How Are We Saved?

In 2018, the General Conference published the Meta-Analysis Report on the 2017-2018 Global Church Member Survey which, among other things, provides an overview of beliefs and practices of church members globally. While the report brings to the fore various issues, it presents two notable findings with far reaching implications. These relate to the role of the Health Message in salvation and whether perfect obedience is necessary for salvation. Specifically, findings on the two reveal that 1) Seventh-day Adventists believe that salvation is only through Christ, but many (47%) see the Health Message playing a role in salvation and 2) a large majority (65%) of Seventh-day Adventists believe they must perfectly obey the law to be saved.

These findings are revealing in many ways, and they offer a picture on how Adventists view God and understand salvation. While exposing the confusion that prevails on the most basic and important Christian doctrine, they provide an explanation on how Adventists have applied labels such as liberal, progressive, conservative, and traditionalist to each other. Without wading into the exegetical and theological debates around salvation, this article looks at the implications of these findings related to Adventism’s views on how we are saved.

Be Ye Perfect

While generally believing that salvation is by faith in the atonement and intercession of Christ, many Adventists go on to add that perfect obedience of the law is necessary for salvation. This is where the confusion reigns, in that while affirming that people are saved the moment they accept Jesus as their Savior, human effort is also presented as an essential contribution to salvation.

That we have been saved by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9) seems not enough for many who see the necessity of contributing something to their salvation. This unbiblical prerequisite reduces the Christian experience to a behavior-based relationship where focus is on doing or not doing things to earn God’s favor. Christianity ceases to be a relationship propelled by an appreciation of Christ but is reduced to a lifelong if not frustrating attempt to avoid hell and go to heaven through what one does or does not do.

Last Generation Theology, with its focus on perfectionism and a flawless keeping of the law meant to trigger Christ’s second coming, fits well into such a toxic belief. This belief not only misrepresents God by exaggerating man’s contribution to his own salvation but renders the cross less efficacious. Ellen White clearly explains,

“There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Steps to Christ, p.64

Thus, there is a difference between perfection and perfectionism. The former ties with Christ’s call for us to be perfect as our Father is perfect (Mat 5:48), given in the context of how we treat our enemies and do good to those who treat us unfairly. In Luke 6:36, instead of the word “perfect,” the use of the word mercy refers not to perfection in law keeping but perfection in love as we grow in loving God supremely and our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

This means it is this character of love (to God and to humanity) which is to be reproduced in us, not some flawless or pharisaic attempts to keep the law. However, for some in Adventism, the suggestion that salvation is by grace (alone), through faith (alone), in Christ (alone) sounds offensive and a cheapening of grace. This explains how among Adventists, a question on how we are saved is bound to generate conflicting and confusing responses most of which suggest that grace alone is not enough. Could this be a legacy from what Michael Campbell regards as Adventism’s flirtation with fundamentalism in the past?

Toxic Spirituality

The cherishing of the view that perfect obedience to the law is essential for salvation explains some of the intolerance, bigotry, and hypocrisy among Adventists. It breeds perfectionism, a self-centered and exhausting attempt to please God by flawless law keeping. By excessively focusing on regulating external behavior as a prerequisite to salvation rather than an outgrowth of our faith in what God has done for us, the Christian experience is reduced to a mere attempt to impress God.

While divergent views are normal in any community, the problem is when labels are thrown at each other, motives impugned. As perfect obedience is made an ambition, relationships become superficial and trivial issues are magnified to become salvific, leading to many individuals exerting efforts to create the impression that they have it under control. No wonder it is “suicidal” to be vulnerable in our churches as there is not space for honest conversation about one’s spiritual struggles. The intolerance that prevails means that the church, instead of being a refuge or hospital for sinners, becomes a museum of the “sinless.” In an environment where the bar is set so high, struggles are kept secret and acceptance becomes dependent on one’s ability to cover up their failures.

Perfectionism is toxic; it fuels separatism where with the fear of being contaminated some isolate themselves from those and that which they consider corrupting. Virtue is derived from how much less they participate in public events or ignorance of popular trends. By being suspicious of everything and everyone, theirs becomes a mission to look out for “apostasy” in others. It breeds an intolerant attitude, as church disciplinary processes become more punitive than redemptive. It is not surprising that as efforts are on regulating behavior, two out of every five members are reported to be leaving the church, not so much over doctrinal disagreements but toxic relationships and lack of community. People don’t feel loved, accepted, or supported in our churches which makes such views detrimental to mission and growth.

Health and Salvation

Added to this is confusion about the role of the Health Message in salvation where about 47% agree that keeping the Health Message guarantees salvation. While this is obviously a manifestation of a misreading of Ellen White’s writings, it exposes how much Adventism needs to urgently go back to the basics of salvation. While this shocking finding relates to the health message, it is highly likely that a similar trend could be observed if the same question is extended to other areas. By treating diet and health as a moral issue, it is natural to use the same as a sieve in matters of salvation. Instead of celebrating and echoing the blessedness of adherence to the health message on one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being, emphasis is on how it assures one of a ticket to heaven.

By believing that perfect obedience to the law and health choices contribute to their salvation, Adventists are not far from paganism. Nothing is more pagan than a belief that one earns God’s favor by what they do or do not do. Interestingly, among those who held this belief on the health message, a majority of them were found in Africa and Asia, while in the North American Division (where vegan and vegetarianism is highest) 93% rejected this view. It appears in the Global South, the health message is largely being embraced, not necessarily for the benefits it promises, but rather for its perceived contribution to salvation. Could this be an explanation of the fanatical way in which conformity to the health message becomes nothing more than about trying to impress God?

One Church, Two Christs

The report further cites that about 76% of the respondents in the North American Division disagreed about the need to keep the law perfectly to be saved, while 64% of respondents from the East-Central Africa Division believed that the law must be obeyed perfectly. The divergence of views on how we are saved based on geographical location creates an “us versus them” environment that continues to manifest itself in various church platforms. This could explain the prevailing fear among some Adventists in the Global South that their brethren in the North are trying to steer the church into apostasy through compromise.

Conservative Adventism steeped in tradition is romanticized as the real deal while the brand of Adventism seen in the North is viewed not as progressive but as a perversion. Debates on topical issues such as women’s ordination, identity, and inclusion of sexual minorities become contaminated with suspicion and mistrust as political and administrative tools are used to settle differences in opinion. As long as divergent views about salvation prevail, it will be difficult to obtain consensus on some of the contemporary issues the church is facing. With one group believing that perfect obedience is what they must deliver to God as a contribution to their salvation, while the other sees perfect obedience not as attainable but as God’s gift delivered and accepted through faith, we have before us one church with two Christs. These two positions are irreconcilable, but for a movement that has self-defined as the remnant, the question on how we are saved becomes definitive.

The Implications

While Adventism boasts of having a solid doctrinal foundation, clearly there is need to go back to the basics on the question of salvation and righteousness by faith. Of course, such erroneous views can be traced back during the early years of Adventism leading to the 1888 General Conference Session and Adventism’s connection with fundamentalism.

Theologians, pastors, and leaders cannot continue to be content with a misrepresentation of the very basic doctrine of the Christian faith among their members. A brand of Adventism that is always on overdrive to perfectly keep the law is exhausting and self-centered. It misrepresents God as a tyrant and reduces salvation to a transactional arrangement between man and God. A religion that exerts efforts on trying to impress God becomes judgmental and toxic in that it demands that which God alone can deliver. What one believes about how they are saved feeds into their picture of God and how they relate to others. Therefore, how are we saved is no longer an obvious and settled question in Adventism but an existential one.

 

Admiral Ncube is an Adventist Zimbabwean writing from Gaborone, Botswana where he is a humanitarian and development professional.

Photo by CRISTIANO DE ASSUNCAO on Unsplash

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11101
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these are such interesting statistics…they probably explain the divide we saw in san antonio between pro-WO and anti-WO interests…certainly anti-WO interests in n. america tend to reflect an LGT mindset…

perhaps what is needed is a more general discussion on what imputed righteousness means, and under what conditions, if any, it is activated…my experience is that the LGT crowd don’t really believe in imputed righteousness as an ongoing phenomenon…they also don’t accept original sin, which is why they don’t see that when they cease from sinning, they’re still sinners in need of christ’s righteousness…

on the other hand, the people who tend to quote select passages from the apostle paul to the exclusion of everyone and everything else really don’t have a meaningful concept of sanctification as a condition for salvation…naturally these people tend to have a serious problem with parts of the OT, but also parts of the NT, and especially egw…

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Admiral Ncube,
Excellent, preach it!!

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I find it amusing, or maybe I should say frustrating, that such people who push the false gospel that one must first remove all known sin from ones life, before God can forgive them, and accept them, are the very apologists who also like to write articles about how the anti-trinitarian mob only take parts of what Ellen White wrote to make their case… And yet, they do the exact same thing, as the above quote clearly points out that their “gospel” (of probation) belongs in the garbage heap.

“Some seem to feel that they must be on probation and must prove to the Lord that they are reformed before they can claim His blessing. But these dear souls may claim the blessing of God even now. They must have His grace, the spirit of Christ to help their infirmities, or they cannot form Christian characters. Jesus loves to have us come to Him just as we are–sinful, helpless, dependent. We claim to be children of the light, not of the night nor of darkness; what right have we to be unbelieving?–Review and Herald, April 22, 1884
(3SM 150.1).

That last quote single-handedly destroys the false gospel these apologists preach. For anyone who knows what they teach, will recognise that it’s the exact opposite of what Ellen White wrote above. “or they cannot form Christian characters.” To attain “Christian character”, IOW, one must first believe that they have been forgiven! That’s what she is saying. They say it’s the other way around: one must first attain the “Christian character” then they shall be forgiven. No one will ever attain this character while believing in their gospel. They will constantly be weighed down with guilt and fear. Just like our friend, Christian, in that wonderful book Pilgrim’s Progress, which Ellen White strongly recommended, which also strongly teaches against their gospel.

If you want to find out whether these people truly teach the same gospel as Ellen White. Ask them one simple question, and you will have your answer: Can I know, can I be certain that I am forgiven/justified. And unless they give you a clear “YES” then you can be sure that it’s not the same gospel:

“Each one of you may know for yourself that you have a living Saviour, that he is your helper and your God. You need not stand where you say, ‘I do not know whether I am saved.’ Do you believe in Christ as your personal Saviour? If you do, then rejoice. We do not rejoice half as much as we should” (General Conference Bulletin, April 10, 1901, par. 14).

While listening to a gospel message recently (I forget which SDA preacher it was now), which told of a story of an elderly couple who came to hear him preach. The husband was on medication, and had been on medication for the longest time because of the false gospel he had been taught as a young man. It literally made him ill. However, after hearing the true gospel he wept. He and his wife later came and spoke to the preacher to sincerely thank him - he was finally free. Imagine for a moment, maybe some of you can, being that ill to the point of requiring medication because of the fear of not being forgiven by God…

And yet these very people have the nerve to call what they teach the “gospel”. Can someone tell them that gospel means good news.

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Maybe less of Dan 8:14 and Sinai and more of Calvary and the empty tomb will unite us.

Maybe we need a renewed study of the new birth to determine that we all belong to the same family of God in Christ.

After all, Christ crucified and risen was a new creation that established the new covenant and the ministry of the Spirit of Life whose glory way outshines the glory of the old covenant.

It is a new creation that is of even greater import for us than the original creation in Genesis, important as that is of course.

Christ plus nothing is our salvation. That’s what motivates us to live for Him.

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Tony,
Thank you for your comment and EGW quotes, and referencing the beautiful quote from Steps to Christ in the article. Admiral Ncube criticizes the adherents of LGT theology but they get their view from EGW as well because she also wrote:
‘We cannot have the assurance and perfect confiding trust in Christ as our Saviour until we acknowledge Him as our King and are obedient to His commandments.’ (Faith and Works, p.16).
‘When souls are converted, their salvation is not yet accomplished. They then have the race to run. An arduous struggle is before them.’ (My Life Today, p. 313)
‘We are saved by climbing round after round of the ladder, looking to Christ, clinging to Christ, mounting step by step to the height of Christ, so that He is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly-kindness, and charity are the rounds of this ladder’ (Testimonies, vol.6, p.147).
‘God has set forth in His word the conditions upon which every soul will be elected to eternal life—obedience to His commandments, through faith in Christ. God has elected a character in harmony with His law, and anyone who shall reach the standard of His requirement, will have an entrance into the kingdom of glory.’

The above quotes were taken from an article written by an Adventist pastor/author/speaker, a proponent of LGT and an erstwhile prolific commenter on this site. Here is the link to the full article:

If you can refute his arguments from the Bible (and it can be done), then IMHO, you have understood not only the gospel, but Christ’s teachings about the kingdom of God.

The problem is Ellen preached more than one ‘gospel’. It leads to tremendous confusion in the denomination (as well as cognitive dissonance if you try to reconcile them in your mind).
The benefit is you can choose the one that appeals to you.

Also, while I was an Adventist I was never a real student of EGW so I am no authority but I believe she also wrote that we are never to say (or even think) we have been saved because we don’t know where we stand wrt the coming IJ.
Hence the elderly couple you mentioned living in fear all their lives.

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Hello Dave,

Your comment reminds me of an article I read a while back (which I shared with Kevin Paulson via email - we had a back and forth regarding the gospel some time ago) - part of it had to do with John Wesley and his gospel. Back in Wesley’s time, there were many protestants who would quote some of his writings which made it look like he had the same works-based gospel as the RCC. But when asked he categorically denied that’s what he taught or teaches. We also have that same issue with Paul and James. Protestants love to quote Paul and the RCC and Kevin Paulson love to quote James.

Also to further illustrate what I wrote above, that article which you linked from ADvindicate, has the author doing the very thing you say Ellen White is guilty of: preaching 2 gospels. Not because the NT has 2 gospels, but because people will pick and chose and even twist and make it seem as though there is 2 gospels. And so just as I don’t accept that with the NT (having 2 gospels), neither do I accept it when people do it with Ellen White’s writings, or Wesley’s for that matter.

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This is an excellent summation of the continuing problem within Adventism on the issue of salvation. As I see it EGW talks out of both sides of her mouth on the issue of salvation and perfection. I’m well acquainted with the the quote in Steps to Christ, and I clung to it with all my heart during those years I was an Adventist. But I’m also painfully aware of what she wrote in Great Controversy about those who stand in the end through the time of trouble must be spotless from sin. LGT relentlessly uses those quotations in GC to argue end time perfection.

As far as the health message goes, I always cut a wide path around these “translation diet” folks and their food fanaticism, another false doctrine wrongly using EWG for it’s support. She was right about one thing, us flesh eaters would leave the church, which is exactly what I finally had the fortitude to do 5 years ago. But it wasn’t over dietary issues.

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Absolutely. Not to mention of being reminded that “we are the remnant” people and everyone else is wrong unless they are 7th Day Adventists. The damage is far too great at this point to fix the misinformation that has been spread for years.

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Hi Tony,

A few years ago I too tried several times to communicate privately via email with Kevin Paulson. The effort failed. I found if you brought up Biblical passages which challenged his gospel and LGT, he didn’t want to talk anymore.

I have trouble with the book of James. I’m not sure one can reconcile its version of the gospel to that of Paul.
I think in the years immediately after the death and ascension of Christ, the gospel as we know it today took time to be comprehended and assimilated. (As Paul said, it is way of salvation apart from the law…). It was such a radical change from the Jewish understanding of salvation by works. Bear in mind that some scholars consider the book of James to be the first NT book written, and it was addressed to the Jewish diaspora. I believe it was called Jacob. (James is the anglicized name of Ya’akov, the name of Israel before his ‘conversion’). So, it was written to people steeped in the OC. It would have been difficult for these first Christians, former Jews, to move past their traditional, venerated teachings about salvation.

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we can reconcile the book of james with the gospel articulated by paul when paul is properly understood…in fact the book of james shows that the popular concept of the gospel articulated by paul is incorrect…

but will this matter…likely not…luther, himself, who got many things right, and some things wrong, wanted the book of james omitted from the canon, this being one of the things he got wrong…fortunately catholic fathers from antiquity refused to budge on this issue…

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Hey Dave,

I heard one time from an evangelical scholar mention the gospel like this:

It’s the easiest of doctrines to understand, yet the most difficult to get into the bloodstream.

IOW - we keep trying to add to it. We can’t accept the fact that Jesus paid it all.

Hello Jeremy,

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that. If you could elaborate.

Amen!
Here is, I think, a good explanation of the differences between the Old and New Covenants:
Religions in the world are all based in some way on the Old Covenant. That is, they are based on men’s vows and intentions to achieve righteousness (or self-improvement) by means of one’s own self-discipline or obedience to the revelation of self-proclaimed prophets and sages. In the case of the Israelites, they enjoyed an advantage in that the laws they received through Moses were from genuine revelation, as we believe. However, the Old Covenant in their case still involved the vows of men, and so righteousness was still based upon men’s ability to keep their vows. The Apostle calls this “works,” as opposed to “faith.”

Paul’s doctrine was foolishness to the Jews of his day, because they all believed that they had faith in God. They prayed daily that God would assist them in keeping their Old Covenant vows, and they had great faith that God would do so. But this was not New Covenant faith. The New Covenant is God’s vow to men, making Him responsible to fulfill His vow. New Covenant faith is “being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform”(Rom 4:21).

Most Christian denominations are based on the Old Covenant, and so it is not surprising that they believe that only a few will be saved in the end. After all, if salvation is based on the decisions and vows of men, and so few make such decisions for Christ during their lifetime, it is only natural to draw that conclusion.

Christianity as a whole has failed as much as Israel did in the pre-Christian era, because both groups based their salvation on men’s vows, rather than God’s vows (promises). In both cases, they taught that the promise of God was to help us fulfill our own vows, leaving the result fully in the hands of men. But New Covenant faith is based on God’s ability to make it happen, not just His assistance to help us make it happen. So Hebrews 8:10 says,
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people. 11 … For all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.

There is no uncertainty in this promise, nor does its result depend upon men. In the end, in spite of men’s resistance, God will win, for His will is stronger than the will of men. This is, in fact, the New Covenant promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, the promise that God made with Abraham, that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed.

If the children of Israel had understood this covenant and had placed their faith in God’s ability to keep His oath, they would have been New Covenant believers. In fact, there was always a remnant of grace throughout history who had such faith in God—even though the majority blindly clung to their Old Covenant faith in their own ability and works.

There is no “rest” for those who still base their salvation upon their own ability to keep their vows. Such people continually strive to achieve perfection in their own strength, hoping that the Holy Spirit will assist them sufficiently. He will indeed assist them, but yet they cannot attain righteousness except through the New Covenant.

@TonyR

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The problem I have with dismissing James’ theology is that it seems very close in emphasis to the synoptics and Jesus sayings. If we take the incarnation and Jesus being the Word of God seriously, then the witness to His time on earth has to be among the most privileged parts of the canon. God could’ve just sent Jesus down to earth on the day of crucifixion, skipped the whole calling twelve apostles to learn from him, had him raised on the third day, then gave visions to Paul to tell him the soteriological significance of his death and resurrection… I think we have to take it seriously that He didn’t do it this way.

Yet it’s often seemed to me that classic Protestant theology would be minimally affected if only Paul was left in the canon. The problem I see with this is that it’s created a fire-insurance theology - everything’s about the individual having the right belief so they can avoid hell and have eternal life. That’s very far from Jesus’ message in the sermon on the Mount, Matt. 25, etc…which is very much about a different way of life based on radical other-centeredness. And James provides a short and powerful antidote to the fire-insurance via propositional faith theology.

That isn’t to say I think we should throw Paul out either. I think the key to reconciling Paul, James, and Jesus’ earthly teaching, may be to take the mystical element of Paul’s theology more seriously. Faith for Paul is not a propositional thing, it’s relational - he speaks of being clothed in Christ, having the mind of Christ, Christ living in us, being united to his death and resurrection. The faith that saves is a faith that means becoming one with Christ. It’s not a dead faith that leaves a Christian unconcerned about the plight of their neighbor which is the kind of faith that James so forcefully condemns.

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Dave, a good overview of the one true gospel.

Surely, John 3:16 is enough in its simplicity. And yet it’s so profound.

If we start adding to “whosoever believes” it’s no wonder we have trouble with Paul and James and John and Peter and Jude and Luke and even Revelation.

To add anything to the finished work of Christ in his death, burial and resurrection for our salvation is another gospel. In fact it’s no gospel at all. Unless we approach James on the basis of this truth, confusion is the sure result. James knew the gospel as well as Paul did but he was dealing with very different problems amongst the believers immersed in the old covenant.

Seventh-day Adventism grew out of the old covenant and still has its roots there. In 1849 present truth was the Sabbath and the shut door doctrine that taught that the world outside of Adventism was lost, eternally. The Adventist focus on old covenant prophecies, the Mosaic sanctuary services and the ten commandment law, especially the Sabbath, still confuses many seekers for truth. Christ is our all and in all.

Christ plus obedience to the law as in the quotes you listed from Ellen White above is not the gospel of any of the New Testament writers. On the basis of those quotations we are all toast.

Thank God for Christ crucified and risen and his love for us. Salvation is pure grace. It was so for Adam and Eve and it will be so till the Lord returns and for all in between.

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Who determines “correct”? All statements are not of equal value just because they’re in the Bible. If that were so, anybody can prove any private belief, straight out of the Bible regardless of education or mental capacity.

Even Adventism seems to be evolving to “justification by faith” vs “justification by works”, both can be found in the Bible (Paul vs James). A simple exercise of logic might solve the problem: If salvation is by faith, can the other (by works) fit into that scenario… By the same token, if justification (salvation) is by works, can salvation through faith fit as well, as in a list of most encompassing concepts in descending order - (physical survival beginning with AIR, followed by WATER, then FOOD).

Salvation by faith can not also support salvation by works, since works proceed from faith. Salvation through works does not need to include faith to operate. Faith does not necessarily proceed from works.

How we describe salvation depends on who we are talking to. Children need short, succinct statements; adults should be able to handle more nuanced concepts. Who we are supersedes what we do. A Christian claims brotherhood with Christ - a child of God, and is accepted by God as such. As human children, we are not perfectly obedient, but are forgiven by the Father. Without the Father/child relationship, no amount of good behaviour buys us salvation.

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I think the issues with variant understandings of salvation have to do with the more basic question of what even is the gospel itself. Protestantism, and Adventism is no exception, has reduced the gospel of the kingdom to individual soteriology. How do I as an individual get saved and make it alive off this planet? There are so many problems with this view of the gospel, that it’s hard to know where to even begin.

Suffice to say for now, this is a distortion and reduction of the NT gospel of the king and his kingdom. Again, this view seems to dominate the landscape here, in this article, in Adventism, and in most of the Protestant world… the equation of personal salvation with the gospel. Though related, they are not one and the same. I think that the distorted beliefs and practices within Adventism, and different distortions within the evangelical world regarding salvation, stem from this problematic view of the gospel itself.

I would think that since the gospel is the NT and church’s proclamation to the world, that this needs to first be gotten straight. The other issues in this article will begin to fall in line around that.

Thanks…

Frank

I really wish I was better at sharing with you what I have come to believe about salvation.
I have tried through my comments over the last several years to do so, but I think unsuccessfully. I’d like to try again:

When I first became an Adventist over twenty five years ago, I had friends at my workplace who were Calvinist Christians. At that time I didn’t even realize there were several branches of Christianity that had vastly different ideas about salvation. These friends would show me verses that supported their views about God’s sovereignty, the depravity of man, limited atonement and other elements of their theological system (as you may know, TULIP is the acronym for their views). Adventism, of course, taught a much different theology based on man’s free will (Arminianism). I was perplexed and troubled. Try as I might, when I looked up their verses in the Bible and contemplated what they had said I could not disprove their theology. And it’s not like there are only a few such passages and so they can be discounted and dismissed (as people whose faith foundations are different sometimes try to do).
George Müller, the famous 19th century pastor/evangelist who started and ran all those orphanages in England and never asked for a penny in donations but relied solely on prayer for everything, was once asked how many NT verses supported Calvinism. He replied four times as many as supported Arminianism (but that didn’t stop him from basing his life on prayer!).

So, my perplexity remained until, nine years ago, due to life circumstances, and now having the luxury of the time, I set out to try to start over, try to put aside what I thought I knew about God, Christ and the plan of salvation and start fresh.

One of the suggestions made to me then that has greatly helped was to obtain and study literal translations of the Bible. Of course, every translation is subject to the biases of the translator(s) but it seemed reasonable that a benefit could be gained by trying to get closer to the actual literal meanings of the words used by the original writers. I also used a concordance and lexicon and set out to try to understand what the ancient words meant to the people who originally read them.

It has been quite an eye-opening experience. When I read an article like the one I referenced by Kevin Paulson, I am quite sure that the words he quotes from the Bible to support his position have a much different meaning for me than for him. I have tried to share some of this information in past comments but it is difficult to do because each of us is at a different place in our journey. (I can give a few references that have helped me if anyone is interested.)

My understanding of God’s plan of salvation for us is now much different. I believe we are headed back to the accepted and orthodox view of the original Christian community (for the first four hundred years or so) before various later theological schemes came about.

And, for the first time, I can reconcile some elements of the Calvinism of my friends with the Arminian viewpoint. God created us and as such He is our owner and is ultimately responsible for all of us. He is indeed sovereign over His creation and what He desires will eventually come about. I believe the Calvinists are right about that. But, to be frank, the Calvinists have limited God’s love to but a few (the ‘elect’) and His soteriological activity to this age. I believe they don’t see the bigger picture and don’t appreciate that His agapé love for all humanity is the foundation of His plan.

What does He want?
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 2:3-4)

How does Christ figure in the plan?
“For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.” (Col 1:19-20)

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2Cor 5:19)

“Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:18-19)

The central element of God’s plan is the unique historical event of the cross in which we all participated (I believe we were all crucified with Christ), but will be actualized over time for all of us individually, in turn, in His time, and not completely in our present age:
“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: (1Cor 15:22-23)

“we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe.” (1Tim 4:10)

Yes, God is the Saviour of all. I think we believers in this age are ‘special’ because not only have we been called or elected or chosen by God to share His message of reconciliation now but also in the next age as His plan of salvation further unfolds.

Ultimately:
“And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all.” (1Cor 15:28)
This is God’s goal.
It is inclusive, for all of us (what the first Adam lost, the last Adam came to regain Paul says in Romans 5). But it is also exclusive in the sense that it is being realized individually, in each of us. God appeals to us to be reconciled to Him now but he has given us the degree of freedom to reject Him, and thus many will go the long way (not in this age or lifetime but through judgment and ‘death’).

God’s goal is stated another way in Isaiah 45:23 and is applied twice by Paul in connection to Jesus Christ (Rom 14:9-11 & Phil 2:10-11). Here is a standard translation:
‘’As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ I was taught this means that God will resurrect those who have rejected Christ and then compel them to kneel down in some kind of grudging confession that they were wrong before He annihilates them by fire.
Here is a translation by a scholar of ancient languages, attempting to give us a clearer meaning:
‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall joyfully praise God.’
He has included a footnote which says that ‘this passage in most translations reads, ‘every tongue shall confess to God’ and the Greek verb is exomologēsetai which means ‘“confess openly,” “acknowledge,” with the additional connotation (especially in biblical Greek, as here in Paul’s use of the Septuagintal text of Isaiah 45:23) of “praise gladly,” “give fullest thanks,” joyfully proclaim.”’

Can you see how the meaning of a passage can be altered when one understands something about the actual ancient words used?
This last passage is from ‘The New Testament’, a literal translation by David Bentley Hart. I recommend it if you would like to begin exploring what I believe the good news or gospel meant to those who originally wrote about it.

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Are you addressing Tony or me, Dave?

Frank

Hi Frank,
The ‘you’ is generic - to anyone who cares to consider my comment.

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