Universal Sunday Laws and Adventist Doctrinal Intransigence

If it is an exaggeration, it’s not by much. The assertion that no contemporary Christian denomination has identified with Christ’s Second Advent the way Seventh-day Adventists have. We have strategically hitched our fortunes to this event in precise, unambiguous ways – the Adventist in our name being a constant reminder. The circumstances of our founding similarly grew out of the timing of his Return. And it is probably a carryover from our anxieties, as each year goes by and the Coming has not materialized, that we have spun-out multiple explanations and preconditions for the delay. Or perhaps the reasons we propose speak more to our collective indiscipline, as the waiting drags uncomfortably longer than was ever anticipated.

Whatever the reasons, we should occasionally recall some of the ways we have attempted to mitigate our uneasiness and at least debate whether we are better off maintaining these period-conditioned advent beliefs or jettisoning them as inward-looking relics of a bygone era. If we disavow them, the church might take a severe, temporary hit to its prophetic reputation, but better that than retaining them on the “books” and pretending we believe. Or worse, don’t teach them.

One hundred and seventy-six years have lapsed since our 1844 Great Disappointment. Over this period, we, probably more than any church in Christendom, have looked to the “signs of the times” to calibrate “the closeness of the hour.” Other denominations have been similarly engaged in this practice, but none has been as persistent, and shown as much devotion to finding predictive markers for the Second Coming, as Adventists have throughout our history. I suspect we do this in part because of our historicist approach to eschatology. An approach which seems to have bound us to specific events latched on to when we were developing our initial hermeneutics.

The church holds, in varying degrees of fervor, several distinctive, some might say extra-biblical, doctrines concerning conditions that would foreshadow the Second Coming. Many of these positions are held in abeyance and are not prominently outlined in our official beliefs. We hold them in our back pocket for the initiates until they are baptized.  In fact, some are not discussed at all in our 28 Fundamental Beliefs, or spelled out during public evangelistic crusades or seminars. And when they are, the attempt is cursory. However, they feature prominently as core expectations about last day events within our Adventist subculture. Beginning with this essay and going forward, I will dedicate space in my monthly column to discussing some of these topics surrounding our Second Coming doctrine.

The first of these is the Adventist position on global Sunday Laws, whose implementation we contend will bring into quick succession events that usher in “true” end times. Though hardcore conservative Adventists still insist that these laws will “soon” come about, as they point to occasional isolated supportive statements from the likes of American televangelist, Pat Robertson, I don’t think most Seventh-day Adventists truly believe any such law is in the offing. At least not in the foreseeable future. Indeed, for some, the Sunday Laws idea is a quaint throwback to what seemed promising, even doable, in the environment of its conception.

Frankly, it seems the idea endures in Adventist eschatological thought only because the church’s matriarch, Ellen White, provided the prophetic stamp of approval. Here, she argues for the position:

The dignitaries of church and state will unite to bribe, persuade, or compel all classes to honor the Sunday. The lack of divine authority will be supplied by oppressive enactments. Political corruption is destroying love of justice and regard for truth; and even in free America, rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance. (Great Controversy, p. 592)

Against the backdrop of church-state conflicts in the United States (US) of the 1880s, where Seventh-day Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists were routinely singled out and jailed for working on Sundays, this prediction seemed prescient. It appeared even more probable when US senator Henry Blair introduced his National Sunday Law bill in 1888. But it got nowhere. Now, over 130 years after Blair, and with each passing year of non-enactment, it seems to me that it is past time for us to re-evaluate this “prophecy.”

Things have changed. Current geopolitical/theological calculus is dramatically different from the late 19th century. Back then our founders’ world and worldview were narrowly focused on the United States and Europe. Likewise the religious powerhouses, which at that time revolved mainly around Catholics and Protestants. Ours is a different world now, and going forward I find it difficult to imagine Muslims or practicing Jews, for example, voluntarily acquiescing to an enforceable universal Sunday worship arrangement that has the Catholic Pope in charge and every group worshipping on Sunday. Even more problematic for the Sunday Law conception is the massive postmodern religious landscape shift in Europe and elsewhere. Secularism has taken hold and Christianity has lost ground, due in part to the Western Christian nations’ role in the carnage of two world wars.

Sunday Laws, if implemented as we conceptualize them, casts Seventh-day Adventists as the primary protagonists in the Good versus Evil cosmic conflict. With God firmly on our side. So it is understandable that we yearn for the good-guy role which relies on such laws as a propellant. But what we wish for should not blind us to the world we find ourselves in. A world which suggests that Sunday Laws likely may not ever be enacted, at least not in our lifetimes, and maybe never. Whether our contemporary church leadership will buck the trend in our long history of refusing to re-evaluate, and possibly renounce our position on these laws, is anyone’s guess. But doing nothing, hoping the issue will go away, will not make it so. It only increases the burden on another generation and continues the long spineless tradition of Adventist leaders who see the problem but look the other way.


Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/author/matthew-quartey.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10723

The Christian Nationalists (Alt-right Adventists, or whatever) among us have figured out how to involve everyone in Sunday worship, including Muslims, atheists, and perhaps even Jews: Sunday sacredness to save the planet. It’ll be yet another evil machination of those Earth-worshiping Environmentalists. Within the echo chamber of these SDAs, this eventuality has become elevated to established fact.

Personally, I’m willing to accept the possibility of national and international Sunday laws - regardless of how they come about. Having an open mind toward last-day events might be a good thing.


Doesn’t this guy have anything better to do than bash the SDA church?


Don’t you have anything better to do than waves at everything?


It depends on how you see it.

Children who become disruptive, defiant and oppositional in school but are perfect children at home are frequently seen as having rigid and punitive parents who cannot tolerate emotional outbursts and who are woefully inadequate in teaching self-control to their children. Frequently these children are suspected of being subjected to extreme punishment. Whereas children who are perfect in school but disruptive, defiant and opposition at home are seen as having normal parents who can tolerate emotional upheaval and can provide a safe and nurturing environment in hopes of teaching self-control. Children can only misbehave when in a safe and protective environment.

For this reason, the SDA church can be seen a nurturing and supportive when able to accept members who have nothing “ better to do than bash the SDA church.”

Cliff Goldstein, this should be seen as a complement to our church leaders including you. They have provided a safe and nurturing church ambience. Don’t ruin it now.


Clifford, do you believe that the SDA Church is perfect and that it has nothing to correct or change?


Likewise, children who grow up in overprotective environments tend to have hard times transitioning out of the constraints that were set to manage their behavior as a child, but not as an adult. Thus, parents become unquestionably right at everything, and things like “don’t talk to strangers” can induce enormous amount of anxiety when they meet people and concepts beyond their established comfort zones.

Does Adventist leadership treat the congregation as responsible adults who are strong enough to confront complex reality of possibilities, or do they prefer to put child safety locks on anything and everything?


The current GC leadership team has no confidence on its members as evidenced by its creation of the Compliance Committees. That could speak volumes about our leaders childhood developmental years and their parental upbringing.


"… or do they prefer to put child safety locks on anything and everything?"

Not that you need to ask…we all know the answer to that one. However, I have to say that SDAs have never had the courage of the Amish who allow a Rumspringa for their youth.


Is this a rhetorical question? :laughing: :wink: :thinking:


The issue is simple to understand. EGW pointed out that if the SDA church as a whole responded positively to what Waggoner and Jones had presented on righteousness by faith the SDA church would have leapt into the 3 Angels message activities so long anticipated,the world would have responded as we still believe they will and Jesus would have returned prior to the time she wrote that.

The Work Might Have Been Done —Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would, ere this, have come to the earth, and the saints would have received their welcome into the city of God.—Testimonies For The Church 6:450 (1900). Notice 1890. In Ev 696.1 to 3, written in 1883, EGW said a similar thing and that God’s promises and threatenings are conditional.

Remember that we had the Kellogg apostacy causing great confusion. Now we have again groaning and complaining members who seem to have limited reading comprehension and find problems with the SDA church, EGW and love what the world is doing.


"Now we have again groaning and complaining members who seem to have limited reading comprehension and find problems with the SDA church, EGW and love what the world is doing."

And so…what is your conclusion? Where do you see the SDA Church going from here?


In that case, you wouldn’t have been born, right?


Sometimes adults address a serious comment to a still immature juvenile, and the young kid just gets irritated, angry, and often starts crying. “Unfair! Why me? Get on someone else’s case!!! Buá, buá, buá…”
The comment was too serious, too mature, too adult for an immature kid, who became offended instead of understanding correctly the issue and dealing with it properly. But he couldn’t, because he was still… immature.


People are asking @Cliff way too many questions. It appears that they think that Cliff has nothing to do and has time to respond to all. :laughing:


Hi @Dene , welcome back. Haven’t seen you for a while. How have you been?


Naw…we know Clifford is a “hit and run” commenter. He can’t risk hanging around here for fear of “contamination” of his soul. :wink:


Hey, Spectrumites, this issue has nothing to do with racism, right? Therefore, let’s keep it clean so that we can have a healthier 7-day conversation. Especially @elmer_cupino, please, do not invite trouble here … :wink: :innocent:


Easy Dene, Easy. This is too much of a burden to shoulder.

This would be similar to blaming poor judgement on children even before they acquire the necessary cognitive maturity. We do not expect a 6 year old child to think as a 45 year old adult, do we? So why would we assume knowing God’s plans?


That’s not the case here. God always provides all the info that each individual can make a decision on. It is not deep theology to read what the Bible says about the return of Christ. Look at the welcome Jesus got when He was born… some elderly faithful, some guys from the east and a few shepherds, when there was so much clear signs for everyone to look up.