Last time we saw that God uses imperfect people and institutions — after all, that’s the only kind there are — to move his work forward. We also saw that these people and institutions may not have been fully correct in their understanding, but they did have “present truth,” the one, or a few truths crucial to the people of God in that time and place.
And this has to apply to us as well. Looking back on our own history, we see that the beliefs the Seventh-day Adventist denomination holds today were not discovered or revealed in a lump, all at one time, at the birth of our denomination. Quite the contrary. The doctrines of this church have undergone slow change — dare I say it? evolution — throughout our history. There is every likelihood we still do not possess all truth. Certainly, we do not possess it in the sense that we live it consistently as a body.
This does nothing to invalidate our special role and purpose. And, as we discussed, that does nothing to declare us superior or better than others. To the degree that we have either more, or better understanding of the truth, that imposes a burden of great responsibility.
But what about this, this idea of a special identity or purpose? How does that fit in, how do we fit in with the rest of Christianity? The best way I can think of to illustrate this is to go back to the early days of the Iraq war. Now, I’m not commenting on whether the war was justified or not, or whether the entire enterprise was effectively executed or not. All I want to focus here is on the initial campaign. That was brilliantly executed. In a few weeks, and with minimal casualties compared to any military operation in the past, Saddam Hussein’s regime was defeated.
It all began with the Special Forces. They infiltrated Iraq before the invasion commenced. They were the ones who painted targets with lasers, and secured crucial locations and assets. That paved the way for the 3rd Infantry Division, which swept up from the south, and VII Corps, which executed the famous “Left Hook,” moving first north, and then in from the west.
Special Forces are called such because they receive special training, and often special intelligence. I suggest to you that this is the intended role of the Seventh-day Adventist church. We have been blessed in many ways, and especially through the gift of prophecy. The ministry of Ellen White provided crucial insights and guidance to the young church. Her writings continue to be a source of valuable intelligence and, in some ways, of training, as well. Perhaps I will take up in another blog how the misuse of the special intelligence and special training has been an impediment to our mission. But at this point I merely want to point out that the special training of special intelligence is not for everyone. It is for the use and edification of those chosen for special tests.
But, by their nature, Special Forces are relatively few in number. What they need to accomplish is important, but their scope is limited. Put another way, when the Special Forces had finished their tasks, there was still much to do. Without the large scale operations of the 3rd Infantry Division and VII Corps, the efforts of the Special Forces would have been in vain.
No analogy corresponds perfectly with reality. But I suggest that the relationship of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination with the other Christian denominations is similar to that of Special Forces to the rest of the Army. We have been given special intelligence, and special training so that we can focus on crucial areas, and special tasks. What these are I will take up another blog, perhaps.
But for now, let us say, that the work of people like Billy Graham, or Chuck Swindoll or any of the great number of other Christians may be analogous to the 3rd Infantry Division, or VII corps. They may be engaged in larger scale, more generalized operations.
We should not dismiss them merely as “wrong,” which we are too easily inclined to do, or even “incomplete in their understanding.” Our disagreements with these people are small. What we share with them is great, and we should be glad that they are so effective at communicating these important things we share.
We should continually be aware that we, also, “know in part, and we prophesy in part.” Like those God-used movements before us, we may not have everything right. So rather than focusing on what some of our allies may have wrong, we should focus on our unique purpose and calling.
We believe that the time is coming when all will be forced to choose for or against serving God. When that time comes, many of those who choose to serve God, no matter what the consequences, will have been introduced to Christ by others. We should be grateful for that, and we should be very careful that in our sectarian pride we do not turn some of those people away.
I will say again what I’ve said before: if I were 25 years old today, I would want to be a part of the Seventh-day Adventist movement because I believe this is where the action is. I believe that we have an opportunity in this church to be used in a special way by God. But that does not mean that others, who do not share all of our beliefs today, are not also be used by God in a special way. Not better or worse, just different.