So predictably I’ve received a lot of feedback from the interview I did with David Hamstra of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. For that reason, I thought it might be fruitful to ask a few follow up questions, and then share some of my thoughts about the interview [as well as SDA theology as a whole]. I will include a brief reflection in Part III of this, which I will post in a few days. To the formers end, I will print his answers below. The first question is for Mark.
1. Does the SDA Church consider itself part of the mainstream Christian movement? Why do you believe that other denominations may not consider you part of that movement?
The answer depends on how you define mainstream Christianity. With our distinctive beliefs, I don’t think most Adventists would consider themselves “mainstream.” On the other hand, we definitely consider ourselves part of Protestant Christianity, and most Adventist pastors in North America are part of ministerial associations that require ascent to the Nicene or Apostles Creed. So in that sense, Adventists do consider themselves part the “mainstream Christian movement.”
I do not know of any denomination that has taken a position that says Seventh-day Adventists are not a part of mainstream Christianity. Perhaps your readers know of some that I do not. I do know that Adventist theologians have undertaken non-ecumenical interfaith dialogue with theologians of several Protestant denominations including the Lutherans, Reformed, and Presbyterians during which there was mutual affirmation of the denominations’ legitimacy.
2. What would you say to the accusation that some have that the SDA are not Christians, but rather are a cult?
It depends on your definition of a cult. I’ve seen some anti-Adventist critics toss the term around very loosely. I’m probably not the best person to ask whether Seventh-day Adventism is a cult—because I have a horse in that race and because I’m not an expert in cults. Kingdom of the Cults was written by the first evangelical to seriously examine whether we are a cult, and he concluded that we are not. [Walter Martin]
To be perfectly honest, I find the idea that we are a cult laughable. How many cults have accredited theology schools whose faculty are members of the Evangelical Theological Society? How many cults believe in the eternal divinity of Christ, salvation by faith in Him, and sola scriptura? How many cults allow someone to be a member of their movement without believing their founder was a prophet? (To clarify, in our baptismal vows, one need not agree Ellen White was a prophet to join the Adventist Church.)
3. If 1844 was such a big bust, why put any stock in it at all? Why not just write off William Miller as a madman and false prophet like Harold Camping? What reasons does the SDA Church have for saying that something actually happened in 1844? People have been making predictions about Christs’ return since He ascended, so what makes 1844 and the Millerites different from the tens of thousands of people who have predicted the second coming of Jesus and have been disappointed throughout the centuries?”
Regarding 1844, I like to compare it to the crucifixion. Prior to both events Jesus followers expected him, based on prophecy, to establish his kingdom on earth. That idea was also part of the religious zeitgiest of both societies. The disciples lived in a time of messianic expectation and false messiahs. The early-Adventists lived in a time of millennial expectation and false prophets (e.g. Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy). Both groups of followers were disappointed. Both were unwilling to loose faith in the experience with Jesus they had leading up to the event. And it led both to a new understanding of the prophecies involved and to a reinterpretation of the event as having primarily spiritual significance.
The Great Disappointment instilled a painful lesson in Seventh-day Adventists: no more date-setting. Though I believe God was moving in 1844, it doesn’t follow that the humans in the movement were error free. But, praise God, we are able to learn from our mistakes.
I see the experience of the early-Adventists following the Great Disappointment of 1844 as a reminder that God often leads out of his people’s brokenness rather than their successes. In the Bible, I see a pattern that often when God is performing his greatest acts, his people are the most disappointed—usually because of their false conceptions about God. I think 1844 fits that pattern. So I like 1844 because it keeps us humble.
Of course, the other reason I, along with the early-Adventists, decided to stick with 1844 is the conviction that Miller’s basic historicist prophetic scheme regarding the 2,300 days of Daniel 8 was based on sound exegesis (as opposed to Harold Camping’s numerological approach). That convincing prophetic paradigm combined with the experience of God’s power in converting hearts, overcoming sin, etc. leading up to 1844, led the early-Adventists to conclude something spiritually significant happened in 1844.