We’ve been talking about Seventh-day Adventist identity. Recent posts have been about the concept of “soon,” because the soon coming of Jesus has been a central part of Adventist identity. This may surprise some members under the age of 40, but the soon coming of Jesus was proclaimed by almost no one except Adventists before the year 1970.

My wife was raised by her aunt, who was raised the Lutheran, and became a Seventh-day Adventist around the year 1950. I mention this because only a few years before she became a Seventh-day Adventist, she had a Lutheran pastor who lost his credentials because he taught about the soon coming of Jesus. So when I say it was unusual, I mean it was almost unheard of in mainstream churches.

Something which has rather recently become an issue, is whether Adventists should have a unique identity at all, or whether we should just concentrate on our identity in Christ, along with all other Christians. For some, the idea of “uniqueness” is like saying we are better than other Christians.

Of course, there will always be human beings in any group who think themselves better than others. That is after all one of the central temptations all humans have. But the real question is whether there is anything intrinsically prideful about claiming uniqueness. And the answer to that, I would submit, is a resounding “no.”

There are two reasons for this. First there is more than one reference in the Bible to God’s “peculiar people.” Of course, that doesn’t mean peculiar in the sense of odd or strange. Rather, it means peculiar to God, that is, uniquely his. And we are uniquely his not because we are better than other people, but because we recognize we are objects of his grace. And in that regard it is our peculiar, or our particular and unique, responsibility to proclaim his goodness to others.

The second reason is the boundless creativity of God. The God who makes no two snowflakes alike will spend at least as much effort in making every human being unique. As C. S. Lewis said, “And how should the Infinite repeat Himself? All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.” And finally, although we are all “children of God,” yet he gifts and employs each one of us in different ways.

To declare that the Seventh-day Adventist movement has a unique identity has nothing to do with saying we are superior to or better than others. It is simply a testimony to the creative power of God.

In all fairness, it is a claim that we’ve been raised up by God to do a particular work.  Paul put this in perspective writing to the church in Corinth:

I may have done the planting and Apollos the watering, but it was God who made the seed grow! The planter and the waterer are nothing compared with him who gives life to the seed. Planter and waterer are alike insignificant, though each shall be rewarded according to his particular work.

~ 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, Phillips.

Notice that rewards are granted according to the ‘particular’ (=unique) work.

If one looks back in history at groups that have been raised up by God, we can certainly see how they have fallen away. Most often by beginning to believe they were better than others. At the same time, we see that, despite their all too human failings, those movements carried out God’s central purpose.

Abraham was far from perfect, the very fact that his name was changed from Abram to Abraham is a testimony to one of his greatest mistakes. Isaac cause great conflict because he preferred one son over the other. Jacob and his sons all made many mistakes. Yet they gave birth, literally, to the people who would become messengers of God to the whole world.

The judges, who ruled Israel for a time, included Samson. Surely I need go no further about that. Samuel, although great judge, was a terrible father. The reason Israel demanded a King was explicitly because they were repulsed by the behavior of Samuel’s sons.

The Kings of Israel and Judah were not a particularly noble bunch. Only a few of them were righteous kings, and even they had notable failings. Even with all these failings, Jesus himself descended from the line of David. We can go on and on, listing the failings of those chosen to fulfill their unique role in the plan of salvation.

These examples should dispel the notion that uniqueness equals better. If we do have a unique identity and purpose, that does not confer the status of holiness upon us; what it does  confer on us is responsibility. So we may solemnly claim to have a unique identity and purpose without fearing that we are making a prideful claim. There is nothing to prevent some from using it pridefully, but that is true of almost anything. There is a legal maxim that declares, “abuse does not prohibit use.” The fact that some may misuse it should not prevent us from using it properly.

There are also some who think that by claiming we have a unique calling and purpose as a movement, then we are claiming that we have everything right. Few things are more annoying to contemporary generations than someone claiming to have absolute truth. Is that what we’re saying, when we claim to be a unique people with an and time message?

I will look at that in the next post.

Read other posts from this series on Adventist Identity.