vatican II. Maybe Minneapolis II? :wink:


This is some fantastic theological work Todd Leonard is doing. Doctrines are not simply ideas that we believe–they are programs of human functioning, ideas that heal. I remember a theology professor at an Adventist university admitting that he understood the doctrine of the investigative judgment, but had no clue what it meant practically. Leonard’s type of theological investigation evinced here is precisely what we need to correct this problem.

My only wariness about this article is the language of placation with regard to the atonement. Pastor Leonard, how does your articulation of Christ as advocate avoid the connotation that God the Father/Mother is not some sort of cosmic opponent of humanity, who requires pacification? I don’t think you mean this at all, but your language suggests this impression (of course, many theologians had the same problem with the idea of an advocate or mediator, particularly Irenaeus).

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Thank you, Andy. I’m completely opposed to substitutionary atonement in the context of appeasing the wrath of God. I believe Jesus showed us the Father and they are the Same. So whatever intercessory work needs to be done, it is to protect us from the Accuser. But my desire in this series is to shift to praxis and I’ll leave the theological corrections to other articles. But, no, I don’t believe the Father/Mother is inherently against us because of our sin. Thanks for that point.

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Repent and be converted for the remission of sins. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

There is no white raiment available under human reasoning. Run to the mountains fast

Todd I want to thank you for the courage to share this understanding of priestly ministry with us. The new covenant has as its heart and soul the High Priestly ministry of Christ who bore our sins, died and rose again for the salvation of every soul on planet earth. It’s divine love from start to finish flowing from Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For some reason He has chosen to let us be part of this mission as ambassadors of reconciliation.

The three examples that you give are heart-warming but not the result of the Adventist sanctuary doctrine built around and 1844 investigative judgement. Your calls to action in the list are the kinds of things I think Christ would welcome in His Matthew 25 sheep and goats description of what God desires from us. …As you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren you have done it unto Me.

Sadly there are down-sides to this article and they cannot be hidden. There are Adventist theological and doctrinal issues that distract believers from the power of Christ’s high priestly ministry. There are doctrines that divert the Adventist mission from the ministry of God’s love in and through Christ. The 1844 Investigative Judgement theology is the major issue. This doctrine has taken the focus away from Calvary and from Christ’s finished work there and has bound the Adventist church to a doctrine of uncertainty at best and of fear at worst. We seem to take pride in the fact that no Bible scholar outside the influence of Ellen White has ever come up with anything that matches the SDA sanctuary doctrine.

Our problem is how we relate to the doctrinal teachings of Ellen White while we claim to be fully Bible based. Without her contributions, there is no 1844 IJ doctrine. Likewise we take her as our authority to prove that the Sabbath is the Seal of God and that Sunday is the Mark of the Beast and that the Sunday laws are coming through the Papacy.

It’s a pity that Ellen White didn’t choose to read Horatius Bonar’s presentation of the sanctuary doctrine in his book, “The Rent Veil.” (http://therentveil.com). Instead she chose that written by Elder Corliss. For Bonar, Christ was the true veil that was rent on the cross and through that veil every sinner can enter in and find repentance and forgiveness and salvation. The whole of heaven was open to sinners for salvation when that Veil was rent, symbolised by the rending of the veil in the earthly sanctuary as Christ bowed His head and died. In other words, since Calvary every sinner has had open access to God’s heart of love, the holiest place of all, through the true Veil that was rent for us. Why do we make it all so complicated and continue to promote vital aspects of salvation that are simply not according to Scripture?

Truth sets us free.

God’s love in practical every-day terms is our message and the source of our service. And it’s ours to have and to share through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection and His presence in us.


Precisely Ray, prior to the sacrifice of Jesus we had the veil separating us from the Father. Only the High Priest who represented Jesus could enter before Him. Believers of the God of Israel had to bring their sacrificial offerings and hand them over to the priests of the daily ministration in the Holy Place . After the veil was rent in two at the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, we were no longer separated from the Father and no longer needed to perform the sanctuary sacrificial works. As Hebrews 4:16 addresses, we can now “Come boldly before the throne of grace and receive grace to help in time of need” We no longer needed the ministry of the priests to perform the sacrifices. The true Lamb had been slain on our behalf and we now could enter into a personal relationship with God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are connected to Him by the Spirit. His victory made us the temples of His Spirit that Paul speaks of in 1Cor. 3:16 and 6:19. And, just as there was no separation any longer between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the earthly sanctuary, neither was there in the heavenly one.at Christ’s death. He went to the Most Holy Place as He is one with the Father . He is in the Father and the Father in Him, They are One . On Jesus’ return after His resurrection He proclaimed “All power is given unto Me on Heaven and Earth.”Matt. 28:18. Jesus’ prayer for us and God’s will for us is that we would be one with the Father as the Father was with Him, Jn 17:21, and was made possible by His sacrifice and the veil of separation being rent and the Spirit being given to all who receive Him.


OK, if the IJ began in 1844, and “soon, very soon” judgement will pass from the dead onto the living -(onto you and me)- what then? If today my “name comes up” and I am found ‘not guilty’, do I continue in sin, and yet still go to heaven? Or am I made perfect? Do I somehow get a 'free pass;?

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@ray, @cadge22, @hfc: completely agree that there are very problematic issues with the Investigative Judgment and our traditional interaction with the person and writings of Ellen White. They have led our church into all sorts of dysfunction, but most importantly, as you say, they have confused us about the grace of God and the full salvation we have right now in Christ.

But when I finish this series, I could turn around and write similar series about the core problems that are destroying all other forms of Christianity in First World West as well (but there are many more books and articles researching and hypothesizing reasons for their declines).

Let’s not forget, in our first-hand experiences with the dysfunctions with Adventism and the joy and freedom we have found as a result from our interaction with writers, preachers and communities of faith that opened us to Christ’s finished work, that Western Christianity is, as a whole, dying–slowly in some places and rapidly in others, like in my city.

For my friends who are evangelicals and pentecostals, they’re coming to grips with the same declines and similar dysfunctions that we are. Their firm faith in the finished atonement of Christ at the cross has not resulted in a triumphant faith either.


This is why I believe you’re on the right track, Todd. A Christianity built primarily on assent to packaged, propositional, truths in order to determine belonging, just doesn’t fly in this post modern age. Nor do I think that it is in line with how the gospel of the kingdom was experienced and shared in the NT.

Secondly, I think that the anti-science, anti-intellectualism, and fundamentalist reading of the scriptures of much of evangelical Christianity not only marginalizes it now, it may very well put it on the wrong side of history in the future. Couple this with the decades long effort to gain political control of the U.S., climaxing in the hypocritical support of a president who lauds ignorance, nationalistic racism, greed, and anything else that is contrary to what Jesus Christ stands for, and thinking people can’t help but see that the emperor has no clothes.

Finally, I believe that the clothing of the gospel in western hyper individualism, reducing it to a personal and private faith in Christ, whose primary purpose is to get one into heaven, or to ensure one’s personal prosperity here, is a distortion that resonates with people less and less. The NT emphasizes the kingdom of God as the creation of a new community, that breaks down the barriers of racial, ethnic, religious, national, and gender based bigotry. In the disconnected societies in which we live in the modern world, many seem to be craving healthy community and spirituality. But, why would they look for it from a religious institution that is often way behind the curve when it comes to inclusion of the other, and offers a quasi-spirituality that simply reflects the isolation and materialistic agenda that they already experience?

The only difference is that it is being offered in the name of God.




There is no joy in this. I brought this up in my Sabbath School class just a few weeks ago. Of course the teacher tried to shut me down. So be it. I have long felt that the IJ concept is at its heart, about institutional control, along with the unpardonable sin. I find it to be very insidious. On the other hand the ideas suggested at the end of this article I believe is a way forward. But I sadly I don’t believe the institutionalized SDA Church would ever embrace it. It would be so disruptive to how they have been doing things. Yet it would be a way out of this corner they have painted themselves into. Short of a cataclysmic miracle I see no way forward for this church.


Todd, if this is true, as I believe it is, maybe we are simply not teaching and experiencing in their fulness the truth of the atonement, Christ’s finished work on the cross, His resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we grow in grace. Christ crucified is still the wisdom and power of God remembering that the resurrection is as much a part of the atonement as the death itself.

I have taught for years that God in Christ forgave all our sins on the cross. Every reference to forgiveness under the new covenant is past tense including 1 John 1:9 when read in context. John is talking about this amazing gift of grace that every believer receives at conversion. We are forgiven saints. Period. But how the IJ doctrine distorts this fundamental truth. God keeps no record of our sins because of Calvary. Christ was our scape-goat on the cross. He became sin for us so that they can never be brought up against us ever, not now or in any future judgement because Christ bore the full judgement of sin on the cross.

Would it make a difference if we truly believed this? It is such a powerful and liberating truth that is foundational to the rest of the gospel truth.

How many devoted Adventist believers have come to the end of life not knowing that their sins are gone and that in Chist their salvation is guaranteed? No wonder that in recent years the church has tried to redefine the IJ doctrine as detailed in The Great Controversy. The problem is we only make it worse when we try to make it about vindicating God.

There’s a lot that needs to be said about what really happens in the new birth related to Christ’s resurrection life. Then there is the truth about walking in the Spirit. We seem to have accumulated a lot of baggage over the years trying to defend non-biblical teachings.

For me personally it has meant reading Scripture through new eyes and taking to heart what it’s really saying to me. The more I understand about the new covenant the more glorious and liberating the gospel becomes.


When I read this paper, I kept thinking that Leonard is confusing the biblical version of Jesus as high priest with the adventist version of Jesus as the high priest. The former teaching that God is on our side, the later glorifying the SDA church as the apex of Gods work on earth, the last fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

I thought that your main points about being the activist church were a step in the right direction. However, the points made later in the discussion have merit as well. The Salvation Army has formed around the concept of a church working for the poor, and they are in no better condition than the rest of us. It is therefore unlikely to be a magic bullet solution for shrinking adventist churches.

I am moving towards the conclusion that what would make a difference is a church where all or most of the members have personal experience of God working miraculously in their lives. I have seen a few adventists who were praying in tounges, anointing the sick with oil and receiving healing in response and so forth. Unfortunately, they were shunned, backstabbed, all but excommunicated for their “pentecostalism”. I do not know if any are still within SDA books. Can a church that crucifies the prophets God sends prosper? I believe that our denomination and christianity as a whole in the west will continue to decline as long as we build fences between one another. The relationship between denominations must become akin to “united states” rather than the cold war thing we have been trying for the last millennia-half millennia. I also believe that the SDA church cannot prosper as long as it keeps teaching its members to be afraid of Gods direct work today. We need to see the day when a new prophet is greeted with cautious optimism (true Berean style) rather than with the fear of the devil. Join together the full body of Christ within the group, the local church, the denomination and the Church. Then I would expect to see change for the better. I also believe it would take a long line of divine intervention for any of the above to take place.