Throughout my ministry, I have been really concerned about a strange dichotomy I keep bumping up against. It’s the apparent division between the gospel and the eschatological messages of Daniel and Revelation. To oversimplify the situation, on one side are those who want to emphasise the transformational gospel of grace preached by Jesus and Paul. On the other side, there are those who want to be loyal to what they believe are the warning messages of the Adventist pioneers as emphasised by the three angels' messages of Revelation 14.
This difference in emphasis has often become exaggerated as our cultures have secularised. When our Adventist pioneers preached, certain assumptions could be made about what their audiences knew and understood. But a lot has changed in our Western cultures since 1863. Young people are actually growing up in the secular West without ever hearing the name of Jesus except as a swear word. And this has brought a dilemma, or perhaps I should say, a crisis, into our pews. What are we supposed to be proclaiming to the world, or more specifically, what is present truth today? Could it be possible that the three angels' messages are no longer present truth?
In this environment, those who emphasise the judgemental aspect of Revelation are often viewed by the other side as irrelevant dinosaurs, while those emphasising the transformational gospel of grace are accused of having sold out on their Adventist heritage. So why do Seventh-day Adventist’s exist? In the culture in which I live, what is the message God wants me to proclaim in order to be faithful, and relevant, to Jesus?
When I came out of college, Daniel and Revelation seminars were still in vogue. Being excited about Adventist eschatology, I even wrote my own archaeologically-based Daniel seminar. If ever I was going to study more in the future, I wanted to do a doctorate in Adventist eschatology.
But then a strange thing happened to me. One day I began reading the three angels' messages again and came to Revelation 14:6, “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim...” As soon as I read the word, “gospel” I distinctly heard the Holy Spirit speak to me, “you have got to understand the gospel first.” I was really stunned. What was it about the gospel that I had yet to know? The whole experience was confusing because God seemed to suggest that there was something about the gospel that I did not understand, and without this understanding, I would not be able to faithfully present our prophetic purpose.
So for the last twenty or so years, I have been wondering about the gospel and our eschatological purpose. It’s been an interesting time. I have seen how closely the little horn’s activities of Daniel 8:11 demands a renewed commitment to devoted discipleship. I have seen how the call to come out of Babylon in Revelation 18 is founded on a call to invite people into communities of spiritual transformation that are devoted to restoring people in the image of God.
One thought that has emerged from my reflections is that the gospel is not one or the other. It’s not about grace or judgement. It’s about both. Together. I cannot disconnect the teaching of grace and leave people ignorant of the consequences of rejecting it nor the biblical reality of the soon return of Jesus.
I realise this may not sound revolutionary at first, but I think there are greater consequences than may first be apparent. We are all familiar with Paul’s illustration of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, where there are different parts that all need each other, and that we must avoid the temptation to think that we can stand separately from each other. But I also think this picture may apply to many of our theological viewpoints. It is easy for me as a church administrator to promote my own theological perspective and to consider those with a different view with suspicion and irritation. But if Paul’s imagery applies here also, we all need each other. The gospel is multifaceted. One facet alone will not enable the gospel to sparkle brightly as we prepare for the return of Jesus.
This seems to suggest that we need a synthesis of ideas that can bring a biblical harmony of viewpoints rather than simply sniping at each other from our own well-built towers. I have to see those with other views as collaborators rather than enemies or fools—that they also have something I need to be biblically balanced. And this work is going to be messy, uncomfortable, and challenging work, particularly if I believe I have `the truth’. It’s going to require a lot of guts and humility. But I think when the different sides of the church are able to synthesise their ideas together, we shall have something very special.
I realise I am writing in large brush strokes which is always a little dangerous. But I suppose what I would like to see—what I believe is being called for in Revelation 14—is unity. Such unity is derived from a fresh synthesis of views. I believe this calls us to renewed Bible study, to open-minded dialogue across the divide, and a sensitive ear for the Holy Spirit. Could it be that God has deliberately given each of us—and each group within the church—only one piece of the puzzle each, so that as we prepare for the second coming, the glory of the gospel can only become visible when have come and built something together?
Gavin Anthony is President of the Icelandic Conference.
Photo by PMRMaeyaert on Wikimedia Commons.
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