The Peculiar Character of Seventh-day Adventists

“Blameless and upright.” According to scripture (Job 1.8), Job was known as a person of good moral character. Of course, one can always argue about “the good,” character, and associated virtues. Norms of morality ebb and flow through the years so the character of Job and/or his friends may be somewhat foreign to us. Nonetheless, in three stages, roughly chronological, let us explore character through the story of Job.

Chapter one, verse eight goes on to say that Job “fears” God and “turns away from evil.” But why? Apparently, “Satan” leveled a charge that cut right to the heart of the matter; Job’s motivation. Did Job fear God and avoid evil in order to receive blessings from God and his community? Or did Job fear God and avoid evil because of his inner disposition toward good? The distinction between internal, God-inspired good character and external, goal-inspired good character is an essential one. Through the history of Western thought on ethics and morality, this distinction is pervasive even if heuristic. Maintaining this distinction serves the purpose of critical analysis and self-orientation toward the moral life. Both virtue ethics (internal) and command ethics (external) have levels of complexity that confound simple characterization. But the differences in approach are instructive and revealing.

Divine Command Ethics

In a command based ethic, such as that noted in many passages within the Pentateuch (e.g. Dt. 28.15, 58-68; Dt. 30.15-16) if one does what is commanded, it really doesn’t matter if one’s heart is God-inspired and oriented toward a loving relationship with Him. If you do what is commanded, all is good. In a command ethic, our human task is to discover God’s will and then do it. If one asks what is morally appropriate in any given situation, the answer must come from God. A vertical orientation between oneself (and maybe one’s community) and God is the only legitimate place for an answer to emerge. Capturing the core of this line of thinking is the sentence, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” In its strongest form, it is a type of Theological Voluntarism or a Deontological ethic called “divine-command” theory. Human reason is irrelevant in this view because the answer to moral issues comes from God, not humans. If reason is to be used, it only serves to lead us to God’s revelation. Once God’s will is discovered in scripture, reason is entirely subjugated to revelation. One’s actions emerge from this certainty.

Virtue Ethics

Ina virtue ethic, it is not the act that matters most. Personal character rises to prominence in this theory. What sort of person are you when you act in such and such a manner? The person, not the act, is at the core of the question of what is morally appropriate. The character, the virtues, are of utmost concern. In a Christian virtue ethic, one inspired by a heart transformed by Christ’s love, doing the right thing is a secondary concern that flows from the devoted heart. It is not that the act does not matter at all, of course it does, but the orientation of the heart matters first and foremost. This is a distinction that comes with the transformational reality of Jesus as our savior and role model. A virtue ethic, one focused on character, must have a role model and in Christianity, Jesus provides this.

Two additional texts from the OT demonstrate a movement toward a relational or virtue ethic. Micah 6.8 notes both orientations, ending with the character trait of humility. Humility is an internal disposition, a virtue. Ezekiel’s story of the surgical transformation provided by God (Ez. 36.24-27) is a dramatic example of what I mean here. One can live a life of obedience to commands, calculating positive outcomes and blessings, while concealing a stone-cold heart. Persons of this sort may still act in all the right ways. But God would have our hearts be of “flesh” not “stone.” It is because of Him putting His Spirit within us that we subsequently walk in his statutes and follow his commands.

The either/or distinction here is the heuristic, the teaching tool, since one can respond positively to God’s commands from a heart of flesh transformed by Christ. The approach of ethics can be a both/and breakdown rather than an either/or analysis. The passage in Dt. 30 does note what happens when the people’s hearts turn away. God has always desired his people to have hearts of flesh and not stone. God has always desired his people to be like Job, “honest inside and out” (1.1 Message).

Christ himself blended a command (external) orientation with a virtue (internal) orientation when he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn. 13.34). As humans, we find this blend particularly difficult to understand. Imagine, for instance one side of a marital relationship saying to the other, “This I command you, love me.” Turning virtues into commands, character traits into duties is usually understood to be either impossible or extraordinarily difficult.

The apostle Paul takes the Christian understanding of the moral life to an entirely new level, in part because he was engaged with and shaped by his society, his culture.[1] Paul sets out his emphasis on the character of those who follow Christ by listing virtues and vices. This was a common method within classical Greek philosophical schools. Colossians chapter three is characteristic. “The old nature with its practices,” says Paul, includes vices like “slander, foul talk, anger, impurity, covetousness,” and lying. When one accepts Christ, and puts on the “new nature,” virtues like “compassion, kindness, meekness, forbearance, forgiveness,” etc. mark the character of His people.

The apostle Peter urged the importance of this relational, virtue-oriented life when he wrote, “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” In orienting our life along these lines, Peter says that we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.3-7). Ethics within Orthodox Christianity takes this integrative rather than simply cooperative approach so seriously as to use a special term for it, “theosis.” “Theosis is the theological concept through which Orthodox theology has explained the progress of the person toward divine similitude. Theanthropic life is the vocation which was given to Adam at Creation and denied at the Fall, but it was followed to perfection by Jesus Christ.”[2]

Alasdair MacIntyre argues, in his book After Virtue, that within a pluralistic society one is hard pressed to find consensus on the idea of what counts as virtue and vice. Virtue in MacIntyre’s view, is a quality “necessary to achieve the goods internal to practices” which contribute “to the good of a whole life…elaborated and possessed within an ongoing social tradition.”[3] Given the ongoing social tradition of the global Seventh-day Adventist Church presently roiled by matters of conscience and culture, I doubt the possibility of consensus on what counts as good character. The present debates on gender justice, the role of science, and structural polity seem so divisive as to make the idea of continued structural unity and common good unlikely. The virtues being lived out internal to the Seventh-day Adventism are all over the board. When a former GC President is booed on the floor of the world session and no one from the podium responds to quell such behavior, what are we to make of our character? When a duly elected President of the largest tithe-generating Conference in the entire Church isn’t even formally recognized by our GC, what are we to make of our character? I could go on. What is the character of Seventh-day Adventism today?

Blending ethical orientation

Perhaps it is a good thing that God blended a command and relational orientation. As observers, we cannot tell whether others are behaving ethically for utilitarian reasons or from authentic reasons of the heart transformed by Christ. For instance, some may attend Church services throughout their lives with little more than a calculating gambit to get into heaven. Such a person may cling to her heart of stone, while appearing to us (as external observers) to be someone of high moral character. Under her breath, Sabbath by Sabbath, she may well curse others and God while appearing faithful and of Church office.

Alternatively, a Christian relational orientation to the moral life emerges from an internal desire; from a heart transformed by God’s grace. When such a person attends Church services, he does so out of a sense of joy and worship. It is not his duty to go to Church, it is his pleasure. He is not calculating his chances for heaven over hell as a related outcome of his Church attendance. His compassion for others is an authentic, thoroughgoing expression of internal disposition. Again, those of us observing cannot know from whence the motivation comes. As scripture says, only God can discern the human heart. Truth be told, I suspect most of us are a complex blend of both virtue and duty when it comes to our moral life. Indeed, we may be psychologically incapable of sufficient self-reflective skills to even understand our own motivations.

Reading Job, one receives the impression that his motivation was internal. His challenging response to his friends strikes me as an authentic expression of honesty (a virtue). When he curses the day he was born I think it was an honest response to suffering. Alternatively, he might have completely covered his grief and said things to win favor with his friends. For instance, he might have modified his comments to ingratiate himself to them. Indeed, how many of us look around to our neighbors when pondering difficult responses of personal faith just to see how our words and expressions might be taken? When we mask our deeply held convictions to remain in the graces of our friends, family, and colleagues, we run the risk of internal rupture to our sense of self. Job’s honesty with God and his neighbors may have cost his high reputation among friends. While honesty is a virtue, the expression of it is a delicate matter. Character is the result of both internal and external motivations and humans are rightly pushed, pulled, and prodded along both lines.

Growth of character is a complex blend of personal, familial, and societal influences none of which is outside the possibility of God’s inspiration. Regardless of composition, our families teach us many things about character, as does our society, both positively and negatively. The older I get the less convinced I am that growth in character is possible. But the flip side of this is that I am more and more dependent upon Christ for any growth that might occur. Nonetheless, if I don’t try, really hard, to be a decent person then all the prayers and entreaties to God fall flat. If I hope to be a person of decent character, I must decide and act in a decent manner; that’s my work, not yours, not God’s, not even the Spirit’s. Remaining open to his influence and help, I must be kind to someone, compassionate to someone, honest and dependable toward someone, and so on.

Mind you, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with salvation, not Job’s, not mine, yours or anyone else’s. None of my comments here have any direct relation to a theology of salvation. Aside from the fact that humans are lost, salvation is not about human character, it is about God’s character. Human character surely does go through changes in the presence of God and his community of faith. Jesus’ presence does transform the human heart. Job’s character (mine and yours) is changed through relationship with God. But my thoughts here regard the character we build in our human to human relationships. In the context of the Sabbath School lesson, I’m talking about Job’s personal character traits; his virtues and vices. And in the context of our lives today, I long for our reputation to be like Job’s. Above all else, I long for people in my community to say of Adventists, “Those are decent folk!”

In a day and age when traditional virtues like honesty and decency seem to have gone by the wayside, it strikes me that the most dramatic way for God’s remnant to be “peculiar” is to be persons of high moral character. Like Job, being peculiar for us means we will be persons who are inclined toward good. As Peter urged, we can reflect a Christ-like character because he has transformed our hearts and we’ve put away our calculating, stone-hearted approach to winning the favor of God. Oddly, decency and love for others flows from our hearts of flesh. We don’t have to try to be peculiar by engaging in behaviors that draw attention to ourselves as a calculating means to make a point.

[1] There is a good deal of biblical scholarship which examines Paul’s thought and theology as he interacts with common societal/philosophical ideas. Two useful books in this stream of scholarship include: Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Paul and the Stoics. T&T Clark (Westminster John Knox); Louisville, KY. 2000; John D. Caputo, Paul Among the Philosophers. Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Indiana University Press; Bloomington, Indiana, 2009.

[2] Vigen Guroian, Incarnate Love: Essays in Orthodox Ethics. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1987, p. 14.

[3] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, A Study of Moral Theory, 2nd ed., University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 1984, p. 273.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7813

Perhaps this is not the place bring this up. But there is some overlap between the actions of the third world at SA and the election of Trump.

Here is a quote from the WSJ by Peggy Noonan about how some felt about the election:

What reaction did he see from the men in the gym the following days? “Elation.” “ ‘Someone finally speaks for me.’ ”

“The ‘deplorables,’ they got called rednecks and racists and not real people—well they were real people, and they were real mad. Trump in his own unique, almost mystical way is able to speak a common language that is abrasive and sometimes unattractive but always digestible.”

And the third world divisions were tired of going over WO again, and being considered second class, and in essence immoral, because they did not agree with WO.

So they booed the last president for his hubris and condescension. or at least their perception of it.

it does not have to do with character at all really, but disgust with constant “we’re better than you” and you should do as we say. This may not even be the real picture, but the third world is giving the first some of the medicine that it has had to take for many years. They are “The Deporlables” as Clinton aptly spoke. Too backward or ignorant to bow to first world morality.

And the first world will not have it. They are going ahead with their superior moral agenda regardless.

Is there not an arbiter to come between?

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“it does not have to do with character at all really, but disgust with constant “we’re better than you” and you should do as we say. This may not even be the real picture, but the third world is giving the first some of the medicine that it has had to take for many years. They are “The Deporlables” as Clinton aptly spoke. Too backward or ignorant to bow to first world morality.”

How interesting that they would need an apologist…I would think as SDA Christians that everyone should recognize what rude and uncouth behavior is/was. There were other more mature ways of handling things and I would hope that they would have exhibited them.

“And the first world will not have it. They are going ahead with their superior moral agenda regardless.”

Your words…

“Is there not an arbiter to come between?”

Only God’s grace can change hearts. I cannot see Him in this.

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Mark Carr (with or without whatever credentials) has nailed it. This issue has always been at the heart of Christ’s message - the difference between a forensic religion vs heart religion. Jesus made his preference pretty clear when he said “By this they will know you are mine, that you love one another.” But then, there will ensue the argument about what that means. We are all flawed. None of us can say for sure what motivates us, let alone others, to attend to this thing called “religion”. Various psychological needs direct us to community; and we’ll do anything to belong to something.

Further on, Paul lists the usual virtues that should accompany a Christian; but does emphasize that without love, none of them matter. In fact, how we relate to other people, is a good indication of what our relationship to Christ looks like. Do we exploit for our own benefit; or do we help for their’s. How do we react, when there is no time to think about it. When a plane crashed into the Potomac, many years ago, one man died because he placed, for the last time, the lifesaver that was tossed at him, on the person struggling in the icy river next to him. That haunts me to this day.

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Allen, Isn’t the whole position of religion, and of religious people this: “Our way is superior to yours”? Just how does one say that the Godly way of life is the best way without saying that other ways are inferior?

Of course, sinners will resent those who try to be righteous. Of course those who hate do not like being told that hatred is wrong. That is human nature. It’s one of the stories told in the Bible.

If I’m not mistaken, in these columns you regularly take people to task for their views, proclaiming that your position is superior and more moral than others. But here you are faulting others for doing exactly what you do all the time! I don’t get it.

Jesus accepted the Samaritan woman he met at the well; he did not rail at her for her racial heritage or for having the wrong religion. Acceptance of people unlike ourselves is, by any Christian standard, more virtuous than “othering” them and advocating their exclusion and persecution. I’m sorry it offends you to say so.

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It strikes me that the article is largely talking about the differences between the Old & New Covenants.

The Old Covenant:
-a series of external, Divine commands given on two stone tablets
-based on our vow of obedience (i.e., human effort) given largely out of fear
-based on our misplaced faith in ourselves and so had no chance of success
-was necessary to show us our sinful nature

The New Covenant:
-God’s law written on our hearts thus changing our character and very nature
-based on an unconditional promise of God (Divine grace) given out of love
-based on the goodness of God and the atoning work of Christ and so cannot fail
-is necessary because there will no longer be sin in the coming kingdom

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The Everlasting Covenant is the Gospel. It is the completed work of Christ that the Third Angel carries. Yes it is invitational and spiritually refreshing. TZ

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Well, you are probably right in what precipitated this, but in booing they confirmed the very thing they imagine the west thinks of them. Anyone that had a hint of a thought that their behavior was generally inferior before the meeting had it enforced by that very behavior at the meeting. They should have been asked to leave on the spot for such behavior.

And why not? It is superior. The idea that women are inferior to men is, well, inferior. People that have such an idea need to be re-educated. Or, at least, that should be the goal of the church. It appears to be following Christ’s example.

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I could not argue with that. Decorum is important as is respect for elected leaders. But I suspect they had had enough. Like when President Bush was booed by the left at Obama’s inauguration.

I think this is the very attitude that led to the No vote. You don’t see the arrogance and condescension here? This is your judgement, not a fact. And the issue is not inferiority but role. That is a different matter, viewed differently by different culture. You may disagree, but again that is opinion.

Where is the example of Jesus ordaining any women? WO is not following Jesus’ example at all. Jesus treated women with respect and courtesy, but did not ordain any of them.

This is the whole problem with WO. A western viewpoint is taken as Jesus’ viewpoint without his command or example. It is going beyond his words and acts. He does not forbid it either, but certainly there is no imperative! So how can it be superior?

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Well, actually I think they proclaim that theirs is superior to mine, or perhaps it goes both ways. One always argues from the position that they think they are right, just as you have done here (I am being taken to task for my views) I think that is the nature of this board. There is free exchange of ideas, and if one does not think one is right, one probably does not post. You might look at the moral language of others besides me and see what you think. (see particularly John Mark and Brianxxxx and Bic)

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Christ’s example, and that of the early church as seen in the Gospels and Paul’s writings, was to push the envelope of cultural norms in a progressive way. Jesus associated with women who didn’t have male chaperones, for example. Paul called women apostles. Phoebe ran the church in Rome, which met in her house (not her husband’s house.) There are many more examples. Even things we read like the household codes in Paul’s contested writings were progressive versions of those codes commonly accepted in society, and were probably only written to appease outsiders who had a wary eye on the early Christian churches.

To truly love another as you love yourself means that you treat the other as an equal. Unlike in biblical times, in the modern world we are free to, and so are expected to, take that to its logical culmination, which is to shed any sort of gender-based expectations outside of those that are biologically necessary.

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It’s nice to talk about the “Character of Seventh-day Adventists,” exalting the idealistic characteristics that we were taught about the Church and its message. However, I am not sure on what planet the author actually lives.

The first thought that came to my mind when reading this article was, "How can someone’s character be exalted when there is discrimination (of women) so clearly and undeniably involved?

The author says,

Well, which list should discrimination be added to? Until this question is answered, it would be nonsensical to continue this conversation. IO bet the Church top leader will never answer this question iof he were asked…

What does it say about the 'Character of SDAs" when they officially now welcome a doctrine like LGT that is nothing but the old wolf (or is it an astute fox?) disguised?

Yes, LGT is nothing but the old perfectionism heresy now being infiltrated in the Church with the blessings of Ted Wilson, the first GC President to refuse denouncing the heresy. And worse, several satellite groups are promoting this heresy in our Church and apparently getting monetary subsidies from the GC.

How lower can the “SDA Character” dive???

Allen, I hope you do not have a driver’s license or a passport. But if you do, please explain where is the example of Jesus …
This argument of “where is the example of Jesus” is simply ridiculous, but people resort to it all the time as if it had any merit or value. All a bunch of malarkey.

@elmer_cupino @ageis711Oxyain @timteichman @andreas @robert_sonter

Addendum:

Did anyone figure out yet what is the name of this article’s author?
It usually appears here on the OneGate, but not this time. Was it one of the Spectrum’s editors? It says, "Website Editor."
Help please.
There has been no interaction of the author with the commenters so far, neither here nor in the LougeGate. Why is that?

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Jesus did a lot of things we no more do today. Jesus did not do a lot of things we newadays in our environment do. Please rather see the essentials behind this or that and do not play “We live like Abraham and Jesus !” - “We live a Biblical lifestyle !”.

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What if Jesus ordained by washing the feet of his disciples?

And if so, who ordained Jesus? Ah, Mary … of course. A woman. Ordained herself by creation as the ordinate of not just human offspring, but of God’s very son, Jesus. By another Mary.

What if men are right; what if they have no business ordaining women? But neither one another, then.

You may see it another way.

Seeing works that way.

So it is the seeing that can seem perverse.

And what if it is the eyes the causes the perversity?

We would like it otherwise. But eyes it is. Or worse, minds. Is there a difference? OK.

Let’s take comfort in what we share so as to not be alone.

Love is the cure for loneliness, the result of divisiveness.

What if love accepts all things not because they are perfect, but because when that which is perfect comes everything we know will be done away.

What if what we both come to believe and that remains is not your belief or mine, but us?

Just us.

As in the us of whole of the World, created, redeemed, and saved by the Creator, the Redeemer, the returning Savior, the son of God, by a woman, Mary.

Christmas being a really opportune time to be of such a mind, together, no?

What if Christmas were to confirm the reality of God coming to us because we cannot come to him? And what if we Seventh-day Adventists are looking for him to come back again, again because we cannot rise to go to him.

And what if while we wait there is no need to even cross the street to a house of worship? What if he knocks on our door, not because we need to open the door, but because he does’t what to frighten us and because he wants us to know that he comes to us without so much as having to await a simple invitation?

What if to be with him is to be with each other as he is with us. Each. Already?

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Never admit that they were taken in by Wm Miller. How many generations have been taken in by such nonsense? I took Bible Doctrines in 1942. The Church at the top is just as silly as The dean of women who taught Bible Docs. one just had to sit on the front row to get an A. Nodding yes helped. still does. TZ

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The Peculiar Character of Seventh-day Adventist is in their obsession with the Steps to Christ while the Gospel is built upon the steps Christ took to us. (Phil. 2:5-11). Christmas celebrates that first step. The Cross marks the finished step. The beatitudes outline the character of Christ. The sermon goes on to magnify the Law. it is that Law that Christ lived before us. At the Close of the sermon, He invites Us to build upon the Rock He has established. He is updating Micah’s discription of the desire of God. (To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk teachably with God. His generosity begets our gratefulness and installs a sense of generosity akin to His gift to us. It is the Cross that we should celebrate and proclaim. Not a final generation. tZ

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WHAT DID JESUS DO?
WHAT IF I really did! what Jesus did??
I could drink wine in moderation. Jesus did. Solomon recommends moderation.

But our 28 says, DO NOT DO AS JESUS DID! No Wine!!

YES!! We are SELECTIVE with Doing as Jesus did! WO is an example. Wine is an example.

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God may have given us the ability to transform our hearts but the decision is still on us to allow Him to transform us. And the ability to be transformed is influenced by a number of biological and external factors, one of the more important factors being how we were raised as children. Children who have been raised as lacking confidence will constantly require structure no matter whether it be religiously inspired or not. For instance the Last Generation Theology which focuses on fear and suspicion with no redeeming factor other than to please someone. Why and how could a religious concept take hold on a number of our church followers and leaders other than having strict and rigid parents who never fostered confidence and autonomy in their children as they matured and developed into adults.

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I’ll go with Jesus’ example. Thank you very much. Cheers!

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Given the wonderful insights derived from the various essays which have shed light on this quarter’s lessons over the last three months, I have decided to re-title this portion of canon as ‘The Gospel of Job’ because it demonstrates that God is not into retributive justice…He does care about redemption, not just punishment for punishment’s sake. And redemption is possible, not because of good works, but because of a ‘relationship’ with God. This was Job’s big revelation. He had always been good, but he had never really met the One who is Good.

Further, I sense that as Christians, we have historically ‘dumbed-down’ or over-simplified our view of evil in an attempt to minimize it through a misguided desire to understand it and to meet a deep-seated need to tie our theology up in a neat package where there are no unanswered questions.

Thank you to all the authors who contributed their essays.

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