While my location in the world seems to be experiencing a subsiding of COVID, I am examining my personal realities. I realize my titles of identification no longer resonate with affirmation.

For over four decades I have described myself as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. While I personally don’t have a longtime pedigree in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, I married into a multigenerational Seventh-day Adventist family. There has been a certain amount of pride to say that while through marriage, I’m related to some of those early Seventh-day Adventists. Now after a year of COVID, I’m not so sold on the combination of the two titles: Seventh-day Adventist and Christian. 

My basic tenants of faith haven’t wavers. I still value the Sabbath. I still believe in one resurrection at Jesus’ second coming for all who have died. I still believe the Old Testament sanctuary pointed to Jesus as the complete and total rescue of humanity from sin and its curse. Sadly, even though I believe the tenants of faith, and I’m employed by the denomination, the year of COVID has humbled my pride in carrying the titles of Seventh-day Adventist and Christians.

As I watched church members turn against each other, I realized my own heart filled with disgust toward fellow church members. The old campfire song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love” has been turned into “They will know we are Christians by our political affiliation and hatred for others.” 

What did Jesus say?

As I watched church members create us versus them divisions over masks, vaccines, race, sexual identity and every other topic, I began to wonder if I missed the point of being a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. I have heard the statement made by Seventh-day Adventist Christians: “We are the people of the book.” Reading the disciple’s accounts of the life of Christ, I have noticed something quite disturbing to my proud membership carrying Seventh-day Adventist Christian self—the only people Jesus called out for their sinful living were those leading the religious practices of the day. 

Could it be that the protectionism, isolationism, elitism, perfectionism of the Seventh-day Adventist Christian community is damning us straight to hell? I invited a group of teenagers to read through Matthew 24-25 as a part of Sabbath School. I asked the teenagers to identify three things they would teach someone wanting to know more about God. That is what Matthew 28 says is our commission. As a quick review, Matthew 24 was Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about when the end would come. Jesus weaved the destruction of Jerusalem and His own return into an apocalyptic narrative. Matthew 25 was a very different view of the remaining time before the second coming.

Through three parables, Jesus described how little preparation was going to be made by believers (10 Virgins), God’s expectancy for the resources given to be used to further the spread of the Gospel (Talents), and ultimately God’s way of looking at the actions of people (Sheep and Goats). In the three parables, the focus is on being ready by sharing the story of God’s amazing grace. When the teenagers identified three things to teach, they all focused on the fear of not being prepared for the dangerous end times. There was not one mention of caring for others and that salvation leads to loving others. How is it that they didn’t even have one teaching on salvation by grace alone? 

The disciples were concerned about when the end would come. For too long I’m afraid we as a denomination have continued to sensationalize the dramatics of the end time while neglecting to meet Jesus—let alone introduce others to Jesus. A colleague of mine recently reminded me that in the parable of the prodigal son, neither son was in the father’s house. Both sons were outside the house and the father had to not just leave the house but had to go out of his way to invite the sons to come into the house they had been created to live within. John saw in vision Jesus standing at the door knocking (Revelation 3:20). The last of the seven churches was described as having pushed Jesus outside her doors. The letter was written to churches and yet we rarely apply it to our collective organization or local congregations. 

Could it be that we have chosen division and conflict in the church because we have aligned ourselves with earthly politics? Have we decided that politics is too important? Do we now believe that earthly powers will save us and protect us? Matthew 25 is all about the issues of gender equality, racial justice, sexual identity. How much do we love? How much do we seek out and befriend those who don’t fit our profile? 

COVID has humbled my pride.

COVID has awakened in me a truer picture of myself and what I thought was my church.

COVID has shaken me.

Gandhi is credited as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Sadly, when I look at my life and my church, I realize that Gandhi’s words drip with truth. Now that the truth is out, I’m not as perfect as I might have shown. We aren’t as perfect as we might have acted. So, what do we do? 

I am seeking to love. I want those words to ring true. “They will know I am a Christian by my love.” As another great worship song says, “God give me a heart abandoned, ever after you alone. Gold and silver, You can take it. All I want is You my Lord.” Let’s return to the scriptures. Let them speak to us not out of fear but because “God so loved humanity that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16).

I’m not ready to give up on the titles Seventh-day Adventist or Christian. I want to be the change that makes Seventh-day Adventist Christian reflect a joyous expectation that Jesus, the great lover of humanity, is coming to fully restore his greatest creation. 


Nate Elias is youth pastor at the Piedmont Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.